God’s Best Gifts, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason for another gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real test is a simple one:

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

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

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

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

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

We belong to each other in love

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

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

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

And that brings us to verse 9,

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

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

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

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

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