Category Archives: Man

Love from God, Love to Man

holding hands

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and  your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

The proper expression of love starts with an understanding of God’s love for his people. Love, properly understood, is always expressed in relation to God. It is by understanding the love of Christ at the cross that the depth of man’s love for God finds its proper mooring.

Loving people is not arbitrary self-expression based on a fluttering heart. It is constrained by God’s affirmation of proper and good interaction between people. His guide is given in the Decalogue with the last six commandments forming God’s prescriptions for human relationships.

Honor your father and your mother. Beyond family relationships, this commandment addresses any authority relationships. Those in authority are honored because all authority is from God. Respect for men is actually a secondary result flowing from respect for God. For those in authority, there is also a recognition that any authority is given by God in trust. Human authority does not act autonomously because it is a position of stewardship.

You shall not murder. Angry passions may never rule over a man. That does not mean they never do, but it does mean that when they do, man sins. Jesus taught that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21, ESV). By despising God’s creatures made in his image, passions of unrighteous anger actually dishonor God.

You shall not commit adultery. Adultery is the violation of the covenant made between a man and a woman. The lusts of the flesh may not reign in relationships between neighbors. Beyond physical violations of this commandment, Jesus again teaches us that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28, ESV). God has reserved physical intimacy for marriage covenants. To disregard God’s design is to dishonor him.

You shall not steal. Passions over another man’s possessions should never direct men. When men are led to the point of thievery, they blame God for not giving them what they want. But God has given us his Son, our Savior, a far greater gift than any material possession.

You shall not bear false witness. The Bible teaches that God does not lie, neither is it possible for him to do so (Heb. 6:18). His character assures his people of the certainty of his promise of salvation. As the Savior does, so should his people.

You shall not covet. God is the giver of all things. Man’s heart quickly shows in what way he receives his gifts. If he longs he covets his neighbor’s house, he show himself to be like Israel in the desert, wanting what he does not have. To covet is to charge God with neglect. And yet man’s contentment toward him is so often expressed through his thoughts his neighbor’s possessions.

Love always requires an object. In fact, love is an expression of feelings of affection according to God’s law with the other’s best interest at heart. They originate in our understanding of his love for us, apart from which we would be dead in our sins. But he has given us life. Now we must go and serve him and our fellow man according to his desires.

Responding to God’s Love

Heart Tree

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

Well, after a length hiatus from the blog, we pick up just where we left off. Last year we were in the middle of looking at what love is in light of who God is. God is love, therefore our understanding of love must be derived from him. The love of God for his people is most clearly expressed in sending his Son to suffer and die in our place. In his work, Christ was completely pure, without sin or thought of himself. He came exclusively to do the will of the Father for his glory. When this act of pure love is applied to one of God’s creatures and his or her heart is renewed, love for God is a necessary result. From this newly awakened love toward God flows our love for our fellow man as well.

In the last post love was defined as follows: an expression of feelings of affection according to God’s law with the other’s best interest at heart. The goal of this definition is to keep love from being a nebulous fuzzy feeling. Love is an expression, and as such can be expressed well or poorly. To properly consider love, we first have to think about how man might properly express his love for his Savior. Since love is expressed according to God’s law, we can easily define proper love from man to his Savior by considering the first table of the law, or the first four commandments:

Having no other gods before him. The first commandment is not dealing with ranking, but geography. There are to be no other gods in the Lord’s presence. Since God is omnipresent, or present everywhere, there are to be no other gods, period. That means that to love God is to hold him as pre-eminent in every part of our lives. Anything that pushes God to the background is an act of hatred toward him.

Not making an idol. The second commandment deals with how we serve God. To love God is to serve him as he has commanded. If God says no drunkenness, that is how we will serve him. If God says keep the marriage bed pure, that is what we will do. We do it because God has loved us first, and our gratitude is expressed in our total obedience.

Not taking his name in vain. To love God is to acknowledge him as high and exalted by honoring his name. To make God’s name common, or even a curse word, is to insult him. But we can insult God with our actions as well. When we cause others to speak ill of God because of our actions, we cheapen his work as Redeemer.

Honoring the Sabbath. To love God is to recognize him as your Creator, and the One who led you out of your enslavement to sin. These are the things the Sabbath points to, as well as the future rest that will be ours in heaven. To treat the Lord’s Day as another day for recreation is to slight the picture of the eternal rest we will enjoy in heaven.

So love, originating from God is expressed properly by his people in following his commandments. And all the people who are saved will inevitably love their Savior.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Heart Tree

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because  God is love.” – 1 John 4:8

Love is one of the great mysteries of this life. Songs and poems have been penned to try to explain its powerful sway. Plays, movies and books have been written around its theme. Philosophers and religious leaders have struggled to define it. Yet according to the apostle John, love is the Christian obligation. So we better understand what love is if we are obligated to practice it. The pope and his ilk are traversing the globe defining love as social justice, environmentalism, and other such things. But is that the biblical understanding of love? Let us take a moment to examine whether that is true.

Before we get to define what love is, we must first understand how we can get it. 1 John 4:7 tells us that love comes from God and that our love is an evidence of being born from God. That is an important boundary marker. It means that those who are not born of God cannot actually truly love, in the biblical sense of the word anyway. The apostle is saying that love is a uniquely Christian behavior. This opens up a host of rabbit-trails for us to potentially chase, but let us stay focussed on the task of understanding what love is.

The Apple Dictionary on my computer defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Certainly this definition contains part of the truth. Love is a feeling, but it is not only a feeling. Love is a feeling that requires expression. That is one of the reasons we buy presents and perform acts of kindness for each other. We must express our affections for one another in action, otherwise love is of no use. And yet there must be some overriding principle that helps us understand what action should govern our feelings of affection. Again the apostle John helps us: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3a). So what the Bible is teaching us is that love is a three-fold thing: first, it is a fond affection; second, it requires expression; third, this expression is governed by the commandments of God.

Think of love as it finds its expression in God’s work of redemption. The Father loves the world. But he does not love it as an exercise of feeling. He expresses this love in the sending of his Son to accomplish this redemption for us. Then the Son and the Father together send the Holy Spirit to strengthen and sustain his people as they wait for the final consummation of the kingdom of God. God does that sacrificially and for the good of his people. When God expresses love to the world he does so according to the following definition:

Love is an expression our feelings of affection according to God’s law with the other’s best interest at heart. 

So when John says that love is from God, he is not kidding. Love is from God and it ought not surprise us to find its perfect expression in his work of redemption. Next installment we will consider man’s expression of love following the definition above.

The Creator and His Creatures

the Creator seen in creation

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Psalm 24:1-2 (ESV).

There is a reason the Bible begins with creation. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is the creator of our world. Everything we see in nature has been created by God. More than that, from Colossians 1:16 we know God’s creative work extends beyond the visible into the realms of the invisible too. In short, God made all things and continues to hold them together. Because God is the creator and sustainer of all things, all things belong to him and are obligated to him. Understanding this to be true about God, there are several observations we can make about how we should then relate to our Creator with our time, treasure and talents:

  1. Time. So often we treat time as a commodity to be distributed as we please. However, in our work environments we do not behave this way. We do not check into work and decide to have some “me-time” in the middle of the board meeting or construction project. Our bosses ensure we accomplish our tasks for the good of the company. However, the doctrine of vocation stemming from the protestant reformation teaches that all our work should be done with God in view. Our time should not be spent with a horizontal orientation, thinking primarily about men. Rather, our time should be spent with a vertical orientation, thinking primarily about God. He made us and our work. So we ought to honor God with our time.
  2. Treasure. Since God made all things he is the owner of all things. Whatever we have we received from God’s hand. We live in a materialistic culture and our tendency can be to treat the blessings of this life as ours and to enjoy them exclusively for our own benefits. Yet Proverbs 3:9 charges us to honor God with our wealth. The question is not what we would want to do with our treasure, but what God would have us do with his treasure. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus charges us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That should be our orientation in the use of our money as well.
  3. Talent. Talents do not only describe the people who are gifted singers and musicians. Talents of all stripes are needed to strengthen the church. All church members have a talent which can be used to strengthen her. Some will be talented in ways completely conspicuous to others. Some have been given gifts to be used in very public ways. The talent given is less significant than the way it is used. We should use our talents wisely, to the glory of the One who gave them: our Creator.

God as creator is a significant theological truth. Our Creator is not our peer, but he is Lord of the universe. Since we also are part of his creation, we must recognize our obligation to him. He has given us time, treasure and talents to be used joyfully as we serve him. Yet our joy is not the primary objective in our living. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That statement, my dear friends, is not a suggestion. As his creatures, it is our obligation.

When to Say “I’m Sorry”

offended

The arrival of our first child often makes us doubt the theological accuracy of the sinfulness of man…for a couple of months. It does not take long before the addition of another sinner into our family to, in fact, clearly reveals the sin that is bound up in every person’s heart. Our little ones never have to be taught to rebel against mom and dad. As soon as they are mobile they begin asserting their own wills and when it runs counter to ours, the mentality is often: “Too bad for you, dad!” If the Lord blesses us with more than one child, these transgressions begin accumulate and pile up, and we must learn to deal with them. To navigate these waters it is important to understand the difference between saying “I’m sorry,” and asking forgiveness.

To say “I’m sorry,” is to make a statement of regret. It is an acknowledgment that we have caused something to happen and we wish we had not. In this statement of regret something is missing: acknowledgement of guilt. That which is lacking forms a proper gauge for when this expression should be used. Not all actions effecting others are sinful. For example, when we are holding a cup and it slips out of our hand and shatters on the ground, we were not being careless neither was breaking the cup our intention. It was an accident. A simple “I’m sorry honey. I’ll clean it up,” is a sufficient response. In other words, we say we are sorry when we accidentally do something do another person. However, there are times when saying “I’m sorry,” is not adequate. In fact, to say “I’m sorry,” in response to sin actually tries to minimize the sinful intent of our behavior.

One of the things that must be present in dealing with sinful behavior is an acknowledgment of guilt. In Psalm 32, David is dealing with the right process of confessing sin to God. He does not tell us to tell God of our regret, but says the following: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” David acknowledges his specific sins to the Lord and waits for his forgiveness. The same process is set before us in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is  faithful and just to forgive us our sins and  to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What is true in our relationship with God is also true in human relationships. When we have willfully sinned against our wife, or children, we should acknowledge our sinful ways to them and wait for them to grant forgiveness. We have to admit that we did exactly as we intended at that moment, and ask that they would graciously set our sin against them to the side.

In the conflicts in our homes this distinction is important. Too often our children will be content to express regret in saying “I’m sorry,” without any acknowledgment of guilt in asking forgiveness. We must teach our children to follow the right biblical pattern when it comes to addressing sin between them and God and them and people. Have them acknowledge their guilt before the one they offended, and wait for them to forgive. This process impresses what true repentance is on our children instead of minimizing their sin by allowing them only to express regret.

Cultivating My Child’s Covetous Heart

traffic sign

“A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business…(H)e has scarce time to eat his meat, but no time to pray.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 176)

Last article we saw how a covetous spirit is evidenced in us when we begin to neglect the spiritual aspect of living in pursuit of the common, or worldly. When we begin neglecting our private or corporate worship these are clear signs that we are longing more for the things of this world than for fellowship with God. But we are not only responsible for our own covetous desires. We also bear some responsibility to those who live around us. In no relationship is that responsibility more obvious than between parents and children. And yet, however well-intentioned we may be, there are ways we, as parents, contribute to a spirit of covetousness in our children.

  1. Failure to teach contentment. It is difficult to teach contentment in our western culture. Our children are constantly being bombarded with commercials and catalogues which encourage them to want just a little bit more than they already have. From our children’s perspective, every commercial and catalogue will present them with something they “need” rather than just “want.” 1 Tim. 6:6-10 clearly teaches a love for the riches of this world is destructive. The apostle’s list of needs is quite small: food and clothing. We have to teach this truth to our children and show them how grateful we are for what God has already provided. We can do so by speaking about how the Lord has blessed us beyond measure. This action may seem insignificant, but it will make a big impact.
  2. Failure to teach our children to love the heavenly things. So much of what we model to our children is caught rather than taught. We can constantly tell our children they need to set their eyes on the things above, but unless our actions corroborate this teaching, our children will learn to ignore our words and look simply to our actions. We have to model being heavenly minded in our work and play. We have to lead our children in faithfully study and practice of God’s word. We have to lead our children to value the Lord more than anything else including the fleeting riches of this world.
  3. Failure to restrain the lusts of their flesh. When we give our children unbridled access to their heart’s desire, we are training them to direct all their energy to the pursuit of those things. It could be sports, arts, play time, book learning, or anything else. As parents it is our God-given responsibility to set limits for our children. If our children are always allowed to pursue their own desires, this pattern of behavior will follow them into adulthood. If we insist our children participate in the work of running the family, cheer for their siblings’ successes, do special things for their mother on Mothers’ Day and a host of other options, they will understand they are not the center of the universe, a helpful disposition to encourage contentment rather than covetousness.

Covetousness is one of the great sins of our time. And it will show up in our hearts and our children’s hearts. However we do not have to encourage them in this regard. Instead let us set them a healthy example which they can follow as their little hearts are shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit.

Cultivating My Covetous Heart

wrench

“A man is given to covetousness when he overloads himself with worldly business…(H)e has scarce time to eat his meat, but no time to pray.” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 176)

Ouch! Thomas Watson sure knows how to make it hurt! But just because it hurts doesn’t mean it is not worth considering. Watson’s statement is one that could be applied to all of us on some days. We are all covetous by nature. Like book-ends in God’s Moral Law, both the 1st and 10th commandments confront us with our motivations and loves. Because of their nature, these two commandments summarize our disobedience to the other eight. When we take the name of the Lord in vain we elevate our own desires over the Lord’s thereby setting other gods before him. Or when we steal, the seed form has already long been growing within us: covetousness. We covet when we want something we do not have. So, are you covetous? Are you leading your children toward covetousness?

In this article we will deal with our hearts. In the quote above, Watson makes a distinction between a man’s valuation of his appetites versus his fellowship with God in prayer. It is a sobering assessment, to be sure. I am not seeking to quibble about the kinds of work does and their corresponding demands. I think the Christian street sweeper is as engaged in glorifying God as a pastor and I know this work can be demanding. My questions are designed instead to help us see if we are drifting into sin in our pursuit of our worldly work. We are prone to covet the world’s power, wealth, popularity and success. Certain decisions will reveal our heart’s desire to have taken on a sinful, covetous turn.

The first and tenth commandments remind us we may worship no other gods and should be content with what God has given. So when we find ourselves neglecting God in prayer, we have forgotten these commandments. I cannot give definitive answer on the “when” and “how much” of our private worship, but I can definitively say we should. If only we would apply the same level of intensity to our pursuit of God as we apply to our attempts to win a promotion or raise at work. This very issue is on Watson’s mind when he describes the man who does not consider any amount of hours spent satisfying his appetites to be enough, but does not even begin praying. This inconsistency shows there is a war of loves being waged in our hearts and the good side is losing. We direct our most intense efforts toward that which means the most to us. What will we love more? The flesh or our Lord?

Overloading ourselves with worldly business can also be recognized when we miss corporate worship to take care of our regular employment. God commands one day in seven be given him for the activities relating to his worship. Absenting ourselves from corporate worship should flash a huge red flag in our minds. This decision indicates we want the world’s recognition so badly, we are willing to take from God’s time and apply it to our businesses or jobs so we might gain it. When we begin to make these kinds of choices we are demonstrating a priority: we want the things God has not given us and will pursue them at all costs.

Certainly we must repent of our own covetousness, but we also should guard ourselves against teaching our children to do the same. More on that next time.

Dealing with Sin Is More Than Saying “I’m Sorry.”

Conflict

Our relationships are marred by our sins. This truth should not surprise us because of the corruption of our natures. Yet Christ, in his word, calls us to be discontent about and turn away from our sin (Cf. Luke 13:1-5). As part of the gift of our salvation, Christ provides us with the grace to respond to our sin. This process is summarized in the doctrine of repentance and it is a gift from God.

When God converts us he causes us to deal with our sin. In our families, our children sin against each other and under duress they may mutter and grumble, “I’m sorry,” as unintelligibly as possible to get dad off his back. We may try to handle our transgression against our wife this way. Let me suggest that this process is not a manifestation of repentance. At best it is an expression of regret, but it is not repentance. So what does repentance look like? To help us we will look at Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 15.2. There the Biblical doctrine of repentance is summarized as:

  1. Recognizing sin for what it is. When God saves us, the scales over our spiritual eyes are removed. We see our sin for what it truly is: rotten fruit that is born by our rotten souls (Cf. Luke 6:43-45). This recognition will rightly cause us to cry to God for forgiveness. However, repentance not only makes us sorry for sin, but also causes us to hate it. This hatred is not simply regret, guilt, or dislike. We know we sinned. And we know our sin is intentional, filthy and odious before the Lord. Repentance leads us to acknowledge these things. Muttering a half-hearted “Sorry.” communicates neither regret nor hatred of sin. Do we ask God to help us hate our sin? Do we humble ourselves by acknowledging our guilt by asking for forgiveness? Let us not minimize our sin by simply saying we are sorry. Let us acknowledge our sin what it is: intentional and filthy.
  2. Fleeing to Christ for mercy. In repentance we learn to recognize that, though our sin may have consequences in our relationships, it is primarily sin against God. Our sin makes us guilty in his sight, deserving his just punishment. When God shows us this truth he, though his Spirit, enables us to flee to Christ for forgiveness. More significant than reconciliation with the people we have offended is reconciliation with the God. Let us not skip over confession of sin in our private prayers with a generic acknowledgment that we have sinned. Let us name our sins and confess them (Cf. Psalm 32:3-5). Let us ask the Lord to remember steadfast love, that he would shower his mercy on us.
  3. Committing to new obedience. Repentance is not a daily revisiting of the same sins so we can get off the hook. We may struggle mightily with sin, even besetting sin, but part of repentance is learning to love sin’s opposite. Sin is lawlessness (Cf. 1 John 3:4), and its opposite is obedience to God’s law. If we struggle with pride, repentance teaches us humility. If we struggle with lust, repentance teaches us purity. If we struggle with greed, repentance teaches us generosity.

We should never trivialize our response to sin in repentance. Expressing passing regret is not repentance. We must learn to see the filth of our sin, to hate it with all our hearts, to flee to Christ for his mercy, and to turn then to a new obedience.

Daddy, Does It Matter if I Sin?

father-son-1

Sin. It is the odious cause of our sin and misery. Since the fall, creation groans as it waits for redemption. But we learn early on as children that our sins are forgiven. Jesus died for our sins, so we are not guilty any more. Too often we want to stop right there, wrap it up in a neat package and call it the gospel. However, if we want to maintain a biblical view of God’s redemption of man we have to understand both justification and sanctification.

Justification. In the life of every single believer there is a moment in time where something happens to them. They do not participate in this event, but receive it passively. There is a singular moment in time where God declares them to be righteous in his sight. Every single sin is forgiven and their filthy garments are replaced with robes of the purest white. The passivity of the Christian in this part of the work of redemption is of first importance. Never can we come to the point where we think anything belonging to us contributes to this declaration. Not our tradition, family background, church attendance, or parenting philosophy. Nothing. We simply stand in God’s courtroom and hear him declare, “Not guilty!” He makes this declaration because he is just. His justice has been satisfied in Christ who paid the penalty that belonged to us. We are free from the guilt of sin, but not free to continue to live in sin.

Sanctification. As with justification, the lives of all believers are also marked with subsequent transformation, called sanctification. This change is gradual, many times painful and incomplete in this life, but it is certain. In contrast to our justification, sanctification is not a legal pronouncement. Sanctification is a process of learning to shake off the slavery to sin from which we have been rescued. Scripture repeatedly tells us to put off our old ways and live in righteousness (Cf. Col. 3; Rom. 6:1-2; Eph. 5:1-5). In addition, we are told that this change within us is so essential to the gospel that we can expect no true expression of faith without accompanying works (Cf. Jam. 1:22-25). This work requires effort on our part, by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in us. He enables, but we must strive to do this work.

So does it matter if we sin? From a salvation perspective, the works of Christians do not contribute to our eternal condition. Therefore our sins do not effect our standing before God. They are forgiven and cannot be unforgiven. Yet, our sins are grievous in God’s sight. Each time we sin, we demean the sacrifice of Christ. Sin is a clinging to our pre-redemption condition and a denial of what we are called to do as God’s people. We are to be working out our salvation in fear and trembling, because of love for God, thankfulness for salvation and eternal joy flowing from our understanding of the free gift of justification. So the gospel requires a careful consideration both of justification and sanctification. If we fail our gospel understanding will be truncated.

What Can I Do on the Sabbath?

Ten Commandments

In this post, I’m going to assume you are on board with the idea that Sabbath observance continues to be binding in the New Testament church. If not, you can review my posts here, here and here. The question for today is how to set apart the Sabbath as holy as New Testament believers. Whenever you start talking about setting apart the Sabbath, the main question many people want to solve is whether or not their particular activity of choice would be permissible on the Lord’s Day. “Is it okay for me to do activity X on the Sabbath?” Other people have made artificial lines in the sand in an effort to maintain the sanctity of this day. I think we can do better. I think Scripture gives us a very clear picture of what the Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, should look like. The directives of the Bible on this commandment can be broken down into three main areas.

First, the fourth commandment clearly states that our daily labors are to cease. The Lord commands that on his Sabbath we “shall not do any work.” It is directed at individuals. Of course, works of necessity and mercy are not included in this command to rest, but by and large, we are to cease from our labors.

Second, the fourth commandment also states that the daily labors of those under our care should cease. From children to servants to cattle to foreigners, none are to do any work. The best picture of the implementation of this commandment comes from Neh. 13:15-22. There Nehemiah forcefully implements Sabbath rest, not only for the people of Israel, but also for the Tyrian merchants who tried to set up shop outside the gates. He understood: the Sabbath was a day of rest.

Third, as is so often the case in Scripture, mere external action is not a sufficient expression of our love for God. It must be accompanied by the appropriate motivation. Is. 58:13-14 tell us that on the Sabbath day our hearts are to be turned aside from our own pleasures and instead directed toward delighting in the Lord.

With these broad-stroke principles laid out in Scripture, we can determine the appropriateness of many, if not most, activities on the Sabbath. We simply translate the principles into questions and subject any activity to them: 1. Am I working? 2. Am I making anyone else work? 3. Am I turning from my own pleasure and delighting in the Lord? So long as we answer honestly I think these questions will take care of 95% of the activities in question. I will give only one example:

Can I eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath after morning church? Well, assuming there is no emergency crisis at your house you can ask the three questions. Are you working? No. Are you making others work? Yes. Are you delighting in the Lord? Maybe. For the Christian asking the three questions helps us see there is something in behavior that goes against God’s instruction. We are causing others to work and the 4th commandment says we should not. If our actions violate God’s commandment the Christian is not free to act in that way.

Do not forget. The Christian obeys God’s laws evangelically. What I mean is, we do not obey because we are hoping for God’s approval. Instead, we know and believe what God has done to make us acceptable, so we delight in being able to obey him. In Rom. 7:24 Paul, in agony of spirit cries out about how wretched a man he is. He does not cry this way because he has to obey God’s commandments. He cries out this way because he continually disobeys the commandments. So ask the three questions about your choices of activity on the Sabbath and be prepared to delight yourself in obeying the Lord.