Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 20 July 21:
Luke 2:52 – “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
This verse reminds me of Proverbs 3:3, 4: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” A Christian should model love and faithfulness, something the world desperately needs and desires, something the Bible says is very hard to find, something that even kings long for – “Love and faithfulness keep a king safe.” (Proverbs 20:28) “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)
How much we really know and love God is revealed by How much we truly love others. God is love. (1 John 4:8) He is the Source of Love, and we can only love others as we abide in Him and His love flows from Him, through us, to others. The closer we get to Him, the more we mature we become in Him, the more we will pour out supernatural love to others, which will certainly gain “favor with God and man.” Consider these verses –
- 1 John 3:1 — See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
- John 13:35 — By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
- 1 John 3:10 — By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
- 1 John 4:7, 8, 10, 12, 16, 20 — Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God…. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love…. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
- 1 John 5:1, 3 — Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him…. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
- John 13:34 — A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
- 1 John 2:7-14 — Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
- Matthew 5:43-48 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Referencing John 13:34 and 1 John 2:7-14 above, Jesus gave us an old commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:19; Leviticus 19:34) and at the same time a new commandment to love. How is this old commandment new? It is new through Jesus Christ. When we were born again, we were born into His love and given the power of the Holy Spirit to love like never possible for us before, through the power of His Spirit, not as the world loves but as Jesus, who went to the Cross on our behalf, loves us (John 13:34) – “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) It is only through Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit that we can truly love even our enemies — “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27) And it is with God that “Love and faithfulness meet together” for all to see in our lives for His glory. (Psalm 85:10) David proclaimed, “I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.” (Psalm 40:10). When we love others visibly, tangibly in radical ways through the supernatural power of love bestowed upon us by God through the Holy Spirit, we will gain favor with man so that we can glorify God and share the Gospel of Jesus in powerful ways.
As Ambassadors of Christ and proclaimers of the Gospel, Christians must be very diligent to obtain from any unloving behavior which might hinder the Spirit within them and stand in the way of the message of reconciliation — “I urge you… to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1) The prophet Samuel stood before the whole Assembly asking if there was anyone he had ever wronged. (1 Samuel 12:3) On trial for his faith, Paul passionately proclaimed the Gospel while ensuring He lived consistently with the message: “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16) Paul reminds us that love demands a clear conscience – “love… comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
Growing in favor with both God and man also means remaining obedient to God as well as to earthly authorities, as long as earthly authorities don’t demand disobedience to God. We see in today’s readings that Joseph and Mary also took great “pains” to honor both God and man – Jesus was born while Joseph and Mary were traveling to fulfill Caesar’s decree, taking great steps to obey the law at a most inconvenient time for Mary. Next, they went to the temple “according to the custom of the Law…. And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” (Luke 2:27, 39) Jesus further models for us godly submission – “He… was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51) Obeying both God and earthly authorities will be very inconvenient and challenging for Christians, and it will often be “unfair,” but Jesus calls us to “go the extra mile.”
- Romans 13:1-5 — Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
As Jesus warns and revealed by His example, the perfectly lovable Christian will still be rejected by many, but because of the Gospel, not because of their behavior. Those who reject Jesus will reject His ambassadors, further revealing the righteousness of God’s final judgment of those who reject love and the God who is Love. Peter summed it up well: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor…. Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (see 1 Peter 2, 3).
People see the outward you, but God sees the inward you. Both should glorify God. Our mission (the Great Commandment and Great Commission) is all about relationships. We are called to be people persons. We must learn to build loving relationships with others (particularly with those who are hard to love) as an act of worship to God. Strained relationships with others can be a signal of a heart problem — a relationship problem with God revealed in relationship problems with others. Where you lack favor, check your heart –
- Luke 6:35 — But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
- Romans 12:18 — If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
- Philippians 2:3-8 — Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 20 July 21: With Jesus as your example, “increase in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Today, focus on practicing unconditional, sacrificial love towards others, especially your ‘enemies,’ while humbly and diligently obeying and respecting all authority as an act of worship to Jesus, trusting Him for your protection and using your obedience as an opportunity to glorify God. (see Philippians 2:1-8, Ephesians 5:21, and Romans 13)