Posts Tagged 'God’s best gifts'

God’s Best Gifts, Part 5

As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, the noun “gift” means a few things. First, a “gift” can be present given from one person to another. It may also mean “something that is surprisingly easy or cheap.”  For example, “I can’t believe how easy that test was! It’s like a gift.”

But a “gift” may also refer to a talent we posses. We often speak of a “gifted piano player,” for example.

As good as the Cambridge Dictionary may be, it falls a tad short in the spiritual realm. “Gifts” are also things that our Heavenly Father gives us, His children. They may be special talents. They may be fortuitous abilities that a church member is given supernaturally for the time their church needs a person with those abilities. God also gives us spiritual gifts for our benefit and for the benefit of other believers. Yes, our God is a very generous God who knows what we need, why we need it, and the best time to give it to us. God is a giver in every sense of the word.

The apostle Peter, in his second letter, very briefly mentions another precious gift from God to us:

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4 | TNIV)

God has, apparently given us some “very great and precious promises.” Just are those promises? What did Peter have in mind when he wrote that sentence? How can any promise help us to be more like God? Let’s find out!

Why a second letter?

We don’t always know what occasioned the writing of New Testament letters, but in the case of Peter’s second letter, he tells exactly why he wrote it:

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. (2 Peter 3:1 | TNIV)

Really, Peter has done Bible students a great favor, because in that single verse he has told us why he wrote two letters: “to stimulate [his readers] to wholesome thinking.” Both letters were “reminders.” In other words, the content of both Peter’s letters was not unique or the result of some kind of special revelation from the Heavenly realms. Peter’s letters are jam-packed with stuff his readers already knew about but needed to be reminded of. It’s important to for Christians to be taught and re-taught the same things over and over and over again. Repetition helps to reinforce essential truths that sometimes get lost in our Memory Palaces.

But what did Peter mean by “wholesome?” It’s a Greek word that refers to that which is “pure,” “uncontaminated,” and “good.” Plato used the same word to describe thinking or reasoning that was uncontaminated by the senses. So “wholesome thinking” to Plato was thinking that was completely objective. Paul’s concept of “wholesome thinking” is best summed up like this:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 | TNIV)

Peter knew full well that Christians needed to be reminded from time-to-time about the things they already knew. And wholesome thinking – thinking correctly – is vitally important because what’s in the mind will eventually work itself out in the world in the forms behavior, actions, and attitudes. Everything we do and feel starts out as a thought. How important is it to think wholesome thoughts, then?

More and more grace and peace

So this letter, then, was mailed to Jewish and Gentile Christians in northern Asia Minor; that is, “to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (I Pet. 1:1). In between the writing of the two letters a change of circumstances had taken place among Peter’s friends. Whereas the first letter had been written to prepare them for suffering, perhaps at the hands of an unfriendly government (1:7; 2:12-15; 3:14-17; 4:3-4, 12-16; 5:8-10), the second letter warns against the encroachments of false teachers (2:1-3, 10-15, 19-22; 3:3-7, 15-17). In each case, though, the believer’s best offense against either a hostile government or the bad theology of false teachers is knowledge. But not just any kind of knowledge! Knowledge of God’s Word.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2 | TNIV)

This is actually a prayer. When was the last time you prayed that “grace and peace would be” somebody’s “in abundance?” That was Peter’s prayer for those reading this letter. He was asking the Lord to super-multiply “grace and peace” in the lives of his friends. But what’s particularly interesting here is that this request of God is followed by what is essentially instructions to the reader on how to make it happen: “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” In other words, if you, as a believer, can create the necessary conditions – which involves acquiring more knowledge of God and Jesus – God will super-multiply grace and peace in your life!

The word translated “knowledge” here is one of Peter’s favorites; he uses it some 13 times in his letter. It does not refer to cold, academic knowledge. It’s not knowledge gained second hand from listening to a  teacher or from reading a book. This kind of knowledge is experiential knowledge; firsthand knowledge of God and Jesus gained through a relationship with them through the Holy Spirit and through the Word of God. It’s knowing God and Jesus as they really are, not how some theologian says they are. It’s a personal knowing. That’s what you need if you want more and more “grace and peace” in your life.

Miraculous provision

Here are two very powerful verses full of deep spiritual truths:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3, 4| TNIV)

When you think about what Peter is claiming in these verses, it’s truly an extraordinary claim. In fact, had anybody else said what Peter said, I’d say they were insane. But the man is writing from personal experience. Peter had seen the power of Christ calm the stormy sea and enable him to walk on the water (Matthew 14); he had heard the resurrected Christ make the claim that all power was given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28); he had received the power of Christ into his life by the sanctifying baptism of the Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 1, 2); and he knew, along with his friend Paul, this simple fact:

but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24 | TNIV)

If anybody knew how beneficial the power of God and the promises of God operating in the life of a Christian can be, it certainly was Peter. These two verses give us everything we need to live a successful Christian life.

Power. The Greek word for “power” is dynamis, which looks like our word “dynamite.” It refers to a self-contained, inherent power that is steady and dynamic. The exact same power that God exerted in raising Christ from the dead is in every believer. Stop and think about the implications of that statement. That supernatural power is now housed in you, enabling you to live a life of righteousness, live a positive and uplifting life that is a powerful witness in your community. This provision – or gift, if you will – is activated and assisted by our knowledge of God. No matter what, it seems like you can’t get away from knowledge of God!

A verse like verse 3 compels us to ask the question: How important is knowing God to me? Is getting to know God a priority to you? It’s sad but when looking around at the state of the average Christian life, it seems as though knowing God isn’t a priority. It’s more of a convenience. How to be a top notch Christian is no mystery. The first step is simply getting to know God more – not gathering more information about Him, but getting to know Him as a person through a living relationship with Him. Don’t get me wrong. You have to know about God. You have to know the facts of God; you should be curious about Him, and that curiosity should lead you to the Bible. But knowing God as the Person He is involves something supernatural that the Holy Spirit is involved in. This supernatural, intimate knowledge of God and Christ enables us to access that “resurrection power” whereby we can live a supernaturally empowered life that glorifies God and keeps the spigot of His blessings open.

When we come to Christ, the power is given to us, and as we learn how to access it and allow it to work through our whole being, things like this happen:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 | TNIV)

A lot of Christians want that provision without realizing that God has already met that need through the “resurrection power” in you!

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9, 10 | TNIV)

As a Christian, you have everything you need – everything – for spiritual growth. That’s what’s indicated by the word “fullness.” It’s all in you, like a gift waiting for you to unwrap it.

Promises. Not only has God given us His supernatural “resurrection power,” He has given us some very special promises. We don’t know which promises Peter had in mind when he wrote verse 4. But we may speculate. Maybe he was thinking of these:

The promise of forgiveness of sins – past, present, and future sins.
• The promise of adoption as sons and daughters of God.
• The promise of the Holy Spirit’s help in living life and spiritual growth.
• The promise of comfort during life’s darkest moments.
• The promise that all of our needs will be met.
• The promise of eternal life in Heaven after we die.
• The promise of bodily resurrection when Christ returns.
• The promise of reigning with Christ in His kingdom.

Chuck Swindoll came up with that list, and I think he was on to something. Those promises, in addition to things like the promise of abundant life in Christ and Christ’s ongoing presence in our lives through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, enable us to live victoriously in the face of things like, in the case of Peter’s readers, false teachers.


Ultimately, though, the purpose of God’s power and promises in our lives is to make us “partakers of the divine nature.” That’s referring to perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Son through the God the Holy Spirit. Peter used Greek words, of course, but also Greek phrases, like “divine nature.” He could have simply used “fellowship with God,” but remember his audience; they would have been very familiar with phrases like the “divine nature.” The Greeks, not unlike Christians, viewed the world as corrupt, but to them, the only way to overcome the corrupt world was to become a god – to assume a “divine nature.” Peter twists the Greek philosophy and straightens it out. Man can escape the corruption of the world, not by becoming a god, but by fellowshipping with the only true God.

God has given His people great gifts. Here, in Peter’s letter, we have the gifts of God’s power and of God’s promises. These are marvelous gifts that too many Christians leave unopened.

God’s Best Gifts, Part 3

God gives His people numerous gifts for a variety of reasons. God sent Jesus – His gift of love to sinful man – to catch their attention. In a world filled with condemnation, Jesus came in love to save. God also gave His people that kind exact same kind of love – a divine, unconditional love – so that they could love the Body of Christ as God does.

Another gift God gives His people is peace. God is able to make His people completely sound in mind and spirit. Instead of anxiety, frustration, and anger, God’s people can be at complete peace.

Perhaps the most under appreciated gift from God to man is the gift of His Word. The Bible is a gift from God. Through the pages the Bible, God’s heart and mind are revealed to man in such a way as make plain His thoughts, His feelings, and His will. Even the unredeemed man is able to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, grasp the elemental spiritual truths contained in the Word of God. Of the Bible, the book of Hebrews declares:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 | TNIV)

There is nothing ordinary about the Bible. Some people think that it’s a boring old book that’s largely irrelevant today. Other people consider the Bible to be a masterpiece of literature. Some very influential people have said some very profound, and sometimes some very stupid things about the Bible. For example, no less an influential person as Mahatma Gandhi once remarked:

You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.

Mark Twain was utterly confused about the Bible. On the one hand, he said this:

It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.

But then said this:

The Bible has noble poetry in it… and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.

Richard Dawkins, who some people think is very smart, wrote something very dumb about the Bible:

To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.

Søren Kierkegaard once wrote:

The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.

And President Ronald Reagan said this about the Scriptures:

Within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems man faces.

With so many opinions about the Bible, we should go right to the source itself. As far as the Bible is concerned, it is indispensable, and here’s why you, if you are a Christian, can’t do without it:

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 | TNIV)

The Word of God is the “sword of the Spirit.” Let’s take a look what that means within the context of Ephesians 6.

It’s war

Verse 16 of Ephesians 6 occurs in the midst of Paul’s discussion of the spiritual warfare every Christian faces. This whole section seems oddly out of place in a letter largely devoted to peace, and yet it isn’t really. One of the great blessings of the Gospel is that it produces peace between members of the Body of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14 – 17 | TNIV)

One of the great themes of Ephesians is the peace of Christ that resulted from His work on the Cross. And Paul spent considerable time writing about peaceful relationships between each other in the context of the family, at work, and out in the community. Being a Christian should result in a person treating others, especially other Christians, with respect, honor, and dignity.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2, 3 | TNIV)

And then suddenly, along comes these famous verses in chapter 6:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10, 11 | TNIV)

Peace is important, but peace between members of the Body of Christ is absolutely essential indispensable; it’s a powerful witness to the world of what the presence of Christ can do between people. And there are some immensely practical steps Christians can take to encourage the growth of that peace. But at the same time we know that of all the struggles we face on earth, the greatest threat to our survival as believers takes place in the spiritual world. No matter how diligent we may be in trying to live righteous lives that result in peace in all our earthly relationships, if we ignore the spiritual battles raging all around us, we risk losing it all.

In that sense, this section may not be “oddly out of place,” after all!

The need for armor

Of all things a believer can do to live at peace with the world around him, the key is to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” The phrase “be strong” really means be to be “continually empowered” by the power of God. You need that. Just think about how hard it is to live at peace with your spouse. All kidding aside, sometimes it seems like what’s needed is supernatural power to keep you from losing your temper or whatever. That’s a simple (or funny) illustration of what Paul is getting at here. Part of what he calls “the devil’s schemes” is sowing seeds of strife and contention between spouses or between siblings or between friends. We all need God’s power so as not to let those things get out of control. You see, even though the struggle takes place in the spirit world, there are real-world consequences to what’s happening there. No human being has it within himself to face the devil alone; we all need God’s presence and God’s resources – the armor He gives us.

Just how great is God’s power? Paul touched on that subject at the beginning of this letter.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:18 – 21 | TNIV)

That’s the power Paul is writing about – the power that is available for you to do this:

you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13b | TNIV)

The struggle is real, but then so is the power of God. It is up to whatever struggle you as a believer may be facing. Shakespeare’s Hamlet felt something of that struggle. He felt that life was so bad it might better to just end it all and miss all that suffering. That was why he said this:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing, end them?

“Slings and arrows” are a good way to describe the devil’s weapons. Those “slings and arrows of outrageous (or cruel) fortune (fate)” may be able to harm you, but they can’t kill you. They’re a “scheme” of the devil’s to mess with your mind. You need the power of God to rise above those “slings and arrows.”

Parts of the armor

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14 – 17 | TNIV)

The concept of “standing firm” is so imperative for the believer that Paul wrote it in the imperative! A Christian MUST always stand firm, and in order to do that, he must wear the armor God provides him with.

Belt of truth.

The belt is important because it keeps your pants up and shirt tucked in. Truth is important, of course, but not just any truth: It must be God’s truth, or the truth of His Word. Of primary importance is for the believer to be armed with the truth of the Scriptures at all times. It’s easy to get so discouraged in our daily lives that we forget the Word and be tempted to buy into the devil’s lies. When the devil tempted our Lord in the wilderness, what did He do? He quoted the Word of God!

Breastplate of righteousness

Sharp-eyed Bible readers will recognize this piece of armor because it’s been mentioned before – long before in the book of Isaiah!

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17 | TNIV)

That’s the Lord putting on His armor as He is seen preparing to fight the enemy. The Christian is to emulate their Lord by doing the same thing. When the devil beats down the believer, the temptation will be to fight him using his weapons. That won’t work with the devil; the believer needs to maintain his integrity and to remember that he is wearing the righteousness that comes from Christ. So no matter who’s hassling you or coming against you, because you are a Christian, you can’t retaliate in kind. Guard your heart with the breastplate of righteousness. One Bible scholar remarked:

Cowardice and hesitancy are by-products of the unrighteous heart, while bravery and courage flow from right thinking and acting.

“Right thinking and acting” flow from a pure heart, guarded by the breastplate of righteousness.

Gospel of peace

Believers are to literally walk in peace, that is, the peace of their salvation. Metaphorically speaking, then, it makes sense to wear shoes made out of the good news (Gospel) of peace. Again, Paul may have had in mind something the prophet Isaiah wrote long before:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7 | TNIV)

Believers possess what everybody wants: Peace. That peace is the Gospel – the good news of the Gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ. Wherever the believer goes, he is a walking testimony of that good news. That’s why when everything at work is upside down or life throws you a curve ball, you remain calm, cool, and collected. You’ll feel better because you’ll be enjoying God’s peace through Jesus Christ, but you’ll also be noticed by those who are losing their minds to stress and anxiety. What a marvelous tool of evangelism: God’s peace!

Shield of faith

Christians are to “take up” this shield. This is the only time this Greek word for shield is used in the New Testament. It refers to the kind of shield a Roman soldier would carry into battle. It was large and oblong and would extinguish fiery arrows that got stuck in it. When Paul says to “take up” their shield of faith, he’s not referring to getting more faith. As a Christian, you already possess buckets full of faith. Paul is talking about using that faith – accessing it’s power to defend yourself against whatever the devil may throw at you. Your trust in God and in His Word will go a long way in keeping you alive during a spiritual battle!

Helmet of salvation

This isn’t the first church Paul wrote to about this. He wrote a similar thing to the Thessalonians:

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thessalonians 5:8 | TNIV)

“The hope of salvation as a helmet.” Is that also what Paul was referring to here? In Ephesians, Paul is not suggesting that believers obtain salvation since they obviously already possess it. But rather, the idea is for the believer to remember that he is saved; he is already seated with Christ in Heaven; he has already won the battle. In other words, we might say something like this: When the devil is attacking, keep your head! Remember whose you are!

Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God

Lastly, Christians are to wield the “sword of the Spirit.” Paul tells us what this weapon is: The Word of God. Exactly what Paul meant here is unknown. We wish he had expanded on it slightly. It may be that Paul is suggesting that at a crucial moment during a crisis, God will being back to your mind – and possibly to your mouth – an appropriate Scripture. Jesus said this would happen:

But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:19, 20 | TNIV)

The Spirit is able to do just that. When Jesus was explaining this to his disciples, He was referring to persecution because of their faith; definitely a crisis! But there are other crises in life that may arise where a believer needs counsel from the Word. The mind is an amazing thing. It remembers everything yet recalls nothing sometimes. With the help of the Spirit, Bible verses and stories can be brought back to remembrance, thereby comforting or empowering the believer or even somebody else.

This amazing Word of God is truly a gift. It’s literally the gift that keeps on giving, making it possible for every child of God to live victoriously over the the devil and all the circumstances of life.


God’s Best Gifts, Part 2

Christians are the most fortunate people on earth. Simply by virtue of our relationship with Jesus Christ through faith, we are the recipients of some amazing gifts from our Heavenly Father. We did absolutely nothing to merit those gifts. We certainly don’t deserve them. Out of boundless love and consideration, God has blessed us with things to make our lives worth living.

Last time, we looked at the first gift God has given His people: LOVE. He sent His Son in love, not condemnation, to catch man’s attention. There is so little genuine love on earth that God’s love in Christ Jesus stands out; man wants it; man can’t find that kind of love outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Body of Christ. A side benefit of receiving God’s love is that you are made able to love others the same way God loves you! That Divine love isn’t in man naturally, it has to be placed there supernaturally by God Himself because it is His gift of love to you.

Love is in short supply in the world, but so is peace. Anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, fear, anger, and things like that are in abundance. When feelings and emotions like those pile up on you, you should remember this verse:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 1:27 | TNIV)

Setting the scene

Jesus didn’t just speak verse 27 for no reason. In fact, it really isn’t a verse at all. In real life, people don’t speak in verses, and neither did our Lord. And life doesn’t take place in chapters, either. The chapter divisions in the Gospel of John (and in every other book of the Bible, for that matter) weren’t put there by its human author. They were added much later, in the fourth century. What we call chapter 14 is just a continuation of the events of what we call chapter 13. Jesus’ admonition to “do not let your hearts be troubled” was given in connection this:

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. (John 13:31 – 33 | TNIV)

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:38 | TNIV)

Jesus knew that His followers already had troubled hearts, and the information He had just given them simply added to the trouble they already had. So the whole purpose of chapter 14 was an attempt to calm their nerves about the future, especially in light of what He told Peter in verse 38.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. (John 14:1 | TNIV)

The news that Peter would disown Jesus; that there was some question as to how serious Peter was about following Jesus; and that He Himself was about leave them were the explicit reasons for 14:1. How would you feel if you, as a Christian, were told by Jesus that He didn’t think you were a serious believer and that you would go so far as to disown Him and that from now on, He’d be hard to find? How would you feel? Of course, everything Jesus said to Peter and His disciples simply indicated that He knew what would happen. In spite of how shabbily He would be treated by Peter, Jesus didn’t chastise him. He told the apostle and the others to be calm; to keep on trusting God and to start trusting Him. And Jesus is telling you the same thing, too. Essentially, He knows we are all weak, fickle, somewhat untrustworthy human beings. It’s good to know that we, like the disciples, when confronted with their shortcomings, were encouraged to “trust in God” and to “trust in Jesus.” Because, in the end, our salvation doesn’t depend on us getting it right 100% of the time. It depends on being dependent upon the grace and love of our Lord.

Gracious provision

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so , I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2 | KJV)

My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”. (John 14:2 – 4 | TNIV)

This speaks to His impending departure. Jesus would leave for a time, but He would return. This is an interesting paragraph that has resulted in numerous hymns and gospel songs being written to celebrate our mansion in heaven that the Lord is, even now, building for us. Songs like this one, written by Elvis Presley:

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.

What if you don’t want a big old mansion? What if you prefer a bungalow? Or a real nice single wide? The TNIV’s “plenty of room” as opposed to the more familiar “many mansions” is far more accurate. The Greek word is monai, and it’s a curious word. Some scholars write that it has a reference to an Aramaic term for “shelters along the way,” or a place where travelers could rest for the night. In other words, Jesus may be talking about preparing places of rest or protection along the walk of faith. Could be, but there’s no getting around the fact that these “shelters along the way” are being prepared, apparently, in Heaven. In that case, Jesus, in leaving the scene for a time, promised to prepare a place in Heaven for all of His followers, many of whom had left their homes to follow Him. Nobody would be left out because there is room for all. Maybe our Lord is referring to both ideas. The idea that God is not only a divine Person but also a place was a common one in the Old Testament:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1 | TNIV)

Jesus, the way to God

Leave it to a guy like Thomas to ask the question that all the disciples likely had in their minds:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”. (John 14:5 | TNIV)

Our Lord’s answer is among the most profound declarations in all of Scripture.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”. (John 14:6, 7 | TNIV)

Jesus doesn’t show the way, He Himself is the way. There’s a difference. Our job as followers of Jesus is to show the way to God, and that way is a Person, Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Lenksi quotes Koegel’s sermon on this very topic:

Jesus doesn’t say, “I show you the way,” like a second Moses, but “I am the way.” Nor “I have the truth,” like another Elijah, but “I am the truth.” Not only, “I lead you to life,” like one of His apostles, but “I am the life.”

Philip also had his question, which lead to another profound declaration:

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (John 14:11 | TNIV)

That’s an interesting statement. Followers of Jesus are presented with a choice: Simply believe that Jesus and the Father are one and the same, or if you can’t muster that kind of faith, at the very least believe the evidence of your experience. In the case of the disciples, they had seen all that Jesus did and those miracles were evidence enough. In your case, if doubts ever float into your head and you wonder about Jesus, read again all that He did and remember what He’s done for you. Pretty soon your doubts will fade away.

The Holy Spirit, obedience, and peace

But why did Jesus have to leave them? That’s really what the disciples wanted to know. To them, it didn’t seem to make any sense. If preparing a place for them was too much for them to conceive, Jesus gave them an immensely practical reason for leaving:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16 – 18 | TNIV)

Jesus had to leave so that “another advocate,” the “Spirit of truth,” could come be with them. That phrase, “another advocate” is misleading. The Holy Spirit is “another of the same kind,” in other words, having the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is just like having the Spirit of Jesus in us. When our Lord was here in the flesh, He was confined to a local area. He had to leave so that the blessing of His presence could be given to all people, everywhere. The Holy Spirit makes no sense to the world, but He does to you. He makes it possible for you to live like Jesus did.

Jesus took this occasion to give His disciples a gentle admonition:

If you love me, keep my commands. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15, 21 | TNIV)

These two verses have to do with love, even though it looks like something else. Verse 15 is the why a Christian should live in obedience to the teachings of Christ and in verse 21, love becomes the test of love. A believer who knows the commands of Jesus and puts them into practice is the one who loves Jesus. These commands, by the way, serve a very important purpose, as one scholar put it:

The instructions of our Lord were given not to make us better theologians but better people.

To which we should all say a hearty, “Amen!” But then Jesus promises a kind of reward to those who love Him in obedience. Of course, that love will be returned by the Father and the Son, but the Son will “show Himself to them.” More than one scholar has pointed out that our Lord was speaking figuratively here. He didn’t mean that He would come to them in dreams and visions, but rather that the obedient, loving believer will enjoy the continual presence of Christ. This spiritual self-revelation refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16 | TNIV)

All this context is the background to this promise that so many believers cling to but few catch the connection:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 | TNIV)

Back in the day, “peace” was both a greeting and farewell. This is how Jesus used the word here, only in reverse order – on the eve of His leaving, He left them peace but then prophetically offers it to them. The Greek word is eirene, and the Greeks looked at peace as the absence of strife. But to the Hebrew, “peace” was a much deeper word that carried with it a “sense of inner well-being.” This is what Jesus was leaving His people and at the same time offering them: Complete well-being. But that well-being is a to be continual state that comes from a relationship with Christ through faith, resulting from the presence of the Holy Spirit and life lived in obedience to the commands of Christ. So many Christians think that this peace comes to them at moments of stress and anxiety – like at the funeral or during some kind of test. But that’s not the idea here. The idea is that the believer will walk in this peace all the days of his life as he enjoys the presence of the Holy Spirit and endeavours to live in obedience to the Lord.

This promised peace is Christ’s own peace, and it’s nothing like the peace of the world, which comes and goes and sometimes has to be enforced at the end of a gun! What good is that kind of peace? The world’s peace always falls short. God’s peace, though, is exactly what you need because it meets all your needs.

If you, as a believer, find God’s peace elusive, the problem lies with you, not with God. You say you love Him, but are living in obedience to Him? You have the Holy Spirit within, but are you paying attention to Him? You have all you need to be at peace. Appropriate it by doing what’s right.

God’s Best Gifts, Part 1

There are many verses in the Bible, especially the New Testament, that speak of what God has given man – His gifts. Our Lord talked about this in the Gospel of Matthew:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11 | TNIV)

That’s an interesting verse that deals with prayer. Part of the believer’s walk with God is walking in prayer. You can think of prayer as a kind of fellowship. The kind of prayer Jesus is talking about here is not the kind of prayer that your pastor or priest prays while standing in front of the church. That kind of prayer is usually prayed using flowery language and sometimes in the King James version: “Our great and glorious Heavenly Father hear, thou, our prayer as we lift up our hearts…” But who prays like that on a Tuesday afternoon, at work, with deadlines looming, or during a situation where a choice must be made but the direction isn’t clear? At times like that, you don’t think to translate your words into 1611 language! You need help, and you need it now! And it’s God’s help you need. You need God to break through His world into yours in a special way to meet the need that burdens your heart.

That’s what Jesus is talking about here. And because most of us have these kinds of needs constantly – some of them may be “big,” and others not so – we pray like this, or we ought to pray like this, constantly throughout our day, not just when we go to bed at night. That’s the idea behind this famous sentence:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 | TNIV)

Jesus wants us to pray persistently, and that doesn’t necessarily mean praying about the same thing over and over again. It may sometimes, but what He’s getting at is praying about everything. It seems like a done deal with Jesus: Ask, and it you’ll get what you ask for. What you’re looking for you will find. The closed door will open. All this positivity is predicated on prayer. Jesus’ brother half-brother James fleshed this out even more when he wrote:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6 | TNIV)

I guess that part goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many Christians go through the motions of prayer without their brains engaged. The one praying has to be focused; he has to truly believe that the Lord is listening and will come through with an answer. That in no way means that your belief triggers God to act or that the power of your belief will cause what you want to come to pass. Life isn’t Hallmark movie. God wants you to trust Him; to rely upon Him; to depend completely upon Him. If that sounds like a ongoing thing, that’s because it is.  Prayer is – or should be – an ongoing activity, like breathing! It’s all part of a relationship with God, your Heavenly Father. And the very fact that Jesus correlates the natural feeling between father and child and child and father suggests that those are the feelings God has for us and, therefore, that’s how we should feel about God. And what dad would withhold anything beneficial from his son or daughter?

God, our Heavenly Father hears our prayers and answers them. He gives us what we need and often, even what we want. Jesus calls answers to prayers “gifts.” But God is always giving us gifts. All the time, whether we notice those gifts or not. And, remarkably, God even gives gifts to those who don’t belong to His family. Here’s an example that kind of gift.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9 | TNIV)

With respect to Calvinists, God sent His Son – the very Love of His Heart – into our sinful world for the express purpose catching the attention of all those who were dying in their sins. This was a theme of John’s which he first mentioned back in his Gospel:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16 | TNIV)

Because real love is so rare in the world around us, man, steeped in sin and bound to a loveless world, needs to experience it. Condemnation, however, is all around in abundance. Condemnation is plentiful. That’s why Jesus came in love; He came so that man would notice Him and want what He was offering: God’s love.

Reason for another gift

John begins the fourth chapter of his letter encouraging his readers to exercise another gift they had been given.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 | TNIV)

John doesn’t call this gift by name, but he’s referring to the gift of discernment, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit that all believers possess, since he encourages his “dear friends” to exercise it. It’s not just the clergy or the Pentecostals who are to “test (or discern) the spirits,” it’s all believers.

The primary reason for writing this letter was to warn its readers to beware of false teachers, whom John refers to as “antichrists.” They were all over the place in the first century of the church’s existence, and they’ve only multiplied since then. His warning is applicable more than ever today.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18 | TNIV)

False teachers claim to be representing “the church” and preaching “the truth,” but in reality they aren’t. They’re hard to spot, which is why believers need to exercise their spiritual gift. John’s readers and we are not to be credulous when it comes to every teacher and teaching. We aren’t to “believe every spirit,” or buy into every teaching we hear because it sounds good. The word “believe” here really mean “to place your trust in.” That’s a tricky thing not to do when a teaching really sounds good! But if your desire is to remain true to the Lord, you have to stick with His teachings and avoid the rest.

John uses the word “spirit” but what he’s really referring to a person’s personality. In the case of one who teaches – or professes to teach – the Word of God, their personality will eventually be revealed by their words and actions.

The real test is a simple one:

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:2, 3 | TNIV)

That’s a completely objective test, involving an objective standard: Does this person acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ and His Incarnation? In other words, does this teacher hold to the basic teachings of the Gospel. It’s important to note here that Christians are not encouraged to apply the test that is popular in our day: look into the person’s heart. That far too subjective a test. Besides, no man can know another’s heart!

But John doesn’t stop there. He provides a sort sub-test that involves how the truth is received by others from us:

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:5, 6 | TNIV)

These are very important verses for Christians to know and understand. The false teachers’ teachings, no matter how clever sounding or deep those teachings appear to be, are worldly in origin. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that kind of teaching, but when a teacher claims his worldly teaching is from God, that makes him a false teacher. And the proof is in who is clamoring to hear his teaching. If his teaching is readily accepted by the world and the unsaved clamor to hear it, then the odds are pretty good that teaching is a worldly teaching. By way of contrast, the Christian – the true teacher – draws from a higher Source than the world: God Himself is the Source of his teaching. And the odds are pretty good that teaching won’t end up on the New York Times Bestseller list any time soon.

We belong to each other in love

Obviously, Christians are not to have fellowship with false teachers; the more you rub shoulders with them, the greater the chance that their bad ideas and behavior will rub off on you. We are, however, to be in fellowship with other believers. As far as John was concerned, we belong to each other in love. Love is the common bond between believers.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7 | TNIV)

In a very broad sense, all love is from God. The ability for the unsaved to love each other; for an unsaved parent to love their child, for example, is an ability given human beings by their Creator. So, in that broad sense, all men are capable of receiving and giving love on some level. What John is really writing about is “this love.” The article, “this,” is present in the Greek but not in our modern English translations because it sounds awkward. It’s too bad, because that word is vitally important in this particular case. The love that exists between believers is that special kind of love. As a matter of fact, the presence of “this love” in the believer makes it possible for him love his neighbor, who may not be a believer. It’s unfortunate that Christians don’t consciously think about this or realize its significance. We are in possession of a divine love that enables us to love the Body of Christ as He loves us.

And that brings us to verse 9,

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9 | TNIV)

God is love, and God expresses His love for His creation in concrete ways. First among those ways was sending His one and only Son into the world. The Son is the expression of the Father’s love. The purpose of sending Jesus was so that sinful man might believe in Him and obtain eternal life. But the word that captures my attention is “showed.” God “showed” His love – He put His great love on display for all the universe to see by sending Jesus into the world. That’s a deeply moving and profound thought. In a world so desperately short on real love, God sent a gift of love. Sadly, most people won’t notice that gift.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 | TNIV)

Now, our own experience and the fact that churches even have members shows us that God’s gift of love – the light of the gospel – has been seen by at least some unbelievers. This is because of the unrelenting work of the Holy Spirit in the world around us. He is drawing sinners to faith in Christ. Some will respond to that drawing power, many will not. But thank God He sent His gift of love into the world. True, divine love. A gift from God you can’t live without.

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