How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 7

“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26

In John 17, we are learning to pray like Jesus prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

    ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

    ~ Praying for their purification through God’s Word (John 17:16-19).

– For future believers in Christ (John 17:20-26) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their unity, so the world can believe in Jesus (John 17:20-23).

   ~ Praying for their presence with Him in His coming kingdom where they will see His glory displayed before them (John 17:24-25).

The third thing Jesus prayed for future believers is for them TO EXPERIENCE THE FATHER’S ETERNAL LOVE FOR JESUS (17:26). Finally, Jesus prayed, “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26). Jesus “declared to” the disciples His Father’s character (“name”). When Jesus said He “will declare” the Father’s name, He is referring to doing this “through the Word of God, and especially through the Fourth Gospel.” 1 Christ then prayed that the same “love” with which the Father “loved” Jesus “may be in” future believers and Christ “in them.”

“The essence of God is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus made the Father and His love known to the world by His death. And the Father made known His love for the Son by raising Him to glory. Jesus’ purpose in revealing the Father was that Christians would continue to grow in that love (that the Father’s love for the Son may be in them) and to enjoy the personal presence of Jesus in their lives (that I Myself may be in them).” 2

Christ longs for believers to experience the Father’s love for Him through fellowship. We have two eternal Persons who are loving us and wanting the best for us. The more we spend time with God the Father and God the Son, the more we will experience their outrageous love for us which will cast out our fears and deepen our love for one another (I John 4:7-21).

What an incredible prayer in John 17! Christ prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), His believing disciples (John 17:6-19), and then for future believers, including us (John 17:20-26). Not by name of course, but He asked that all “who believe in Me” would “be one.” This final request for all believers shows the importance of widening the circle of our prayer concerns. Not only are we to pray for ourselves, and our close friends, but we also need to remember to pray for those who will believe in Christ in the future. Remember, prayer moves the Hand that moves the world. 3

Take time today to thank Jesus for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise Christ for all of eternity as we discover the prayers He prayed for us that we did not hear. Prayers that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that You would cause our lives and our churches to be an answer to this prayer that You prayed. Lord, the rest of this week whether we see it or know it or not, would You use us to bring You glory? Would You help us to pray like You prayed? We pray that very humbly. But we pray it because we know that is what You want to do. We pray, Lord, that our lives would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your security and not in fear. Jesus, we pray for a real sense of growth and maturity in our lives to be happening as we keep abiding in Your Word. Help us to see some ways that we are growing. And Lord, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that the world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. We pray that Your love would make the difference in our relationships with others. Jesus, thank You for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise You all the more because we will have eternity to look at the prayers that You prayed for us that we did not hear, that are not written down, but that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. We thank You for this. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 549.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 680.

3. See John Wallace’s Poem, “Prayer Moves the Hand that Moves the World,” at https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/prayer-moves-hand-moves-world.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 5

20 I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:20-21

This past year has been filled with many challenges, one of which is the increasing division in the USA. Animosity has been on the rise between people of differing political persuasions, worldviews, and skin color. As one of my mentors said to me recently, we know who is responsible for this. He was referring to the devil or “evil one” as Jesus refers to him in John 17:15. Satan is an expert at dividing people, especially God’s people. His primary targets are Christian marriages and Christian churches because both of these institutions reflect the image of God more than any other institution on the planet. If he can divide the people in these institutions, he can greatly reduce the impact of God’s power and presence in society today. And right now I would say Satan is quite successful in doing this. But God is still at work despite the devil’s advances.  

With that said, we are going to resume looking at Jesus’ prayer to His Father in heaven in John 17 which teaches us to pray like Christ prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

  ~ Praying fortheir receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

  ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

  ~ Praying their purification through God’s Word (john 17:16-19).

Jesus now widens His prayer circle to include all future believers. From this we see that LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO BROADEN OUR PRAYERS TO INCLUDE ALL FUTURE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST (John 17:20-26). Christ prays for three things for these future believers. From Jesus’ example, we learn first to pray for THEIR UNITY, SO THE WORLD CAN BELIEVE IN JESUS (John 17:20-23). Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17:20). Christ did “not pray for these [Eleven disciples] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.”

It is about two thousand years later, and Jesus says, “My prayer is for you.” You and I are some of those future generations who have believed in Him because of the disciples’ message. “The disciples / apostles with him that night would proclaim the gospel through their preaching and through their Holy-Spirit-inspired writings, which would become the New Testament.” 1

We still read the apostles’ message today. We are reading the gospel of John, the message of one of those He was praying for earlier (John 17:6-19). It is mind boggling to think that Jesus prayed for us at that time. Think of the millions of lives and circumstances that this one sentence spans from the first century to the twenty-first century!?! Think of the numbers of people, the numbers of situations and circumstances this includes. Think of your own life. Jesus is praying for you. That is how much He cares about you!

Jesus “prayed” for us and Jesus “prays” for us. Not only did He pray for us two thousand years ago, but He still prays for us today. His prayer for us today is not written down, but it is promised. Jesus Christ Who died and was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and He is interceding for us today (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Christ is praying for you and me right now. That’s incredible! Jesus did not have to pray for us. God the Father will hear us without Jesus carrying a message. But that doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t pray for us. God loves us enough to hear our voice. The Father hears us directly. Jesus is saying, by the way, I’m praying for you. I’m talking to God for you.

Romans 8 tells us that not only is the Father listening to us (Romans 8:15-16), and the Spirit is praying within us with words that we don’t even understand (Romans 8:26-27); but the Son is also praying for us (Romans 8:34). So we have the Father and Son and Holy Spirit involved in our prayer life. We have a better prayer life than we may have first thought! The Holy Spirit has been praying and Jesus has been praying. When we add our prayers to their prayers that’s a pretty good chance of getting an answer. Somebody may ask, “Does that mean I don’t have to pray again. Can I cut that out of my life?” No. God says we are to add that to our prayers. That’s an incredible prayer life that we have, isn’t it?!

As Jesus prays for all who will believe in Him from the first century to the twenty-first century, He prays: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21).  Christ prayed for these future believers to “be one” and experience the same unity as He and the Father have in their relationship. This is a fundamental unity of purpose, love, and doctrine. 2

“The Father and the Son were one and shared the same eternal life. Christ saw believers as one because they shared the same eternal life.” With the addition of new believers there is an increase in diversity – personalities, backgrounds, interests, talents – and a greater potential for disunity. This oneness that Jesus prays for is found in knowing God through faith alone in Christ alone, not in the doctrines created by people.

This unity Jesus prays for has two purposes: “that they also may be one in Us.” The first purpose for this unity is to promote the believers’ fellowship with the Triune God. When believers are experiencing unity with one another, it also enables them to share a unity with the Father and the Son.

The second purpose for this unity is “that the world may believe that You sent Me.” When believers are united in purpose, love and doctrine, this persuades “the world [to] believe that [the Father] sent” Jesus. When non-Christians observe Christians fighting with one another, they are not going to want to have anything to do with Christianity. Too often bitterness and unforgiveness among Christians keep non-believers from believing in Christ for His gift of eternal life.

Some people think this verse means that unity should be sought at the expense of truth. They fail to realize that the basis of this unity that Jesus prayed for is “the truth” (John 17:17-19) which says people must “believe” in Christ to have “eternal life” (John 17:3, 8, 20-21; cf. 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 10:25-29; 11:25-26; 20:31) and be rightly related to God.

When Christian leaders say that believing in Jesus is not enough to be saved, they are undermining the basis of Christian unity that Jesus gave to His followers. Until believers can agree with what Jesus taught about the means of salvation and the basis of Christian unity (“believe in Christ”), they are not going to experience this oneness that Jesus prayed for in John 17. Let’s not yield to the lie that emphasizes unity at the expense of truth. Satan wants to remove God’s truth from the focus of Christians because he knows that God’s truth is what unifies believers. Those who refuse to accept Jesus’ truth about the means of salvation are being divisive, not those who stand on His truth as the basis of our unity.

Tony Evans shares a helpful illustration: “A football team consists of different players filling different positions with different roles. But the entire team has one purpose: reaching the goal line. Their unity consists of pursuing that one goal according to the rules of the game. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of people from every race, ethnicity, gender, and walk of life. But we have the common purpose of proclaiming the gospel and pursuing God’s kingdom agenda. Our effectiveness is determined by our unity. That’s why Satan works so hard at causing division among Christians and within churches. Unity in truth is critical to experiencing the presence and power of God (see Acts 2:1-2, 43-44; 4:24-31). Illegitimate disunity disconnects us from God and causes us to be ineffective in our lives and in our prayers (see 1 Pet 3:7).” 5

Next Jesus prayed, “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” (John 17:22). In what sense do all believers share God’s “glory”? This probably refers to “the glory” Christ would display on the cross and in the resurrection (cf. 17:1-5). This glory they received from the Lord would have a unifying influence on their relations with one another – “that they may be one just as We are one.” The risen Christ in me is not going to fight with the risen Christ in you. As we grow closer to Christ, we will grow closer to one another.

Then Jesus prayed, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” (John 17:23a). Christ saw oneness between believers as possible because it is Christ and the Father in them that unites them with one another. This oneness shows the world that God loved His people, so they could love one another.

Christ adds, “And that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23b). As Jesus prayed for those who will believe in Him through the word of His disciples, He asked that “the world may know that” the Father “loved them as” He “loved” Jesus. The word “as” is fascinating here. Jesus is saying that the Father loves us “as” to the same degree or equally as He does His Son, Jesus Christ. This means there is no one and nothing, including Jesus Christ, that God the Father loves more than those of us who believe in Jesus! God loves all believers the same with a beyond what we can ask or imagine kind of love (cf. Ephesians 3:17-20). What is the Father’s love toward His only Son like?

IT IS FOREVER – “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24b). There has never been a time when the Father has not loved Jesus. Think about that! Together, the Father and Son have been working side by side for all of eternity past. After spending billions of years working together in perfect harmony, Jesus tells us that His Father loves us exactly as much as He loves Him! People may stop loving us and may even abandon us, but God the Father will never stop loving us. He loves us the same as His only begotten Son.

IT IS INTIMATE – “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26b). The Father’s love for His Son goes deep and is very intimate. He continues to work with us to make us more like His Son. He develops in us the skills to relate peacefully with one another, so we can experience the same oneness that characterizes His relationship with His Son (John 17:11, 21-23). All of us long to be loved and to love. Only God’s love can meet our deepest needs. 

“Our involvement in the church is not trivial, then. We are caught up in something much bigger than us. We are called to serve the Lord in unity so that the love and glory of our Trinitarian God is visibly and powerfully manifested to a watching world.” 6

Do we have the same vision for future believers that Jesus had when He prayed? Do we see ourselves sharing the gospel with people who do not have Christ in their lives? Are we praying for those future believers to come to faith in Christ alone so they can experience the same oneness that our Trinitarian God experiences? Do our prayers also concentrate on future believers serving the Lord in unity so the love and glory of our magnificent Trinitarian God is powerfully displayed to a watching world? Are we teaching the people we disciple to pray in this way? If not, we can begin praying like this today.

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for preserving Jesus’ prayer for all of us who believed in Him after He ascended to You! Only heaven will disclose the billions of lives and circumstances impacted by this one prayer back in the first century. We are so touched by the fact that this prayer is also for us. Jesus prayed for His apostles’ gospel message to bring us to faith in Him! Hallelujah! What an amazing prayer this was and is!!! Please teach us and those we disciple to pray this way for those who have not yet believed in Jesus for eternal life. We pray that billions more will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can unite the world with His life-changing grace and love!!! And Father God, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that this divided world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. Lord, we cannot forgive each other or live with each other or put up with each other without Your love inside of us. I pray that Your love would make the difference. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 460.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 450.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 309.

5. Tony Evans, pg. 1816.

6. Ibid.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 4

“Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32

During the global pandemic, many people are feeling alone and abandoned. Due to COVID restrictions, we are not able to connect as easily with one another. Worse yet, some of us may feel abandoned by God during this difficult time.

We are learning from the Lord Jesus how we can face challenges with courage. We have discovered that we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

– Recognize that Jesus is in control (John 16:28-30).

Today Jesus teaches us that we can face challenges with courage when we REST IN THE FATHER WHO WILL NEVER ABANDON US (John 16:31-32). We see that the disciples’ understanding and belief were still immature. After they affirmed their belief that Jesus “came forth from God” (John 16:30), Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’ ” (John 16:31). Jesus’ question expects a negative response. Christ was questioning what they would do in the near future when they would face difficulties and danger? “Will you believe in Me then?” Jesus asks. Christ knew them better than they knew themselves.

Jesus then explains, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:32). Christ knew their faith would be tested before the night was over. When Jesus was arrested these men would “be scattered” and stricken with fear (cf. Matthew 26:56), going in every direction, much like the people in Madrid, Spain, when the bulls are released and scatter throngs of people. When Jesus needed His disciples the most, they abandoned Him after confirming their faith in Him.

What Jesus is saying to these men is, “ ‘You don’t believe as strongly as you think you do. Now, while all is quiet and safe, this is easy for you to say. But very soon you’re going to forget your fragile faith and run for your lives.’

“Have you ever made a vow to God during a church service only to back away from it later—perhaps as quickly as when you left the church parking lot? It’s easy to boast about our faith; it’s harder to live it, as Peter would soon discover (18:15-18, 25-27). This is one of the reasons why God causes us to experience challenges. Through them, we come to see how brittle our faith is and how mighty our Savior is, and thus our faith is made a little stronger.” 1

Although the disciples would abandon Him, Christ assures them, “yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” Jesus may have felt lonely at that time, but He knew He was not alone.

A young woman’s brief note spoke volumes. “I am a handicapped person in a wheelchair,” she wrote. “I am very lonely even though I know I’m never alone. God is always there. I don’t have a lot of people I can talk to.”

Loneliness has been termed the most desolate word in the English language. It is no respecter of age, race, economic status, or intelligence. Albert Einstein said, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.”

God made us for intimacy and companionship with others. Even before sin entered the world, God declared that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). That is why many people often feel so empty inside. 

Christ most likely felt lonely when the disciples abandoned Him at the time of His arrest, but His Father’s presence more than compensated for this, however. Christ said, “Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” We can lessen our feelings of loneliness by reaching out to others. But even more important, we must reach out to the Lord who will never abandon us.

Yes, people may stop loving us and even abandon us, but God will never stop loving us (Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:38-39) and He will never forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5). Christ probably felt disappointed with His disciples for not supporting Him. But we are no different than the disciples. We also fail the Lord. But God never fails us. Psalm 118:8-9 say, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” Why is it better to trust in the Lord than to trust in people? Because He is always there for us. I cannot be with you twenty-four hours a day nor can you be with me every hour of every day. Only God can be there for us all the time. 

Evangelist D. L. Moody loved to tell the story of a preacher he knew in Scotland who would go once a week to a children’s hospital to try to comfort sick little ones. On one trip, he met a boy of six who was facing the amputation of his leg. The preacher asked if the boy had anyone to stay with him as he waited for the surgery. The boy explained that his father was dead, and his mother was too ill to leave their home. Feeling sorry for him, the preacher talked about how caring and loving the hospital staff were, trying to find some way to offer him comfort. Then the little boy said, “Jesus will be with me.”  2

We never have to face challenges alone because God is always with us. There may be days when we do not “feel” His presence as we would like, but there will never be days when He is not there. Rest in the arms of His presence and He will give you the courage to face whatever challenges come your way.

Prayer: Father God, during these challenging times I am realizing that my feelings often lie to me. They tell me I am all alone and unloved. But Your Word tells me that You are always with me and that You will always love me even when others abandon me or stop loving me. Your grace toward me is truly amazing. Even when I abandon You or fail to love You back, You do not leave me nor stop loving me. Your constant presence in my life gives me the courage to face difficult situations. Thank You for being such a gracious and loving Father. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1812.

2. https://www.dailyintheword.org/rooted/finding-courage-in-god’s-presence.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 2

“For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” John 16:27

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage. Yesterday we discovered we can do this when we resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26). Today we learn we can also face challenges with courage when we RECEIVE THE FATHER’S SPECIAL LOVE FOR US (John 16:27).

Jesus explains why the disciples are to go directly to the Father in prayer after He goes to the Father following His resurrection and ascension. “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.” (John 16:27). The disciples could go directly to the Father because of His special “love” (philéō) for them. This word for “love” refers to a warm, affectionate, friendly kind of love. This special love for them was based on their relationship with Christ.

Jesus said that the Father’s love for them was, “because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from God.” The words “loved” (pephilēkate) and “believed” (pepisteukate) are in the perfect tense which means they loved Jesus warmly in the past and still love Him warmly in the present, and they believed Jesus was from the Father in the past and still believe He is from the Father now.

Christ is referring to discipleship or fellowship with God here, not  salvation from hell. This special kind of love from the Father is based upon our obedience to Christ which follows belief in Him (cf. John 14:21, 23). We saw in John 14:21 that when a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest” or reveal more of Himself to them.

God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special or more intimate way (John 16:27; cf. 13:23; 14:21, 23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with God the Father and God the Son. It can also be said that unloving and unbelieving Christians will not experience this special kind of love from the Father.

Wilkin writes, “For a believer to abide experientially in the love of God, he must hold fast to the faith both doctrinally and morally (cf. 14:15; 15:14; cf. Jude 21).” 2 We cannot do this in our own strength. We must rely on God the Father through prayer to remain faithful to the Christian faith (cf. John 16:23-26).

God often uses troubling times to deepen our experience of His love for us. This was what happened to missionaries, Charlie and Frauke Schaefer, who were serving the Lord in Germany. One morning, when Frauke was getting ready to leave for a conference and Charlie was out on a run, Charlie did not return home. Frauke became alarmed and went looking for him in likely places, but he was not to be found in any of them. After she called the police, she learned that Charlie had been taken to the hospital after collapsing during his run. There was bleeding of an unknown cause inside his skull.

“After Charlie’s collapse, Frauke felt distant from God and was evading His presence. Although communication between her and God was good, she had gnawing questions when she slowed down. Why did this happen when we were doing what we believed God wanted us to do? How could Charlie’s collapse fit into God’s plan. Why were we unable to lead the retreat that was so diligently prepared and prayed for? After a while, Frauke gained courage to direct these questions to God. An immediate response came through the peace of realizing God was assuring her, ‘I am with you and I know.’ God also seemed to be saying that deepening our love and trust in Him was more important than ministering to others at the moment.” 3

Instead of doubting God’s love for us when we face challenges, we are to embrace the truth that God may allow personal suffering in our lives to take us where He knows we must go to experience the fullness of His love for us. God does not just want to tell us that He loves us. He wants to show us that He loves us and this often takes place in the context of pain and suffering. Knowing we are warmly loved by the Father, can give us courage during those difficult times.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for not just telling me that You love me, but for permitting me to go through challenging times to deepen my experience of Your unfailing love for me. Much of my Christian life I have known intellectually that You love me, but in recent years You are showing me how much You love me as I go through various difficulties in life. The more I experience the warmth of Your love, Father, the more I can face opposition and painful trials with courage. Thank You for fighting the battles I could never fight or win on my own. Thank You for being my best Friend. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures In the New Testament, Vol. V, (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 271-272.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 542. 

3. Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., Trauma & Resilience: A Handbook, (Frauke C. Schaefer, MD and Charles A Schaefer, PhD., 2012) pp. iv-v.

4. Ibid., pg. 1.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 2

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.’ ” John 15:20

Jesus Christ experienced love and hate from people during His time on earth. While most of the people ended up hating Christ and had Him crucified, some came to love Him. Those who loved Him received more intimate and life-changing truths from Him (cf. John 14:21; 15:14).

The night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared intimate truths with His devoted followers to prepare them to carry on His ministry after He departs and ascends to heaven to be with His heavenly Father. After speaking to His eleven believing disciples about their relationship to one another (John 15:12-17), He then directs their attention to their relationship with the world (John 15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world?  

Last time we learned the first way is to realize that you will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19). The second way to be an effective witness to a hostile world is to RECALL WHAT JESUS HAS ALREADY TAUGHT US (John 15:20). As followers of Christ, we are not to think we will be treated better by the world than Jesus was.

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20). Jesus reminded His disciples of what He already taught them after He washed their feet at the Last Supper (cf. John 13:16). He said, “A servant is not greater than his master.” Earlier Jesus used this statement to encourage them to humbly serve one another as He had done when He washed their feet. Now in this context, He uses that statement to explain why they will face persecution. Christ meant that His disciples are not greater than Him in the sense that they will not escape persecution from the world when walking with the Lord. Since their Master (Jesus) was “persecuted” by the world, the world “will also persecute” His servants. 

Conversely, Jesus says, “If (since)1 they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” People often treat servants the same way they would treat the servant’s master. Hence, Christ is saying that just as some people followed His teaching, so there will be some who follow His disciples’ teaching.

In the midst of the world’s hatred and rejection toward Christ and His followers, Jesus is giving us hope. While most rejected Christ and His message, some did not. Likewise, “while most will reject the words of the apostles, some will accept their witness. For example, on the Day of Pentecost, just fifty days after Jesus spoke these words, Peter led over three thousand to faith in Jesus (Acts 2:14-41).” 2

When you and I share the gospel with others, some will oppose the message and others will receive it. It is important to remember this when we face an antagonistic crowd. Don’t give up on someone if they are not receptive the first time you try to share Christ with them. Some people may need to hear the gospel several times before they believe in Jesus. Or there may be people in a crowd of antagonists who are receptive. You may not be aware of that at the time you share with them because they are too intimidated to express their receptivity. Let the Holy Spirit draw them to Jesus among hostile listeners.

For example, in 2013 when I went with Filipino pastors to a critical area in the southern Philippines to preach in public schools, students there were very responsive. On one particular day, we stopped at an all-Muslim school to share the gospel with students, but the students had already been dismissed. We noticed that there was a crowd of about two hundred fifty adult Muslims having a Parent/Teacher meeting. We asked if we might share the good news of Jesus Christ with them and the moderator permitted us to do so.

As I began to share about the love of the God of Abraham and how He wanted to have a personal relationship with them, I noticed a group of about twenty-five Muslim women dressed in their Islamic head gear, and they were forming a circle. They would keep looking at me through the opening in their head gear and then they would look at one another. I didn’t know what they were going to do, but I just knew that Jesus did not want my translator and I to stop preaching. By God’s grace we boldly shared Christ crucified to them and then invited them to believe in the Lord Jesus for eternal life and a future home in heaven. When I asked them to raise their hands if they were now trusting in Christ alone as their only way to heaven, all two hundred fifty adult Muslims lifted up their hands. Hallelujah! My translator and I then made a quick exit out of there to go to the next school.

We can be more effective witnesses for Christ in this hostile world as we remember the things He taught us about the world’s hostility toward His followers. His teaching will give us strength in the future when we face opposition because Jesus warned us in advance, so we would not be overtaken by surprise.Regardless of how people respond, we are to faithfully represent Christ on the earth.

When we go through dark times, look back at the times of light and what Jesus already taught us during that time. Our tendency is to forget the lessons that Jesus already taught us when we go through tough times. When pressures pile up on us, we can easily throw away the biblical truths the Lord has given us (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:7). During dark times, get alone with the Lord and read His Word. Listen to His voice of truth. Let Him give you His power as His Spirit renews your mind with the everlasting truths of His Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for warning me in advance that when I identify with You, I will receive the same kind of treatment from the world that You received. While most people will oppose Your message through me, there will be some who will embrace it. Please help me to focus on those who are receptive so I can follow them up and teach them to follow You as You did for me through Your faithful followers when I first got saved. Regardless of how people respond, please empower me to faithfully represent You on earth while there is still time left. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The phrase εἰ τὸν λόγον μου ἐτήρησαν is a first-class condition meaning some did keep or obey Jesus’ teaching.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 537.

How can we be Jesus’ friend? Part 2

“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” John 15:14

Last time we learned the first way to be Jesus’ friend was to live in His love (John 15:9-11). Today we discover that the second way to be Jesus’ friend is to LOVE as HE LOVED (John 15:12-17). To help His disciples understand this command to abide in His love, He repeated something He had said before. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). You may ask,What is Jesus’ love like?”

a. IT IS UNCONDITIONAL (John 15:12; cf. 13:1-11; Luke 22:24). Earlier, the disciples had been fighting among themselves about who was the greatest among them (cf. Luke 22:24). Jesus then humbly washed their dirty feet (John 13:1-11). Christ loved them even though they did not deserve it. Christ’s love was not a response to our love. He loves us even if we never loved Him back. Jesus loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes Jesus love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If Jesus waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that Jesus loved you and me first. His love does not require that you love Him back.

If we are going to love one another as Jesus loved us, then we must love one other whether we deserve to be loved or not. God’s love is not an emotion. “You can love people whom you may not necessarily like because love is not dependent on your feelings. That’s why Jesus can command  to ‘love your enemies’ ” (Matthew 5:44).” 1 Love is a choice to do what is best for another person. Christ living in us wants to unconditionally love others through us.

b. IT IS SACRIFICIAL (15:13). Next Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). The greatest love of all was to give up your life for your friends. In the context, this must refer to Jesus’ upcoming death on the cross (cf. John 10:11, 15, 17-18; 12:32-33; 13:1ff). This is the greatest expression of friendship.

“There was an orphanage near an American Marine Base in Viet Nam. One day the Viet Cong fired mortar shells into the orphanage, killing dozens of children and wounding many more. A boy named Kai had a seriously wounded friend who needed a blood transfusion. Kai’s friend had a rare blood type and only Kai’s blood matched it. Little Kai had never heard of a blood transfusion but when the American doctors explained it would save his friend’s life, little Kai volunteered.

“As the blood began to flow from Kai to his friend, Kai began to whimper. When the doctors asked if it hurt, he said no. A little later he whimpered again. Again, he told the doctors it did not hurt. The doctors asked, ‘What’s wrong, Kai?’ With tears coursing down his light brown, dusty cheeks, Kai asked, ‘When am I to die, sir, when am I to die?’ You see, little Kai didn’t know that you only give a little blood. He thought you gave it all, and he was willing to do so for his little friend.” 2

Are we willing to sacrifice for one another? Men, it may mean giving up a game of basketball or a TV show to listen to someone share their problems with you. Ladies, it may involve laying aside that intriguing novel to listen to your neighbor process a misunderstanding they had with someone. When a need arises among the people in your life, reach out to help them in love.

c. IT IS OBEDIENT (John 15:14). Jesus would give His life for His friends. Who are His friends? “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus’ friends are those believers who keep His commandments. We may say that Jesus is our best Friend, but would He say we are His friends? The true test of friendship with Christ is obedience to “whatever” He commands you to do. Friendship with Christ is a discipleship issue, not a salvation issue.

Twice Abraham was called a friend of God in the Old Testament: by God (Isaiah 41:8) and by men (2 Chronicles 20:7).  James 2:21-23 explains why Abraham was justified before men by works when he offered up his son, Isaac. Works justify us before men, but not before God (cf. Romans 4:2). Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) over twenty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). The faith that justified him before God was matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac (James 2:22) and filled full of meaning (James 2:23a). Men could declare Abraham to be a “friend of God” because they saw that he had an intimate relationship with God through his obedience. So friendship with God is based upon obedience.

Do people know that we are friends of Christ because of our obedience to Him? Our obedience to Jesus is a compelling testimony to the world that we are vitally connected to Him, especially when we keep His commandment to love one another. Our friendship with Christ is realized by others through our actions. This means we love one another whether we feel like it or not. But instead of ignoring our feelings, we are to deal with them so we can be available to love others. We need to experience God’s love and power before we can love others with His love.

d. IT COMMUNICATES TRUTH (15:15). Then Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). During their time together, Jesus viewed these men as servants and Himself as their Master. The responsibility of a servant was to submit to the will of his master. A servant is nothing more than an instrument. He simply does what he is told because he has no other choice. He does not have a close relationship with his master, as friends do. The servant does not know the personable issues about his master’s life. He just follows orders.

But now Jesus calls His disciples “friends.” Why? He says, “For all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” These men who had been Jesus’ servants were now His friends because He had kept nothing back from them. He had revealed all that the Father had made known to Him (cf. John 14:21). A master shares his will with his servants. But a friend shares his heart with his friends. “There are no secrets between friends.” Christ shared His heart with His disciples, so they could bear fruit to the glory of His Father.

Many years ago, a Christian writer went through a deep period of doubt and temptation. He questioned his ministry, his qualifications, his marriage, his salvation. Anguished and burdened, he finally went to a friend and confessed his feelings. As they talked and prayed together over the course of several weeks, his perspective returned. Peace came into his heart, and he experienced the joy of the Lord again. 

If we can receive this kind of help from talking with a friend, how much more beneficial would it be to be completely open with the Lord Jesus? He is the Best of friends. Alexander Maclaren wrote, “If we are friends of God, we shall have no secrets from Him. There are very few of those who are dearest to us to whom we could venture to lay bare all the depths of our hearts. There are black things down in the cellars that we do not like to show to any of our friends… But you should take God all through the house. And if there is the trust and the love that l have been speaking about, we shall not be afraid to spread out all our foulness, and our meanness, and our unworthy thoughts of, and acts towards, Him, before His ‘pure eyes and perfect judgment,’ and say, ‘Nobody but my best friend could look at such a dungheap, but I spread it before Thee… Tell God all, if you mean to be a friend of His.” 4

Christ did not withhold any truth from His disciples. There were no secrets between Him and His friends. Close friends communicate openly and honestly. Even though the truth may hurt at times, it is better to share it than to conceal it. Concealing the truth allows the situation to worsen. I appreciate it when my wife is open and honest with me about her true feelings. It shows me that she cares about our relationship. Friendship involves open communication. As we abide in Christ, He can enable us to share openly with one another.

e. IT TAKES THE INITIATIVE (15:16). Jesus continued and said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16a). Christ took the initiative in choosing His disciples to “go and bear fruit.” Normally disciples choose their own teacher, but Jesus chose them. All around the world today, students seek out the teachers of their choice and attach themselves to them. But Christ’s disciples did not take the initiative. After spending all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12-16), Jesus “chose” His disciples and “appointed” them to their mission to “go and bear fruit.” Notice that Jesus did not “choose”them to be saved or to have eternal life. His selection of them was related to their mission and ministry, not their salvation. John’s gospel never refers to people “being chosen from all eternity for eternal life or death.” 7

The divine election of God in the Bible is related to service, not salvation. In the Old Testament, God chose individuals to serve Him such as Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Moses (Exodus 3:12; Numbers 16:5-6, 28), Aaron (Numbers 17:5), King David (2 Samuel 6:21; 1 Kings 8:16), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and the Messianic Servant (Isaiah 49:5-9; 52:13-53:12). He chose a group of people, Israel, to continue the mission He began with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2; 1 Kings 3:8; Psalm 33:12; 106:5; Isaiah 43:10; 45:4; 65:9, 22; cf. Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20; Luke 18:7; Romans 9:11; 11:28; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 2:4).

In the New Testament, Jesus chose Twelve men to serve as His apostles (Luke 6:12-16; John 15:16). The fact that Judas was chosen by Christ demonstrates that this election was to service, not salvation since Judas never believed in Jesus (cf. John 6:64; 13:10-11; 17:12). Christ said that Paul was “a chosen vessel of Mine” to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). Peter was also chosen for service: “God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7-8). 10

Just as Jesus took the initiative in choosing His disciples for their mission and service, so we must do the same in our relationships with one another. The importance of choosing believers to train in discipleship is underscored by the fact that Christ prayed all night to God on a mountaintop before He selected His disciples (cf. Luke 6:12-16). We need God’s wisdom and leading to choose men and women who will be “faithful” followers of Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).

Are we sharing the gospel with non-Christians and then asking them to meet with us for discipleship? We must be intentional about sharing the gospel with the lost and then teaching those who believe in Christ to obey all of His commandments (Matthew 28:20) because disciples are not born, they are made. 11  Christian growth is not automatic. It requires a commitment to follow Jesus regardless of the costs (cf. Luke 14:25-33).

Finally, f. IT BEARS FRUIT THAT LASTS (15:16b-17). “And that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16b). Christ also “chose”and “appointed” His disciples that they “should… bear fruit… that… should remain.” This fruit is related to the fruit of evangelism because it remains and cannot be lost (cf. John 4:36; 10:28-29). One of the most unloving things we can do is keep God’s love and His gospel to ourselves. This lasting fruit is also connected to answered prayer – “that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” To ask the Father in Jesus’ “name” means to pray for what Jesus would pray. God desires that all people be saved from hell (I Timothy 2:3-4). When we pray to that end, God answers that prayer. Prayer is the backbone to reaching the lost with the gospel of Christ. As God’s people pray, the Holy Spirit prepares the lost to hear and believe the gospel (John 16:7-11).

When we pray and preach the gospel, God saves people as they respond in faith, resulting in lasting “fruit.” How exciting to see people come to faith in Christ! As we allow Jesus to live through us, our desire to see people obtain eternal life will increase. This week you may be asked by another believer to go with them to share the gospel with a family member or friend. Or maybe someone will ask you to pray for an individual that they just shared the gospel with. Next Christ says, “These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:17). The way to honor Christ’s Lordship in our lives is to obey Him especially as it relates to loving one another. And as we obey Him, people can see that we are His friends.

After one of the worst battles of the American Civil War, a small remnant of a Confederate regiment stood alone on a grassy knoll. A Southern officer on horseback approached the small band of soldiers. “Where is your captain?” the officer inquired. “There he lies,” they said, pointing to his lifeless form a few feet away. “And what are you men doing here?” the officer asked. “Sir, we are paying our respects, giving him our final salute. He told us to hold this hill, and we have done just what he said.” What loyalty! The proof of their allegiance was complete obedience to his orders.

As Christians, we should also remember our great Captain, Jesus Christ. Although He died, He does not remain on the field of battle. He rose again and lives victoriously at the right hand of God the Father! He freely gave His life that He might save us and bring us to God. This is all the more reason to give Him our total commitment to obey Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, no one deserves our allegiance more than You! Thank You for laying down Your life for me. No greater love has ever been shown to me than this. Right now I give You everyone and everything to use for Your purposes. Please help me to abide in You and You in me so Your love will flow through me to others. This world could use a lot more of Your love. May they know I am Your friend by my love for You and others, especially the lost who need to hear Your life-giving gospel message. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

2. See https://bible.org/illustration/john-1513 on April 17, 2018.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 443.

4. Taken from Alexander Maclaren’s sermon on James 2:14-26 entitled, “Faith Without Works” at http://www.preceptaustin.org/maclaren_on_james_2.

5. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 326.

6. Shawn Lazar, Chosen to Serve: Why Divine Election Is to Service, Not to Eternal Life (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2017), pg. 140.

7. Ibid., pg. 147.

8. Shawn Lazar’s article, “Election for Baptists: Why Biblical election is to service and privilege, not to eternal life,” at https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/election-for-baptists-why-biblical-election-is-to-service-and-privilege-not-to-eternal-life/; cf. Robert Wilkin, “THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE ELECTION RECONSIDERED: ELECTION TO SERVICE, NOT TO EVERLASTING LIFE,” at https://faithalone.org/journal/2012ii/Wilkin.pdf; cf. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 151-212.

9. Lazar, Chosen to Serve…, pp. 41-55, 175-199.

10. Lazar, “Election for Baptists…”

11. see Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Notes, no. 23, “Are Disciples Born, or Made?” at http://www.gracelife.org/ resources/gracenotes/?id=23.

How can we be Jesus’ friend? Part 1

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 15:10

Several years ago, an English publication offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of entries received were some of the following:

“One who understands our silence.”

“A volume of sympathy bound in cloth.”

“A watch which beats true for all time and never runs down.”

But the entry which won the prize said, “A friend – the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” 1

Often times we speak or sing about what it means to have Jesus as our Friend. But in these verses (John 15:9-17), we are going to discover what it means to be Jesus’ friend. It may surprise us to learn that not all Christians are friends with Jesus. A person can be a child of God without being a friend of God. How can we be Jesus’ Friend?

The first way is to LIVE IN HIS LOVE (John 15:9-11). Jesus and His disciples had just left the Upper Room and were on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 14:31). Jesus used the analogy of the vine and its branches to teach them the secrets of having a fruitful ministry (John 15:1-8). They were to abide in Him and remain in vital contact with Him by obeying His commandments to glorify God the Father through the bearing of much fruit. Jesus’ disciples could not bear fruit apart from Christ. They were totally dependent on Him.

Christ then said to His disciples, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9). Love is the relationship that unites the disciples (and us) to Jesus as branches are united to a vine. Jesus refers to His love for them to motivate them. He first tells them that His love for them is like the Father’s love for Him (cf. John 3:35; 5:20). The Father gave His Son all authority to accomplish His purposes. He always sought the best for His Son.

Likewise, Jesus always sought the best for His disciples. He still does this with us. Jesus’ love for us has purpose. It is meant to benefit us, but it is not painless. For example, God the Father loved Jesus, but sent Him to suffer and die to benefit those who believed in Him. The Bible tells us, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). God’s love for us does not mean we will never have pain or difficulties. In fact, pain can be an expression of God’s love for us. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens.” God uses His painful discipline in our lives, so we may be “partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

Next, Jesus commands them (and us), “Abide in My love. The word “abide” (menō) is a fellowship term and means “to remain, continue, make one’s home at.” We are to constantly make our home in Jesus’ love for us. Abiding is not easy, yet where we make our home is where we spend our time. We must make the effort to abide in the truth of Scripture that God loves us with “an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). People may stop loving us and even reject us, but God will never stop loving us. No one and nothing can separate us from His love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)! Because this is a command, it is possible for a believer not to abide in God’s love.

How do we abide in Jesus’ love? Is this something mystical? Not at all. It is very simple. ““If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10). We abide in Jesus’ love by keeping His commandments. Loving Christ in this way is not an emotion. It is a choice of the will. An example of this love is Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father’s commands. Jesus had uninterrupted fellowship with His Father through obedience to His commands. As we receive and appreciate Jesus’ love for us, we will be more motivated to obey Him (cf. I John 4:19). This is not a system of rigid rules, it is a loving relationship with Jesus. Our love for Christ is a result of His love for us. We cannot give what we do not possess.

Before we can love Jesus in this way, we must first receive His love for us. The more you know God, the better you love Him and people. John says in I John 4:7-8, “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” You cannot give what you do not have. “God is love.” If you have Him, you have love. If you do not have Him, you only think you have love because God not only cornered the market on love, He is the market on love!

Those who have this kind of love are “born of God and know God” (I John 4:7b). The phrase “born of God” refers to a Christian. Before we can ever produce this kind of love in our relationships, we must first be born of God. How? The Bible says you must simply believe in Jesus Christ. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (I John 5:1).

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to God and that is through Him. Our sin, the wrong things we have thought, said, and done – separate us from God (Romans 3:23; 6:23). This separation from God causes problems in every area of our lives – including our relationships. No amount of our good works can bring us back to God because we are still sinners.

But Jesus has provided the only way back to God by paying for all our sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). The Lord now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for eternal life. He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). It doesn’t matter how badly you have messed things up, you can come to Christ just as you are.

Just as you trust a chair through no effort of your own to hold you up off the floor, so God now invites you to trust in Jesus Christ alone through no effort of your own to give you eternal life and complete forgiveness of sins (John 3:16; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14). The good things you have done will not save you. Only Jesus can save you from your sins. The moment you place your faith in Jesus alone for eternal life, you become God’s child (John 1:12) and God comes to live inside of you (Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20) and love you always. As you get to know Him and trust Him, He pours His love into your life through His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22a), so you can begin to love others.  You may be ready to receive God’s love right now. Simply believe in Jesus to give you everlasting life (John 6:47).

Once you have come close to God by trusting in Jesus alone as your Savior, the key is to stay close. Get to “know Him” (I John 4:7b) by spending time with Him. Staying close to God is not complicated. This image works for me: I picture my life as a bucket. I have to have my bucket filled. And God’s love is like a fountain. The more I refill that bucket, the more love I have to share with others. If you have been a Christian for a while, you can probably tell when your bucket is empty. You are easily irritated or angered. It is difficult to let go of past hurts and trust the person again, to expect the best of him or her. Perhaps you cannot stand being in the same room with the person who has hurt you in the past. All of these are indications that you need to be refilled.  

You say, “How do I do it?” Spend time with Jesus. Hang out with Him. Read what He has written in His love letter to you, the Bible. Talk to Him about what you are reading and feeling. Treat Him like a close friend, and you will become a close friend. And when you get closer to Jesus, you’ll discover that you are more able to love those who matter to you. Go to church so you can hang out with the people who hang out with God. Join a small group where you can hang out more intimately with a few of God’s friends.

Jesus spoke about remaining in vital contact with Himself and His love so that we could experience His joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11). The Lord did not intend for His disciples’ lives to be burdensome and boring. He intends for us to know the same joy He knew when He was obedient to the will of God the Father. He wants our joy to “be full”or brought to completion.

Our greatest joy is walking in obedience to Jesus Christ. The joy of Christ is the joy that arises from the sense of a finished work. It is a creative joy, like the joy of an artist or carpenter when he or she finishes a project. When your masterpiece is finished, there is great joy over its completion. Discipleship is not meant to be some shallow, miserable experience of following rules. It is meant to be a life characterized by joy or gladness which arises out of a loving relationship with the Lord.

But if a believer is not abiding in Christ through obedience, especially as it relates to loving one another, there will be a lack of joy in his or her life. Disobedience to God reduces our joy and increases our sense of shame and guilt. You cannot rejoice while you are wallowing in shame.

Take time this week to hang out with Jesus and His friends. Your life will be more full of joy and someone else may also get a lift.

Prayer: Precious Lord and Savior, thank You for Your profound love for me. People may stop loving me, but You never have nor will! Let’s get together in the morning. I want to hear what You have to say to me. My love tank is running a little low right now, and it could use a refill. Thank You, Jesus. See You in the morning! In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Karol & Terry Ladd, The Power of a Positive Friend (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Co., 2004), pp. 31-32.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 503-504.

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How can we overcome the fear of abandonment? Part 1

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” John 14:16

A few years ago I watched the movie “Spotlight” which is based on a true story of how the Boston Globe newspaper’s spotlight team uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. The many victims of abuse had been ignored by the Catholic Church and the Boston community. Near the end of the movie, many victims called in to the Spotlight department after they ran an article entitled, “Church ignores abuse by priests for years.” For years victims of sexual abuse were abandoned by people who knew about the abuse but turned the other way.

We might think, “Well, that is just the Catholic Church. That would not happen among true born-again Christians.” Evangelical churches would not ignore the victims of such abuse, right!?! Mission agencies would not tolerate such horrific treatment of their own people. Right?! Wrong! These assumptions are one of many factors that has hindered evangelicals and Bible-believing mission agencies from dealing with sexual abuse among their own people.

Former gymnast, Rachael Denhollander, says she was fifteen-years old when US Olympic team doctor, Larry Nassar, started sexually abusing her. In an interview with Christianity Today, she says, Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church… 1

Mission agencies that once denied the possibility of sexual abuse among their missionary families have had to come to grips with the harsh reality that such abuse has and does take place among conservative evangelical missionary families. In fact, I was told by one mission agency leader in the Philippines, that sexual abuse takes place in every culture and subculture, Christian or non-Christian. All people are fallen and broken because of sin.

Sexual abuse victims are often isolated and left alone to deal with their pain and shame. Those who are abused within the church are wanting to know, “Where is God in all of this? Has God abandoned me? Why did He permit this to happen to me?”

The feeling of being left alone, not only haunts victims of sexual abuse, it also haunts the “divorcee in that apartment… or the one who just buried his or her life’s companion… or the couple whose arms ache for the child recently taken… the young nurse in 1967 who, after a shattered romance and broken engagement, went back to the Midwest to start over… like the disillusioned teenaged girl, away from home and heavy with child – wondering, ‘How can I face tomorrow?’” 2  Because of COVID-19, many people are experiencing abandonment by family, friends, colleagues, and churches. Some of you reading this article may be feeling as though God has left you or abandoned you.

The disciples of Jesus may have asked that question, “How can I face tomorrow?” After Jesus announced His departure to His disciples, they became troubled (John 13:33-14:12). They were afraid to be left alone without Jesus present. They did not want to fight battles and face issues alone.

Like Jesus’ disciples, we may struggle with the fear of abandonment. A word, a tone of voice, or gesture or lack of it can drive us to act in ways that we think will prevent someone from leaving us. But we do not have to yield to our fear of abandonment because Jesus has provided a Helper to encourage us during His absence.

In John 14:12-14, Jesus had promised His disciples that if they trusted Him, they would do greater works than He had done because He would go to the Father. Even though Jesus was leaving them, they were to continue His ministry of revealing the Father. Christ’s disciples would reveal His Father to a greater extent than He had done while He was on earth if they had faith in Him to work through them. The power to reveal the Father would be obtained through prayer in Jesus’ name.

For the next few days, we will learn how we can overcome the fear of abandonment. We can overcome the fear of abandonment by focusing on… THE PROMISE OF ANOTHER HELPER (John 14:15-16). Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples,“If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” (John 14:15). While Jesus was gone, the disciples would have an opportunity to show Christ just how much they loved Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The present tense of the first verb, “love,” (agapate) could be translated, “If you keep on loving Me…” 3 They could reveal their love for the Lord through their ongoing obedience to Him.

Notice that Jesus did not say, “If you fear Me, keep My commandments.” The fear of Jesus is not the motivation for obedience to Him. Instead, Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Love for Jesus is the strongest motivation for obeying Him. Our obedience to Christ is the outgrowth of our love relationship with Him. First John 4:18-19 say, 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.”The more I experience the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus Christ, the more my love toward Him will increase and express itself by obeying Him.

Some people may claim to love Christ while living in disobedience to Him. They may misconstrue that their love for the Lord is a feeling. But Christ makes it clear that our love for Him is revealed through our actions. Jesus taught His disciples that answered prayer is dependent upon obedience to Him (John 14:13-14; cf. 15:7). John writes in his epistle, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”(I John 3:22). We can say we love the Lord, but what truly communicates our love for Him is obedience to His Word (cf. I John 3:18).

Think about this for a moment. If Jesus just told us with His mouth that He loved us and never took action, we would still be dead in our sins. God’s love involves the commitment to do what is best for others. Our love for Jesus is expressed through our obedience to Him.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” (John 14:16). Jesus recognized the weaknesses of His disciples and their inability to fulfill the ministry of revealing the Father through their obedience to His commands, so He promises that the Father will send “another Helper.” The word “Helper”(paraklétos) literally means, “One who is called alongside to help.” 4 The disciples had been sent out to minister while Jesus was here on earth. But now they were being sent out to be His witnesses during His absence from the earth. Jesus had been their Helper while He was with them. In His absence, He would send “another Helper.”

This verse has much to say about the Trinity. Laney observes that “it is noteworthy that in vv. 13-14 Jesus commands His disciples to ‘ask’ (aiteō), the word used of an inferior asking a superior. But here Jesus uses the word erotaō (‘ask’), a word used of a request made to an equal. This has significant implications in terms of Jesus’ deity. Although submissive to the Father, Jesus regarded Himself as an equal (cf. 10:30; 14:9)5 to the Father.

Christ also considers the Holy Spirit to be equal to Himself by using the word “another” (allon) which means “another of the same kind.” 6 Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another just like Myself.” According to Christ, there is equality among the Godhead (see diagram below). The Son is equal to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is equal to the Son. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in every way as God, yet distinct in their tasks and relations to humanity.

Christ is saying in this verse that the Holy Spirit will do for them all that He had done for them while He was with them. So they would not be abandoned or left alone to their own wisdom and strength. This Helper would be with them “forever.” There would never be a time when this coming Helper would be taken away from them in the way Christ was now being taken from them through His death and eventual ascension to heaven. 

You may ask, “If God the Holy Spirit is with me, why do I still feel all alone?” Because the Holy Spirit is not a feeling, He is a Person without a physical body. Rather than focus on our feelings to determine if we are alone and abandoned, we are to focus on what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that this “Helper” will “abide with you forever.” The word “forever” is the English translation of three words in the original language and literally means “to the age” (eis ton aiōna). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will continue with them (and us) until “the end of the world or time” itself to provide constant comfort, guidance, leading, power, protection, provision, and teaching. Unlike Christ who spent three and a half years with His disciples and then left them, Jesus now promises another equal Helper Who will never depart from them.

Think about this: how long is “forever?” It is permanent, isn’t it? It never ends. Even though you may feel alone, the truth is there will never be a time when the Holy Spirit is not “with you.” Feelings can lie to us. We may conclude, “I am alone because I feel alone.” That is a lie. We must not give our feelings more authority than God’s Word. Will we focus on a lie or on the unchanging truth of God’s Word? The choice is ours. If we feel alone it is because we are focusing on thoughts or feelings of loneliness which are contrary to the truth of Jesus. We need to follow the example of the Psalmist when he prayed to the Lord, “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.” (Psalm 119:29).  We can ask the Lord to remove this lie from our thinking and to graciously renew our mind with this truth that God the Holy Spirit is always with us to provide constant assistance and strength whether we feel this way or not.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for sending God the Holy Spirit to supply our needs in Your absence. I must admit that I have given my feelings more authority than Your Word when I believe I am all alone. Thank You for reminding me that I am never alone, Lord Jesus. Your Holy Spirit abides with me forever! Holy Spirit, I want to give You everyone and everything in my life right now. Please restore my union with You and guide me into a deeper connection with You, the Father, and Jesus. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. http://www.christianitytoday. com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html.

2. Adapted from Chuck Swindoll’s Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 164-165.

3. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 260-261.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 438.

5. Laney, pg. 261.

6. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V., Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 252.

How can we impact our hate-filled world for Christ? Part 3

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” John 13:38

We are learning how to impact our hate-filled world for Christ. So far we have discovered we must comprehend God’s love (John 13:31-33) and commit to loving others as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35). The final way to impact a hate-filled world for Christ, is to CLING TO JESUS SO HE CAN LOVE OTHERS THROUGH US (John 13:36-38).

Jesus’s announcement of His departure and consequent separation from His disciples raised concerns in their minds (John 13:33). Peter spoke up first. “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’ ” (John 13:36). Peter loved the Lord so much he wanted to go with Him. Jesus gently tells Peter it would not be possible for him to be with Jesus right then, but He did encourage Peter when He said, “you shall follow Me afterward.” Perhaps Christ was referring to when Peter would die and go to heaven to be with Him.

“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ ” (John 13:37). Peter was perplexed about the Lord’s destination. Because of the opposition of the religious leaders on previous visits, Jesus had departed from Jerusalem. Peter supposed on this occasion that Jesus would depart to another region outside of Jerusalem.  The disciples had accompanied Jesus on other departures from Jerusalem, why couldn’t Peter accompany Him this time? Peter concludes that Jesus was departing alone because it was too dangerous for the Eleven to follow Him. On this occasion Peter was not afraid to go with Jesus in the face of danger. He would be loyal to Christ even unto death! Notice Peter’s self-reliance: “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” He does not say, “By God’s grace or with God’s help I will lay down my life for Your sake.”

Peter had good intentions, but it is much easier to express them in a secure room after good food than in a darkened garden with a hostile mob. We can be a lot like Peter. In our minds we envision ourselves as better followers of Jesus than we actually are. Pride can cause us to think too highly of ourselves and then we fall flat on our faces.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’ ” (John 13:38). The Lord knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He knew Peter would disown Him when his life was threatened. Peter needed to learn to rely on the Lord to remain loyal to Him. Jesus would lay down His life for Peter, but Peter in no way would lay down his life for the Lord at this time.

How do you think Peter felt when he heard Jesus predict his three denials of knowing Christ? Confused? Shocked? Peter was certain he would be faithful to Christ even when threatened with death. “I’ll show You, Lord, how loyal I am to You!” Peter thought he could remain faithful to Jesus in his own strength. Perhaps he thought he could love the other disciples like Jesus loved him by using his own abilities. “Lord, I love these guys so much, I will even lay down my life for them!” “No Peter,” Jesus says, “You must learn to rely on Me to do this in your life.”

We cannot love one another as Christ has loved us unless we trust Him to love others through us. It is not a natural desire to wash dirty feet, especially when those dirty feet belong to someone else. Nor is it natural for us to want to cleanse the dirt in our own spiritual lives. God must work in our hearts to enable us to do this.

Jesus is calling us to let Him live a supernatural life through us so we can love the undeserving as He has loved us. This coming week, you will probably have opportunities to love other believers with dirty feet. You may learn that someone has gossiped about you and said some very hurtful things about you. You may be tempted to do the same to him or her. Someone at your work or school may push your buttons and test your patience. You will be tempted to get angry and retaliate.

Like Peter, John is reminding us that we cannot love Jesus’ way in our own strength. We must rely on Christ who can give us the power to love others selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally as He has loved us. Today will you make a commitment to obey Jesus’ new commandment and love one another as He has loved you? You won’t regret it and it may encourage an unbeliever to investigate this Person by the name of Jesus Christ. The world desperately needs disciples of Jesus who love like Jesus loves.

Prayer: Lord God, I cannot give to others what I do not have. This is why it is so important to spend time with You so I may receive Your love for me. Like a water bucket under a faucet, I need You to refill my love bucket under the fountain of Your love when I am running on empty. I can tell when I need to be refilled. I tend to be easily irritated or angered, and it is difficult to let go of past hurts and be available to love others. Thank You for reminding me that I cannot love others in my own strength. I need to spend time with You, talking to You in prayer and listening to You as I read and study the Bible. The more time I spend with You, the more You enable me to love those who matter to me. I give myself to You, my Lord and my God, to be a channel of Your love to others. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

How can we impact our hate-filled world for Christ? Part 2

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

We are learning from John 13:31-38 how we can impact our hate-filled world for Christ. Last time we saw that we must comprehend God’s love (John 13:31-33). The second way to impact our hate-filled world for Christ is to COMMIT TO LOVING OTHERS AS CHRIST LOVED US (John 13:34-35). In “a little while” after His death and resurrection, Jesus would be gone and ascend to His Father in heaven (John 13:33; cf. Acts 1:9). In view of His departure, Jesus’ eleven disciples may have asked themselves, “What will we do while He is gone?” Jesus now tells them.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34). The believing disciples would survive in His absence by keeping “a new commandment.” This commandment is “new” in kind. It implies freshness, the opposite of being worn out. The command to love others was not new. God instructed His people in the Old Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:39). The measure of love is what is new. Instead of loving others “as yourself,” Jesus says we are to “love one another; as I have loved you.”

Under the old commandment the standard for loving others was one’s love for self. Under the new commandment, the standard for loving others was as Christ had loved them. Jesus had just demonstrated His love by washing the disciples’ dirty feet (John 13:1-20). He did what no one else wanted to do. He put aside His own needs to minister to them. His love took the initiative. The word “love” (agapaō) refers to a commitment to do what is best for another person. This kind of love is not a feeling, it is a decision.

Do not wait for the feeling to reach out to others. Do not wait for people to reach out to you first. Take the initiative and reach out to them. This means getting involved in one another’s lives. This won’t always be fun because we will encounter dirt in ourselves and others. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He cleansed them by removing their dirt in a gracious way. He was not condemning or critical of them. He did not say, “Why did you walk in the mud or in the dirt?” He was understanding toward His followers. We also are to encourage one another to confess our sins (and we all have them – I John 1:8, 10) so we can experience God’s cleansing and healing forgiveness (James 5:16; I John 1:9). If we are to love one another as Christ loved us, we must be accepting, not accusing; compassionate, not condemning; helpful, not hateful; and loving, not loathing.

Christ’s love had brought Him from heaven’s glory to this fallen earth and made Him a servant. If we want to be leaders for God, our love for one another must lead us to be servants of one another. If we obey Jesus’ commandment to love one another, we will provide for one another what He had provided for others while He was on earth. As we love one another, Jesus’ presence will be manifested among us.

Each movement in Israel’s history had its peculiar identifying sign. “The sign that one was related to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision. The sign that one was related to Moses and the Mosaic Law was the observance of the Sabbath. The sign that one was related to John the Baptist and his message concerning the coming of the Messiah was water baptism. The sign that one was a Pharisee was that he wore a phylactery either on his forehead or upper arm. These external signs all indicated a relationship to a particular movement in Israel.” Jesus now gives His disciples a new kind of sign.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). This was not merely an external sign that could easily be imposed, but rather it was a sign that would require an inner transformation. This kind of love would be a sign to “all” people, saved and unsaved, that the Eleven were Jesus’ “disciples.” Jesus is not saying we must love one another to possess eternal life and go to heaven. We must love one another to be a disciple – a committed follower of Christ. The only condition for being a Christian is simple belief in Jesus for eternal life (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; cf. Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). Our love for one another will be the strongest evidence that we are Christ’s disciples. Jesus can be made real to a hate-filled world through our love for one another.

Notice that Jesus did NOT say that all will know we are His disciples by how much of the Bible we know. Knowing the Bible is essential, but knowledge without love means nothing (I Corinthians 13:1-3). An unloving Christian undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because “God is love” (I John 4:8). How can unsaved people come to know God Who is love – both within the Trinity and to humanity – if His followers do not love one another!?! 2

Let’s face it, immature Christians can be just as hateful as non-Christians or worse. Why would a non-Christian want to be a part of a church where Christians are attacking one another and fighting with each other? Why would they want to go to a church where they are treated as “less than” by unloving church members. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus is teaching us here. One of the reasons unbelievers are not interested in going to church is because they do not want more stress and conflict with unloving Christians.

I am convinced that one of the major reasons the church is not impacting our hate-filled world very much is because the church has not applied what Jesus is teaching us here. We have not learned to love one another as Jesus has loved us. The disciples did not deserve for Jesus to wash their dirty feet. Nor do we deserve for Jesus to cleanse us of all our sins. Many of us know in our heads that Jesus loves us unconditionally, but we have not experienced His radical love for us in the secret places of our hearts and minds where we are deeply ashamed and broken. And until we allow Jesus’ love to heal those wounded areas of our lives we will not be able to love ourselves or others in the way Christ loves us.

Take some time to be alone with the Lord Jesus. Take some deep breaths and pay attention to your soul. What are you feeling right now? Talk to the Lord about it. Is there someone in your life that you are choosing not to love? You know who I am talking about. That person you avoid like the plague because everything about him or her repulses you? Did you ever think about why they repulse you? What about them triggers you? Do they remind you of someone who has deeply hurt you? Do they remind you of something about yourself that you dislike? Invite the Lord Jesus to speak to you about this. What would He say to you? You may be pleasantly surprised when You take time to listen to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am continually amazed by Your wisdom that is revealed in the Bible. Thank You for revealing to me where You want to work in my life so I may become more loving like You. One of my weaknesses is to focus on the faults of others to avoid areas in my own life where You want me to grow. I think I do this because of fear. I am afraid of being exposed or not measuring up. Deep down inside of me I feel so unloved and unworthy. Yet You already know this and still You keep accepting me and loving me. Thank You for never giving up on me! Thank You for accepting me instead of condemning me where I struggle. Lord Jesus, I need You to show me how to love myself with Your love so I can love others as You have loved me. Our world is filled with broken and wounded people who desperately need Your radical love. Please help me to show Your love to all people, Christian or non-Christian. Thank You in advance for hearing my prayers. In Your loving name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 435.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (pg. 1800). B & H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.