Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 8 January 19:
Matthew 7:15, 20, 21-23 – “Beware of false prophets…. You will recognize them by their fruits…. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
From The Beatitudes through today’s readings, Jesus has addresses the heart of our problems – the problem with our hearts. We were created to love God and then to love others as His heirs of love, as His agents of love, an in His image with His heart of love. The Great Commandment of love sums up God’s will for us — “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) First, we are to love God with our entire being, then love others unconditionally and sacrificially (wanting with all our hearts to love others the way our First Love loves them); then we are to care about ourselves last, not wanting selfishness to get in the way of love. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
With this prioritization, we would naturally see others the way God sees them, and we would want others (who we love) to know our First Love as well as we do. What greater joy could we have than to serve as the reconciler between those we truly love? “For the love of Christ controls us…. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh…. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16, 20)
Unfortunately, we get it backwards. We tend to put ourselves first, then others next, and God last. From this perspective, we view everyone else (including God) as a resource, opportunity, or a threat – an ally to protect our own self-interest or an enemy. People or circumstances become ‘good’ if they support our desires or narrative and ‘bad’ if they threaten our desires or narrative. All relationships become negotiated contracts – “I will give if I get; I will love others if they love me; I will do unto others as they have done unto me (as opposed to the Golden Rule).” Finally, we judge God from our perspective of His fairness and apparent efficacy. Consequently, we blame God for the consequences of sin, resenting Him and fearing Him as an ‘unjust’ or ‘uncaring’ God rather than a just God. Some will write Him off as a non-existent God rather than the omnipresent, omniscient sovereign God.
So, we judge others, not from God’s standard and for their benefit, but rather from our standard, based upon our self-righteousness and self-centeredness. We condemn others when we want to justify ourselves or when we feel threatened by them. (Matthew 7:1-6) And we judge God when He doesn’t give us what our selfish hearts desire, questioning His “goodness”; and we envy others (which is actually anger towards God) because they have what God hasn’t given us – “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
The fruit of this backwards thinking becomes apparent eventually as self-centeredness and selfishness eventually prevail. From this perspective, forgiving and giving don’t make sense, unless we anticipate some sort of reward for it. But things like anger and indulgence do make sense as we fight to get and to protect what we see is rightfully ours. Galatians 5 describes the fruit that comes from the two different kinds of trees:
Galatians 5:19-26 — Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Perhaps the most ominous part of today’s readings is when Jesus warns that, in their self-deception, many self-proclaimed Christians will be surprised on the Day of Judgment that their great religious studies, their preaching, their religious acts, and their miraculous deeds, were, in fact, worthless before God, even against His will. Rather than, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23) Workers of lawlessness? These hypocrites (the Greek work for stage actors) are those who only pretended to love (thereby breaking the commandment of love), apparently so convincingly they even fooled themselves. They do good deeds for all the wrong reasons, from the wrong motivation, from the wrong heart.
The honest Christian we review the fruit of the Spirit and admit that they continue to fall short, too often their lives reveal works of the flesh. However, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” We can rejoice in our knowledge of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, “that though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that [we] by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
In our failure to love as we should, as we desire, we are to have confidence in God’s mercy and grace and draw closer to Him, not further away. Prayer is key!
– Matthew 7:7, 8 — “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
– James 4:5-10 — “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 8 Jan 19: Today, memorize Galatians 5:19-26 in order to review it daily. Pray that God will build you up in the fruit of the Spirit.