Never sacrifice eternity to the desire of a moment.
I speak to you the language of my soul —
not from a piece, but the whole —
you will not hear it, you see your way —
so what is left for us to say?
Once, I gazed into your eyes
and saw a willing compromise …
that twinkling gleam, now turned stone,
crushes the heart and chills the bone.
Two became one, now becoming two —
Is this what you dreamed when you said, “I do?”
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the statement, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matt. 7:1) If someone today says, “Don’t judge me” when confronted regarding a particular wrong-doing, is that a proper application of the intent of Jesus’s words, or is such a usage simply a way to dismiss accountability for sin? Does “Do not judge” mean we should avoid making any type of judgements? If not, what are some judgements we are to make? And, if we do make them, how should those judgements be exercised? What is the most important judgement that anyone can and should make? What is/are the judgement(s) that we are to avoid making, that Jesus was referring to in verse 1? Please utilize any Scriptures you can locate to support your answers.
What type of spiritual attributes would you expect to be developed in an individual who always kept verse 2 in mind when interacting with others?
Define what a hypocrite is. How do verses 3-5 tie in to the subject of judgement? What motivation might a person with “a plank” in their eye have for offering to remove a “speck” from their brother’s eye? What does verse 5 teach us about dealing with sin?
Verse 6 requires discernment if it is to be put into practice, and the judgement it asks you to make is certainly not a flattering one. Explain what you think Jesus meant. Can you find any other statements he made that correspond to this command? (Notice that do not is a command, not merely a suggestion) Can you find any examples in the new testament of this principle being put into practice?
Finally, do you view verse 7 as a transition to a new and separate topic, or as a continuation of the train of thought from verses 1-6? What is the rationale in support of your answer?
In my last article the topic was the love of God, and I put forward the idea that the purpose for the conversation that took place between Jesus and Peter, as recorded in John 21:15-18, was to reinforce the principle that human love alone is insufficient to serve God effectively. I wanted to start off today by developing that idea a bit further. Let’s begin by examining three statements Jesus made while he was on the earth. In John 15:18-21, he said:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.”
Moving forward to chapter 17, in verses 25-26, he states:
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they (all believers) know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.”
The first point I would draw your attention to from those verses is that the world does not know God, and His love is not in them. The second is that although the love of God is not in the children of the world, the world’s children still are capable of exercising love, which is evident from Jesus’s statement that the world loves its own. For the third scripture, please turn to Matt. 5:43-48, where Jesus was recorded as saying:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (as opposed to children of the world). He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Those scriptures should be sufficient to establish that there is a natural love, common to all humanity, such as familial love and brotherly love. Both exist and are practiced even by those who do not believe in God, yet these types of love are clearly distinct and separate from the love of God. Why is that so important a point to understand? Because the Lord himself said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) Was Jesus saying that when someone practices natural, human love they are showing themself to be his follower? Absolutely not! Even pagans are capable of human love. It is only having the love of God dwelling within oneself that marks a person as a true Christian! A Christian is to love in the same way as Christ loved, and with the same type of love. Possessing and exercising his type of love is not only essential, it is the primary trait that distinguishes us from the rest of the world! An excellent example of his type of love is found in this same chapter of the book of John, picking up in verse 12. We read:
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.””
We should ask ourselves the same question Jesus posed to his disciples here. Do I understand the full implication of what the Lord did here? Every year at Passover we wash one another’s feet. It’s good that we do so, but the activity itself is just compliance with the letter of the law, and even the Pharisees and Sadducees were willing to obey God in that purely mechanical way — yet they were the ones who denied God’s Son and ultimately had the Messiah crucified. Jesus, however, was always concerned with the spirit of the law, and his physical action here communicates a tremendously important spiritual lesson. Reflect again on his words “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am.” Our Lord’s rightful position is to sit enthroned at the right hand of his Father, the Almighty, Eternal God! He is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lord’s! He is the Only Begotten Son of God! All praise and honor and glory are due to him — but did he insist upon any of those rights? No. Instead, he took the role of the lowest of servants. He wasn’t just setting a physical example for us to follow, he was modeling an internal attitude and value system. He subjected everything to his Father’s will, and was willing to do whatever was necessary to demonstrate the love that God has for His children. He was willing to personally suffer in order to teach us the right way to live. He did everything for you. For me. With such an example before us, how can we ever be justified for demanding our rights, or for feeling disrespected if the world does not give us our “due”? We shouldn’t be concerned with seeking worldly position or the esteem of men, and we shouldn’t be offended if we are judged to be a “nobody” by the standards of the world. Like our Lord, we are to go through life putting others above ourselves, in order to further the work of God’s Kingdom. That is the type of love, the only love, that identifies a Christian. “And if you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Turn with me now back to verse 33, still in the 13th chapter of the book of John. Jesus tells the disciples, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going you cannot come.” We know that Jesus was about to be put to death, but it would not have been impossible for someone to follow him into death, so when he says “Where I am going you cannot come”, he has to be referring to his imminent return to his Father’s side, enthroned in the heavens. But then in verse 36, right after Jesus laid down the identifying mark of a Christian in verses 34 and 35, Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Was he simply reiterating what he had just said in verse 33, or did he intend a different meaning this time? I believe that he was not referring to his death here, but the path that led to it, which he was about to walk. The road that the Messiah took to the cross was paved with complete and absolute self-abnegation. It was not self-concern that inspired the Lord to submit to being crucified, rather, it was his desire to obey his Father’s will, in addition to the love which he had for you and me. I believe the reason the disciples could not follow Jesus in that moment was because they were not yet ready to fully embrace his life of perfect self-denial and obedience to God unto death. I also believe it was not yet even possible for them to do so.
In support of that conclusion, I ask you to consider the following rationale, starting with a question: how was it that in verse 38 (still in John 13), Jesus was able to prophesy that Peter would disown him? The amplified version of the Bible translates Romans 5:7 as stating, “Now it is an extraordinary thing for one to give up his life, even for an upright man; though perhaps for a noble and lovable and generous benefactor someone might even dare to die.” So although it would be an extraordinary thing, Peter’s professed willingness to lay down his life for Jesus was neither unheard of, nor beyond the realm of possibility. Therefore, if Jesus could foretell Peter’s denial, he had to have insight into something Peter was lacking that would make his action a certainty. What was Peter missing? When he was asked if he was one of Jesus’s disciples, was he suddenly stripped of his free will in that moment in order to bring Christ’s words to fruition? Did he not still have a choice as to how he would respond? Far be it from God to compel man to sin, so of course Peter had a choice! Take those questions a step further now. Since Peter had a choice, and still denied the Lord, does that mean he consciously, deliberately disowned him? Do you believe that is the choice Peter willingly wanted to make? I would argue it was not, since since when the rooster crowed the second time and Jesus turned and looked at him, he immediately regretted what he had done and wept bitterly. What phenomenon was at work here, then? This was a perfect illustration of the truth of the apostle Paul’s words from Romans 7:18-19: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.”
Jesus knew Peter’s denial was a foregone conclusion because he was aware of the spiritual realities that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5); and when the shepherd is struck, the sheep will scatter (Matt. 26:31). He also knew that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given, so when that moment of testing came upon Peter, he was inadequately equipped to meet it successfully. He knew that although Peter intellectually, in his inner being, was willing to die with him, the natural inclination of concern for the physical body would also be warring within him; and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus knew that Satan desired to “sift” Peter (Luke 22:31), and because of all these things, he gave him counsel while they were in the garden of Gethsemane to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Matt. 26:41) It is noteworthy that Jesus had taken the two sons of Zebedee along with him, in addition to Peter, yet this admonition was directed solely to Peter. What was the temptation he was to be on his guard against? I think it reasonable to conclude that this was an allusion to the very denials which Christ had foretold, and which came to pass so swiftly after this warning.
The reason (at least in part, if not in totality) Peter failed was because when he was told to watch and pray so that he would not fall into temptation, his physical fatigue caused him to sleep instead. Temptation can be understood to be a testing or proving of one’s integrity, or it can be any force that acts to oppose an individual’s accepted standard of right conduct: and in Peter’s moment of testing, he wasn’t able to do what he claimed he would do, or act consistent with how he believed he would act, because his thoughts weren’t anchored on what he should have been praying for — which is that God would deliver him from temptation and supply him with what he needed so that his faithfulness might not falter. He temporarily lost sight of looking to God to uphold him in any situation and in doing so, he was left to rely upon himself, and the resources that were natural to him. And although Peter could be considered an upright man even before he was given the Holy Spirit, even the best qualities he possessed as part of what made him who he was were not sufficient for him to overcome his adversary in the critical moment. He was limited by his weaknesses — the same reality which confronts every single person who has ever lived.
Consider that when God’s protection was removed and Satan was allowed to test Peter, he could not even acknowledge himself to be Jesus’s disciple, even though he had previously left everything to follow him! Just like Peter, whenever we rely on our own strength to serve God, we will fail — but what is impossible for men is possible with God (Luke 18:27). God is love and God is spirit. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to increase our capacity for love by giving us access to the power of God’s love. But once we receive it, we do not automatically have it in an unlimited supply. Although the spirit of God is inexhaustible, the love of God can grow cold and His Spirit can be quenched within us. In my last message, I referenced Christ’s prophecy that prior to his return, the love of most would grow cold. I anticipated that would be my topic today, but the walls of that message are built upon an understanding and acceptance of the principle just expounded on: that apart from the power of the Holy Spirit — apart from having God’s love dwelling in us — it is impossible to serve God. Therefore, I thought it best to establish that foundation more firmly before moving forward, and because of that I will have to once again leave you until next time to ponder the question I posed in conclusion to my previous message: “How do we make certain that we will be among those who hold fast to the love of God and stand firm to the end?”.
If you have been introduced to another person, you can rightly say that you know them, in the sense of being aware of their existence. But if you never go beyond that introduction and don’t know anything else about them aside from the fact that they exist, you can’t truly claim to know them in the sense of understanding who they are. This is a truism which applies to man’s relationship with God as well: just because a person professes belief in God, that does not mean they know Him. So how does one come to know God, especially given the fact that, while we are physical, we do not have the benefit of a face to face introduction, and cannot converse with God in the same way we can with our fellow man?
Because God is an infinite spiritual being without limitations, He can never be completely and perfectly known and understood by flesh and blood. But if an attempt to do so were to be made, one might begin by describing His character. And I believe no single characteristic would be able to provide greater insight and understanding into who God is than the one found in 1 John 4:8, which states, “God is love”. What an amazing statement that is! It doesn’t merely say God loves, it says He is love. Love is not simply an attribute or quality that God possesses; rather, His entire being is founded upon, and declared or made known through, love! So we begin to come to know God through understanding His love — and I would argue that all sincere efforts to know God more perfectly should inevitably lead to a more accurate and mature understanding of what love is — but since no one has ever seen or heard God at any time, how is His love made known?
The Father is made known through His Son and His love was and is ultimately expressed through what the Lord did:
“…the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18)
“And this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. (1 John 3:16)
There is no action possible in this world that reveals more about God, the Father, than this sacrifice by His Son. The entire gospel message is built upon that singular foundation. But the good news that Jesus died so we could have the opportunity to live with him forever also sets a lofty standard for love, and carries with it a daunting expectation — for all who profess Jesus to be their Lord and Master are required to live as he lived, and do as he did. (1 John 2:6)
Because of that, it’s important for us to understand all that the Son of God did. He did indeed die so that we might live, but he did much more than just laying down his life. In truth, our Lord and Savior gave of himself, in service to others, without holding anything back for the full duration of his life. His death only speaks to the sacrifice of his physical life, but there was also a spiritual sacrifice he had to make — one that is at least as poignant, if not more than, that which occurred at his crucifixion. Before he suffered death, he first had to experience separation from God. Those who love deeply in this life know the pain that separation can bring; but even the closest and best relationship you could imagine enjoying in this present world pales into insignificance when compared to the one shared by the Father and the Son. Prior to his earthly incarnation, The Only Begotten One had spent a previous eternity enjoying perfect unity, harmony and communion with his Father, in His presence. No two other beings in all of Creation will ever know so perfect a bond or experience that degree of closeness (John 1:18), yet our Saviour was willing to experience a temporarily diminished intimacy with God, as a means of expressing his love for us and the Father, by being obedient to His will. Why was this necessary? Partly because it was paramount that “… the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31)
This act of obedience was for our benefit in many ways. In addition to obviously being the way in which the penalty for sin was paid, which opened the way to eternal life, it also serves as a model and a lesson for us of one of the key ways we demonstrate our love to God. Here are a few of the Lord’s own statements on the subject:
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)
“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”
“You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14)
“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” (1 John 5:3-4)
From these and other statements, Jesus made it clear that unless we obey God, we cannot claim to love him, or even know him. So another key way we come to know God better, and understand the nature of His love more perfectly, is to obey Him. What then are those commands we are to obey, which John says are not burdensome? We can turn to the Lord’s own words for the answer. They are:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Regarding these commandments John wrote, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning [since the Law had already been known for centuries by that time].” But he goes on to say,
“Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him [Jesus] and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2: 7-8)
What was this new command, whose truth is seen in Jesus, applicable for all who accept the title of “Christian”? It is still: “Love one another.” But it is now to be understood in a new light, one which began to shine when our Lord and Savior bled and died on our behalf. The fullness of the law’s requirement to love your neighbor as yourself, is only realized in the command: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. As I have loved you (In the same way as), so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35) The love that Jesus had was a self-less love — one that was always ready and willing to sacrifice on behalf of others — and so the love we are to have is also one that is put into practice without consideration of “self”. How critical of an issue is this for those who seek to know God and serve the Lord?
Consider the challenge Jesus posed to Peter, after Peter’s denial. He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these? Peter had previously made the statement, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. … Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Matt. 26:33 and Luke 22:33) Peter had believed that his own love for the Lord was superior to the love the other disciples possessed for Jesus. Yet three denials in rapid succession proved his boast to be false, and showed that the comparative estimation of devotion he had made between himself and his brethren was unwarranted. In Luke 22:61 we read that as soon as the final denial issued forth from Peter’s lips, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” Could any words communicate more powerfully than the understanding that passed between them when they locked eyes in that moment? Clearly, Peter saw the truth about himself right then and there, because it is written “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” So now, because of that experience, in response to Jesus’s question, Peter simply acknowledged that Jesus knew him better than had known himself, and said, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
But Jesus doesn’t stop there — he asks him again. The focus of the first query was on the comparative aspect of the question. Essentially he had asked Peter, Do you really love me more than anyone else does? But now the heart of the question changes to ask, Do you really love me more than you love anything else? Jesus used the verb agapao, which indicates an ardent, supreme love. And just as he did in response to the Lord’s first question, Peter replies that he has phileo (affection denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while agapao has a wider connotation, embracing especially the judgement and deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety) for Jesus. By this, Peter showed he understood his denials revealed that he had loved his own life more than he had loved his Master, and therefore, he could not truthfully claim to love him above everything else.
Jesus then used the same standard of phileo love Peter had professed in his two previous answers, once again slightly shifting the thrust of the question. This time, it amounts to him asking, Are you even my friend?; and Peter was hurt that Jesus would ask him that. Was Jesus being cruel by doing so? Peter already knew he had failed, so why would Jesus press the issue like this? Was it simply to rub Peter’s failure in his face, or was there still a deeper lesson he needed to learn? I believe this last inquiry was intended to provide Peter with insight that would be crucial to his future success as the Lord’s servant. In order to persevere in all that he would face in the future, he first needed to have a deeply reinforced understanding of why he had failed. After Peter replies the final time, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”, Jesus gives him the same instruction to “Feed my sheep.” The message in John 21:15-17 essentially had been, “Even if you only have brotherly love for me, my command to you remains the same: Feed my sheep. That is how you will show your love for me.” But notice what he says next:
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)
How was this relevant to the conversation they had been having? Before answering that, I think it is worth mentioning that throughout this entire discourse Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon, son of John”. Simon, son of John encompasses his identity more completely than simply calling him Peter. It carries a more serious tone, and conveys the sense that he is speaking to the very heart and soul of the man, not just the body in front of him. With that in mind, here is how I interpret what Christ was communicating in verse eighteen:
Simon, son of John, my dearly beloved disciple, brother and friend, since the day you were born you have always been strong-willed (insisting on dressing yourself and going where you wanted). But in the days to come, what will be required of you will exceed what you are able to accomplish by force of will alone. Of course I know that you love me, but just as human affection and brotherly love were not strong enough for you to remain faithful to me in Gethsamene, so too are they inadequate for the work I have yet for you to do. The reason you failed was because you relied on your own strength, rather than seeking and trusting in that love which can only be supplied by God. The reason I’m challenging you like this now is so you fully understand that the only way to truly follow me and walk the path that I have just trod is to seek the love from God which surpasses all that man can attain. That is how you will have success in feeding my sheep.
We’ve already read the passage in 1 John 5, which states that everyone born of God overcomes the world. Overcoming the world means triumphing over evil by vanquishing it. It has both internal and external applications, because before anyone can overcome the world, they must first overcome themself by having their essential nature altered down to its very foundation. A self-oriented nature never overcomes the world — it only joins with it. Over-comers are those who set aside concern for self and never let their love for others grow cold, in spite of all the evil and wickedness that occurs around them. Through their constancy and steadfastness in love, they exert a godly influence on others. By what means are they able to do this? Through faith that Jesus is the Son of God. The only way to persevere and endure hatred without becoming tainted by it, is to look to the example put before us by the Messiah’s sacrifice.
Peter had to learn that human love is insufficient to serve God effectively, because it is a fickle love, one that alters in response to the treatment it receives. His lesson is also our lesson. No one can manufacture godly love from within themself: not Peter, not you, not me. Godly love can only be obtained from God, and we must seek Him continually, in order to receive that which is to be our daily spiritual bread. Peter had believed he loved Jesus more than anything else and more than anyone else did, but He who knows the hearts of all men confronted him with the truth about what he was lacking. I cannot imagine that our Lord would hesitate to do the same with us. It is far too easy to lapse into the thinking that we are doing well as servants of God if, as a general rule, we go to church and are nice to people. But we can keep the Sabbath our whole life, we could become the world’s preeminent Biblical scholar, understand every prophecy, have faith to move mountains, even give everything that we have and earn the praise of all men — and yet if we don’t have the love of God dwelling in us, we are nothing, and all our service is mere self-deception.
Because of that fact, Christ’s propechy regarding the condition mankind will be in prior to his return is a chilling one to me. In Matt. 24:12 he says, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” I’m confident that he wasn’t using hyperbole when he said that, which means true Christian, agape love will be nearly non-existent in the world at that time. Whether we have reached those days which will herald the end of the age or not, God alone knows, so we need not occupy ourselves with such questions. But we most certainly should be concerned about keeping the love of God alive within us at any and all times. So how do we make certain that we will be among those who stand firm to the end? That is a topic that I will save for my next post. Until then, may the love of God be in you, and actively at work in your life.
Folly is evaluating what is good or evil merely from the perspective of an individual in a given moment of time; wisdom is seeing the end from the beginning.