Monday, November 29, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 7 – without hypocrisy

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


I think it is fairly apparent that Christ's ministry was totally without hypocrisy. As Luke wrote in the beginning of Acts his first book showed what Jesus did and taught (Acts 1:1). Christ's teaching was phenomenal, so much so that even many atheists have praised it, but more remarkably He lived what He taught. He not only told us to love our enemies, but He loved His, He prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified Him and wept over the coming destruction of the city that rejected Him. Studying His actions is the best way to understand what He meant when He spoke things, because with Him His actions were never at variance with His words. Jesus told His generation that a greater than Solomon was with them, Solomon had been renowned for his wisdom and yet an even cursory comparison of his proverbs with his life, shows a great variance in what He said and what he did (Compare Proverbs 25:16 with Ecc. 2:10 for example). One problem that we often have with the truth is that when we first hear it and it enlightens us we rejoice, but yet when it comes to really assimilating it, it can be difficult. This is much like the scrolls given to Ezekiel and John sweet to the mouth, but bitter to the stomach (Eze. 2:8-10, Rev. 10:9-10).


There are two basic types of hypocrisy to which humans are prone. The one is to think that because we know something we can get away with not actually doing it. That is what could be called blatant hypocrisy. The other type is perhaps more common and is a hypocrisy caused by ignorance of how we are contradicting what we say with our lives. This second sort of hypocrisy is the type that even good Christians can get caught in, like Peter did before Paul took him publicly to task (Gal. 2:11-18). This hypocrisy can often be caused because we want to be well received or we want to avoid persecution. Christ was true because He sought not His own glory but the glory of the One who sent Him. Public opinion had no hold on Him.


Christ was the way (how He walked is the way we should walk), the truth (The reality of what things are), and the life (the ability and source for all we do). As the embodiment of Truth He did not lie or evade even when it would have saved His life, when the high priest adjured Him to say whether He was the Christ, He replied in the affirmative (Matt. 26:63-65). When He stood before Pilate He acknowledged His Kingship, but not as an earthly ruler, even in His darkest hour He was true and bore witness to the truth. May we be a faithful and true witness even as He was the Faithful and True Witness. Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 6 – without partiality

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


We will now look at the impartiality of God's wisdom as see n in Christ. By impartiality, we do not mean a strict equality, since even among the disciples of Christ, there were three who were His most constant companions (Peter, James and John), and even of those John was specifically known as the one Jesus loved, yet the reasons for this are impartial, not arbitrary (John was special both in his love to Jesus and in his faithfulness during the crucifixion). One of Christ's greatest battles in His day was with the Jewish mindset that placed more value on the covenant that God had made with Israel than any real individual fellowship with the God who made the covenant. This was a problem even among Christ's disciples who in spite of all that Christ had said to them were still shocked when the way of salvation was opened to Gentiles several years after Christ had ascended. God was never partial to Israel even though He had made a covenant with them, if they did not have personal faith in Him. The most conclusive proof of this in the Old Testament is seen with Rahab, who was allowed to remain in the land of Canaan because of her faith in God even though as a Canaanite she was under the ban, while shortly before this the whole first generation of Israel was excluded from the land because of their lack of faith in spite of the promise they had received. God has always been good to those who have believed His Word and trusted Him, but those who do not believe His Words and promises, even if they were the recipients of the promises do not see them.


Jesus showed the impartiality of God's love in many ways. When He healed the ten lepers, it was the attitude of the one who returned to give thanks for his healing that brought on him a further blessing especially since he was apparently the only non-Jew among them (Luke 17:11-19). It was the faith of the centurion that caused Christ to marvel, especially since he was again a non-Israelite (Matt. 8:5-13). It should be noted that the fact that Christ marveled at his faith probably has more reference to his having so much less to base his faith on than a Jew who had been raised in the Word of God, and yet what he had learned he had spiritually grasped and applied. In a sense God is almost surprised when in the midst of His followers that only barely listen to Him someone hears the things He hides deeply within His own heart, such as David seeking to build the temple, and this centurion realizing that it did not matter whether Christ came or spoke His word carried authority.


Jesus also proved in opposition to the prevalent nationalistic notions of His day that God had always been a God of Gentiles as well as Jews. He did this by pointing out that in the days of Elijah, God sent him to a widow in the territory of Sidon, and there provided food for her and the prophet. He further mentioned the healing of Naaman the Syrian by Elisha, when there were many other lepers in Israel that could have been healed but were not, yet the attitude that Naaman manifested when he was healed and his turning to follow the God of Israel showed that God know whose heart is for Him in any nation.


Because God is without partiality, we draw as near to Him as we really want. He will give us opportunities to see what really is in our hearts and to choose to draw near to Him or turn away. We all come from different backgrounds and circumstances with different struggles to overcome, but if we come to the Lord with the right attitude He will bring us into the plan He has for us. This is the God that could say even to a Cain who was about to kill his brother, "If you do well will you not be accepted?" If we seek Him no matter who we are He will lead us into a deeper relationship with Him if we respond to His Word. May God grant us obedient hearts! Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 5 – full of mercy and fruits

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


One of the primary attributes of Christ in His life on earth was mercy. On two separate occasions Christ quoted Hosea 6:6 to His Pharisee opponents showing that what God really desired of His people was mercy (Matt. 9:13, 12:7). Christ's life mission was one of mercy to reconcile a wayward creation to its Creator. He came to call the sinners to repentance. The self-righteous Pharisees were shocked that Christ would allow a sinful woman to touch Him and wash His feet with her tears, yet that was only because they did not realize how sinful they themselves were and how much it cost the sinless Son of God to come down from heaven and walk in a sin-filled world (Luke 7:36-50).


Of all the cries for mercy given by afflicted and sick humanity to Christ we never see a single instance of His refusal to show mercy. He was truly full of mercy. This wisdom of mercy resulted in multitudes of sinners repenting of their sinful ways and becoming people who loved God and sought to please Him. That was something that hardhearted Pharisaism never produced, but wisdom is justified by her children. Zacchaeus had been a burden and drain on his community, but having been shown mercy he restored fourfold of all he had wrongfully taken, which in itself would help those he had afflicted, but even more above that he gave half of his goods to the poor. Thus a man, who had been a curse to his community through his oppression, became a blessing and joy to it!


Not only did Christ show mercy to those who came to Him who had never known Him, but He continually extended mercy to His disciples as they required it in their faltering faith. It was mercy that calmed a storm when out of shaken faith they woke the Saviour and questioned His caring for them, an attitude unfortunately all too human in life's storms (Mark 4:36-41). It was mercy again that first called to Peter to come out of the boat and then extended a hand when he faltered. It was mercy that overlooked the humanness of the disciples and their misapprehension of things He said and spiritual immaturity, which thankfully He continues to show to His similarly afflicted saints today. It was mercy that caused Him to restore Peter and the wisdom of this restoration is seen in Peter's subsequent life. It was mercy that provided the proof which Thomas had requested of the resurrection, when by his attitude he could have been lost. It was mercy that resulted in a post-resurrection appearance to His brother, James, which resulted in his conversion and untold good to the church at Jerusalem and even us today.


Thank God that He is merciful, because we all need mercy. It may be the mercy of picking us up after we have utterly failed and restoring us, it may be the mercy which keeps us from wandering where in our ignorant feet might take us, or even the interposing of a firm hand when we knowingly want to do wrong, but we all need mercy. It is not of him that runs or him that wills, but of God that shows mercy. Amen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 4 – Easy to be entreated

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The wisdom from above is easy to be entreated – compliant, willing to yield, persuadable. One of the ironies of life is that God who truly knows all is very approachable and willing to listen, whereas we who know far less than we even realize can often be very stubborn and difficult. Jesus in manifesting the Father showed Himself to be very approachable and compliant, often in contrast to His disciples, who were learning just as we learn.

One of the first things noticeable in the life of Christ on earth is that there is no recorded instance of His ever turning away someone who came with a need and brought that need to Him. No time was too inconvenient for Him, on the way to Jairus house, He paused to address the woman who had been healed by touching His garment and speak peace to her (Luke 8:41-56). She was afraid when He first called for her, but His desire was not to reprove but rather to put His blessing upon her "stolen" healing.

When the two blind men called out for Christ, the crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but Jesus responded by healing them (Matt. 20:29-34). Desperation causes people to do things that they would ordinarily not do, it can be a beautiful thing, because it takes no thought for custom, which helps everything flow smoothly by making sure everyone does little things that don't matter as long as they don't do anything really important. Queen Esther was desperate that is the only reason she was willing to come unbidden before the king. It involved great risk, but even her willingness to take the risk gained more favor for her in the eyes of the king. Many times our greatest hindrance to spiritual progress is our lack of desperation.

Christ also showed Himself to be very approachable to the children who were brought for His blessing. The disciples saw only an added burden of inconvenience and a seemingly unimportant one, and so rebuked the ones who brought the children. This apparently caused Christ to come as close to losing His temper as He ever did with His disciples (Mark 10:13-16). Christ showed that not only was He willing to receive those brought to Him, but it was His delight to do so. We should never fear our feelings of unimportance, unworthiness, or any other impediment when approaching the Lord, because He is always more than willing to be approached and to be imposed upon. Let us draw near to Him. Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 3 - gentle

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The wisdom that is from above is gentle. There are several words used in Greek which are sometimes translated gentle in English, essentially they all bear the thought of mildness, kindness, and moderation. Gentleness is a controlled strength, it applies what is needed in the mildest way possible, and in a kind way.

Christ is not specifically called gentle in Scripture, yet He must have been well known for His gentleness, because the apostle Paul entreated the Corinthians by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1). Christ's meekness is well known and He even invited all to learn of Him who was meek and lowly, but His gentleness must have been also have struck those who were with Him and left a deep impression on them so that the Corinthians who would never have known Christ in the flesh still would have heard of His gentleness.

Gentleness is also an attribute of a shepherd, so among other things when Jesus said I am the Good Shepherd, He was claiming to be gentle. The shepherds of that time would bring their flocks into folds and stand in the door way as they came in (they would also sleep there as the door) as the sheep came in they would cause it to pass under the rod – that is he would place the rod on them to make them pause, and then inspect them for wounds or disease individually as they came in. Shepherds also would follow or lead their sheep, but not drive them, which is again a mark of gentleness, if the flock moved at too fast a pace it could cause the young in the flock to die (Gen. 33:13). With all this in mind it is worthy to notice that one of the favorite early Christian decorations of the first 3 centuries was the Good Shepherd (usually seen holding a lamb) with His flock. When the Church was enduring persecution, and had no settled place in the world, it took hope in the fact of having a good Shepherd who was watching over them and leading them through difficulties into greener pastures.

We see the gentleness of Christ shown in the way He reproved His disciples when necessary. To those who were not His sheep such as the Pharisees He could at time be severe, because even the gentlest of shepherds is fierce towards the wolves, but to His disciples His reproofs were in gentleness. His words to Martha in reply to her agitation with Mary vindicated Mary, but with such gentleness towards Martha that He showed that far from being uncaring towards her predicament He pointed the way to release from the anxieties she was carrying (Luke 10:38-42). In general all of His reproofs given to the disciples were done in a gentle manner, the most gentle of all being perhaps the one given to Peter as he uttered the third denial, were the reproof was a mere look, yet a look which brought the consciousness of guilt to Peter far more than any "I told you so" ever could.

The gentleness of Christ was also seen in the miracles He performed, as it spring to my mind most especially when He reached out to touch the leper (Mat. 8:2-3) and when He raised Jarius' daughter from the dead (Luke 8:51-56).

Probably His greatest manifestation of gentleness and care for others though is shown in His commending of His mother to the care of John at the crucifixion (John 19:26-27). This was an act of utmost care and kindness toward His mother, done in the most gentle way possible, showing Christ's thoughts for others even in His own intense agony. Pain tends to bring out the worst in people and yet out of Christ even on the cross flowed out gentleness and mercy. Behold the Lamb of God!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 2 - Peaceable

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The second attribute of the wisdom from above is that it is peaceable. Christ's life was a life lived out of peace and bringing peace. Even His birth was announced by angels singing peace on earth and goodwill to men. He came to restore peace between sinful men and sin-offended Deity. Not only that but the cost of the restoration was not to be born by the offender, but rather by the One who had a right to be offended. Yet, we read, "…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). The cross showed God's willingness to overlook human sin and Christ's willingness to suffer on the cross was really only possible by a sort of provisional forgiveness, prior to His actually paying the price of sin. It would have been impossible for Him to actually suffer on behalf of sinners if there had not been some sort of shutting His eyes to their guilt against Him so He could actually pay the price. In light of the tremendous gulf that the cross thus bridged between man and God it is no wonder that it also brought down the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:13-16). Since then the whole of Christ's coming was really a mission of peace from God between God and man, as well as, man and man, we see why peacemakers are in a special sense called the children of God, because they manifest something that was so dear to God's heart that He gave His Son to bring it about.

To further see just how peaceable Christ was I would like to highlight a few times where I see it especially manifested.

One instance of Christ's peaceableness was in His meek response to rejection by a Samaritan village. He merely went on to another village. His response is highlighted by the very different response of James and John who wanted to exact severe revenge on the place for its lack of hospitality (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus here, as well as in the case of Gadara (Matt. 8:28-9:1), showed the peace of leaving meekly when refused.

Another very revealing incident is found in Matthew 17:24-27. Here Christ works a miracle to pay the temple tax, after having showed Peter that as the Son of God the maintenance of the temple could not with propriety be expected of Him. His reason for paying the tax was simply not to offend the authorities. When we consider that these authorities were greedy men, who did not particularly need this extra source of income which they pressed out of the people, and more than that these very funds were going to go into the pockets of the ones who would soon crucify Him, we can perhaps see just how far it depends on us to live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18). Often we say we have done our part long before we really have.

The last episode I would like to look at in this all to brief view of Christ's peaceableness is the Last Supper. Here we see Him bringing peace into a situation where peace had been destroyed through ambition and self-seeking. Only a short time before James and John had produced displeasure in the other disciples by requesting special honours in Christ's Kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). Christ had told them then that the greatest in the kingdom was the one who was the servant, but He knew they needed another practical illustration of what He meant. So He took upon Himself the one task that had He requested it of any of His disciples they would have felt belittled. He directed the disciples away from their own position seeking when they saw the One who truly had preeminence take the place of the lowest servant. It must have shamed them all when they considered it in retrospect. It certainly made a deep impact on John, who begins his account of the footwashing by a realization that Christ knew full well His own divinity and all that was due to Him, and in full knowledge of this stopped to wash their feet (John 13:3-5). Christ here showed what it means to esteem others better than yourself in lowliness of mind (Phil. 2:3). In this act of humility Christ brought peace to His disciples, because contention comes only by pride. He also showed a way of peace which mankind has so little used in history, the wisdom of the locust (Prov. 30:27), which is able to work together without jostling for position and power. Even a cursory glance at history will show us just how much mankind has suffered because of striving for power and position to the detriment of any real progress. At best it results in a lot of effort that could be better used elsewhere, more often it results in actual destruction and infighting which not only hinders progress but actually brings destruction. By being willing to take the low place Christ showed Himself to be beyond any earthly king or ruler and indeed to be truly beyond human.

I hope that in this post we have seen just a little bit of the peaceable Christ. He first had peace and then He could say, "My peace I give to you." May we too know the peaceableness of wisdom. Amen.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ – Part 1 - Pure

"But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."


The first attribute of the wisdom that is from above is purity. Our motives for what we do are of primary importance. Bad motives turn even the best of deeds into worthless things (1 Cor. 13:3). It is motive that provides spirit to every action. Christ was totally free from self-seeking, because He came to do the Father's will not his own, and His actions flowed out of love to others (John 6:38).

The Pharisees could not understand Christ because they were not pure in their motives, it was with them as Paul wrote Titus, "To the pure all things are pure. But to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled" (Titus 1:15). They could not understand how Christ could eat with sinners, because their motives for doing everything were essentially either financial gain or popularity (Luke 16:13-15, John 5:44), thus assuming Christ to be like themselves they could see no reason for His eating with sinners but a bad one. When the world questions the motives of true believers for the self-sacrifice they do they really condemn themselves. Christ's motive was merely to call the sinners to repentance, and because wisdom is justified by her children in many cases it worked.


Even Christ's brothers did not at first understand His motives, and thought that He was seeking popularity (John 7:3-5). Only later did James and Jude come to a realization of who Christ was and what He actually was doing in His earthly ministry. Far from seeking popularity or power, He actually fled when He knew the people would try to crown Him king (John 6:15).


The ministry of Christ was actuated by an earnest desire to please His Father and a deep compassion for people. If He had been motivated by selfish motives He would never would have worked some of His healing miracles, because they often caused Him serious inconvenience through provoking opposition and jealousy, and also by causing throngs of people to surround Him everywhere He went. Many times in the Gospels we read that Jesus worked miracles because He was moved with compassion. Faith works by love, the greater our love for God and others the more the faith of God will be able to flow. It was not with the lifeless rod of authority, but only by real contact that Elisha was able to raise the child of the Shunammite from the dead. In the same way unless the plight of people moves our hearts deeply, we cannot expect our prayers to move God's heart and bring down a miracle.


Some of the hardest things Christ ever spoke to a man, were spoken to the rich young ruler, a young man who was very respectable and was trying hard to keep God's commands. These words though were spoken out of love (Mark 10:21). Jesus never tried to conciliate people at the expense of their true good.


One of the ways in which we Christians often fall far short of God's wisdom is in purity. Especially in Western churches where we tend to be very goal orientated, people tend to be viewed in a utilitarian manner. God looks at things differently though. If we compare Ephesians 4:8-13 with Psalm 68:18, where verse 8 is taken from in a modified form, we see that God's purpose in receiving gifts from people (and giving ministerial gifts to people) is to establish relationship. If God only desired to have work done He could do it Himself or have angels do it. He uses men and women so that in their working for Him they can develop a relationship with Him. If churches become to focused on the work side, and forget the relationship part, people feel used, and people who feel used do as little as is necessary and that grudgingly. However when people feel loved they will be willing to do amazing things very willingly and sometimes without even being asked to do them. Much effort is often wasted because we try to encourage people who feel used to get more involved (and consequently they feel more used), and the reason we do this is often because we are building our own kingdoms instead of really seeking what is best for God and others. When we have pure motives like Christ, we will also be able to accomplish great things like Him. Paul could write to the Corinthians, "I seek not yours, but you." May God grant we can say the same. Amen.




Monday, November 08, 2010

The wisdom from above as seen in the life of Christ - Introduction

Many times we can gain a better practical perspective on Scripture by studying Scripture in unconventional ways. In the next few posts I would like to look at the life of Christ through the lens of James 3:17, and see how He manifested in a practical way these attributes of the wisdom from above. In doing this I hope to gain insight for myself and those reading of what God's wisdom really looks like in a practical sense. Christ is the best person to study in this sense because He is the embodiment of God's wisdom.

When John declared that Christ was the Logos (John 1:1-5), he was stating two allied things:

  1. He was showing that Christ was the internalized thought of God, the logic of the Godhead, if you would put it that way. This is actually the first meaning of logos, the thought, reason and motive as it is internally expressed to the thinker. This is how Christ is shown in Proverbs chapter 8, the all-pervading Wisdom of God which enables proper government of the world and which was with God in His forming of the world. It was by Him that He made the worlds (Heb. 1:2).


  2. He was also showing that Christ was the thought vocalized or expressed – the Word. Every word that comes from our mouth first began as an inward thought and came out of our hearts (Luke 6:45). What we say is a very real reflection of what we are thinking, and also of who we are. In the same way Christ is a concrete expression of what is in the heart of God, vocalized to make the intentions of God's heart clear to us. This is why He could say He that has seen Me has seen the Father, because He was such a full expression of all that God is.


It is further interesting to note, when looking at thoughts and words, about the beauty of communication – that is not only are words born of thoughts, but when given utterance they plant thoughts in others, which can then give birth to more words or further thoughts. In this way, Christ Himself, His life as seen in the gospels, and all of Scripture carry the logic of God within them. They bring God's way of thinking and His motivations and feelings down to us so we can respond to them. In this way through Scripture reading and personal encounters with Christ – either in our times of prayer and worship or as we encounter Him in His people – we begin to reason as He reasons and see as He sees. It is my hope in this study for me personally to see more of how Christ flowed in the wisdom from above in His earthly life, so that I can better imitate Him in this. I further hope that it may produce a similar effect in any reading this. May God grant us all to see and follow Christ more fully! Amen.