Standards

Tuesday Devotionals: 1 Timothy 3

bibleRead 1 Timothy 3:1-3

Christianity is in its nature the Gospel of grace.  There is forgiveness in Jesus.  There is understanding in Jesus.  But we must never do away with standards and expectations.  We must never do away with consequences and repercussions for our actions and behaviors.  There is a bar.  This bar is not one of perfection but it is one of Holiness.

The Gospel of grace understands our fallen nature, but we must never take the grace of God lightly.  We are extended grace in Jesus Christ not to be forgiven repeatedly for our sins but to be forgiven once and for all of our debt.  To be a Christian there must be a commitment to change.  To be a Christian there must be an ongoing revelation of Fruit.  Our lives should be a living testimony of the power of Christ to change what seemed impossible to change. It should magnify the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.  It is Christ IN us.

The love of Jesus does not condone sin, and to live in sin is to stand in opposition to the Lord, Jesus.  We must have a standard.  We must know what that standard is.  And when we see that a brother or sister is not living a life worthy of the name of Jesus, we must address it.  Not with a heart of judgment or self-righteousness, but with the heart of Christ that never left a soul to believe that they were in no need of what he came to bring them.  The Gospel is one of grace, love and understanding.  We will never be perfect and we will never be completely free of the sinful flesh until we are with Him and made to be like Him.  But a standard still remains.  The standard is THE Gospel.  If we claim the name of Christ and therefore proclaim unity with the Son, we must bear the fruit of the Son.  He is the standard.  He is the Way.  To represent Him means to reveal Him.  If we are not revealing Jesus then we must question if we authentically represent Him in spirit or in name alone.

The standard of the cross is not there to loom over us, casting a long shadow of hopelessness and intimidation.  The standard of the cross keeps us moving.  It keeps us safe.  It keeps us alive.  Without the standard and without accountability to hold to the standard, we die.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Jude 3-16

bibleRead Jude 3-16

In the world today we are taught that there is no such thing as “evil.” The world claims that to erect walls separating “good” from “evil” is insensitive, counterproductive to the well-being of society.  It is now a flaw to see flaws.  It is a sin to identify sin.  In this cultural and social climate it is increasingly difficult for Christians to contend for the gospel; if, that is, the Christians are attempting to fend off this cultural attack without the aid of Jesus Christ.  A Christian’s attempt to stand up against the tidal wave of cultural and social sensitivity that allows no room for the gospel truths will result in failure.  This is not a fight that can be won by a single person or a group of people. It can only be fought by the Lord, and by realizing this gospel truth, we will discover that this fight has already been fought and won by Christ himself.

Along with Jesus Christ’s completed mission to redeem this world, a Christian must cling to another truth in order to stand in faith.  This truth is that, although increasingly unacceptable to the world, there is a very real and definable line between “good” and “evil”, and that sin exists in the world today.  Taking a passive or naïve position toward these issues does not spread the gospel and therefore will not result in the greater healing of the world.  By erasing the lines of “good” and “evil” we allow for no standards at all.  Without a standard of righteousness, man is left to his own devices. Human history proves that man alone, with the world at his mercy, is a destructive force more terrifying than any other being or species on the face of the earth.  We are dangerous.  We are destructive.  We have the potential for great beauty but alongside this exists a great evil that lurks and waits for an opportunity to be set free.  The Church and every Christian must acknowledge the standard of the gospel of Christ if there is any hope for the life, death and resurrection of Christ to heal the sick and free the captives of this world.  Dismissing the righteous standards of God dismisses his work, and dismisses him entirely.  Ignoring the standards of Christ removes any commonality between a Christian and Christ, and along with it, any meaning or power in bearing his name as a Christian.  Holding tightly to standards that acknowledge “good” and reject “evil” resists the current of the cultural and social flow of this world and follows the spirit of God from the beginning and through to the end.

The Impossible Religion: Standards

This reflection series,  “The Impossible Religion,” reveals five specific problems that people have with the gospel of Jesus. These impossibilities arise when Christianity is a religion to achieve, rather than simply the “good news” of grace and redemption that will naturally transform us. Christianity outside of Christ’s redemption is in fact impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. For the next five weeks, we’ll go through Scriptures from five different areas of the Bible in order to confront these impossibilities:

  • Impossible Devotion
  • Impossible Standards
  • Impossible Trust
  • Impossible Power
  • Impossible Purpose

Impossible Standards (Proverbs 31)

Whenever I read the book of Proverbs, I always start pen in hand, intent on underlining “the good parts.” But every time, I quickly realize that to underline “the good parts” would find me underlining the entire book.  In 1 Kings we read about the gift of wisdom granted to King Solomon and the proverbs are proof of that gift.  The wisdom in the book of Proverbs is unique, different from anything else.

The Proverbs do not necessarily strike us as “impossible” as we read the sayings and feel intrigued, rebuked or encouraged.  That comes when we attempt to put these perfect words into practice in our admittedly imperfect lives.  The sayings in real-time and real-life swiftly transition from wise words in private to a burden too heavy to bear in public.  When faced with the challenges of this world, whether riches, anger, impatience, or pain, we tend to shake off “the good parts” as we indulge in our truly natural “human nature” and err on the side of the sinful flesh.

Throughout the entire book of Proverbs, Wisdom is depicted as a woman.  This woman of wisdom cries out to the passing pedestrians on the street, pleading with them to listen to her. All the while, she is challenged by an opposing voice from the opposite side of the street, also in the form of a woman, however, not a woman depicting wisdom and righteousness but rather “foolishness” or sin.  Throughout the entire book of Proverbs this woman of wisdom pleads for the people to listen, often to no avail.  It is her voice that we are meant to hear as we read the Proverbs and her words that we find perfect at one moment and burdensome at others.

The difficulty in taking advice stems from lack of trust in the source.  As we listen to the advice we are constantly evaluating the source giving the advice while perhaps making snap-judgments along the way.  “Does this person have a right to advise me?”  “What do they know about this?”  “Who are they to talk?”  It is from this mindset that we make our decision whether to follow the advice or not.

The proverbs are potent and almost hypnotic, small bursts of wisdom that captivate with their clarity. We chuckle from time to time as we read, saying things like, “That’s so true.”  But when the time comes to practice the sayings in our daily life, we take offense at the words and the source due to their unrealistic standards.  We don’t like to look like failures, and when we compare our lives to the wisdom of Proverbs, we often do. It’s easy to feel like a failure when confronted with the perfect advice and standard of Wisdom embodied.

Proverbs 31, the final chapter of Proverbs, is particularly fascinating: we finally get to meet the source of the sayings and words. At last, we meet this “woman of wisdom.”  Not only does she have wise sayings to offer us, she is, more importantly, an individual that puts the words into practice.  For all intents and purposes, she is perfect.

We might wonder how knowing that this woman practices the sayings is any help to us. “Good for her, but we still feel like the loser.” The only way to have confidence in advice is to trust the source, and to see the source likewise practicing the advice.  One of the things that hurts the church the most is that Christians fail to “practice what they preach.”  It is because of this careless, irresponsible and hypocritical approach to the Gospel that many avoid church, fall away from the church, or in general fall apart.  Superficial belief and worship was what most offended Jesus during his three-year ministry.  The idea that people tailored religion to fit their lifestyle led Jesus to call out the religious crowd, not the outcast sinners, as the hypocrites.

When it comes to practicing wisdom and these “perfect words,” the only way we can have confidence that we average people can reflect this wisdom is to understand the source.  In Proverbs 31 we meet the woman of wisdom.  However, as we know, this woman is not real, she is a literary device created to embody the sayings and to relate the words to us in a way we could understand. The true source of our wisdom is the “teacher of all teachers” and “shepherd of all shepherds.”  He is the one that said the sheep listen to his voice.  He is the one that promised and delivered the impossible.  He told us that we cannot do it alone, and that to attempt to reflect the wisdom of the proverbs using our own effort is futile.  With him, through him will we be awed by the wisdom, and ultimately overcome and transformed by it.  The voice of Jesus, the one that spoke the truth and is the true voice of wisdom that we can confidently follow.