The Brother You Can See

All sorts of people attend church. Some you like; some you don’t. A few rub us wrong. Fewer still seem to have it in for us. What are we to do? Avoidance comes to mind. But what’s God’s standard?

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot [or, how can he] love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

Okay, so if we don’t love our brother then we don’t love God? The word used for love, here, is ἀγαπάω (agapaō), or sacrificial love. Though affection may arise from this kind of love, the essence of agape toward our brother or sister is: unconditional, generous effort for another’s welfare. For deeper insight concerning these verses, consider what Calvin says:

We love him …This love [of God] cannot exist, except it generates love [toward our brothers and sisters]. Hence [the Apostle John] says, that they are liars who boast that they love God, when they hate their brethren.

…The Apostle takes [for] granted what ought…to appear evident to us, that God offers himself to us in those men who bear his image, and that he requires the duties, which he does not want himself, to be performed to them, according to Psalm 16:[2-3], where we read,

“My goodness reaches not to thee, O Lord;

towards the saints who are on the earth is my love.”

…John…shows how fallacious is the boast of everyone who says that he loves God [who is invisible], and yet loves not God’s image which is before his eyes.

And this commandment …He not only gave a commandment respecting the love of God, but [commanded] us also to love our brethren. We must therefore so begin with God, as that there may be at the same time a transition made to men.

Echoing John, the Apostle Paul, in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, says in part:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:16-18 ESV

Further, we look to other ‘one anothers’ in scripture. Almost all of these are commands for us to act upon for our brethren’s welfare.

So, let us exert unconditional, generous effort for our brother’s or sister’s welfare by praying for their needs, forgiving and asking forgiveness, and supplying material kindnesses to them. Who knows, perhaps affection may arise afterward.

RC Sproul: Pre-Evangelism – Defending Your Faith Part 3

I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me

How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.

Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)

We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

And

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.

Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

To do this, we must exercise self-control:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US

I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.