Behavior Guidelines

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NIV)

Human relationships can be challenging. Our behaviors toward one another are not always positive in nature. At times, our self-centeredness, greed, and anger can prompt us to act in ways which are harmful towards others. These behaviors create a negative environment for all people. Our society has developed rules and laws to manage the most destructive of these behaviors. Throughout civilizations and religions in all of recorded history, there have been acceptable and unacceptable ways to behave and interact with one another.

In the letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul writes about the behaviors which are acceptable and unacceptable among followers of Christ. He provides a list of unacceptable behaviors with contrast behaviors scattered within the list. Some of the unacceptable behaviors are found in the commandments which God gave the Israelites through Moses. Clearly there is instruction here in regard to building one another up and not tearing one another down. Attitudes are addressed here as well. Attitudes lead to actions.

As we consider how we interact with one another, Paul’s instructions are beneficial in guiding us. Lying to one another, being angry, slandering others, expressing rage are seen too often in our public discourse and among neighbors. These happen as well in communities of faith. Paul tells us that we are no longer to engage in these behaviors. We are not to cause grief for the Holy Spirit by behaving in these ways. Instead, we are to practice kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and building one another up.

Jesus Knocking

A famous picture painted by Warner Sallman is entitled, Christ at Heart’s Door. Sallman completed this painting in 1942. Many churches and some homes can be found with this painting hanging within them. There is much symbolism found within the painting. Take a moment to study the image here. Then respond to the following questions:

  1. What do you notice missing? Why may it not be there?
  2. What shape can be found created with the light and architecture?
  3. Why are there blooms on some of the stems and some have no blooms?
  4. What is noticeable about Jesus’s hand? Does that communicate anything to you? 
  5. Why might Sallman have chosen to include the plants which he did?
  6. What change would you make to the painting in view of Jesus’s heritage?
  7. The imagery in this picture is to communicate a message. How would you articulate the message?

No Shame

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

There are numerous aspects of life which can cause people to feel ashamed. Mistakes which we make can bring a sense of shame into our lives. The actions of a relative or friend can bring shame to us. Our perceptions of ourselves can lead us to feel ashamed. In specific situations this shame may be warranted. Often the shame is more embarrassment than actualized shame. No matter the cause or legitimacy of our being ashamed, the feeling is real. We may choose to avoid people and/or situations due to our sense of shame.

In today’s reading, we hear Paul make the statement that he is not ashamed of the gospel, or good news. Others have stated that the good news of Jesus’s death on a cross and resurrection was foolish and nonsense. Those who indicated they believed in the salvation found in these events were often labeled as ignorant, idiots, and even blasphemers. So Paul indicating he was not ashamed and saw the message of the good news as a sign of God’s power is a bold statement. Paul sees the gospel as a revelation of God’s righteousness being displayed and imparted upon those who believe in it.

Are you ashamed of the gospel? After all, there is sketchy logic to support the claims of the good news. Individuals today still reject this news and take a dim view of those who believe in it. Do you attempt to excuse away your belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection when others question you or do you make a bold statement as Paul does here? Some say that religion or faith should not be discussed in public settings, maybe not even in private ones. How often is this used to avoid having to declare belief in God and God’s saving actions? Like Paul, we need to stand and boldly proclaim our belief in the gospel without any sense of shame.

Foolishness

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (NIV)

Over the centuries, humanity has gained all types of knowledge. We have developed systems to teach and communicate this knowledge to new generations. With an increase of knowledge, an arrogance has come into our human psyche. Many have determined that anything which cannot be explained by what we know is foolishness. This has led to the development of very concrete thinkers. Knowledge has become a power chip in our game of life. Knowledge, in and of itself, is not an issue. How we use knowledge and how we apply it to life can become a problem.

Paul is writing to the group of believers in Corinth, Greece in what we read today. Greece has long been considered to be one of the birthplaces of science and philosophy in the ancient world. The Greeks prided themselves on their knowledge. Often they considered other civilizations to be primitive and ignorant in comparison to themselves. Paul states that to many the actions connected with the cross were foolish. These people believed that Jesus dying on a cross served no purpose and was a waste. So here, Paul says that God has made them look foolish, not those who believed in Jesus’s saving actions on the cross. The wise, according to Paul, are the individuals who believed in and trusted the events of the cross. These can boast in the Lord who defined true wisdom.

Are you like the unbelievers in Corinth? What does the cross mean to you? Can knowledge and the cross beheld together in our grasp of wisdom?

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  – I Corinthians 2:2

Life Purpose

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Titus 3:1-8 (NIV)

There comes a point in everyone’s life when we try to understand what is our purpose. For some, there may be more than one point in life when this question surfaces. Seeking an answer to this question requires introspection, sometimes counseling, and research. Each of us have a drive for discovering our purpose. This drive is due to our desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. We desire to feel we have value in our work and actions.

The passage from Paul’s letter to Titus speaks of life purpose. Paul directs Titus to remind the people how they should interact with leaders and members of their community. Paul points toward a time when everyone’s behavior was unkind and destructive. Then God chose to introduce the Savior into the world. Through Jesus, a new way of living was made possible. This new way has provided the people with an opportunity to do what is good for everyone.

A purpose has been given to bring meaning into our lives. We have been saved from our destructive and self-centered ways of living. Christ has not only saved us from these behaviors but has presented us a pattern in which the purpose is doing good for the sake of others. We do good in response to being saved. Our life’s purpose is to do good. How we go about fulfilling that purpose is our true quest.

Communicating Love

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:11-12

How does someone communicate love to another person? The means of this communication is dependent upon the type of relationship which exists between the individuals. If the relationship is romantic in nature, the love will be communicated in physical ways, in gifts, in words, and in actions. A relationship which exists between co-workers or individuals who live next to each other lends itself to expressions of love in acts of helping and regular conversations. Expressions of love will vary along the spectrum between these two relationship descriptions. Another dynamic is the way love is communicated between strangers.

As we look at the assigned verses for today, it is clear that the Lord has an expectation that we will communicate love to others. The author of this letter states that we do this because God has loved us first. None of us have seen God but God is revealed to us when we love one another. This is not a physical revelation but a sense we have within ourselves as we express love.

Throughout Scripture, a clear insight into God is enveloped in the expression of love. From Deuteronomy when Moses says we are to love God and neighbor, to Jesus’s response to the question of the greatest commandment, to this passage found in a letter, love is how we are to understand God. God and love are synonymous.

We must find appropriate ways to communicate love to those in our lives. As we love others, we will come to understand God and God’s love more completely.

Radical Love

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

We are accustomed to living in situations where love is fragile and easily taken away. The type of love which we normally experience is dependent upon many factors. Human love requires fulfillment of a set of expectations. This love can be separated from us by outside influences. There is no guarantee in regard to the longevity of human love. However, there is a different form of love which is available to every person. A love which is not unpredictable, fragile, or dependent upon a list of qualifications.

The words found at the end of the eighth chapter in Romans gives insight into a special kind of love. Here is described a love found only with God. This love is immune to the influences of the world or powers which surround us. The immunity even extends to cover our own actions or inactions. It is a love which cannot be taken away by anything. This love surrounds us and is in us.  As the writer states, this love cannot be separated from us.

Because of our experience with love in our lives, we struggle to comprehend the type of love described here to the Romans. In our minds we attempt to find “the catch.” We tell ourselves that this love is not possible. We may even wait with expectation for the point where we will somehow be separated from this love.

The reality is that the words which we read here are the truest words which may ever have been said or written. The unique fact about God’s love as demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is that NOTHING can, or ever will, separate us from it. This love exists within the core of our being and surrounds us without any gaps. God will NEVER remove it from us.  It is a radical love.

Accept the truth of these words. Incorporate them into your life and the views which you have. Respond to them in a way which demonstrates your belief in them.

Comparison

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

Many individuals spend a large amount of time and energy comparing themselves to others. When a person engages in this type of activity, it results in one of two outcomes. The first possible outcome is the individual finds the self inadequate in the comparison. This can cause feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger. The second outcome could be the person feeling superior and judgmental towards others. Neither of these outcomes is beneficial. Only a comparison by a neutral party using measurable objectives has any benefit. The best way for a person to improve is by doing comparisons with self. Compare your actions, skills, and efforts today with how you performed the previous day, week, or month. Work for improvement in these comparisons.

In our reading today, Jesus encounters some people who have compared themselves with others and determined they were more righteous. Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector going to the temple to pray. The Pharisee compared himself to others and told God why his actions made him so much better than others. The tax collector humbles himself, acknowledges he is a sinner and seeks God’s mercy. Jesus says the humble one is justified before God.

We need to learn from Jesus’s lesson. First, we should avoid comparing ourselves with anyone else. We do not know another person’s life or spiritual journey. We know only what we perceive on the surface and what they choose to share with us. Second, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge we are unworthy to receive God’s forgiveness and grace but that is exactly what we need. If we spend any time and energy upon improving ourselves in our daily walk with the Lord instead of trying to be better than someone else, then we have learned from Jesus’s story.

Thankful Response

16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

Deuteronomy 6:16-25 (NIV)

It is customary that when a person receives a gift from another individual there is a response of gratitude expressed to the giver. Depending on the occasion and the type of gift, the response may be a verbal thank you. In other situations, the gratitude is expressed in written form. Other gifts can lead to acts done for the giver out of gratitude. Whichever form of response is chosen, the goal is to communicate that the original gift is appreciated and remembered.

The passage read for today finds its origin in events of the preparation by the Israelites to enter Canaan. Moses is giving the Israelites instructions in regard to their entrance into the land which God has promised them. He tells them not to test God but instead to follow the stipulations and decrees given to them. In doing so, Moses indicates they will prosper in the new land. He then says that when their children ask why they follow these items, they explain that it is in response to all the Lord has done and told them which allowed them to be in this new land.

Some say that the expression of gratitude has waned in the context of our current culture. There appears to be a prevailing attitude of entitlement. This passage is a reminder of the importance of expressing gratitude, especially to the Lord. Our expression should not solely be one of words but one of action. For the Israelites these active responses were found in following the decrees, stipulations and law. For us, Christ fulfilled all of these items on our behalf. Our grateful response is to what God has done for us through Jesus. Our expressions of thanks should be found in the ways in which we share God’s love with others. We remember how God’s love has been expressed to us and we do the same for others. Our acts of gratitude are not found in obedience to rules but instead found in the manner in which we live our lives and care for the needs of others.

Communicating A Message

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
    and he will be my Son”?

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

In speaking of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels spirits,
    and his servants flames of fire.”

But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
    by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

10 He also says,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.”

13 To which of the angels did God ever say,

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet”?

14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Hebrews 1:1-14 (NIV)

There are a variety of ways to communicate a message. The introduction of the internet, smart phones, and online meeting places have only multiplied the options. Throughout the course of my life I have seen significant changes in message delivery. As a child, the available options for an average person included letter writing sent through the postal service, phone calls on landlines, or face-to-face conversations. After graduation from college, the use of early design mobile phones began to add a new dimension to communicating a message. A few years later personal computers and the advent of the internet took us tremendous steps forward through AOL and Netscape Messenger. We then moved from mobile phones to cellular phones as the phone size decreased. Then an explosion occurred and the social media platforms opened hundreds of ways to communicate a message.

The delivery of a message is the subject of today’s reading. The message is coming from God to the people. At the start of this letter to the Hebrew people, the writer points out that the preferred method of communication God utilized was the prophets. But God has chosen to change the performed spokesperson to the Son. Through the Son, God has revealed God’s self to the people. The letter continues to give a description of the exalted Son who has communicated God’s most important message for the people, for us.

Here the actual message is not detailed. Instead we are pointed to the exalted Son, the Christ. As we look to Christ, we are drawn to examine his words and actions. In the midst of this examination, we discover the message. The message of love is what is presented to us. In Christ we see God’s love demonstrated through word and action. This love is for us from God, and this love is what we are to extend to God and one another. It is Christ who tells us that the greatest instruction is to love the Lord, our God. He then continues by saying the second greatest is to love our neighbor. The message which God gives through the Son is LOVE.