Taming our Words (James 3:1-12)

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Have you ever tried putting toothpaste back into a tube?

There have been a couple of times when we’ve been teaching our children to brush their teeth when they have squeezed the toothpaste tube too hard and it has gone all over the bathroom sink. What a mess! Because we want to teach our children not to waste, we then tried to put the toothpaste back into the tube. It didn’t work. No matter what we did, once the toothpaste is out of the tube, nothing can put it back in.

This is a well-known illustration about how we can’t take words back once we say them. Probably all of us have said things in our lives that we have regretted and wished we could take back. But we can’t. No matter how hard we try, when we say damaging or hurtful things, or when we talk about people behind their backs and they hear about it, there is nothing we can do to put those words back in the tube.

God knew the importance of the words we say when he gave us the 8th Commandment: ‘You must not testify falsely against your neighbour’ (Exodus 20:16 NLT). Martin Luther explained this commandment means that

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbours, betray them, slander them, or hurt their reputations, but defend them, speak well of them, and explain everything in the kindest way. (Small Catechism, alt.)

Basically, the way Luther interpreted this commandment was the same as what my Mum used to tell me as a child: if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.

It sounds good in theory, but have you ever seriously tried to do this? How do we go when we endeavour to only say positive, constructive, life-giving words to and about each other? This is where James 3:1-12 becomes really important for us to hear. It seems like James wasn’t very hopeful about people’s ability to speak well of each other. Especially in verse 8 where James wrote, ‘no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison’ (NLT), he appears to have a very pessimistic view of our ability to be able to keep our tongues in check, and for the words that come out of our mouths to be constructive and life-giving.

On the one hand, we need to listen to James and recognize the dangers that come with speaking to or about other people. Once our words come out, we can’t put them back in. To use James’s image, once our words light a fire, it can burn the whole forest down before we know it. It can easily happen in the church where a thoughtless or even well-intentioned comment about someone can spread like wildfire. Before you know it, relationships are damaged and a congregation can be split. We need to be careful about what we say to and about people, and that we are explaining our neighbours’ actions in the kindest possible way.

Secondly, we also need to realize that this doesn’t always come naturally. James’s words remind us that it is too easy for us to use words to and about each other in destructive ways. At some stage we will all say things that we wish we could take back or put back into the tube. When this happens, we need to be showing grace to each other and forgiving each other as God has forgiven us through Jesus (see Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), no matter how difficult it might be to do that.

Something inside us needs to change if we are to be continually speaking well to and of each other. Jesus taught that the things we say actually come from the heart when he said, ‘What you say flows from what is in your heart’ (Luke 6:45 NLT; see also Mathew 12: 34,35; 15:18). Our problem is not just the words we say, but it’s a heart problem. When our hearts are wrong, our words will be hurtful and destructive. However, when our hearts are full of the life and goodness of Jesus, then our words will also be good and bring life to others.

If our words are to be constructive and life-giving, what we really need are hearts that have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can’t do this ourselves. We need God to do it for us as an act of grace. That is why King David’s prayer from Psalm 51:10, asking God to create clean hearts in us, becomes such an important prayer for all of God’s people. When God’s Holy Spirit cleans our hearts out, removing everything that is hurtful, deceitful and destructive, then our words will stop being hurtful, deceitful and destructive. When God gives us hearts that are good, true and full of the life of Christ, then our words will also be good, true and life-giving.

God gives us the Holy Spirit through his word. God speaks two kinds of words to us: words of law which show us that we are a long way from the people he wants us to be, like he does here in James 3, but also words of grace which speak the love, mercy and life of Christ to us. When God speaks the good news to us, God promises us new hearts which beat with the life of Christ and are in synch with his compassion, mercy and love. When we hear words of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus, then the Holy Spirit works on our heart to make them new. From these, new hearts come the words of forgiveness, love and life that we are able to speak into the lives of others. As James says, we might not be able to control our tongues, but when God gives us new hearts by the power of his Spirit for the sake of Jesus, then good and live-giving words will flow from our hearts into the lives of others.

I haven’t been able to get the excess toothpaste back into the tube yet, so I hope what comes out will be good for those who will be cleaning their teeth with it. In the same way, my hope and prayer is that the words which come out of our mouths, the things we say to and about each other, will be constructive and life-giving as we defend each other, speak well of each other, and explain each other’s actions in the kindest possible ways.

We might not be able to control our tongues, but when God gives us new and good hearts through Jesus by the power of his Holy Spirit, then the words which come out of us will be good as well.

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Outsiders (Mark 7:24-37)

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One of the games we play on our youth ministry nights is to place some hula-hoops on the floor and play some music. When the music stops, the young people need to stand in one of the hoops. If a person can’t fit in a hoop, or if people fall out of the hoops, then they’re out of the game.

This game illustrates what we often do in our relationships with others. We can set up lines or boundaries that determine who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ like the hula hoop in the game. Those lines can be a lot of different things, such the way people look, how they dress, what they own, where they live, or even what football team they support. As I was growing up in the church, I saw some hard and fast lines being drawn based on the denomination of the church people attended, their theological perspective or the way they interpreted the Bible. I’ve even known people who have felt excluded from churches because their surname didn’t fit in with the church’s cultural origins.

People in Jesus’ day did exactly the same thing. In the time the New Testament was written, there were very hard and fast rules about who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’ based on their race and their observance of their religious laws. If people were descended from Abraham with a family history that proved that connection, and if they kept the rules and religious traditions, then they were considered to be in God’s chosen people. If not, then they were seen to be outside of God’s love and blessing.

The stories from Mark 7:24-37 are great examples of how Jesus crossed the lines the religious leaders of his time constructed to extend God’s grace and love to people who were considered ‘outsiders’. The first is a woman from the area of Syrian Phoenicia whose daughter was possessed by a demon. The second was a man from another non-Jewish area who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Both of these were considered outsiders for a whole range of reasons, but Jesus crossed the lines people had put up to give them freedom, healing and wholeness, and to include them in the Kingdom of God.

To what extent do we also construct lines or boundaries that distinguish between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’? Our culture talks about valuing tolerance and inclusivity, but I still hear a lot of talk about ‘us’ and ‘them’ from both the church and wider society. We can set up barriers that separate us from others based on our age, gender, cultural background or opinions about almost any topic. We still tend to construct lines that divide the insiders from the outsiders around issues in the church such as worship, ordination or even moral standards. We might be critical of the religious people of Jesus’ time, and we might like to think that we are inclusive and tolerant, but to one degree or another don’t we all set up boundaries between the insiders and outsiders?

Jesus deliberately crossed geographical, religious, socioeconomic and even moral boundaries in order to bring the life-giving and liberating grace and love of God to those who needed it the most. He met outsiders on their territory so they could find a sense of value and self-worth through their connection with him. When Jesus was crucified, he identified with everyone who has ever felt like or been judged as an outsider. When Jesus was nailed to the cross and left there to die, he became the ultimate outsider as he suffered a form of death reserved for the worst of the worst of Roman society. Jesus didn’t only meet outsiders during his ministry. Jesus became an outsider in order to bring all the outsiders of the world into a new relationship with God and make them insiders in the Kingdom of God.

This is so important for us because, according to the religious view of Jesus’ day, we are outsiders. I don’t know of anyone in our church who is Jewish by birth. None of us keep the religious law that the people of Jesus’ day were expected to keep. We can’t even keep the Ten Commandments the way we should. We like to think that we are good people, but when we construct lines that divide ‘insiders’ from ‘outsiders’ in any way, we fail to love each other the way Jesus teaches us to. We were all outside of a relationship with God until Jesus met us as the ultimate outsider, gathered us into himself and carried us as members of his body into a new relationship with God as our loving heavenly Father, a new identity as God’s children, and a new place to belong in the Kingdom of God, (see Ephesians 2:11-18).

As people who have been on the out but have now been brought in to a new life through Jesus, we are his loving and grace-giving presence among those whom the world considers outsiders. Jesus calls us to break through the barriers that are constructed to separate the insiders from the outsiders, no matter what those barriers may be.

This week, think about the ways in which you might consider people to be either ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’. Is it age, gender, cultural background or morality? Do our views on worship, ordination, interpretation of the Bible or faith generally divide us? If so, then break through whatever barriers might come between those who are considered ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Worship at a different time or place next week. Talk to someone who is one or two generations younger or older than yourself. Make contact with someone who you might not have seen for a while because of their moral or lifestyle choices and ask how they’re doing. In one way or another, recognize the boundaries that we, our church or our society have constructed, and spend some time with a person who exists on the other side of those boundaries.

Because when we break through the boundaries and sit with the outsiders, we just might find Jesus is already there.

Doing the Word (James 1:17-27)

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We all know how important it is to follow the directions when we need to take medication. If we are sick, it doesn’t help us to go to a doctor, get a prescription, listen to how we are to take it, but then put it on the shelf and forget about it. If we are going to get better, we need to trust that the medicine will do what the doctor promises, follow the directions and take our medication.

When it comes to medicine, it makes sense to both listen and do. It is the same for us as followers of Jesus. One of my greatest concerns as a pastor is that it can be easy for us to turn up to worship, hear a message, thank the pastor for the message at the door, but nothing changes after that. I have actually had a couple of people tell me over my years of ministry that they don’t want to think too much or be challenged in their faith. All they want is to come to church and hear a nice sermon.

Seriously.

That’s why James’ words about not just listening to God’s word but doing what it says are so important for us. We all carry an illness called sin. While it may not be popular to talk about sin in our contemporary Western culture, the reality I see is that we’re all suffering from the effects of sin in our lives in one way or another. We all suffer from broken relationships, illness, death and other maladies which come from carrying sin in us like an infection that we can’t get rid of.

Like a medication prescribed to give us health and life, God’s word is the remedy for sin. Every story in the Bible, from the creation of the world in Genesis 1, to the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the fulfilment of God’s salvation in Revelation, points us to a God who brings light and life to the world and everything in it through his word. The centre of these stories, the person of Jesus, makes new life possible by carrying all our sin in himself to the cross, putting it to death once and for all, and giving us the gift of new life through his resurrection. The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is God’s way of giving us healing, wholeness and life in a similar way that medication gives us healing, wholeness and life when we face a specific illness. That’s why James writes that God’s word has the power to save us (v20 NIV). God’s word isn’t just information about God. It is the power of God to heal us from sin and give us life that is stronger than death (see Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

If God’s medication for our condition is the good news of Jesus, then his directions for taking that medication is faith. One of the mistakes we can make is to think that God’s word is a long set of moral rules and ethical commands, and that doing what the word says means keeping all these rules. Instead, the directions Jesus gives us is to trust the good news of his sin-conquering, life-giving love. I tend to interpret the words of the Bible through what Jesus says in John 6:29. Some people had come to Jesus to ask him what the works were that God wanted them to do. Jesus replied, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (NIV). If the good news of Jesus is the medication, his directions are to trust him. That’s it. The rest of the Bible tells us what this faith looks like, and how it can make a difference in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

If we listen to James’ words about being both hearers and doers of God’s word from this perspective, we can understand them saying that it is vital that we not only hear the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, but that we live like it’s true. When we find God’s love in the gospel, then ‘doing the word’ means loving others, even when it’s hard or we don’t think they deserve it. When we encounter God’s grace, ‘doing the word’ means being grace-filled in our relationships with others. When we experience God’s mercy, forgiveness and peace in the gospel, ‘doing the word’ means being merciful, forgiving and peace-making towards everyone we meet. Following Jesus isn’t just about finding his goodness for ourselves. Being ‘doers of his word’ means extending the goodness of God we find in Jesus towards everyone in our lives through all we do and say.

This week, I want to challenge you to be hearers as well as doers of God’s word in your lives. If you’re not a regular reader of the Bible, doing God’s word might start with making time each day to listen to the good news God wants to speak into your life. It really doesn’t matter how we’re reading our Bibles. What’s important is that we’re listening for God’s promises of grace, love, forgiveness and new life in his word for ourselves. If you need help doing that or not sure where to start, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Being a doer of God’s word might also mean praying regularly. Last week we heard Paul write, ‘pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere’ (Ephesians 6:18 NLT), so prayer is an important part of doing the word. We can also ‘do the word’ by being ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry’ (v19 NLT). You might want to practice this during the week by listening more than talking in your conversations with others. Try it and see what a difference it can make. Or, if you’re looking for a more serious challenge, listen to what Jesus says about telling the difference between our human traditions in the church and God’s commands (Mark 7:5-8), and imagine how prioritizing what God wants over what you want for your church might look.

In whatever ways we endeavour to be doers as well as listeners of God’s word, what is essential is that they are acts of faith in God’s life-giving love for us in Jesus, not attempts to try to get his love. That love is already yours, for Jesus’ sake.

The medication, God’s remedy for sin, is already ours as an act of grace from the God who loves us. We wouldn’t receive medicine from a doctor and leave it on the shelf. We’d follow the directions so that it can make us healthy and whole again. In the same way, we can’t just listen to the word of God that gives life and then do nothing with it. That doesn’t help anyone. By being doers of the word, listening to God’s promises and living like they are true, extending his grace and love to others by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we can find healing, wholeness and a life that is stronger than death.

Our Struggle (Ephesians 6:10-20)

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Most people who have grown up in the Christian church would be familiar with the image of the armour of God. For people who may be new or unfamiliar with Paul’s metaphor, however, it might sound very strange. When we think about the violence done to people in God’s name, using military metaphors to describe the life of faith might be challenging or even offensive.

So why Paul did use this image and what does it say about living as disciples of Jesus? Why do we need to put on the armour he describes? Why are they important in a life of faith as we follow the way Jesus taught?

Paul helps us to understanding the image of the armour of God in verse 12 where he writes,

… our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (NIV)

Paul assumes that living as followers of Jesus will be a struggle. The Greek word Paul uses literally means ‘wrestle’. He wasn’t thinking about the carefully choreographed spectacle we might see on TV, but the kind of wrestling that is a sport at the Olympic Games where people are locked into a closely fought physical contest.

Paul tells us that followers of Jesus are constantly struggling or wrestling with ‘rulers’, ‘authorities’, ‘powers of this dark world’, and ‘spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ These struggles can take a wide variety of forms, from demonic attacks or spiritual oppression, through to more ordinary experiences such as trying to trust in God’s goodness and love when life is hard, or loving someone who has wronged us or is difficult to love. No matter how we might understand the idea of spiritual warfare, Paul assumes that all of God’s people are involved in a struggle with the forces of evil in one way or another.

This can be very different from the sort of Christianity people look for. We can often want an easy, convenient and comfortable faith where we get what we want and it’s simple to follow. If this is what we’re looking for, then maybe, based on what Paul writes, the devil has already won. To trust the goodness of God’s love for us in Jesus will be a struggle because often what we see and experience actually tell us the opposite. We will always struggle to love others in the same sacrificial, self-giving way as Jesus because we are essentially hard-wired to put what we want first, even if it comes at other people’s expense, and we live in a culture that tells us that being self-centred is good. Whether you believe that the devil is real or not, to live each day trusting in God’s goodness and love, and loving others in a Christ-like way will always be a struggle because it goes against our human nature and the way the world around us operates.

Following Jesus will be a struggle for us because he struggled, too. Jesus didn’t choose an easy, comfortable or convenient way of life. Jesus knows the struggles that come with a life of faith because he has already experienced them during his life on earth. When we read the gospel stories of his life, as soon as he was baptised, Jesus’ struggles began as he was lead into the wilderness and tested by the devil. Throughout the three years of his ministry, Jesus struggled with the same forces Paul mentions, and in every case he showed he was more powerful. We see Jesus fully embracing our struggles when he wrestled with his approaching suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he experienced pain and suffering before and during his crucifixion, and when he felt like he had been abandoned by his heavenly Father on the cross.

Jesus’ struggles were the path to a greater end – his resurrection from the dead and the gift of life to all who believe in him! In the same way, our struggles of faith lead us deeper into the life of the risen Christ. As we struggle, we learn to trust in God’s goodness and love. When our struggles appear to be overwhelming or too much for us, we have others who are struggling with us and for us to help us find the life of Jesus in the middle of our struggles. When we are willing to give up a safe, easy and comfortable form of Christianity to embrace the struggles that go with following Jesus, then we not only grow in the life of Jesus for ourselves, but we meet others in their struggles and help them find God’s strength as well.

It is vital to recognize that all of the verbs in this passage are plural. Paul is telling his readers to be strong together (v10), to put on God’s armour together (vv11,13), to stand together (vv13,14), to take up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit together (vv16,17), and to be persistent in praying together (v18). The life of faith is not an individual pursuit of a ‘me-and-God’ relationship. It is a life together with other disciples of Jesus in community as we struggle with and for each other, standing with and for each, finding God’s mighty power that overcomes all our struggles with each other and for each other.

This idea of struggling in faith and love for each other becomes critical when we talk about ministry with our young people and being part of God’s mission to the world. Maybe our biggest failure as church is that we have preferred an easy, comfortable, convenient version of Christianity over the struggles that come with following Jesus. We have been more concerned with how things might impact what we want than how we can be Christ to others. If all we’re concerned about is what’s comfortable and convenient for me, then the devil has already won because we are reflecting the way the world works. To follow Jesus means being willing to struggle with trusting God in all the situations of life and living in self-sacrificing love for others, not matter what the cost may be to ourselves. This will never be easy for us. It will always involve struggle.

So I’m left asking: will you join in the struggle for the hearts and souls of others? Will you embrace the struggles that goes with following Jesus faithfully in order to reach out to people who don’t know Jesus yet, or who are themselves struggling to find the goodness and love of Jesus in their lives? Are you willing to give up a safe, comfortable, convenient version of church and embrace the struggle of faith for the sake of the young people of our church?

When we are willing to give up our own comfort and follow Jesus into the struggle of faith and love, that’s when we are strong in the Lord and his mighty power, covered head to toe in the full armour of God.

An Understanding Heart (1 Kings 3:3-14)

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One of our family’s favourite movies is Disney’s Frozen. Even though it has been five years since its release, it still stands as the highest grossing animated movie of all time and, according to Wikipedia, the twelfth highest grossing movie of all time.

I have to admit, though, that I get uncomfortable whenever I hear Queen Elsa sing the words ‘No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free’ in Let It Go, the most popular song from the movie. These lyrics reflect an increasingly common belief held by people in our society – that there is no such thing as right or wrong, there are no rules, and we are free to be and do whatever we want.

My concern with this view of life is that I have seen where it can often lead. In Frozen, it results in Queen Elsa living in fear, emotionally cold towards others, alone on a mountain. I have seen this same approach to life leaving people I have known over the years with broken relationships, trapped in fear, guilt or shame, relationally isolated, and wondering where life went so wrong.

Compare Queen Elsa’s words with those of King Solomon in 1 Kings 3:3-14. When I think of all the things Solomon could have asked God for, it amazes me that he requests ‘an understanding heart so that (he) can govern (God’s) people well and know the difference between right and wrong’ (v9 NLT). Instead of asking for freedom from rules so he could do whatever he wanted, Solomon asked God to give him what was literally a ‘hearing’ heart so he could tell the difference between what was right and wrong.

Solomon requested this because he knew that living in ways which are right and good lead us into a better life than ways which are wrong or bad. It’s like Jesus said in Matthew 7:13,14 – there is a road which leads to life, while other paths lead to destruction. The road that leads to life is hard to find and difficult to walk, but the ways that lead us to destruction are easy. Solomon was asking that he might be able to find the way that leads to life for himself and for his people by understanding the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

In a time where we are being told that there is no right or wrong, not just from Frozen’s Elsa but from society in general, how do we discern the difference? A lot of people, including Christians, default to a set of rules. However, Jesus did not come to impose a set of rules for us to follow. John 1:17 tells us Moses did that, but Jesus came to bring us ‘grace and truth’ (NIV) instead.

When people came to Jesus to ask him what the was most important command, Jesus cut through a complicated religious system of rules and taught that it was love for God and love for others (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31). Love gives followers of Jesus a new way to discern right from wrong. If something we say or do is done in love for God and other people, then we can consider it right. If, however, what we do is not in love for God or others, then it is wrong.

We actually see this in the movie Frozen. I don’t want to give too many spoilers in case some people haven’t seen the movie yet, but a theme in Frozen is that an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. I remember watching the movie for the first time thinking, along with the Frozen characters, that this would be an act of romantic love, just like in other Disney movies. However, what saves Elsa’s sister Anna, and ultimately Elsa and their entire kingdom as well, turns out to be an act of sacrificial love instead.

I was really surprised, but also very glad, to find the gospel in Frozen. Rather than upholding a romantic view of love, it points us to a sacrificial love where one person gives everything for the sake of another. This love thaws hearts which have been frozen by fear and guilt, breathes new life into people, and brings the warmth of joy and salvation to the world. Sacrificial love gives us a new perspective and understanding of what is right and good.

Ultimately we find this love in Jesus and his death for us on the cross. Just like an act of true and sacrificial love saved Elsa and their kingdom in Frozen, Jesus’ selfless sacrifice of giving his life for us on the cross can warm our hearts so we don’t have live in fear, or rely on rules, or hide in a self-protective palace of ice. The love that God has for us in Jesus becomes the new standard of right and wrong for his followers, but it is also the way in which God warms our hearts so we can love him freely. The gift of God’s love to us in Jesus is the way he sets us free, restores our relationships with him and others, and gives us new life.

To live in this kind of love requires listening hearts. In 1 Kings 3:9, King Solomon literally asked for a ‘listening’ or a ‘hearing’ heart. When our hearts are listening to and hearing the good news of God’s love for us in the sacrifice of Jesus, it breathes new life into us and frees us from fear. It can be hard to know how to love people, to do what is right and good for them, especially people who are hard to love. We need to have hearts that are continually listening to God through his Holy Spirit so we can learn how to love others in a way that helps them encounter the heart-warming, life-saving love of Jesus through us.

I really enjoy Frozen and love the gospel message it gives. However, we also need to recognize the influence of our society’s worldview in it, as well as the influence it can have on our young people. King Solomon asked God to give him ‘an understanding heart’ so he could ‘know the difference between right and wrong’ and lead God’s people well. My prayer continues to be that all God’s people would have listening hearts, so we can tell the difference between what is right and wrong, and find the life to the full which Jesus promises us (John 10:10) through his sacrificial love.

The Way of Love (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

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I have to be careful where I step at the moment.

We have had a lot of rain in Adelaide recently and there is a fair bit of mud around. When I walk from our home to the church, it is easy to walk through some muddy puddles and then carry it on my shoes wherever I go during the day. A few weeks ago when I arrived for worship on Sunday morning I had actually walked in something on my way over to the church. I’m going to assume it was mud, but I really didn’t to smell it to find out for sure. I had to clean the bottom of my shoes before the service started because I didn’t want to leave muddy footprints all around the sanctuary.

That’s the thing with mud – it sticks.

Usually we think of mud sticking as a bad thing. When I was contemplating these words from Paul in Ephesians 5:1,2 though, I started wondering whether we can think about mud sticking in a good way.

The words the NIV translate as ‘walk in the way of love’ and the NLT interpret as ‘live a life filled with love’ are simply ‘walk in love’ in the Greek New Testament. Both the NIV and the NLT translations are good, but I really like the picture of ‘walking in love’ the way that we might walk in mud.

One reason is that if we are going to walk in God’s love, we actually need to get into it like a muddy puddle that’s full of God’s goodness and grace. Last Saturday afternoon, my two young sons and I pulled on our boots and spent some time walking through and jumping around in some mud outside our house. Maybe that’s what Paul is saying God wants us to do with the love he has for us in Jesus. Maybe God’s love isn’t something to theorize or theologize about, but to walk through, jump around in, splashing in its goodness so we’re covered in it. It’s a similar idea to what we looked at a couple of weeks ago from Ephesians 3:18 – that God’s love for us in Jesus is so wide, long, high and deep that we can spend our whole lives exploring its goodness and never reach its limits.

To walk in God’s love starts with having both feet in his love. But it doesn’t stop there.

The next aspect of walking in God’s love is that we carry it with us wherever we go and whatever we do. Just like the mud we were walking through stuck to our shoes and boots, when we walk in God’s love it sticks with us. It covers us and even becomes part of who we are. Paul says we are God’s ‘dearly loved children’ (5:1 NIV). Through Jesus, God has given us new identities as people he has adopted into his family and who he loves. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we go and do as people whom God loves enough to give his Son for us. Like mud that sticks to our shoes or boots, this truth sticks to us our whole lives as we live it out in our relationships with others.

The entire Bible points us to the reality of God’s love so we can walk in it with our relationship with him and with others. In Ephesians 4, Paul gives us some specific ways in which we can walk in God’s love with others:

  • Putting off falsehood (v25) – not just telling lies but living in open, honest and authentic relationships with others
  • Not letting the sun go down on our anger (v26) – whether we take this literally or metaphorically, it means working our issues out with others
  • Doing something useful with our hands so we can give generously to others (v28) – this gives us whole new way to think about our work as a way to love others
  • Using our words to build others up and benefit them (v29), not knock them down
  • Getting rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice (v31) – I wonder why our congregation laughed when I said that these never happen in our church
  • Being kind, compassionate and forgiving to others (v32)

It’s worth spending some time contemplating these and asking God to show us where he wants to challenge us in our lives and in our relationships. Living in a congregation like this would be great, but I don’t think many of us actually live up to the love Paul describes.

When we are challenged by Paul’s words, we need to go back to the muddy puddle of God’s love for us. Too often we try to do better by ourselves and then get frustrated or guilty when we keep doing the same things. Instead, Jesus teaches us to remain in his love (John 15:9). Using the image of God’s love being a muddy puddle, when we’re falling short of being the people and community God wants us to be, we need to go back to the love God has for us in Jesus to walk through and jump around in some more. As we get covered more and more with the sticky mud of God’s love for us in Jesus, it will cling to us and we will naturally carry it with us in our lives.

Ephesians 5:1,2 is one of my most favourite discipleship texts because this is what following Jesus is all about: walking in God’s love for us in Jesus so it sticks to us and we carry it with us into every circumstance of life. Especially as we talk about and plan the future of our ministry to young people, it is good for us to be keeping Paul’s words in mind. Our culture is teaching us and our young people to live in a way that is all about us and what we get, the exact opposite of the way of love Paul points us to. Jesus tells us that if we live this way, our destination is destruction, but if we walk in the way of God’s love, then we find life to the full (Matthew 7:13,14; John 10:10). Where will our young people learn to walk in love if it’s not from us?

So, which way are we walking? Do we walk our own ways, heading in our own directions, trying to find our own way through life? Or are we walking in love, stomping around in God’s infinite and perfect love for us, and carrying it everywhere we go, in everything we do?

Walking in love brought Jesus to life that is stronger than death. This is the path he leads us to as he calls us to follow him. When we get lost along the way, then maybe it’s time to jump in muddy puddles, remembering that when we walk in the love God has for us in Jesus, it really sticks!

A Deeper Hunger (John 6:24-35)

bread of life 06

I chuckle to myself whenever I read the conversation Jesus had with people in the crowd who are following him in John 6:24-35. It reminds me of some discussions I’ve had in the past with friends from Queensland or New South Wales about football. We were using the same words, but we meant very different things. When I said ‘football’ I was thinking of Australian Rules or AFL. When they said ‘football’ they were meaning Rugby League or Union.

We were using the same language, but were talking past each other because we understood the words in different ways.

That’s what seems to be happening throughout John 6. Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus women and children. The crowds were pursuing Jesus because they wanted him to keep providing them with free bread. Who can blame them? Imagine how much easier life would be if you had an endless supply of free bread appear on your doorstep each morning!

While they are looking for someone to feed their stomachs, Jesus was talking about providing them, and us, with something to satisfy a much deeper hunger. Jesus wanted to give us something that will feed our hungry hearts and souls, not just our stomachs.

We all have hearts that are hungry for something. For example, I have come across a few authors who say that every person is looking for answers to three fundamental questions: Who am I? Where do I fit? What am I here for? These questions of identity, belonging and purpose can be thought of as hungers we have. We can also be hungry for things like acceptance, self-worth, peace, rest, hope, and the list goes on.

When we try to satisfy these deeper hungers in ways that give us short-term relief, do they ever really satisfy? Our consumer culture offers us temporary solutions that help to distract us from our deeper hungers, but never fulfil them. We can do something similar in the church when we try our best to keep busy, or consume a particular style of worship, or engage in other activities that look nice and ‘Christian’ from the outside but which end up distracting us from our hunger rather than really satisfying it.

One thing that always stands out to me when I read John 6 is that when the people asked Jesus what God wanted then to be doing, Jesus replied that ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (v29 NIV). In other words, the one thing God wants us to do is trust that Jesus is the one who can really satisfy our deeper hungers.

Jesus provides whatever our hearts and souls might be hungry for. If we’re hungry for identity, Jesus gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. If we’re hungry to belong, Jesus gives it to us by making us members of his body, as brothers and sisters in God’s family, to live out our identity in Christ-centred community. If we’re hungry for purpose, Jesus calls us to participate in God’s mission by being disciples who make disciples and redeeming, restoring and renewing all of creation.

Whatever our deeper hunger might be, Jesus feeds us through the power of his Spirit through the gospel. Jesus accepts us just as we are as a free act of grace. Jesus gives us value by telling us we’re worth dying for by giving his life for us on the cross. Jesus gives us peace as he establishes a new relationship between us, our heavenly Father, and each other. Jesus gives us rest as he carries our burdens for us through prayer and the love we experience in Christian community. The resurrection of Jesus feeds us with hope as he promises that no matter how difficult or dark life might appear, he has given us a life that nothing, not even death, can overcome. No matter what our hearts and souls might be hungry for, Jesus can provide us with what we need.

One of the most important aspects of my work as a pastor is to help connect people’s hungers with what Jesus offers us as the Bread of Life. It begins by honestly asking ourselves what our hearts and souls are hungry for. This can really challenge us and might require some soul-searching because often we’re not too good at admitting our hunger and we can be very good at masking it with superficial attempts at filling the holes. However, when we are able to recognize and admit our deeper hungers, and when we are able to find that Jesus can and will satisfy those hungers, then we are able to share that bread with others.

We become like Jesus’ disciples who received the loaves and fish that Jesus had blessed and distributed them to the 5000 men plus women plus children who had come to hear him speak. When we have fed on the Bread of Life and found his goodness for ourselves, we have something good to share with others – the good news that Jesus offers us life to the full (John 10:10) here and now as we trust in him for everything to satisfy the deeper hungers of our hearts and souls. When we have found this Bread for ourselves, we can distribute it to others who are hungry for the goodness of God in their lives too.

What is your heart hungry for? What might be missing in your life that is keeping you from living the life to the full that Jesus promises? If you’re honest answer is nothing, that your relationship with Jesus is strong and you’re finding everything you need in him, then praise God that you have something good to offer the people around you who have hungry hearts. If, however, you have a hunger that you can’t fill, then let me know and let me help you find how Jesus can satisfy that deeper hunger. Or if you’re not connected with our church, look for a pastor, or a Christian sister or brother, who can help you. Search the Bible together. Listen to what God promises you in his word. Bring your hunger to God in prayer and keep pursuing the goodness of God in Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Because Jesus promises that when we trust in him for what our hearts and souls are hungry for, we’ll never be hungry again.