Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House: Romans 14:13-23; Having Unity with Liberty Minus Authority

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 28, 2014

Last week, we once again reminded ourselves of the importance of interpreting the book of Romans via the “mystery of the gospel.” This is the full revelation concerning God’s plan to make the Gentiles part of the commonwealth of Israel. This unification of diverse cultures with the Jews puts the power of God on display, so we should pursue unity vigorously. Certainly, a diverse group of people working in unity for a common cause, the gospel, is a powerful message in our day. If diversity will come together for that cause, it is assumed that the cause is of paramount importance.

If putting unity on display is of paramount importance, we concluded that using home fellowships to evangelize is a really bad idea. Unity can be difficult enough among believers without adding unbelievers into the mix. Believers should be equipped to evangelize outside the fellowship of believers.

We also looked at the Jewish tendency to judge because the Jews were the keepers of the law, and the idea that Christ came to end the law was a difficult transition for them. There is NO law in justification—the law cannot justify—it can only condemn—that’s why Christ came to end the law…for justification.

But the role of the law in regard to the born again believer is another matter.  Love, obedience, and faith are now fused together. We will soon see this in the text this morning. In the Christian life, the law is not only the Spirit’s sword, it is HIS law. He is the Spirit of life, and He uses the law to sanctify, and that law is TRUTH (John 17:17). In the Bible, as we will see, love, obedience, and faith are synonymous.

Last week, we also learned the importance of clarifying the gospel of first importance as a basis for fellowship. Past that, opinions about the law can cause fellow believers to “stumble.” This is where we will pick up in verse 13:

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 (ESV).

Actually, I prefer the KJV interpretation of this:

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

Remember from last week, we all serve under one master, and he will judge what we have done in the body individually. This is a judgment for reward, not condemnation. Presently, there are only two types of judgment in the church: self-judgment (1Cor 11:31,32), and the Lord’s discipline (Heb 12:5ff, Prov 3:11). There is no such thing as the church judging a believer. Christians enjoy protection from the world while in a fellowship of believers, but if fellowship is broken because of sin, God may use the world to correct the believer. We must remember that in the only actual example we have of so-called “church discipline” in the Bible, the apostle Paul assumed the individual to be saved (1Cor 5:4).

In situations that turn out bad according to Matthew 18:15ff, we are to “treat” such an individual “like” an unbeliever, actually, “Gentile and a tax collector.”  The Jews did not associate with Gentiles, and had a steroidal disdain for tax collectors who were usually Jews in league with the Roman government. But keep in mind, there were saved Gentiles and tax collectors. This is a matter of fellowship, NOT “declaring someone an unbeliever.” My three favorite questions in regard to Matthew 18 are, “Where does it say “discipline?” and “Where does it say “unbeliever?” and “Where does it talk about elders declaring someone as unbelieving?” It is remarkable to me how all of these are assumed.

So, Paul writes in verse 13 that all judgment is to cease except a judgment concerning what might make a fellow Christian “stumble.” Paul begins to develop that in verse 14:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

Christians come into fellowship with all kinds of baggage, especially in our day because Christians are doctrinally dumbed down regardless of the information age. Rome kept the Bible away from people; Protestantism has merely mandated interpretation via orthodoxy which has become synonymous with truth.

Heterodoxy means you disagree with some counsel where “Divines” dictate interpretation making heterodoxy synonymous with heresy. In the same way, Jewish Christians were dragging orthodoxy into the home fellowships, and judging the Gentiles which resulted in the Gentiles despising the Jews.

But aside from orthodoxy, good old fashioned family tradition can play into this as well. Also, for example, a converted Adventist may be newly convinced of the true gospel, but is in the habit of abstaining from pork and caffeine. We are creatures of habit, and such a person may not be ready to just jump into their new found freedom where, as Paul stated, “nothing is unclean in itself”

Let me just cut to the chase here: there needs to be agreement on the gospel of first order, but past that we need to do three things: 1. Emphasize teaching and rightly dividing the word 2. Let each be what? Remember from last week? Right, let each be CONVINCED in their own minds 3. DON’T JUDGE.

Why is it extremely important that one be convinced in their own mind, and not hit over the head with the fact that Christ ended the law, and therefore everything is clean? Because many different things in life inform the conscience of an individual and though it would be mighty convenient if all Christians had a biblically informed conscience—that’s not reality. We are to teach, not judge, and let each person be convinced in their own minds.

The primary crux follows: if that person thinks it is sin, even if it isn’t, “it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Why? Because the person thinks in their own mind that he/she is sinning. The fact that it is not technically a sin is neither here nor there; the person thinks it is a sin. So, this also means that the person will also violate their conscience when in fact it is against the law—in their own minds they think they are disobeying. This speaks to motive.

In contrast, if they obey their conscience, their motive is to please the Lord. This was Paul’s exact point from last week:

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God (verse 6).

The motive is to please God either way. Yet, if we insist that the one who is unconvinced get with the law program, this is where we cause stumbling. Paul taught the importance of keeping a clear conscience throughout the New Testament while also warning about a pattern of violating conscience. This results in searing the conscience and making it indifferent to sin.

On the other hand, guilt can be a very destructive emotion. O. Hobart Mower, president of the American Psychological Association in 1954, attributed most mental illness to the violation of conscience, and started therapy groups that inspired AA. Hobart’s therapy has probably helped more people than any other discipline, as witness by the success of those who follow his principles of therapy such as Dr. Laura Slezinger and Dr. Phil McGraw. If this approach is effective among unbelievers, it is more so among believers.

I can offer an example here from real life. After being consulted by a Christian lady regarding a situation in her marriage, I advised her that she was free to divorce according to Scripture.  She informed me that her convictions would prevent her from doing so. In other words, it would have been a violation of her conscience.  To that I replied that she indeed should obey her conscience. As Christians, we never cause another Christian to violate their conscience.

Also, we should be willing to prefer the unconvinced by abstaining from what offends others while fellowshipping together:

For 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 (verse 15).

There is no law in justification, and as Andy Young said in last year’s conference, the law is really for sanctification as far as the Christian is concerned. However, the express purpose of the law in sanctification is love. If a Christian flaunts their liberty before Christians who are not yet convinced in their own mind, that Christian, while understanding the law of liberty, is violating the primary purpose of the law which is love. Paul states that this kind of flaunting of liberty can actually “destroy” the one that Christ died for. That’s a pretty strong emphasis. And more than likely, Christ had young believers in mind when He said this:

Luke 17:2 – It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

As the apostle John said, there is no fear in love because perfect (mature) love casts out fear. Though we as Christians have no fear of eternal condemnation, there is plenty to fear for those Christians who walk like fools and not according to love—let us take heed.

16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

1Timothy 4:1-5 is a striking, thought provoking text:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Note verse 16 in context of 1Timothy 1-5. Flaunting of liberty can actually cause the good things created by God to be spoken of as evil. And in fact, if you make the good things of God controversial, you are paving the way for that to happen. Hence, in the company of the unconvinced,

22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.

Yes, liberty can become reason for self-condemnation—this should be avoided at all cost. Also, the primary work of the kingdom is much more than a matter of what we eat and drink. Of course, there are many other issues that can be added to this issue. I recently heard about a church split over the recognition of Halloween, and whether or not the church would display what some refer to as a “Baal tree” during Christmas. Remember verse 5 from last week and contentions over…

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.

Again, as stated in verse 18, both parties serve God, and therefore, verse 19, both should seek what edifies and builds up. Controversy over opinions does not build up. There needs to be room given for everyone to be convinced in their own mind and reinforced with a clear conscience.

 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Verses 20-22 make a nice summary that we have no need to expound on further, but a point needs to be made on verse 23. Those who succumb to peer-pressure and eat when they have doubt as to whether it is sin or not have in fact sinned. Actions that don’t come from a convinced mind free from doubt do not proceed from faith. I think this is the double minded person that James wrote about.

This is an interesting definition of faith; apparently, faith is what we are convinced of. When in doubt, it is probably best to error on the side of safety and wait until we are convinced with a clear conscience. We see the connection now between faith, love, and obedience.

And, the importance of sound teaching. Faith is founded on the things we become sure of in Scripture, and obedience/love flow from that.

Next week, on to verse one of chapter 15.

The Potter’s House: Romans 14:2-12; Authority’s Assault on Unity

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 21, 2014

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Last week we talked about the mystery of the gospel. The mystery is God’s intention to bring Jew and Gentile into one body by the Spirit. Undoubtedly, this posed significant unity challenges because of the diverse cultures. When the Romans inquired of Paul as to whether or not they should bother associating with Jews due to these cultural differences, it sent Paul scrambling for his writing utensil because that issue is one of the core values of the gospel itself.

The bone of contention was dietary laws and the observance of days which would have been deeply entrenched traditions for the Jews. In addition, there were a plethora of issues among the Jews concerning the decadent culture of the Gentiles. Some of these issues included the eating of meat and its preparation according to Old Testament law. For sure, pork was out, but there were other issues, apparently, with meat sacrificed to idols and then sold on the open market at a reduced price. Hence, because what had been done with meat would have been ambiguous in many cases as far as its source and preparation, it’s possible that many Jews decided to play it safe and become vegetarians.

As far as convictions concerning the observance of days in this transition from the old covenant to the new, there would have been many days sacred to the Jews that would have had little significance among the Gentiles. So, what is Paul’s solution to these differences for purposes of fulfilling the mystery of the gospel?

In verse 2, Paul identifies the two parties: Gentiles who believe they can eat anything, and the weak Jew who understandably was not yet up to speed on the mystery of the gospel in regard to the law. Also consider, much like today, the Jews had been dumbed down in regard to Scriptural knowledge. The leadership of that day replaced Scriptural truth with the traditions of men. Specifically, like today, the integration of Gnosticism with Scripture saturated Jewish thought and religion.

In verse 3, Paul defines the attitudes that fueled the division between Jew and Gentile: the ones who eat should not “despise” the ones who don’t eat; i.e., the Jews, and the Jews should not “judge” the ones who eat according to what? Right, the law. And why? Because God had come to receive who? Right, the Gentile. Paul shifts his focus to the Jewish responsibility of accepting the ones God received into the one body regardless of the fact that they did not keep or regard much of the Old Testament law. This would have been a really challenging transition of thought for the Jew. But the main point here is that the Jew had a tendency to “judge” because they had the what? Right, the law.

The way Paul addresses this (v. 4) towards the Jew is very interesting. In that culture or the Jewish culture as well, it would have been very uncouth to tell another person’s slave what to do. It would have been absurd. In ancient times there were many types of slaves in regard to social strata, but let me use the types of slaves that were more like today’s employee as an example. It would be like a manager from Wendy’s walking into a Kentucky Fried Chicken and telling those employees what to do. Or, closer to the point Paul is making, openly criticizing them in some way. The absurdity demonstrated in this illustration falls a little short because the servants Paul is talking about only served their own masters whereas in my illustration you could argue that the Wendy’s manager was a customer at KFC and had a right to complain about something. But slaves of Paul’s day only served one master. Christ used the same kind of illustration Paul is using here when he said you cannot serve two masters.

So, what Paul is saying is that ALL Christians, Jew and Gentile, only have one master, Jesus Christ.

4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

“It is before his own master that he stands or falls” is a reflection of the slave culture. Typically, slaves only answered to one master. This is interesting to think about in our day. First, like most of the New Testament writings, and for that matter the Old Testament writings as well, the letter is addressed to the whole group. It also regards the problem with arguing over what Paul called, “opinions.” In all of this, where is elder involvement discussed? Thirdly, Paul is about to teach us that no one has a right to judge you or others in the Christian realm because everyone answers to one master and one master only—Jesus Christ.

The more one studies the Scriptures independently, the more one notices that elders (or pastors) are conspicuously missing. The context of Romans 14 makes the absence of elders odd in our minds because of what we have been taught about “elder authority.” We see this elsewhere concerning conflict among God’s people. In Matthew 18:15-20, again, elders are conspicuously missing. Often we hear the call to be willing to “place ourselves under the authority of godly men.” What I understand here is that we only have one master. Salvation is not in view here, the authority to pass judgment on another is what is in view. What is in view is a judge who is able to make the Christian “stand or fall.”

What becomes more and more clear is the fact that “pastor” or “elder” is just another gift and has NO element of authority. It has even been suggested that elders are optional for home fellowships where Christians gather together for edification and fellowship. The suggestion is that 1Timothy 3:1 could refer to a fellowship’s desire to have an elder and not necessarily an individual’s desire to be an elder.  Practically, this makes sense because wherever God’s people meet there may not be any elders. What I am saying follows: in geographies where there is no sound gathering of professing Christians, saints are not forced to fellowship there because eldership validates an assembly. Clearly, it can be surmised that some 1st century Christian fellowships had elders and others didn’t.

But at any rate, elders are not lords (1Pet 5:3), they are leaders. Even the apostle Paul stated that he was to be followed only as long as he followed Christ (1Cor 11:1).

Putting all of these ideas together, I like the rendering of 1Timothy 3;1 by the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB):

Here is a statement you can trust: anyone aspiring to be a congregation leader is seeking worthwhile work.

Elders lead by example. I believe their oversight is primarily a proper interpretation of the Bible. They are ministers of the word (Acts 6:4). We only have one Lord—Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul continually pointed to the authority of God’s truth as the only authority:

Galatians 1:8 – But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

1Corinthians 3:21 – So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Paul sets forth another rule in verse 5: Each believer should be persuaded (KJV) in their OWN mind. There needs to be space given for everyone to grow in wisdom. See here that we don’t believe certain things just because certain people believe it. We are to be persuaded in our OWN minds through the continued study of God’s word. PERSUASION is a major theme in the New Testament. The idea of persuasion is often translated “obey” in English translations for some incredibly strange reason. Listen, “obedience” is not the heavy emphasis among believers, persuasion is the key. Here is the word for persuaded in verse 5:

g4135. πληροφορέω plērophoreō; from 4134 and 5409; to carry out fully (in evidence), i. e. completely assure (or convince), entirely accomplish:— most surely believe, fully know (persuade), make full proof of. AV (5)- be fully persuaded.

Listen, before I develop this important aspect of persuasion, I am going to jump ahead to Paul’s next principle of motive in verse 6:

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Giving room for motive is huge in our day because we are all so dumbed down theologically. Admittedly, these are difficult waters, but if the home fellowship movement is going to work, we need to chill out on the dogma thing and emphasize the fact that we all need room to grow in God’s word. What we are looking for is honest seekers of truth—people who are persuaded by truth and the one mind of Christ that brings unity. Basically, a genuine love for the truth. That’s THE truth not A truth.

Meanwhile, Paul is saying that the spiritually weak have the right motives and are thankful to God. Other than a love for the truth, even the spiritually weak will have a spirit of thankfulness.

Probably, the beginnings of fellowship should begin with a fundamental agreement on the gospel of first importance and the sufficiency of God’s word. From there, you study the Scriptures together and let all be fully persuaded in their own minds. It boils down to this…

Does the person love THE truth? (2Thess 2:10).

Now, back to developing verse 5. I am going to develop this point by looking at Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As we can ascertain so far, no one among God’s people can demand that you believe anything—only Christ has the authority to demand that you believe something. Otherwise, it would have been like passing judgment on someone else’s slave which was an absurd notion in that culture. In contrast, what is in vogue in our day is this whole idea of “putting yourself under the authority of godly men” lest you be a spiritual sluggard. A verse often used is Hebrews 13:17.

The word for “obey” is the following word:

g3982. πείθω peithō; a primary verb; to convince (by argument, true or false); by analogy, to pacify or conciliate (by other fair means); reflexively or passively, to assent (to evidence or authority), to rely (by inward certainty):— agree, assure, believe, have confidence, be (wax) conflent, make friend, obey, persuade, trust, yield.

The idea is to be persuaded, or following as a result of being persuaded or convinced. The same word is used about 50 times this way in the New Testament. Here is just one example:

Matthew 27:20 – Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded (peithō) the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.

There is a Greek word for outright obedience, it is…

g5219. ὑπακούω hypakouō; from 5259 and 191; to hear under (as a subordinate), i. e. to listen attentively; by implication, to heed or conform to a command or authority:— hearken, be obedient to, obey.

Here is one example of about 20 in regard to how the word is used in the New Testament:

Matthew 8:27 – And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey (hypakouō) him?”

Again, among fellow Christians, we don’t demand obedience, we persuade. Elders lead, but they do not have Christ’s authority. You obey Christ no matter what.  Such is not the case with elders or pastors. Notice in all of chapter 14, the key to unity is not the authority of leaders.

Continuing on…

7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Honestly, I am not entirely sure of the point Paul is making in verses 7-9. There is even the transition “For” that links this idea to the previous thought in verse 6, but it’s like Paul just parachutes this idea in here out of nowhere. Each sentence in verses 7-9 link together with verse 6 by a conjunction, “For,” “So then.” Somehow, Christ being the Lord of those who have passed on figures into the equation, but I simply don’t know how.

At any rate, Paul is back to the main point with verses 10-12:

10 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; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

This is clear, we will all give an account for ourselves regarding what we have done as Christians in the body (1Cor 3:10-15, 2Cor 5:10). Therefore, do not judge a fellow believer who is doing his/her best to honor God with what knowledge they presently have.

Second, let them be convinced in their OWN minds.

Third, stay focused on glorifying God in regard to the purposes of the mystery of the gospel.

Next week, we will look at the consequences of not doing this: causing a fellow Christian to “stumble.” Also, how can an authoritative demand for obedience in contrast to persuasion contribute to this stumbling?

Next week: “Authority’s Stumbling Block.”

Potter H. 1Related:

Love: Romans 12:9,10

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on October 12, 2014

Originally posted October 30, 2013

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We now continue our study in the book of Romans, Chapter 12, and verse 9:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

Last week, we looked at some gifts that God has granted to those who call on His name. Christians have different gifts that function within the body of Christ. The apostle Paul used the human body and its anatomy to illustrate this point. If organs don’t function, the body is hindered (1Corinthians 12). Paul also stated that God assigns these gifts with different levels of ability.

Not only do we see this in the Parable of the Talents, but we also see in that same parable the danger of a mentality that likens the function of the body to works salvation (Matthew 25:14-30). Notice that immediately following the condemnation of the servant who hid his talents in the ground, giving back to God what had originally been given, verses 31-46 speak of what? Love. Take note: there is grave danger in seeing your function in the body of Christ as some kind of work possibly tied to salvation. It may point to a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel. We are not under the law. Justification is a finished work accomplished by God only. Sanctification is the work of our love toward God and others.

I see the same kind of fear in contemporary Christians who think that functioning in the body of Christ can be works that are connected to justification if not done exactly right; ie., by faith alone. There isn’t a freedom to work diligently because of the fear that it can affect our original salvation. Tentative body parts—that’s a problem. If you have a tentative heart, they have to fix you up with all kinds of battery operated gizmos. And that’s what we have in today’s church: tentative body parts, parts that don’t know that they are parts, and others who want an excuse for not being a part; ie., it would be works salvation. This idea is either cause for undo fear or an excuse.

But most importantly, it’s not love. God has given us an array of gifts for the purpose of loving others; so, how important are those gifts? Your gifts—the gifts that came with your salvation. Chrsit died to give you those gifts. That makes them paramount, but this other immense privilege we have is to sanctify our works with love.

Yes, we have the privilege in this life to practice the one gift that is eternal: love. ALL the other gifts will pass away, only love will continue into eternity:

1Corithians 13:1 – If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We have to practice our gifts in order to love. Love is the only thing that continues after this life. Undoubtedly, love will function differently in eternity, but let us remember that love is defined in many different ways. Christ never partook in anything loveless. Every thought of His life and every action was in love. Think about that for a while. I fear that we have a very narrow view of love in our day.

As Christians, we love ourselves naturally (we discussed that last week), and as Christians, we are called on to love ourselves. Why? Because the best way to love ourselves is to die to self for the sake of others. Seeking self never leads to spiritual wellbeing. He who seeks his life will lose it, he who loses his life will find it (Matthew 10:39). Love is in part a selfish act. That was Paul’s point made to husbands in Ephesians 5. The idea is that not loving your wife is a metaphysical anomaly because not loving your wife is a stupid way of trying to love yourself. It’s curing a headache by smashing one of your fingers with a framing hammer—you’re not even thinking about your headache now because your finger hurts a lot more.

Of course, the world lies and states that the way to love yourself is, “If it feels good, do it.” There is this thing that Paul identifies called the “desires of the flesh.” As we have seen in our study of Romans, the unregenerate are enslaved to those desires, but free to do good. No unregenerate person is perfectly evil. But the direction of their lives is the desires of the flesh. So of course, it is no surprise that “if it feels good, do it” is the motto of their lives. Some boldly name it and claim it, others unwittingly function that way.   Saved people are enslaved to righteousness, and free to do evil. Therefore, no saved person is perfectly righteous, but they seek spiritual wellbeing, and they know that is found in dying to self. It’s a matter of being selfish according to wisdom. Obviously, one who seeks to die to self has the goal of finding his/her own life in mind, right?

Argue for or against the intrinsic value of mankind all you want, God has wired us to value life, and that life includes our own self-awareness. To value life is to value yourself—this is inescapable, unless you’re not alive, then I agree that it is a dead issue.

So, the goal of love is to define love, and seek it as our primary motivation. The works of the flesh, or the old nature that was put to death (by the way, we only have ONE nature: the new one), cannot execute love, so we must put off its way of thinking and doing, and put on the ways of the Spirit which are always of love. The old nature is dead, but still has an influence on our mortality. This, I think is a mystery, but some like Dr. Jay E. Adams posit the idea that being habituated through the old ways of living is the key to understanding the Christian’s struggle with sin. That is at least part of it.

That brings us to verse 9. In this verse, Paul teaches us how to obtain genuine love. We are to cling to all that is good, and hate all that is evil. It is a matter of investment. Where your treasure is, your heart will be there also (Mathew 6:21). No doubt, without the inward change initiated by God, there would be no real change, but that doesn’t exclude the biblical fact that outward change also facilitates inward change. The maxim, “All change comes from the inside out” is patently false. Because we believe the truth of God’s word, we make choices to do things outwardly to strengthen the inner man. Falling into sin doesn’t strengthen the inner person, so we make a choice not to enter environments of temptation. The idea that practical outward obedience doesn’t strengthen us is a bad idea and usually rooted in mysticism.

So, the way to “genuine” love is to invest in good and shun evil in the way we think, and what we do. To only dwell on the bad elements of a person is first not true, and second, will certainly lead to hatred rather than love. Divorce is almost always the result of an untrue evaluation of one’s spouse. What you want to think about a person for whatever reason doesn’t make it true. We are to evaluate others and ourselves truthfully. Also, we can invest in others to strengthen them.

This coincides with some of the elements of love Paul pointed to in 1Corithians 13. Love doesn’t delight in evil. This is my primary beef with TV shows that make humor of things that God would disapprove of. That’s delighting in evil. That’s not love. You’re not loving God by laughing about something that is evil regardless of the context. Partaking in such will devalue your appreciation for the fact that God’s Son died to save us from such. Why do we laugh about things that nailed Christ to the cross?

We also need to take heed that we don’t delight when our enemies fall into sin. That’s delighting in evil. Republicans should not delight when a Democrat president gets caught up in some kind of scandal. Treating others the same way we would want to be treated applies to our enemies as well (Luke 6:21). How would you like to be treated by your enemy? If he stumbles upon your lost oxen in the wilderness, would you want him to return it? (Exodus 23:4,5).  It was pointed out last week that self-love is a morally neutral metaphysical fact. We are wired to value life in general, including our own. This is assumed in the stated biblical goal to love others in the same we already love ourselves (Mark 12:31, Leviticus 19:18).

Be sure of this: any teaching that posits self-hatred in the vein of the whole total-depravity motif will lead to the devaluing of life in general. This is not only logical, but has been the witness of history. The idea that we can totally dismiss the value of our own lives while valuing life in general is a misnomer. In regard to the caliber of Jonathan and David’s friendship, it is said that Jonathan loved David as much as he loved himself (1Samuel 20:17). That standard seems to be the zenith for mortals. It’s neither bad nor good, it’s simply reality. Remember, Paul stated that no person has ever hated themselves (Ephesians 5:29). Often, self-destructive behavior comes from anger, enslavement to “desires,” or escape. People often follow their desires to the detriment of others without consideration of whether or not they would want to be treated that way.

I like some things about cable TV; specifically, those detective shows that document real-life cases. Those shows are a spectacular insight into human behavior. I have seen many of these shows that report the following motive for murder according to the confessions of the perpetrators: they simply wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone. That’s a “desire.” A desire to kill someone for the experience is an evil desire. How would they like it if someone killed them just because they wanted to know what it felt like? This is an extreme example, but it is a primary principle of this discussion and covers the whole spectrum down to the finest details of living by priorities.

And what is the priority? Love is the priority.

Verse 10 builds on this point:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Let’s consider  two of the words in this verse, first, “outdo” (proēgeomai):

To lead the way for others, i.e. show deference, prefer.

To go before and show the way, to go before and lead, to go before as a leader.

~Strong’s Dictionary.

This is a good example of how some have the gift of leadership, but everybody is to lead, or set the right examples. We call this “duty,” a word completely out of vogue in our day. In this particular case, the practice of our gift in context of love, or duty is “honor” (timē):

A value, i.e. money paid, or (concretely and collectively) valuables; by analogy, esteem (especially of the highest degree), or the dignity itself. Honor, precious, price, sum. A valuing by which the price is fixed. The price of a thing bought or sold. Honour which belongs or is shown to one of honour which one has by reason of rank and state of office which he holds. Deference, reverence.

~Strong’s Dictionary.

This is consistent with the rest of the New Testament: leading is setting the example, it has nothing to do with authority. If someone is practicing proper leadership, and you don’t follow them, you are not benefiting yourself (Hebrews 13:17). We are to be persuaded by the proper example.

Moreover, Paul is stating that we should aspire to be the best at showing the value of others. It is the same word used in 1Peter 3:7 for how husbands are to treat their wives—they are to be highly valued. This is also the same word used throughout the New Testament, nearly 40 times, to describe the high value of God’s people. Again, I can’t help to mention that this turns the whole total depravity gig upside down. Compare this to a Reformed funeral I attended just a few weeks ago. The deceased man’s own son stood up and “honored” him by proclaiming to the hundreds there that his father was a “wicked sinner.” Others testified that this was an honorable title because the former pastor was, “all about the grace of God and the gospel.” God help us. The way we love each other in the church today is to proudly proclaim ourselves sinners.

Is this not rejoicing in evil as well?

I will not relent in calling out this great evil in our day. We have indeed arrived there by the absence of tenacious and incessant complaint. Only the absence of a great outcry could result in a man honoring his dead father by calling him a “wicked sinner.”

Let me close with Matthew 24:11, 12 –

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.

Certainly, a lot more could be taught here about love, but I want to close by making the point that love needs to be defined biblically. Christ, in speaking of the latter days, states that lawlessness will be increased by false teachers. The word “lawlessness” is anomia—it means to be contrary to the law of God in particular. The result of that will be the absence of love and a irreverence for life following.

And I believe we are in those days. Let us teach and practice a biblical love.