Truth + Love

Life Lesson # 6: Truth and love must go hand in hand in our lives

If anyone comes to you and does 
not bring this teaching, do not 
take them into your house or welcome 
them. Anyone who welcomes them 
shares in their wicked work. 
2 John 10-11

Throughout the text in these five smallest books in the Bible I keep hearing the lessons about facing sin and specifically facing false teachers.  It’s a topic that makes many of us uncomfortable.  We’ve come to be a Christian world that has accepted the idea of “get alongism.”  If we hear a fellow Christian professing wrong doctrine or openly sinning, we feel so uncomfortable questioning them.  Unless, of course, we take to social media and all kid gloves fall off.  Our inner Pharisee then rears its ugly turban sheltered behind an anonymous computer screen.

So, what’s the solution when a false teacher comes knocking or a Christian friend encourages us to sin alongside them?  John tells the lady of the house to not take them into our homes because doing so spreads their words and ways.  That seems a bit unkind doesn’t?  I mean, Jesus sat with sinners, didn’t he?  Ah, if only we were so strong as Jesus to withstand the wily ways of the devil. 

Bad company corrupts good character.  
1 Corinthians 15:33 

Notice the use of the word, “welcome” in our verse in 2 John today.  That implies a joyful and eager acceptance of someone.  If I invited a person whom I knew to be a false teacher into my Bible study my group would surely think I endorsed what they were teaching.  However, if I approached that same person separately, with God’s urging, and spoke the truth to them that’s a different story.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, 
we will grow to become in every 
respect the mature body of him who 
is the head, that is, Christ.
Ephesians 4:15

Truth in love.  Love with truth.  They are like twins conjoined at all major organs.  One without the other fails.   There’s a great song by For King and Country that uses the teachings from 1 Corinthians 13.

If I give to a needy soul but don’t have love then who is poor? It seems all the poverty is  found in me.  

For King & Country, Proof of Your Love

In other words, if I expose a sin in a friend, fellow Christian, pastor, etc, but do it without Jesus-type love then I am no better than the Bible’s Pharisees.  And if there was one group of people that Jesus admonished the most it was the Pharisees.

When I think of a group of self-professed, non-loving “Christians” who fall into this category I picture the faces of the Westboro Baptist church.  For those unfamiliar with this group, their targets are primarily homosexuals.  On the face of their mission, they want to tell people of the dangers of this sin.  They have been known to attend and protest at the funerals of gay young men who have been brutally murdered.  They harass their families and friends.  I would hope that we can all agree this method of “preaching” will not convert one single soul to Jesus.  There may be some Biblical truth in their message.  But their hate-filled voices are completely void of love.  These are the folks we should not “welcome” into our homes, rather meet them outside the gates and share the message of truth surrounded with love.  They are the “almost rights” which are therefore always wrong.

And what of love without truth?

“Ships are safer in harbors.  But ships are made for the stormy seas.”

Vance Havner

Meaning when we Christians fall into the false teaching of “Jesus wants us to just love everyone no matter what” or we slap the “coexist” sticker on our car, we water down our God-ordained separateness from the world.  We become just another person on the street trying not to upset anyone.  We join the club of “I’m ok you’re ok” and the sword of the spirit becomes as dull as a plastic knife. We allow, even welcome, the darkness to enter our homes because we are afraid to be seen as judgmental, rude or just plain weird.

“When we seek only to love but never proclaim a better way, we short-circuit God’s plan.  As believers in Christ, we need to be known for both truth and love.”  

Matt Brown, Truth Plus Love — the Jesus Way to Influence

We are warned throughout the New Testament of false prophets and false teachers using all manner of evil to lead the faithful astray.

But there were also false prophets 
among the people, just as there will 
be false teachers among you. They 
will secretly introduce destructive 
heresies, even denying the sovereign 
Lord who bought them—bringing swift 
destruction on themselves. Many will 
follow their depraved conduct and 
will bring the way of truth into 
disrepute. In their greed these 
teachers will exploit you with 
fabricated stories.
2 Peter 1-3 

When we fear “rocking the boat” and don’t rely on the Lord to help us speak truth to these situations we have separated those conjoined twins – truth and love.

“To pursue union at the expense of truth is treason to the Lord Jesus.”

Charles Spurgeon

There are few lessons I have taken as much to heart as this concept of conjoined truth and love.  It guides my fervor to be tempered with compassion.  It helps me to stand up for God when I fear recrimination.  It has led me to draw Jesus-centered lines in the sand.  And it has released me from guilt for positions I take because I know I have done so in love.  This lesson has brought me to a good place in my relationship with my parents – something I had failed to do on my own.

Our faith is not intended to be a private matter.  Yes, we work out our sanctification one-on-one with God.  But our obedience in faith is what sets us apart from this world.  And when we step out our doors we need to be armed with truth plus love and love plus truth. 

A Tiny Message #4

Therefore, since we have these 
promises,dear friends, let us 
purify ourselves from everything 
that contaminates body and spirit, 
perfecting holiness out of 
reverence for God. 
2 Corinthians 7:1

When you think of the word “holy” the most likely target of our thoughts is God or Jesus. But the pursuit of holiness is what is required of us upon professing our faith. The word “sanctification” may be more aligned to what we think that process entails.

The ancient Israelites were tasked with bringing complicated offerings to God in order to work on their path toward holiness. Not only were the 10 commandments expected to be obeyed but many detailed animal sacrifices were to take place for the cleansing of sin. But the Israelites only could receive a shadow of complete forgiveness. As Christians, Jesus has taken the place of all those rituals. The rituals and forgiveness yes, but not the task of working toward holiness through obedience. I read this quote the other day while studying Leviticus that might help to spur us on toward right thinking about holiness.

Happiness, not holiness, is the chief pursuit of most people today, including many professed Christians. They want Jesus to solve their problems and carry their burdens but they don’t want Him to control their lives and change their character. It doesn’t disturb them that eight times in the Bible, God said to His people, “Be holy, for I am holy,” and He means it.

Warren Wiersbe on Leviticus

Let’s work together offering ourselves as living sacrifices so that our sanctification process brings us closer to God’s desire of holiness for us.

Pilgrim Not Citizen

Lesson 5: Walk in Truth through obedience to God

It has given me great joy to 
find some of your children walking 
in the truth, just as the Father 
commanded us.
2 John 1:4

I was reading a new book recently that said, “Today, America is rich but morally rotten.  Our heads and our hands have outrun our hearts. We have gained the world but have lost our souls.”  The author went on to describe the lawlessness and chaos that fetishism, polytheism and any number of ‘isms’ have wrought on our society.  I looked back to the beginning of this little book to see when it was published – 1969.  

I could take just about any paragraph from this book, “In Times Like These,” and you would surely think the author was writing about yesterday or today.  The frightening results of our demand for “progress” in all parts of lives are prophetically found in this fascinating group of sermons by Vance Havner, a contemporary of Billy Graham.

“The time is short, and the fashion of this world is passing away”

Vance Havner

For the Christian, we are admonished to live as people set apart from the world.  (Romans 12:2). And yet we have homogenized so much of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus.  I heard a pastor once say, “The world doesn’t hate ‘nice’ people.” Think about that for a moment. So many of us want, as our goal, to be seen as ‘nice, Christians’ — certainly not ones that cause waves like Jesus did day in and day out. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers 
and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, 
to offer your bodies as a living 
sacrifice, holy and pleasing to 
God—this is your true and proper 
worship.
Romans 12:1

My BSGs and I were finishing up a week of Bible study about what the church means to God and to us as Christians.  We got into a discussion about how easy it is to be a Western-world Christian.   And although we’ve seen that challenged over the last year, we still don’t face the threat of death when choosing to worship. Prison, maybe, but not death.  (A little over a year ago I wouldn’t even have thought to write that last sentence).

At a church one of my Bible gals and I attended for many years, there was a pastor of Egyptian origin.  He would tell us of the inherent dangers of even wearing a cross or holding a Bible while travelling in Cairo.  He regaled us with stories of various mission trips back to his homeland fraught with intrigue.  And after an hour listening to his sermon and beautiful music we would go back about our “other” lives – not having risked anything ourselves.

We are promised an everlasting life, through faith and obedience to God. The type of obedience John writes about in 2 John.  “A walk in obedience to His commands.”  Earlier, John tells us of Jesus’ prayer to His father on the eve of His death. 

I have revealed you to those 
whom you gave me out of the world. 
They were yours; you gave them to 
me and they have obeyed your word. 
Now they know that everything you 
have given me comes from you.
John 17:6-7

The “knowing” then requires the “obeying” – a living out of what God expects from us now that His Word has been revealed.  But how many of us offer our entire lives over as a “living sacrifice?”  One of my friends and I have this now running joke that we have our “faith life” but then we have our “real life.”  Knowing that in God’s expectation those are to be one and the same.

“Devotion to Him (Jesus) must be so high and so deep and so intense that all other loyalties must seem in comparison as though they did not exist.”

Vance Havner

That takes obedience to a whole new level.  I fear that modern Christians read this and immediately assume we must be the rich prince of whom Jesus asks to give up all his possessions in order to follow Him.  (Matt 19:21-24)  And in fact, many a breezy, occasional, Sunday-only Christian has misinterpreted that to be the case.  But Jesus only ever asks us to give up what is separating us from Him.  What idols have we placed in front of Him so that it blocks our view of Him or our ability to obey Him?

The world is full of gadgets and facilities that are not wrong unless we make them ends in themselves or turn them to evil uses.

Vance Havner

For some that idol is time.  Or more specifically who or what gets our time.  In the 2 John letter, John calls out the “lady chosen by God” for her love of God.  And he knows of this love because of her obedience to the commandments.  She walks in love of God.  Even Satan knows God.  But the chasm between the lady in John’s letter and Satan is her obedience.  She most likely spent much of her day praying, guiding others to God, teaching her children about God, and working as God’s daughter.

“Christian love is not just some special emotion that makes us accept others.  It’s an act of will – treating people the same way God treats you.”

Warren Wiersbe on 2 John

An act of will.  That’s not some squishy, marshmallowey feeling.  It means 1) knowing the will of God and 2) committing our entire body to obeying His commandments.  It means living a life set apart from this world – and maybe even your current church or group of friends.  It means being in danger of getting called “weird” or “freak.”  It might even mean being labeled a “bigot” or “hatemonger.”  

Some of you may recall seeing the storm that descended upon New Orleans Saints football quarterback Drew Brees when he joined Focus on the Families’ call to “bring your Bible to school day.”   He was called all manner of hateful things and a call went out to shame and silence him.  For promoting bringing a book to school.

The time is nearer now than ever before to awaken in obedience as Christians. I read a comment that the Bible is a disturbing book. It “bids us to stir up the gift of God.” We are admonished to “gird our loins (Luke 12:35),” disrupt our sleepy scheduled lives (Rom 13:11) and grasp the seriousness of our times. We are closer to the coming of Christ than yesterday. And it doesn’t take much to see how anarchy and apathy are playing a role in God’s timetable.

When I started fresh out of college at my new job, I was just barely 22 years old.  I was given a lot of responsibility to set up a brand new marketing and public relations department.  The corporate culture was very resistant to the new ideas I brought to the table.  I was called all manner of terrible things.  But I learned a valuable lesson.  When the “big boss” has your back you can forge a path through any swamp, forest or desert.  As Christians we have the mightiest “boss” of them all – God.  We should walk in obedience to Him knowing that He has our back.  We should walk in the knowledge that we are just passing through this world and will do so as God’s children. We should look forward to making a few waves, in Jesus’ name.

I’m in it (the world) but not of it; I’m a pilgrim and stranger; I’m not a citizen of old Babylon, I’m looking for another city.

Vance Havner

A Tiny Message #3

But God chose the foolish things 
of the world to shame the wise; 
God chose the weak things of the 
world to shame the strong. 
1 Corinthians 1:27

Do you ever feel a bit foolish standing up for what you think is right? Do you ever think “who am I to speak against what someone more powerful (knowledgeable, worthy, wealthy) than I?” As an obedient Christian you probably should have had this experience a few times in your life.

These days it seems the world is upside down. What was right is now wrong. What was good is now bad. Or worse, right and wrong are no longer absolute but relative.

But we are called to be God’s watchmen (Isaiah 56) and to hold fast to what is good and what is right. It takes all God’s people, each with their different gifts, to hold the line for God. I read this confession last week and thought it might be a great boost for us today.

I confess that I am NOT substandard, second rate, low grade or inferior. I am filled with the Spirit of God, and have the call of God on my life. Even if my gifts and talents seem small in comparison to others, I have all that I need in order to do what God has asked me to do. God wants to use me to baffle the “know it alls” and to bewilder people who are more talented than I but do not trust the Lord. He wants to get glory because of what He does through me! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

One Truth

Life Lesson #4: Know the truth of God’s Word

Anyone who runs ahead and does 
not continue in the teaching of 
Christ does not have God; whoever 
continues in the teaching has 
both the Father and the Son.
2 John 9

We hear a lot of “my truth,” “your truth” these days.  What that really means is telling someone that their experience of a situation makes the facts of that situation flexible.   The use of this term makes it clear you aren’t to question someone’s opinion.  For example, we all know how human life is created.  When a human sperm fertilizes a human egg, the new life begins its process toward a fully created human baby.  Those are facts.  The circumstances surrounding that creation of new life may be slightly different for one person or another.  But those circumstances don’t create a “new truth” about the creation of life.  

We have now entered into the teachings found in the small letter by John (2 John) to a woman, whom scholars believe to be a home church host. In it, he reminds her that there are self-professed “teachers of the word” who have either added to or distorted Jesus’ words. He cautions her to not even allow people like that into her home for fear that people will be led astray.

There is a frightening movement in our time that says we can’t agree on even basic truths.  In the world of “church,” entire denominations have turned away from scripture by voting on accepting “new truths.”  I’m not sure what the end goal is behind this movement except chaos.  And as Christians we know who the king of chaos is – Satan. 

“If ‘moving forward’ leads us away from the doctrines of the person and work of Jesus Christ then that is dangerous.”

Warren Wiersbe on 2 John

I had a great discussion with a friend about the Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi.  Once the apostles trained more and more missionaries, the Word spread far and wide. But that also meant the Word of God got more and more distorted.  In fact, all the letters written by the apostles and included in the Bible have some focus on sticking with the truth of the Gospel and Jesus’ words. Sure there were folks that simply misunderstood the message but there were also those that craved power and the possibility of making money off new believers (something that still happens today!)

I’m always surprised when I’m in faith-type discussions with fellow Christians and a statement about God or Jesus is said that just doesn’t find its truth in the Bible.  For some, studying and reading the Bible just isn’t a priority.  Yet those same Christians go out into the world professing to know and understand its truths.  Here’s a few you might recognize:

  • “Jesus is a socialist.”  
  • “Jesus says to love and accept everyone no matter what.”  
  • “The Bible doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality (or any kind of sex outside marriage).”
  • “The Bible hates women.”
  • “I love Jesus but there are lots of different ways to salvation and God.”  
  • “The Bible teaches us to hate rich people and the accumulation of wealth.”  
  • “If you pray hard enough God will answer you.” 
  • “If God doesn’t answer you then you obviously have done something wrong.”  
  • “The Bible teaches that women are less respected than men.”  
  • “Jesus was just a man.”  
  • “Christians aren’t supposed to express their beliefs if in a government job.”  
  • “Christians are supposed to obey the government no matter what.”
  • “Faith should be private.”
  • “Sharing the gospel is like being a used car salesman and isn’t something we should do.”
  • “Jesus wants you to give up everything you own and follow him.”

A few years ago, the denomination that I’ve been a member of for about 20 years authorized same-sex marriages and voted to divest from Israel.  I wrote to the leadership and made a simple request.  “Show me where your decision is based on Biblical truth.”  And what I got in response was crickets. Because, “who do I think I am questioning those in the know?” But the great thing about Jesus is He brought the Word to all of us.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you, you 
will bear much fruit; apart from me 
you can do nothing.”
John 15:5

In other words, our job is to stay tightly attached to Jesus.  Stay anchored in His Holy Word.  If we could even stick with the basic message of Jesus day in and day out, we would be victorious in living out the one, most important truth – that God sent His son to give us redemption for our sins.  And our acceptance of this truth leads us to behave like saved people, attached to the great vine.

Keep this Book of the Law always 
on your lips; meditate on it day 
and night, so that you may be careful 
to do everything written in it. 
Then you will be prosperous and 
successful.
Joshua 1:8

Throughout the Bible we are told to have His Holy Word on our lips, on our hearts and on our minds.  How do we do that?  For many it stops at going to church occasionally.  But what my BSGs (Bible study girls) have discovered is that to truly know and understand the great truths of the Bible is to be immersed in His Word.  To truly study on it, meditate on it, sing it, speak it and even defend it.  And then it becomes imprinted on our hearts and minds.  Too many of us go to the once a week lecture in the lecture hall and then fail to do the assigned homework.

If our homes and churches are to be true to Christ and oppose false teachers, we must know the truth.

Warren Wiersbe on 2 John

There is no true love apart from the truth of God.  He sets us on the right, good and loving path.  Love, because we know the truth, becomes action. 

Stand firm then with the belt 
of truth buckled around your waist, 
with the breastplate of righteousness 
in place.
Ephesians 6:14

We hear a lot about the need to be “progressive” in our faith so that it has relevance – or new “truths.”  Yet, when we read the Bible we see the same sinful behavior played out year after year, century after century.  The Greek word prokopé (progress) means something different to Christians.  

For the believer, this means going forward in sanctification, cutting through obstacles by the Lord’s power.

Strong’s Concordance

“By the Lord’s power” – His Spirit and His Word.  Progress to a Christian is not about creating a “new truth.”  It’s about applying God’s truth to our lives and cutting out our worldly ways.  It’s about resting in the knowledge that God is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow.  It’s about having peace that Jesus taught us what is right and good.  It’s about knowing that the Holy Spirit guides us through the chaos of this world.  It is our responsibility as God’s people to know the truth of His Word.

A Mirror for Jesus

Lesson 3: Imitate good, not evil

Dear friend, do not imitate 
what is evil but what is good.  
Anyone who does what is good 
is from God.
3 John 11

Occasionally in our lives we are asked to state who we consider to be our “hero or who we most admire.”  According to the annual United States Gallup poll the incumbent president is usually top of mind when Americans name, without prompting, which man living anywhere in the world they admire most. In the 74 times Gallup has asked the open-ended most admired man question since 1946, the incumbent president has topped the list 60 times.

When you look at the list from 2020, four of the “most admired men alive today” are politicians, one is a government employee, two are businessmen, one is an athlete and two are religious leaders.  Billy Graham is the all-time vote getter while he was still living with 61 appearances in the top 10 of this list.  That fact made me feel slightly better.

Although as a society we seem to easily agree that most politicians are not typically ones to be trusted we, for some reason, continue to view them as someone to admire.  

Growing up I would have done a “hard pass” on who to write down when asked this question.  I lived a fairly sheltered life – not much TV, only one friend, my parents didn’t have many friends.  And I wouldn’t have written my mom or dad on that list.  At various times in my life I’ve thanked God for somehow keeping me on a halfway straight path due to limited guidance.

According to Forbes magazine these are the ten qualities people admire most in others:

  1. Humility
  2. The ability to learn
  3. Integrity
  4. Responsibility
  5. Resilience
  6. Compassion for others
  7. Respect for others
  8. Big visions
  9. Inspire others
  10. The ability to “reinvent themselves”

After reading this list, did anyone come to mind?  I doubt that it was a politician.  When I got married I finally met someone that does a pretty good job meeting the high standards of this list – my mother in law.  I set upon a path of being more like her.  Someone who is kind to everyone, offers a friendly “hello” at all times, thinks of and serves others, and is always looking on the bright side.  While attempting to mirror her I realized I had, in fact, been imitating someone else all along.  Someone who was inwardly focused, pessimistic, frequently angry, and had difficulty showing love.  

At the end of John’s letter to the church elder Gaius, he warns us to be careful who we choose to imitate.  He has made the case that another church leader, Diotrephes, while powerful and surely had a large following, was not up to the standards set by Jesus.  He instead turns Gaius to another Christian brother, Demetrius.

Demetrius is well spoken of by 
everyone—and even by the truth 
itself. We also speak well of him, 
and you know that our testimony 
is true.
3 John 12

You notice it isn’t enough to have others speak well of someone.  John reminds us that the “truth” must also be used as a measuring stick.  There are many famous people on Gallup’s “most admired men alive” list.  And many have well known, serious transgressions.  Carelessness with the truth has been one of those.  But because they are famous we humans tend to set many bad behaviors aside.

When I was coaching girls softball, I watched the habits and techniques of many of the successful coaches.  I gleaned a lot of good coaching skills from them.  But there wasn’t one, at the time, that I could name as most admirable.  Many parents, on the other hand, admired those coaches because they won trophies.  What they didn’t mind was the abusive behavior toward their young daughters.  Unfortunately, throughout my years in youth, high school and collegiate sports I found this to be frequently the case.  And parents expected other coaches to imitate this same behavior, thinking that was a winning formula.

Last year, my BSGs (Bible Study girls) embarked on a new study called “The Proverbs 31 Woman.”  Now there’s a woman to admire!  Here’s an excerpt from this long list of character traits to imitate:

She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
Proverb 31: 15-18

Each week we would take a verse and apply it to our lives.  From our relationship with our husbands to our finances, our work ethic to our own health we were presented with a truly admirable touchstone for our lives.  We cleaned out our closets and our minds.  We took a hard look at our finances and our eating habits.  We used God’s Word rather than the world of the flesh to imitate.

In our world today so many people are trying to imitate the latest Instagram influencer or sports figure.  We see “success” or fame as proof they are worthy of imitation.   We put people like Joanna Gaines or Elon Musk up high on our list. Meanwhile there are Jesus followers, who just do the good work day in and day out that truly deserve our imitation.

Join together in following my 
example, brothers and sisters, 
and just as you have us as a 
model, keep your eyes on those 
who live as we do.
Philippians 3:17

It might seem like it takes a real discerning, wise mind to know who to imitate.  But we all truly know when we’ve met that “someone.”  We just then need to measure that person against God’s truth. And yes, we all sin.  We all have something to which we must repent to God.  But I’d rather imitate a loving, self sacrificing person who doesn’t always use her time wisely than a person who causes chaos and destruction in her wake.

Take a moment today and evaluate the answer to the question, “Who do you most admire?”  Be honest.  It’s easy to throw off platitudes.  No one else but God is listening.  Until we can face the evil we are imitating we cannot fully become the mirrors for Jesus.

A Tiny Message #2

So, what do we do when a prominent member of our church or a Christian friend has fallen off  Jesus’ path?  First, let’s remember that every single person sitting in a church is actively sinning in one way or another.  As Christians, we acknowledge that Jesus didn’t come to save us so we can keep on sinning.  He came to create a new covenant – that by stating our faith in Him we are saved from eternal damnation from sin.  And through that faith we are to work daily being the best example of His people as possible.   (Eph. 4:22-24)

When the teachers of the law 
who were Pharisees saw him eating 
with the sinners and tax collectors, 
they asked his disciples: “Why does 
he eat with tax collectors and 
sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus 
said to them, “It is not the healthy 
who need a doctor, but the sick. I 
have not come to call the righteous, 
but sinners.” 
Mark 2:16-17

If it’s ok to say to a Christian friend who confesses their issues they have with pride that we love them, then it’s also ok to say to a church leader who has an extramarital affair that we love him as well.  And just like our prideful friend, we are challenged to help that church leader find his way back into the truth of God’s Word.  

Notice that Jesus says He came to be a doctor of sorts. He didn’t say He was just going to ignore sin and allow it to grow like a cancer. We should be surrounded with loving people who remind us of our place in the covenant with Jesus.  We are our brother’s keeper.  

The Big Picture

Lesson #2: Commit to the big picture of Christ through the details of His love

So when I come, I will call 
attention to what he (Diotrephes) 
is doing, spreading malicious 
nonsense about us.
3 John 10

My current Bible study, Everyday Theology, has been a great strengthening and clarification of my Christian beliefs.  Starting with what scripture is intended for and delving into the trinity and our role as believers in this big world, the lessons have given my BSGs (Bible study girls) a number of  “ah ha” moments.  We currently are on the section about “church.”  What it is, who is the head of it and what our responsibilities as part of the body entail.  The first question asked was for us to define what we call “church.”  

When I hear media-types chastise the “church” or “Christians” for not condemning some action or stance it makes me wonder what church spokesperson they think will step up to a microphone.  Of course, for Catholics that would be the Pope or a regional bishop.  But in the non-Catholic world we are so dispersed, with varying types of faith, traditions, even morals and values.

In John’s letter to the church elder, Gaius, he juxtaposes the elder’s immense love for his brothers and sisters in Christ with another church leader, Diotrephes.  These brothers and sisters are strangers to Gaius but he welcomes them readily into his home.  These travelers are doing the good work of Jesus – spreading the salvation message.  And then there’s Diotrephes.  John describes this leader as one “who loves to be first.”  He doesn’t welcome strangers but even worse, he refused to welcome John.

Imagine that, a church elder who wouldn’t welcome Jesus’ apostle!  You’d have to think about the reasoning behind this.  This elder even kicks out other believers who welcome new people.  And why? Because, as what Warren Wiersbe calls a “church dictator,” he lost his focus on Jesus’ Big Picture of love and instead became focused on the details of man-made doctrine.

“All true Christians can agree on the fundamental doctrines of the faith and, in love, give latitude for disagreement on other matters.”

Warren Wiersbe

I’ve read there are about 34,000 different Christian denominations in the world.  The Wikipedia page on Christian denominations (Catholic and non) is an almost endless list.  Sub groups within sub groups.  People who have followed a pastor’s or priest’s particular issue with “the way things are done” and split off from their home church.  And as active members of church we have all seen the after effects of a change in leadership – numbers dwindle and people divide.  Some churches survive and even thrive while others fade away.

But avoid foolish controversies 
and genealogies and arguments and 
quarrels about the Law, because 
these are unprofitable and useless.
Titus 3:9

The Greek word zelos means something very fervent as with Spirit-fueled zeal to serve the Lord. Zelos is used both negatively (“jealousy”) and positively (“zeal”) in the Bible.  

For where you have envy and 
selfish ambition (zelos), there 
you find disorder and every 
evil practice.
James 3:16

Because when we put our ideas about “the way thing should be done” above the big picture of Jesus and His commandment to love one another as He loved us, we will fail every time.  And what is showing that love? To live in obedience to His will.  

As I’ve worked through studying the Bible, I keep coming back to my knowledge of how churches work and how they don’t.  I’m mystified by the lack actual Biblical based decision making.  And how so many people forget the message of 1 Corinthians 13 — the people in our church or faith family are all gifted by God but the use of those gifts must be in love.

If I speak in the tongues of men 
or of angels, but do not have love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a 
clanging cymbal.
1 Cor 13:1 

I once sat on a church marketing committee that included a wide variety of talented people — many of whom had been members of the church for eons. The pastor welcomed us and gave us our charge. I asked a few questions seeking clarification. Within seconds of him leaving, so we could move on with more planning, an older woman who sat across from me immediately pointed a finger at me and said, “Who do you think you are? And what makes you think you know anything about what needs to be done?” Fortunately I was comfortable enough about my background (I have worked in public relations and marketing) that I almost laughed. You see, because I wasn’t part of her “known” circle I was a nobody to “her church.”

We are so often led by the flesh – what sounds good, what feels good.  That’s how someone like Diotrephes was allowed to be a dictator at his church.  He said enough of the right things to convince enough people to support him.  Had they backed up in their thinking and measured his actions against Jesus, the Truth would’ve been revealed.

Notice this Life Lesson isn’t just about the Big Picture.  It says, “through the details of His love.”  As Christians we must be students of the Word.  If not, we are easily led by apostates and dictators and anyone else in our church who appears to be in charge.  Jesus didn’t come to erase the Law.  He reminds us of the simplicity of the Mosaic Law, without all the human-made rules and regulations placed on it.  He constantly chastised the Pharisees for behavior that we find today throughout our Christian churches.

Woe to you experts in the law, 
because you have taken away the 
key to knowledge. You yourselves 
have not entered, and you have 
hindered those who were entering.
Luke 52:1

Remember that question in my study about theology?  What is the church?  It’s you and it’s me.  It’s not just a pastor or priest or committee of leaders or even the clique of volunteers.  We need to take ownership of our membership in the church body.  When we see one of our body leading people astray we are to remind them of Jesus’ Big Picture.  And we are to be knowledgeable enough about His Word to help set the church body back on track.  A dictator or false teacher is only successful with willing followers!

Read the verse again in 3 John 10: “So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us.”

Notice John will confront Diotrephes face to face.  He feels the responsibility of keeping the ship on the right course.  He steps in out of love of the Truth.  He doesn’t say, “I’m coming to fire him” or “I’m getting everyone together to run him out of town.”  John also doesn’t tell Gaius to just go start his own church.  It’s an intervention of sorts.  That sounds a lot like Jesus.

Imagine a Christian world where the more than 3 billion of us were one body.  Where our focus was on obeying Jesus’ teachings and His Big Picture of Love.  Imagine the impact we would have on this broken world.  Imagine if we could just get our own heart and our own local church soundly on that Big Picture path.  

A Tiny Message #1

Did you know that Paul was a small, in stature, man?  In fact, some of the Corinthian leaders thought less of him because of this.  

You are judging by appearances.  
If anyone is confident that they 
belong to Christ, they should 
consider again that we belong to 
Christ just as much as they do.
2 Corinthians 10:7

We have the benefit of history and knowing the impact of the apostles, unlike the Corinthian leaders.  But who have you looked at and thought, “She says some good stuff but physically she really puts me off.”  That is exactly what they said to Paul. (2 Cor. 10:10). The name “Paul” even means “little one!”  Yet we can all agree he was certainly mighty among men.  

Is there something about you, physically, that is holding you back from fully doing God’s work? Are you uncomfortable being a greeter at church because of what people might think of you? Do you hide your smile because of your teeth? Do you not volunteer for something because of your weight? Here’s a confession I read that might help you:

“I proclaim that regardless of what I look like in the natural realm, I am a menace to the devil in the spiritual realm.  In that sphere, I am anointed and powerful, with the ability to pull down strongholds from people’s lives and minds.  I am so mighty in the Spirit that the devil and his forces flee when I resist them!  I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”

Sparkling Gems from the Greek I

Welcome The Stranger

Lesson #1: Show hospitality to strangers, they may be God’s heaven-sent angels

Dear friend, you are faithful in 
what you are doing for the brothers 
and sisters, even though they are 
strangers to you. 
3 John 5

The saying goes, “A man’s home is his castle.”  And we might add to that, “surrounded by a deep moat, protected by a closed drawbridge.”  At least that’s how it seems so many have come to treat their abodes.  But the concept of hospitality has a long history for us Christians.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in 
the evening, and Lot was sitting in 
the gateway of the city. When he saw 
them, he got up to meet them and 
bowed down with his face to the ground. 
“My lords,” he said, “please turn 
aside to your servant’s house. You 
can wash your feet and spend the 
night and then go on your way early 
in the morning.”

"No," they answered, "we will 
spend the night in the square."

But he insisted so strongly that 
they did go with him and entered 
his house.  He prepared a meal for 
them, baking bread without yeast, 
and they ate.
Genesis 19: 1-3

In Leviticus we are admonished to treat the traveler as one of our own family.  And throughout the New Testament we see the kindness of various townsfolk welcoming Jesus and the disciples along the way.  Without these strangers’ help they would’ve found themselves hungry and without a bed on which to lie their head.

And in our smallest Bible book, 3 John, we see the work of a church elder named Gaius.  The news of his hospitality and kindness toward fellow Christians reached John who noted how it brought him “great joy.”

But why is hospitality a life lesson?  The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos from the two words philos (friend) and xenos (stranger) and it means to show proper warmth or friendliness to strangers.  It also means to have the readiness to share our home and other treasures.   So often when we think of hospitality in our home it means inviting friends and family for dinners and parties.   But strangers?  Pull up the drawbridge and release the piranhas into the moat!

So what is Christian hospitality?

  1. Answering calls from the church to hosts missionaries and guests
  2. Inviting church elders over for meals
  3. Hosting church activities such as Bible study in our homes
  4. Reaching out to our unfamiliar neighbors and inviting them over for coffee
  5. Being a welcoming face at church – not just a smile but showing a genuine interest in a new face

I wonder how many of us (I raise my hand) have read in the church bulletin about a visiting missionary needing a place to stay for a week or a car to borrow and we thought at best “Yea, I don’t feel comfortable with that” and at worst didn’t think about it at all?  

I have a friend who has always held her Catholic priests in very high honor.  It borders on being afraid of them.  And when a friend of hers invited her to have a private gathering with a local priest she was aghast that it was all so, well, normal.  It reminds me of when my kids were in elementary school and they thought the teacher didn’t have a life outside the classroom.  But church leaders are people in addition to their divinely appointed roles.  They enjoy fellowship just like you and me!

What hospitality is not.

  1. Allowing situations in our home where guests openly sin
  2. Inviting guests out of a sense of obligation, not love
  3. Feeling the need to have our homes be perfect before inviting guests

Let’s look at number 1.  Many years ago, my husband and I invited his brother and his brother’s girlfriend out for a visit.  They couldn’t afford to travel so we let them stay at our home.  Under one condition.  They’d have to sleep in separate rooms.  As a fairly new Christian, this was the first time I really stood my ground as the “new me.”  Initially, my brother-in-law took issue with this.  He commented that my husband and I had lived together before marriage so why should we now place this restriction on him – wasn’t that hypocritical?  Friends, let’s be honest.  Before we were made new in Christ, we did a lot of stupid, dangerous, sinful things.  It’s ok to now say those things were wrong.  And being that our house is our castle, you can make any rule you want.  We didn’t place judgement on what he did outside our home,  we just drew a line as to what was going to happen in our home, around our children.  Our hospitality included the use of our home but not the erasure of our morals.  The result?  They both came and had a great time plus we were able to witness to my brother in law the changes Christ had made in our lives.

Number two seems obvious but when people take action out of a sense of obligation rather than love, the road can get bumpy.  I read the story of a pastor who was invited to speak at a church.  The host family welcomed him in, showed him his room and then preceded to tell him they didn’t feel it was their responsibility to feed him.  They also worked very hard to completely ignore him over the course of five days.  They did their “Christian duty” in their eyes.  But can we really call that true Christian hospitality? I hope not.

The key to good hospitality isn’t found in the externals, like linen tablecloths and exquisitely furnished guest bedrooms, but in qualities like servanthood, a listening ear, and an encouraging word.

Max Lucado

When I was involved in PTA there was a chair position called “hospitality.”  What that entitled was setting up a beautifully appointed table of yummy food at various events.  Shouldn’t a church body’s goal be more of the philoxenos version?  How many times does your church have to beg people to be greeters or to host a home Bible study? Our church volunteer coordinators should be overwhelmed by the requests to be able to say “hello!” and shake hands with new people.  We should have too many homes (large and tiny) from which to choose for Bible study. We may not be the Hospitality Chair but we should all be committee members!

We ought therefore to show hospitality
to such people (the faithful) so that we
may work together for the truth.
3 John 8

A Christian who lives with an active approach to philoxenos brings God a lot of joy, just like Gaius did for John.  We are reminded in the Old Testament that at one point in our lives we were all strangers.  Strangers hoping for someone to reach out and say “hello.”  Strangers hoping someone would show us God’s love.  We need to assume that person is us.