Opinion, Judging, and Loving One Another

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions… Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him… One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord… Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… Each of us will give an account of himself to God. 

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother… If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit… So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Romans 14:1,3,5,7-8,10,12-13,15-17,19

There are so many things that divide people. It happened in the early church, and it happens today. Paul knew it, God knows it. Opinions, food and drink choices, celebrations of certain days and events- gifts from God to be enjoyed for His glory, yet ramrods of stubborn self-righteousness into many occasions that result in factions, dissension, a miserable and broken picture of the church to the watching world. Today we have politics, diets, differing opinions on science, and church music, and what is acceptable entertainment, and more.

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Paul’s words put hands on our shoulders, look us in the eye, and say, love Jesus first, and most. Live for Him, and these irritations and disagreements and clashes of opinion will melt in the warmth of a higher allegiance. Instead of facing off, or spouting off, cast off your obstinance and align your conscience with the Holy Spirit’s convictions. Remember you will be called to account, before the only true Judge, for every word spoken and determination made. Choose to love instead of condemn, sacrifice instead of assert your rights, and actively, intentionally, wholeheartedly, pursue peace and mutual edification. (Matthew 12:36; Romans 12: 10; 2 Corinthians 5:10)

Where do we get so tangled up in our opinions and preferences that we disregard, or diss, others with differing outlooks? When did we slip into thinking ourselves superior, our viewpoints over negotiables more enlightened, our freedoms gifts to be used for selfish gain and pleasure instead of serving those weaker? What difference would it make if we saw and welcomed others in love as God does? Would we ask Him to expose and transform our self-righteous, selfish ways? (Galatians 5:13)

Father, may I live fully to You, and for others’ sake. Help me in every particular to promote the righteousness, peace, and joy of Your kingdom.

Zoom out!

And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, please.’ And they came near. And he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 45:3-8; 50:19-21

While Joseph was occupied with the day to day management of Pharaoh’s kingdom, and orchestrated events with his brothers from Israel to bring them to repentance for their cruel mistreatment, he never lost sight of his God who had been, and was then, working all things for His redemptive good. As conniving and manipulative as they had been, it was God who superintended the sale of Joseph into slavery, his unjust imprisonment, and his elevation to power under Pharaoh at this time. His purposes cannot be thwarted. (Isaiah 14:27; Job 42:2; Romans 8:28)

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In the pit, in his master’s home, in his cell, in famine, Joseph was trained not to get tangled in the web of present difficulties, but to zoom out and watch Almighty God at work. He experienced cruelty, anguish, loneliness, and longing, but in keeping his focus on his Lord, not his circumstances, he learned to rest in God’s greater plan and trust His sovereign order and control. (Genesis 41:51-52; 42:21; Psalm 105:17-19; Acts 7:9-10)

What change will it take to move from ‘woe is me’ to ‘what is He?’ What is He doing in the world, in my community, with my life? How does He want me involved, and where can I employ my particular vantage point, unique position, and resources for His kingdom purposes? Like a camera shifting from up close focus to zooming out, when we take our eyes off the immediate and urgent, off of ourselves, we see Him and His ways more clearly.

Joseph had every reason to be bitter, to take advantage of his power over the brothers who had wronged him, but he chose to see the big picture as God saw and determined it. His difficult circumstances became a significant part of God’s grand scheme in preserving His people and word for the world.

Father, teach me to step back, refocus to behold Your wide plans, and participate gladly in them for Your glorious purposes.

No Debt, Except to Love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:8-10,12-14

Debt can be crushing. To owe money on loans, favors to others, time and service to employers, can be burdensome and weigh heavily, sapping our resources and vitality and ability to progress. But Jesus, who came to set us free, fulfilled our debt from sin by taking our punishment on the cross. He invites us to cast off our burdens, and carry no more debt- except to love one another. (Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7)

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‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” Matthew 22:36-40

The Old Testament commandments were impossible to keep, and Jesus summed them up with two: love the Lord your God, and love others. Like turning from darkness to light, the way to keep the ‘don’ts’ is to ‘do the dos’ in the power of Christ. When we live in light and love and put on Christ, we will treat others well, and rightly. Our affections toward them will be pure. We will be loyal, devoted, upright in our thinking and speaking about them. We will genuinely want what is best for them, will promote them and not jealously undermine their success. We will rejoice in their happiness, and weep when they weep. We will be tenderhearted, compassionate, and forgiving. We will lay down our fiesty arms, willing to agree (even if to disagree) rather than quarrel or be divisive. We will spur them on to love and good deeds, doing for them what we would want for ourselves. (Romans 12:15; Ephesians 4:31-32; Hebrews 10:24)

So how are we doing with this debt? Are we committed to paying it regularly, in generous chunks? If so, what is the evidence?

Are we lugging along other debts of bitterness, anger, disappointment, rights to ‘get even’ or ‘make them pay’ that preclude our freely loving others? Would we readily confess these, throw off these ‘works of darkness,’ and get on with walking in the daylight joy of love?

Lord, thank You for paying my immeasurable debt so I am free to love as You have so generously loved me. May I do it in lavish measure, reflecting Your amazing grace.

Let love be genuine

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:9-18

What does genuine love look like? It looks like Jesus, who laid down His life for His friends. And when we lay down our lives, we relinquish our masks, so love can be genuine, not manipulative or affected or forced for our own ends. We give up what is evil and self-serving, and lavish affection, honor, patience, and generosity on those God gives us to love. We prefer them over ourselves, choose their preferences over our own, their good and peace and needs instead of ours. We compassionately care, we earnestly pray. We energetically, zealously, passionately, sacrificially exhibit and extend benevolence to individuals God has placed in our lives. (John 15:13)

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Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Loving this way takes time. It takes time to contemplate Jesus and how He loves, and seeking to emulate Him. It takes setting aside my natural proclivities to do what I want when I want. It requires arranging for segments of my schedule to meet with and listen to others, and more time to pray in earnest for them and their growth and needs. It takes giving of myself for the good of another.

We cannot understand or have the capacity to love without Jesus. We cannot love others without touching the cross and allowing it to touch deep down into us in a meaningful way. He who spread His arms wide on the cross, loving us ‘this much,’ is the One who frees us and fills us to love others as He has loved us. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-8,11,19) Would we seek His filling and be willing to pour ourselves out?

My Savior, may I love genuinely and lavishly in the power of the love You have shown me. May those I love know they are being loved by You.

In All Things, God

Oh that my vexation were weighed,
    and all my calamity laid in the balances!
For the arrows of the Almighty are in me;
    my spirit drinks their poison;
    the terrors of God are arrayed against me.

Oh that I might have my request,
    and that God would fulfill my hope,
that it would please God to crush me,
    that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!
This would be my comfort;
    for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.

Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
    I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
    I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

“What is man, that you make so much of him,
    and that you set your heart on him,
 visit him every morning
    and test him every moment?
How long will you not look away from me,
    nor leave me alone? 

He is wise in heart and mighty in strength
    —who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?—
Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
    he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
    Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” Job 6:1-2,4,8-10; 7:11,17-19; 9:4,11-12,15

Job in his misery has lamented his birth, loathing life because of his painful wounds and bitter-breath existence. Yet, through all his complaint and tortured situation, and his responses to friends who have short wisdom and even less compassion, he sees all through the lens of knowing his God, and implicitly trusts Him. (Job 9:17,18,21)

Distances, South Africa

Many today, either from countries where God has been publicly non-existent for centuries, or raised in cultures where God has been marginalized or outlawed in more recent times, have no divine vantage-point from which to view life. Pain, sickness, rejection, hardship, isolation happen in spiritual vacuums, resulting in a startling lack of hope and purpose. How can there be reasonable coping mechanisms, or courage to persevere, where there is a void of faith, a life-continuum, expectation for good beyond the here and now?

Placing our trust in God, and a close ongoing relationship with Him, fit us with spiritual lenses that allow us to see all of life with an eternal perspective. No matter what we are called to endure, we experience it within the parameters of God’s sovereign rule. However trying our circumstances, deep our pain, or confusing our paths, we know God reigns, is not confused or surprised, and works all for our good. Our angst, our grief, our fears are under His watchful care, and never too great for His loving comfort to envelop or His plans to incorporate. The near and now has not yet touched the forever. (Psalm 22:28; 135:5-6; Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28)

Have I slid into narrow, horizontal vision? Am I prone to measuring my issues in human terms, and wriggling uncomfortably with my lot in life because I don’t like or understand it? Will I instead determine to lift my eyes, to maintain a high view of the God who conducts all of life’s orchestra, and trust His perfect precision, righteousness, and grace?

My God, teach me to see with Your vision, and discern all things from the vantage point of Your character, high purposes, and truth. May I ever glorify Your majestic sovereignty.

Who Has Known His Mind?

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called?

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?’

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 9:14-17,21-24; 11:33-36

There is a majesty in Paul’s cogent reasoning and explaining of supernatural inexplicables. He traces the mercy of God as His loving gift, and like glistening diamonds against black cloth, God’s glorious provision against the justice we deserve. Instead of our owning rights to life and salvation, he proves we deserve nothing but death, ‘but God.’ Instead of our arguing to justify ourselves and determine who deserves what, he silences us to consider the patience and power of God, all orchestrated for His glory. We cannot know His mind, but we can trust it.

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The saving ways of God are mysterious, an inerrant blend of justice and mercy. We cannot comprehend every aspect, but we know they are perfect because He is perfect. His grace is wide, His majesty great, His providence sure. Who are we to question and bicker and chafe at His sovereignty? We are meant not to take His place, but to humble ourselves before His power and trust His love. Almighty God not only has the right to do what He has purposed from the beginning, but He will rightly bring it about to the praise of His glory. (Psalm 18:30)

Paul himself, master of intellect and word, concludes his contemplation of God’s sovereignty by breaking into worshipful song. It is the only human response. The more he considers Him, and the inexpressible gift of His irresistible affection unto our salvation, he cannot help but be amazed, open his hands, and offer Him all honor forever. Shall we do the same? Rather than dismissing what we do not understand, would we take time to think about it, and worship because we cannot understand?

Oh good Father, elevate my thinking to the point of asking, ‘what shall I say?’ Quiet me in reverent submission, then open my mouth to praise You for Your sovereignty and grace forever.

 

What Does the Master See?

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” Genesis 39:1-4

A man… called his servants and entrusted to them his property,.. to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more… Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Matthew 25:14-16,19-21

When entrusted with much, Joseph set to work. An unjustly sold slave, he accepted his stewardship of Potiphar’s possessions, resources, and family as an assignment from his Lord, rolled up his robe sleeves, and handled all with diligent care and industry.  He didn’t chafe or fret or laze, he didn’t spend time looking over his shoulder; his eyes and hands focused on his tasks because his heart was fixed on his real Master. And Potiphar noticed, and was pleased. Joseph’s faithfulness won him favor, esteem, and more responsibility. (Ephesians 6:6)

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How about us? With what has God entrusted me? What opportunities to work, and serve, has He assigned, and how wholeheartedly have I accepted them? Do I complain at unjust treatment, try to finagle position and manipulate according to my preferences, neglect the more challenging or menial duties? Or do I accept what He gives with willing hands and eager feet, welcoming even challenges with zeal because I am serving the King? When watching us as stewards of talents and material goods He has given, of His people and world, what does our Master see? (Romans 12:6-11,16)

When I go about my days, whose approval spurs me on? Whose “well done” do I crave?Do I care more about how I look or measure up to peers, what my neighbors and colleagues think, or that I am doing what my unseen Master has asked of me with excellence, integrity, in a way that pleases Him?

Good Master, it is You I ultimately serve. Over all You have put me in charge, keep me awake, faithful, wholly attentive to work as Your steward with sincerity of heart, to the multiplication of Your bounty and magnification of Your glory. (Mark 13:34-35; Colossians 3:22-24)