Posts Tagged 'discernment'

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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Living in the Kingdom: Balance (the art of being judgmental)

art-of-balance-VI_1024 

Mathew 7

 

Living in the Kingdom requires balance, something most of us have trouble with achieving.  But if we want to live the way Jesus wants us to, then balance is something we have to strive for.  Matthew 7 is all about balance.

Judge correctly, Matthew 7:1, 2

Censorious judgment was something the Pharisees engaged in all the time and it was something Jesus said His followers should avoid.  Almost everybody misunderstands what Jesus is really teaching in these verses, believing Christians should never judge anybody.  That is definitely not what Jesus is teaching here.  Jesus himself exercised judgment often, coming to conclusions about, for example, the scribes and Pharisees, and He was never afraid to share His conclusions with them!   Part of the  problem is the King James Version’s translation of the Greek krino.   Taylor’s paraphrase, The Living Bible, gives us a better sense of what Jesus was trying to teach:

Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized.  (Matthew 7:1  TLB)

Verse two was probably a common proverb of Jesus’ day.  It sounds a lot like “reaping what you sow.”

For others will treat you as you treat them.  (Matthew 7:2  TLB)

If you are hypercritical toward someone, you’ll be treated just like that some day.  The Lord is not condemning discernment or judging a brother in love for his benefit, but rather He is condemning judging harshly, coldly and without love, and in a spirit of self-righteousness. 

Board and speck, Matthew 7:3—5

Jesus carries on the idea of harsh judgment with these verses, in which we read a description of and a warning to judgmental critics. 

And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. (TLB)

It’s an absurd proposition.  A human being can’t walk around with a two-by-four sticking out of his eye!  But that’s Jesus’ point. It’s absurd for one believer to assume a superior position over another for the purpose passing judgment on another.  Human beings can’t see into another’s heart!  Therefore, how can we possibly make an accurate assessment?  For that matter, we all have something in our eyes that causes us to not see others in an accurate light.  When we deal with what ails our eyes, then we will be free to deal with someone else’s eye problems. 

What Jesus is attacking here are one’s motives.  If we attempt to judge someone else for the purpose of condemning them unjustly or to “put them in their place,” or to make ourselves either feel good or look good, we are not practicing Kingdom living.  The balance, though, is that we are to judge each other for the purpose of spurring each other on in the faith. 

Pearls and pigs, Matthew 7:6

Don’t give holy things to depraved men. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls and turn and attack you.  (TLB)

Here is some more balance.  The admonition not to judge others lest we be judged has its limits.  It does NOT apply to depraved men and pigs.  They must be judged and treated as such.   The “holy things” and “pearls” refer to the same thing:  the holy truth of the Gospel (Lenski).  Jesus is teaching  that we should be careful to whom we give the Word of God to.  “Depraved men” and “pigs” will only walk all over the precious doctrines of Scripture, and probably persecute you, too!

But these men mock and curse at anything they do not understand, and like animals, they do whatever they feel like, thereby ruining their souls.  (Jude, verse 10  TLB)

But when the Jewish leaders saw the crowds, they were jealous, and cursed and argued against whatever Paul said.  (Acts 13:45  TLB)

Balance:  there are certain places where it is a waste of time trying to share your faith.  There are certain times when it’s better to keep quiet.  Some people won’t receive the Word from you, so don’t waste your time.  This is a judgment you have to make!   This was something Jesus taught elsewhere:

When you ask permission to stay, be friendly, and if it turns out to be a godly home, give it your blessing; if not, keep the blessing.  Any city or home that doesn’t welcome you—shake off the dust of that place from your feet as you leave.   (Matthew 10:12—14  TLB)

Confident praying, Matthew 7:7—12

These verses dealing with confident prayer are actually linked to the preceding admonition against critical judging of others.  The best way to treat others is to treat them as God treats you, and the best way to discern others accurately is to see ourselves in the right light.  We are, by our nature, sinful people, and yet God our Heavenly Father has made us His children by grace and He is always ready to give us all that we need.

The balance between a generous Father and needy children is that the children need to learn how to trust their Father.  Trusting involves asking and believing that God will not only hear but respond.   There is a sense that while God knows what we need before we ask, we must still ask; that teaches us to depend on Him, to trust Him, and it also involves humility on our part.  Our prayers should be carefully structured, not just sentence fragments strung together.  Notice the three steps or components of proper prayer:

·         Ask.  In terms of intensity, this is the lowest level.  To “ask” for something implies a sense of need; a sense of inferiority; and an acknowledgment that the you believe the one you are asking has the power to provide what you are asking for.

·         Seek.  This is a little more intense than asking.  In fact, it is a combination:  asking + seeking. Or put another way, you ask, then you look for the answer.  For example, you may pray for a better understanding of the Bible, but you should at the same time study it.

·         Knock.  This is even more  intense; it involves asking, seeking or looking, and persisting or continuing.  This does not necessarily mean pestering God with the same need over and over.  Rather, it means always asking the Lord for whatever you need; turn to Him first, no  matter what the need may be. Don’t just pray when is ditching!  Pray all the time.

To reinforce this teaching on prayer, Jesus uses the familiar “lesser to greater” argument:

If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead?  If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not!  And if you hard-hearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?  (Matthew 7:9—11  TLB)

D.L. Moody once observed:

If you pray for bread and bring no basket to carry it, you prove the doubting spirit, which may be the only hindrance to the boon you ask.

Two ways, Matthew 7:13, 14

Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate! The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way.  But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.

Again we see where a believer is to exercise the proper kind of judgment.  Judge for yourself, Jesus says, which way is the right way.  The way to go is up to us; we are presented with two ways (a common theme in Jewish literature):  a narrow and a broad or wide way.  We as Christians are to discern or determine which is the “narrow” or the “right” way. 

Now, these two verses have a subtle message.  It’s easy to walk on the broad way because it’s, well, broad!  The wrong way is the easiest way because it’s the obvious way; it’s way that everybody can see, and therefore, almost everybody chooses that easy way.  It’s broad and easy; it requires no effort to find and no effort to walk in.

Not so the narrow way.  Notice that Jesus says this portal is “small” and it’s even hard to find!  In other words, you have to look for the right way—it requires effort to just find it, but then it requires effort to get into!  There is nothing easy about walking the narrow way.

Two trees, Matthew 7:15—20

Different kinds of fruit trees can quickly be identified by examining their fruit.  (Matthew 7:17  TLB)

From two ways—a right and a wrong way, or a true and false way—we transition to two kinds of teachers, false teachers and teachers who teach the truth.  How can a believer tell the difference?  You can recognize each teacher by the fruit they produce.  A false teacher cannot produce good fruit.   It may be difficult to spot a false teacher by simply listening to what they say; words can be easily manipulated.  That’s why Christians should exercise discernment; we should not only listen to the words but examine the life of a preacher or teacher.

Jesus makes it clear that it is impossible—IMPOSSIBLE—for a tree to bear fruit that is contrary to its nature.  Here, again, the believer is called to judge—to determine who is teaching the truth by looking at their fruit.  This requires a judgment.

Two claims, Matthew 7:21—23

Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven.  At the Judgment many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we told others about you and used your name to cast out demons and to do many other great miracles.’  But I will reply, ‘You have never been mine.  Go away, for your deeds are evil.’   (TLB)

The figures of trees and fruit are now explained in glorious detail.  All kinds of people claim to know the Lord; they claim to love Jesus; they say they serve Him, but do they really?  Jesus says what some people say isn’t necessarily so.  The fact is, and Jesus is teaching this, it takes no effort to proclaim your love and respect for Jesus, but the proof is in the doing, not the saying.  As the Living Bible says, “the decisive question is whether they obey [God].”  And, of course, the very first matter of faith has to do with repentance and faith. 

Two builders, Matthew 7:24—27

This is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.  It calls for the listener to make a judgment:  will he pay heed to what Jesus taught, thus building his life on the firm foundation of Christ’s teaching, or will he turn a deaf ear, resulting in a life with no foundation, for who can build a foundation on sand?

In the Kingdom, a life is built on Christ; on what He teaches; on His will alone.  While it is true that the Kingdom of God is not an actual reality yet, it is a spiritual reality.  If you are a Christian, you should be building your life TODAY as though you are already living in the Kingdom yet to come.  Why?  Because if you are a Christian, the rules of the Kingdom yet to come apply to you right now.  That’s why if a Christian tries to live his life according to worldly principles, he will fail.  He has to.  Here’s why:

…there are many who walk along the Christian road who are really enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their future is eternal loss, for their god is their appetite: they are proud of what they should be ashamed of; and all they think about is this life here on earth.  But our homeland is in heaven, where our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is; and we are looking forward to his return from there.  (Philippians 3:18b—20  TLB)


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