Still advancing

Read: Genesis 15-17, Matthew 5:27-48

Matthew 5:48

Jesus, more than anyone, knows that no one is perfect (except himself, of course), yet here he is, telling us to be perfect. It’s a bit of an impossible task, if you ask me. But perfection, as most of us would view it, is not what Jesus is calling us to.

Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:15-16 (NIV)

In the Hebrew and in Greek, “holy” implies connection with God or the divine. Thus, God is holy and people, things, and actions may be holy by association with God.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

Jesus is not calling us to be something that we can never be, but rather, he is calling us to be close to that which he wants us to be. Perfection this side of Heaven is impossible. Our humanity makes it so. But, J. Newton Davies said that the perfect man was the man who had set his feet on the true path and was still advancing. 

In a very small nutshell, the sermon Jesus is preaching in Matthew 5 is all about how, if we are followers of God, we should act like it and the world should know it. Not committing adultery isn’t good enough, you shouldn’t even think about it. You shouldn’t have to swear an oath because your word should be good enough. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and let him hit the other side. Love your neighbours and love your enemies, too. Being holy means being and acting different than those around us.

The perfection is not sinlessness, but a complete control by God’s Spirit.

The International Bible Commentary

The closer we walk with God, the more our actions will reflect it. If you want to be perfect, you have to hang around with someone who is perfect. If you want to be holy, you have to spend time someone who is holy. And the closer you get to that person, the more like them you will become.

The path to perfection is not a solo journey. There is only one path and it can only be travelled side-by-side with the One who is perfect. You may never achieve perfection in this life, but that doesn’t mean you can be still advancing toward it.

Spirit and fire

Read: Genesis 6-8, Matthew 3

Matthew 3:11

There are many in the Church that stay away from any discussion involving the Holy Spirit. For some people, it can be a sticky point of discussion. I’m not one of those people. If we have believed Jesus for salvation, why would we not believe him for the power of the Spirit that he promised to us?

Even John the Baptist knew that the water baptism he offered paled in comparison to what Jesus would bring.

Cleansing with water—water baptism—is an outward symbol of an inward change. But water can only do so much. It can wash the dirt from the outside, but can do very little to cleanse what’s on the inside. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

The Bible speaks often of the refiner’s fire. Refining is a process in which raw ore dug from the earth is heated to a melting point. The heavy precious metal stays at the bottom while the impurities rise to the top. Once cooled, those impurities can be wiped or knocked off leaving pure precious metal behind.

This is the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

The baptism “with fire” would convey, in its turn, the thought of a power at once destroying evil and purifying good…

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

The Holy Spirit burns away what is evil and purifies what is good. In Acts 2, where we read the account of the 120 in the upper room experiencing tongues of fire, we see Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.

And afterward
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see vision.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Joel 2:28-29 (NIV)

These are those days. God poured out His Spirit on His people in the book of Acts and He never took His Spirit back. So why should we shy away from that which God sent to us to give us power? It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can accomplish what Jesus said we would.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:12 (NIV)

As members of the Church, we should all seek and strive to see and do even greater things than Jesus did while he walked the earth. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches if we’re going to see the miraculous like the disciples did. If we want Jesus to come back to earth to take us to heaven, we must first call down heaven to earth. The only way that is possible is with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Stuck in the middle

There are two sides to every coin. Two sides to every story. Two sides of the fence. There are two sides to many things and we use a lot of them as analogies and, more often than not, the truth is somewhere in the middle—neither one side nor the other.

There are some that would say building the Kingdom of God is nothing but hard work. Work. Work. Work. And then more work. Others may say that we just have to wait on God. He’ll to it all for us. Like the coin, the story, and the fence, the truth is stuck somewhere in the middle.

Building the Kingdom of God using brute strength alone will only build something that can crumble. Nothing man makes on his own will ever be eternal.

It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty.

Zechariah 4:6b (NLT)

Yet, we cannot just sit on our rear ends and do nothing, expecting the Holy Spirit to do it all for us.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

Zechariah 4:10a (NLT)

God cannot work through us unless there is work to work through. He needs our hands and our feet to accomplish His will on this earth. Sometimes that means getting dirty and maybe even sweaty. But we don’t have to do it all on our own.

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

It is not within God’s nature to start a job and leave it unfinished. If He has called you to a work, He will be with you, helping you, until the work is finished.

What comes from the grace of God, may, in faith, be committed to the grace of God, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

Matthew Henry

So, don’t get stuck on one side or the other. Find that middle ground between work and the Spirit. There is no better place to be than stuck in the middle with God.

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 4-6, Revelation 18

 

Ready and willing

Ready and willing. If you haven’t said that you are, you’d probably like to think you are when it comes to obeying God. Here am I, Lord, send me! We think we really mean it. But most of us probably haven’t taken the time to think through all of the consequences of what it means to be ready and willing.

But as for me, I am filled with power and the Spirit of the Lord. I am filled with justice and might…

Micah 3:8a (NLT)

Filled with power, justice and might! Yes! I want all of those things!

…fearlessly pointing out Israel’s sin and rebellion.

Micah 3:8b (NLT)

Now, wait a minute, I’m not so sure I want to be the one to have to make that point.

The point is this: being ready and willing includes far more than just the good news and the blessings. Micah stood alone in his time. He was just a peasant from a town on the outskirts of the territory. He was a nobody telling the priests and prophets that they were a bunch of lying scoundrels. That’s not a very comfortable conversation to have with anyone. To be ready and willing means to be ready to have the uncomfortable conversations.

And on the other side of the same coin, as ready as we must be to initiate those difficult encounters, we must also be ready and willing to be on the receiving end.

Ready and willing is not a physical place, but a spiritual posture. If we want to proclaim the Good News, we may also have to give a hard word. If we want to be blessed, we must also be able to be a blessing. To be ready and willing means to be prepared for whatever God has for us—the good, the hard, and the uncomfortable.

Those who act honestly, may act boldly. And those who come to hear the word of God, must be willing to be told of their faults, must take it kindly, and be thankful.

Matthew Henry

Like Micah, when our true strength comes from the power of the Holy Spirit within us, we can willingly give and receive the truth no matter what package it comes in.

Daily Bible reading: Micah 1-3, Revelation 10

Going through the motions

We all go through motions every day. There are things we do that we’ve done so many times that we don’t even have to think about what we’re doing—getting dressed, brushing your teeth, pouring a cup of coffee, work, even commuting. We go through our daily routines by rote. Little or no thought is required. It’s easy to slip into those kinds of habits. Even when it comes to God.

I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is.

Amos 5:21-23 (NLT)

Ouch! Here God is, telling Israel that He will not accept the very things He gave them. Why not?

Yaweh did not desire the slavish observance of ritual, he desired right conduct, which in itself is an act of true worship.

International Bible Commentary

At this point in Israel’s sin, notice that God no longer referred to the festivals and offerings as His own. The attitude behind the sacrifices had become so focused on the action that God had nothing to do with them anymore and the actions belonged solely to Israel.

God has given us so much, so many ways to praise and worship Him yet we, like Israel, can easily slip into habits where we go through the motions, but our hearts and even our minds are no longer engaged.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry.

Amos 5:24 (NLT)

Far more than mere actions of pious offering, God would have us live lives of perpetual worship. Fake it ’till you make it can only get us so far. Sometimes we just need to start, but if our entire lives become a series of hollow actions, God receives no glory.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30 (NLT)

Let us all strive to produce a river of righteous living. Let us put meaning to our motions so that our works become our worship.

Daily Bible reading: Amos 4-6, Revelation 6

Snatch

There are times when our focus as the Church can be so outward as we try to seek out and save the lost, that those within our own numbers can be lost. We may not notice that one person who keeps moving further and further to the back of the auditorium, disengaging themselves from the daily life of the church. We cannot assume that, because a person attends church most Sundays, that all is well. It is our responsibility to go out into the world and increase our numbers, but it is also our responsibility to maintain the numbers within our own body. We must be watchful so that our own family members are not lost while still ensuring that we ourselves to do not fall away.

Live in such a way that God’s love can bless you as you wait for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgement. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you aren’t contaminated by their sins.

Jude 21-23 (NLT)

Like throwing a lifeline to someone who has gone overboard from a ship at sea, the rope is only so long and you can only go so far before you begin to risk your own safety. That is why it is important to remain watchful so that we can rescue people before they drift too far.

It is the reason why relationships within the family of God are so vitally important—no matter how big or small a church is. If a personal has made no personal connections within the local church, they are far more likely to be set adrift and lost. We must be secure in our faith and secure in our place within the local body.

But you, dear friends, must continue to build your lives on the foundation of your holy faith. And continue to pray as you are directed by the Holy Spirit.

Jude 20 (NLT)

If we do not fight to maintain our faith, the battle will be forfeit and we will find ourselves in a place we never planned to be. Jude writes that we must contend for the faith (verse 3). If you find yourself in a place where you are not fighting to keep the faith, you have most likely already drifted away. It takes time and effort to keep faith. Maintaining it takes effort and determination on our part. Anything less and we allow ourselves to be drawn away to places where there are no longer brothers and sisters in the faith ready to snatch us from the flames of judgement.

It’s better to be the one who does the snatching than the one who needs to be snatched.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 1-4, Jude

Everyone else was doing it

Who never used the excuse that “everyone else was doing it” when you were a kid? It was a pretty simple go-to reason for why you did something your parents explicitly told you not to to. But did it ever work? If you tried it, you may have received “if they all went and jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too?” as a response. Of course you wouldn’t. You’re smarter than that. Yet you did do something for which your only reason for doing it was because everyone else was.

John warns against following evil influence. The influence he’s talking about has far greater repercussions than getting your bicycle taken away or being grounded from the internet for a week. It’s your eternal soul at stake.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.

3 John 1:11 (NLT)

The evil influence John is talking about here is that a man, Diotrephes, is going around telling the church that they don’t need to welcome or care for travelling ministers—a teaching that is completely contrary to the example Jesus set. But we can take this word of advice and apply it to far more than just travelling ministers. It is advice for life.

Influence comes at us from all directions—all day, every day. It’s unavoidable. It comes from Christians as well as unbelievers. It is up to us as individuals to determine how we let it affect us. In this passage, John gives us a pretty simple answer—know God. When we know and love God, good deeds will be the visible byproduct. If we don’t know God, evil deeds will be the byproduct. And we cannot assume that everyone who calls himself a Christian knows God (John’s warning here was against someone in the church).

It’s all so confusing! How am I supposed to know what’s what?

It’s a good thing that God doesn’t expect us to know it all. And it’s a good thing that He does know it all. And it’s an even better thing that He gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us in that regard. The closer we are to God, the more in tune we will be with His Spirit and can allow ourselves to be influenced by Him rather than those around us. And the stronger God’s influence is in our lives, the more of a good influence we will be on those around us.

If you need an influence to follow, Jesus is your prime example. Get to know him. Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it (even Christians), do it because Jesus did it.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 11-12, 3 John 1