A Prayer Prompted by John 13:34-35

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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Dear Lord Jesus,

This new commandment truly sums up so many commandments in one simple sentence. In your infinite wisdom you have given us these words, which are exactly what we need. Our love for others, not to mention our love for you, is so imperfect and falls so short.

And yet among your disciples this love should be obvious. Forgive us for not loving your followers as we should. Take away the judgmental attitudes, the pride, the propensity we have to always think well of our own motives, opinions and values while assuming that others much less often get these things right. None of this is based on love.

Fill us with the love that you have for us so that we might express it to others. Help us to love others with a willingness to sacrifice ourselves for their benefit, even as you gave yourself for us.

And let all people everywhere see this love in us. Let our love for your people and the mutual love among us be obvious. We need you Lord Jesus to immerse us in your love so that it might overflow from us toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And let the end result of this love be to glorify your name.

Amen

Whoever believes in him is not condemned – John 3:16-18

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

It is not uncommon for those who believe in Jesus to still feel a serious level of guilt, shame or condemnation over past or current failures.  We need to remind ourselves that there is no need for this.  This is not to say that sin is OK and not to be dealt with.  We need to repent, come to God again asking for forgiveness and taking our sin to the cross.

Have you fallen in the same way repeatedly?  I want to be careful here as I write this, because I don’t want to be perceived as going easy on sin.  But consider this additional passage, Matthew 18:21-22, where Peter asks about our need to forgive.

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

God is not asking something from Peter or us, which he is not already doing himself.  I believe this is one way we can look at the “is not condemned” phrase in John.  When Christ died for our sins, he died for all of them – past, present and future.  He gives us power to walk away from sin and the grace to walk in forgiveness at the same time.

In the words of Paul in Romans 8:1-3,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.

Our sin is condemned but we are not.

 

Giving thanks – Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Stopping to give thanks for our blessings is a simple thing to do, but at the same time is such an important lesson.  In the story above, only one out of ten did so.  Presumably the other nine did go on to show themselves to the priests, thereby obeying the command of Jesus and fulfilling the letter of the law.  That’s not bad, but returning first while praising God with a loud voice was even better.  Jesus remarks how odd it is that they didn’t all return together.

But isn’t that just like us sometimes?  We perform our duties, we get the job done, but we fail to acknowledge the wonderful hand of God in the process.  God gives, we receive and then just go about our business.  Paul reminds us of the importance of thanking God in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, saying

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

How often have we wondered about God’s will for us?  There it is.

Now in my estimation, that verse from 1 Thessalonians is hard enough, though I admit that doing God’s will is essential and truly works for our eternal benefit.  But this one,  Ephesians 5:20, is harder yet.

Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s one thing to give thanks in all circumstances, quite another to give thanks for the circumstances themselves.  And yet “giving thanks always for all things” sure seems to include not only difficult circumstances, but pretty much anything we can think of, good or bad.  The lesson here is that if God allows something into our lives, it is somehow intended for our good, though that good may not be easy to see at the time.  I think of the book of Job or any number of tragic stories that we are personally familiar with.

These lessons are the advanced class.  If you are like me, we need to go back to the story of the lepers and remember to thank God for our blessings,  That should be easy and yet I too often fail even there.  Let’s begin with the basics.

 

Faith that overcomes – 1 John 5:4-5

The truest kind of faith thrives in situations where it looks like it is losing.  The Christian martyrs of old, and for that matter, of the present day, die passively.  They may anger and irritate their attackers, but they clearly do not oppress them.  They are and look like victims.  One might imagine they were defeated souls who were finally giving up, and in a way that is true.  There is a sense in which faith is a form of surrender, not to the bully, but to Christ.  It is evidenced by taking up our cross and following him.

The Apostle John wrote the following after all of his fellow apostles had already met untimely deaths at the hands of their persecutors.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Faith lives while imprisoned, exiled and sometimes put to death.  If we think an overcoming faith needs to look victorious on the outside we get it wrong.  It doesn’t have to look like anything in particular.  Paul knew this when he said, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7).  Faith may be inspiring, but it is not intimidating.  

The important thing about faith is that it just keeps going no matter what happens to it.  Consider that the words faith, faithful and faithfulness are all related in the languages of the Bible as they are English.  At times, in fact, the word translated in the Bible as “faith” needs to be translated as “faithfulness.”  For example, in Romans 3:3, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”

So a wavering, sometimes uncertain faith can still be real.  The faith of the underdog may be more authentic than the faith of the perpetual champion.  The champion is certainly more tempted to trust completely in himself and his abilities.  The faith that is baffled by circumstances, but nonetheless rises to meet its next challenge, may be the greatest faith of all.  G. K. Chesterton summed it up nicely.

Faith is always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors.*

 

* Chesterton, G. K.. The G. K. Chesterton Collection [50 Books] . Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition, location 87385