JESUS THE “SECRET” TO VICTORY

Transformed Into His Image

Part Two   

       As the crucified Christ draws people to be saved and added to the church (Acts 2:36-38, 47), so also does His crucifixion mold Christians into His image (Gal. 2:20; 6:15). Transformation, based on proper motivation, is the key.

Primary Source Material

      With the one sufficient motivation understood, the actual nature of the transformation must then be completely and clearly seen. Here the Gospels are again of greatest value. Christ is the true hub of the Bible. Though it has been said among us that Acts chapter two is the hub, surely the Christ is of more significance than is the beginning date of the church—no Jesus, no church. Before Jesus came, all Scripture looked forward to Him. In His Incarnation, the focus of the Bible fell uniquely upon Him. Since His Ascension, all revelation looks back to Him.

     By considering the incarnation of Jesus, we have a unique opportunity to see the only perfect life ever to have graced the planet.  Seeing such perfection in action takes us where merely hearing about right and wrong cannot go. As has been observed, seeing a sermon has a power that goes beyond hearing one. No one else could have said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). Let us, therefore, take the advice of Phillip to Nathaniel and “come and see.”

The Model for Our Transformation

       What do we see? What principles do we see dominating the life of Jesus? What drove Him to be the man that He was? What aspects of His life might be referenced to best portray the essence of the Man?

     The starting place for our discovery must be the starting place honored by Jesus—the Father. He lived in submission to the Father in all things (Jn. 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10; Matt. 26:39). In other words, He perfectly followed the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36-38). Without either compromise or apology, He was the Father’s man.

     This naturally leads to the next most important concern for Jesus, those created in the Father’s image (Lk. 19:10). He was sent by the God for this very purpose (Jn. 3:16-17). As with the Great Commandment, so with the Second that was “like it,” Jesus perfectly lived a life of service to mankind. He came not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:25-28).

     But what does it look like when the two most important commandments are perfectly kept? Indeed it is in the “in fleshing” of truth (Jn. 1:14) that we see what has never been seen before or since. He got it right. He was the one and only perfectly balanced human being to ever live. We need to see this man in action!

It Looked Like This

     He chose fishermen, one was impetuous to a fault (Matt. 16:22-23), two were “sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17; Lk. 9:54-55). He called a tax collector (Matt. 9:9) to serve with a zealot (Matt. 10:4). Yet, He turned away a man who kept the commandments “from his youth up” (Mk. 10:20), and told “the teacher of Israel” that he must be born again (Jn. 3:3-5, 10). His greatest complements were for a Roman centurion (Matt. 8:10), an “insignificant” foreign woman (Matt. 15:21-28), a poor, unnoticed widow (Mk. 12:41-44), and an “unclean” woman (Matt. 9:19-22). His most pointed rebukes, however, were reserved for the religious leaders (Matt. 23:1-39), and people of power (Matt. 11:8; Lk. 16:19-31).

     He cared for those who received no attention (Jn. 5:1-9). He took notice of the unnoticed (Lk. 21:1-4). He had compassion for the harassed and downtrodden (Matt. 9:36-38). In this wonderful man’s life He rewrote the book on how others, not self, are to be the focus of service (Matt. 20:28).

      He preached what most felt should have been left unsaid (Matt. 15:12). He cleared out corruption that others fearfully chose to ignore (Jn. 2:14-17; Matt. 21:12-13). His pointed rhetoric laid bare the hearts of those who sought to please self rather than the Father (Jn. 5:39-44). He went where he wasn’t supposed to go, talked to those His culture said He should ignore, and brought salvation to those who others condescendingly rejected (Jn. 4:3-42).

     He offered no compromises with regard to the truth (Matt. 5:17-20), always requiring a recognition of the true intent of every command of God (Matt. 5:21-48). He resorted to Scripture to resist Satan (Matt. 4:1-11), correct His detractors (Mk. 12:24-27), and nurture His disciples (Matt. 13:1-58). And yet, while maintaining an unwavering loyalty to God’s word, He showed us the inescapable place of mercy (Matt. 9:10-13; 12:1-8). He used truth to afflict the comfortable (Matt. 23:1-39), and to comfort the afflicted (Matt. 11:28-30). In His singular example of how justice and mercy were to work together, His forgiveness was never separate from repentance (Jn. 8:1-11).

   In these qualities of Jesus that we have just recalled, we see real life. His ministry was no mere cardboard, one-dimensional checklist isolated from the challenges and struggles of life in the flesh (Heb. 4:14-16). No, Jesus was real. He was: completely knowledgeable, yet no mere academician (Matt. 7:28-29); uncompromising, but not unfeeling (Jn. 11:35); God, yet man (Jn. 1:1, 14).

     Therefore, our transformation must also be real. In this radical change we are not speaking of just being able to quote Scripture (Jn. 5:39). Similarly, our goal must never be concerned merely with being right (Matt. 23:1-7). Our transformation must be a complete package (Matt. 5:48). It is incompleteness, we must see, that causes people to misunderstand the nature of God (Matt. 9:13; 12:7); it is Christ-centered completeness that awakens us to a knowledge of the Father (Jn. 14:7-9).

A Biblical Imperative

     This transformation to Christ-likeness is no small thing. The Bible, therefore, places the concept on center stage. Christ-likeness is imperative! It is an absolute necessity because there is no better way to attend to the business of God than to address it in the spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9).  Consider, therefore, the following evidence to the importance of conformity to the image of Jesus:

     Paul reveals to the Roman church how God had purposed that a time would come when men and women would be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). The Scriptures, he wrote to the Corinthians, presented the very mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16), and, with a daily introspective walk, would transform a believer into the image of the Lord (II Cor. 3:18).

     To the Galatians Paul told how he had died to self that he might live to Christ (Gal. 2:20). He further pointed out the need for the Galatian Christians to follow his example and form Christ in themselves (Gal. 4:19). The Ephesian church received no less an emphasis as they were told that Christ needed to be formed in their hearts through faith (Eph. 3:16-17). They were to grow up completely in all that had to do with the Christ (Eph. 4:15).

     The Philippian brothers and sisters were admonished to have the mind of Christ in them. The Colossians were informed that Christ in the heart of a Christian was their hope of glory (Col. 1:27). For that reason, Paul labored and strove to present every convert complete in Christ (Col. 1:28-29).

     Simon Peter was, as we would expect, of one spirit with Paul in this critical point of inner transformation. He challenged all Christians to set apart Jesus as the Lord of their hearts and thus be able to offer a proper defense of their faith (I Pet. 3:15). Consider the transformation we would witness in the church today if every Christian were personally committed to Simon’s instructions.

   Additionally, John’s words about walking in the light are surely to be understood as a walk of transformation (I Jn. 1:7), as James’ teaching on receiving the word implanted are to be understood by the Christ-like implications they require (Jas. 1:21). Yes, New Covenant reverberates with the theme of Christ-like transformation!

Applications for Our Day

     What are we to do with this pervasive, vital teaching on transformation? How do we come to be known for our Christ-likeness and for the inevitable evangelistic zeal it will produce? What are practical steps we can begin to take to insure that this teaching that is so close to God’s heart will come to be a priority in our hearts?

     Transformation must be preached and taught. What we do not know, we cannot do. What we do not hold up in our words and deeds as being important, we will not succeed in passing on to others. From pulpits, to Bible classrooms, to our homes, to our schools,  and work places, conformity to Jesus must be seen as our uncompromised imperative. What we write, how we write, and the importance we attach to acquainting the world with what we have to say, these things will need to be revitalized. Could a transformed people behave any other way?

     Factual knowledge will be required if we are to succeed. But facts that do not lead to a transformed heart are but words that have not attained their God-given purpose (Rom. 2:17-29). There must be a hierarchy here; Jesus is to be the end or goal of our teaching (cf. Acts 2:22-38). Love for Him must compel us to live as He directs (II Cor. 5:14-15). The Jews knew facts; they did not understand that the facts spoke of Jesus (Jn. 5:39-47). We can go to heaven without knowing the length of Og’s bed; we cannot enter there without knowing the Christ (Jn. 17:3).

     Transformation is a restoration thing. We who teach others, are we teaching ourselves (Rom. 2:21a)? Will we restore church government, the forms for New Testament worship, the steps of faith leading to Christ, and yet not restore the imperative of transformation? Will we go out from our church buildings motivated   love of Christ, with Jesus sanctified in our hearts, ready, willing, and able to make our case for the Christ? Or will we just go back to the house?

JESUS, THE “SECRET” TO VICTORY

Transformed Into His Image

Part One

     God has made it all too clear that He wants lost people to be saved (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9). In similar clarity, God has spoken to the point of what He desires for those who respond to His offer of salvation—transformation into Christ-likeness (II Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29).  Yet, in our Father’s two most valued priorities has the church “set the woods on fire”? How about being known for being Christ-like? The world has not been turned upside down by our efforts—most of the world doesn’t even know what Christianity is really about.

     Nevertheless, as we consider the importance of being transformed into the image of Christ, our failings should not become an obsession. Kicking ourselves around will not get us where God wants us to go (cf. Josh. 7:10). Rather than dwelling on what we have not done well, we need to leave the past behind and press on to the goal (Phil. 3:13-14). If the church does choose t move forward, we will discover a vital, though commonly overlooked truth. The more effective we are at presenting people complete in Christ (Col. 1:28), the more successful we will be at bringing people to Christ. Transformation is the key to doing all things well.

     Nothing of true worth or quality is accomplished without having a sufficient motivation. The Bible is far from obscure in revealing what our motivation as Christians is to be—it is the love of Christ (II Cor. 5:14-15). Imagine that! Jesus is the motivation for Christ-ianity. Guilt, fear, manipulation, peer pressure, coercion, bribery, flattery, programs, novelties, personalities, traditions, showmanship, intimidation, and so much more have been tried and found wanting. It is Jesus who should to be our motivation. He said it Himself, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15, 23).

     Before transformation will come, however, motivation must be in place. We will not become like Christ unless we love Him above all else. So what will we do to cultivate this singular love? How will we develop a love for Jesus that will insure the transformation will take place? Again, the answer is not hidden in mystery; it is very easily discovered.

     Jesus said in John 12:32, “And if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” This crucifixion related truth (Jn. 12:33), is extremely important. Paul grabbed hold of this thought when he told the Corinthians, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). Many have died on crosses, but only one Christ died by crucifixion. It is “Him” crucified that draws men.

     But who is this Jesus? Where is the content that defines His uniqueness and causes His crucifixion to be a force that will draw sinners to love Him? Why is it He and He alone who can sufficiently captivate the heart? The answer is simple, though not at all simplistic. The Gospels are the primary source for seeing the character of the crucified Christ. The Gospels show us the One who faithful Israel longed to see as well as revealing to us the Savior all faithful Christians look back on in wonderment. If we do not “know” Him, we will find nothing of sufficient motivation to draw us to Him for our transformation. The biblical point of motivation thus turns on Christ and Him crucified (II Cor. 5:14-15).

PROVIDENCE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

Providence and the Working of God

What is providence? There is much debate these days about what it is, how it operates, and even with a few, if it exists at all. What are we to make of it? Is it still an active force in God’s dealings with His people? Are we to be deistic, having a God who has left the world to wind down as if it were a clock? Are we to be charismatic, embracing a God who continually reveals truth and works miracles? Or, regarding God’s work of providence is there a biblical middle ground allowing us to see God as one who actually works into the system, yet not so as to suspend the natural way of things?

To begin with, the Greek word for providence, pronoia, has in its various forms a basic meaning of “the foreknowledge that allows someone to make appropriate provisions.” While in biblical usage the actual word always refers to human foresight and planning (noun form: Acts 24:2; Rom. 13:14; verb form: Rom. 12:17; 2 Cor. 8:21; I Tim. 5:8), there is certainly an application of the content of the word to God’s “pro-visions.” His plan, after all, has not yet come to its conclusion. He has promised to be with us to the end of this world (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5b). At the very least, God would be expected to exercise a supervisory role over His Creation project. Any idea of disinterest is certainly ruled out by the cross (Jn. 3:16). Clearly, God has not abandoned what He gave so much to bring about (I Jn. 5:13-15).

Divine superintendence over the creation and assistance to His people are, therefore, a certainty in the Christian Era. This combination of management and aid is what we speak of when we apply the word providence to the work of God today. God’s foreknowledge allowed Him to provide for the needs of His great salvation project; His omnipresence allows Him to continue to do so. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28-30 put the matter in perspective; God is active in His creation in ways that are appropriate for His plan of salvation. He has provided within the context of the creation (Matt. 5:45) and He will provide as needed for the success of His kingdom (Eph. 3:20). This ongoing care refutes Deism’s “wind up the clock and leave it” notion, but this refutation does not therefore imply either the hyper-charismatic “find me a parking place, I’m in a hurry” triviality.

To clarify and put in perspective the relationship between the supernatural and the providential, a look at the work of the Holy Spirit is useful. The initial work of the Holy Spirit was to reveal and confirm the word (Jn. 14:26; 16:13-14; I Cor. 2:6-16; Heb. 2:3-4; Mk. 16:20). This work was to have a definite duration, a time of completion or perfection (I Cor. 13:8-13; Eph.4:11-16). The initial work of the Holy Spirit brought about “the faith,” the completed revelation from Christ as a “once for all” system of faith (Jude 3).

The initial work of the Spirit began on Pentecost. The giving of the Spirit had been promised by Jesus (Jn. 7:39; 14:26; 16:13-14). This promise was fulfilled (Acts 2:33; 2:1-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32). The Holy Spirit was given to believers (Acts 2:38; 5:32), Apostles first (Acts 1:1:26-2:4, 43). The miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit were administered by the Apostles (Acts 8:18; II Tim. 1:6; Rom. 1:11). The Apostolic Office served as foundational in the building up of the church (Eph. 2:20-22; cf. 4:11-12).

This miraculous era managed by Apostles came to an end (cf. I Cor. 13:8-10; Eph. 4:13), but the foundation of that age remains as the same foundation for the church today (Eph. 2:20-24; I Cor. 3:11). While the miraculous work was coming to a close (I Cor. 13:9-10), the abiding work of the fully revealed word (Eph. 4:13; Jn. 14:26; 16:13) began coming to the forefront (Jude 3). Confusion can be avoided by realizing that in the time the Bible was being written, both the initial and the abiding aspects of the Spirit’s work were going on at the same time.

The abiding work of the Holy Spirit is actually superior to the initial miraculous work of the early church. The temporary work of the Holy Spirit, because of its rather spectacular nature, has caused many to see that era as superior to our time. This cannot be so, however; the end result of the miraculous activity would of necessity be superior to the means used to achieve its goal (cf. Heb. 1-4).

Some have also thought that miracles are an abiding part of the Christian age. However, the Bible also disproves this, as do our own observations. What we see with our own eyes confirms that nothing purported to be going on today compares to the quality of the true biblical miracles of the first century. “Healings” are questionable and incomplete. No one today walks into a hospital and leads everyone out completely healed. People ravaged by cerebral palsy and quadriplegics with severed spinal cords are not “cured” by the so-called faith healers; the miraculous power of God, when it is truly applied, knows no such limitations (cf. Matt. 8:16; 9:35; 14:14; Mk. 6:33; Lk. 4:40; Acts 5:16). Those who profess to be led by the Spirit contradict each other and the Bible. Where, therefore, do we find truth?

Working on the implications of the conclusions just developed, we can begin to define the borders within which we are to find a present day definition for providence. We have seen that God working counter to or in suspension of the “natural” laws of the creation is not to be expected today—not because He cannot, but because He does not. We also see that God working within the nature of the system of creation is to be expected—not because He has limited power, but because He chooses to limit the expressions of His power (cf. Jn. 20:29; Heb. 11:1). The issue is not one of whether God works, but how He works.

Joseph is a wonderful ancient example of our developed understanding of contemporary providence. God was at work behind the scenes to bring Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel, to Egypt, even as had been predicted (Gen. 45:7; 50:15-21; cf. Gen. 15:12-16). Another instructive Old Covenant example can be seen in the book of Esther. The name of God is not found in the book, but God’s providential hand is present everywhere (Esth. 4:14). With Joseph and with Esther, God was at work to further His plan for the coming Christ. He did not work by suspending or overruling natural laws. He did, however, work.

The New Testament, as we would expect, adds clearer light toward developing a better understanding of the nature of providence. One example from John shows us that prayer is answered when it is in keeping with God’s will (Jn. 14:13; I Jn. 3:22; 5:14; cf. Eph. 3:20). God is therefore clearly active in the Messianic Age to advance His will. Christians can be assured that God is working behind the scenes to promote His cause. Prayers are answered. Help is given.

Additionally, intercession is provided by the Holy Spirit when we do not know how to articulate the thoughts of our heart. We need not worry, God understands (Rom. 8:26-27). We also see that the Father has managed and guided His plan and will continue to do so. All things work together for the sake of God’s plan of salvation (Rom. 8:28).

But how exactly does providence work? How does God do it? We do not know! We do, however, know that providence does work because God works it. While Scripture shows God’s contemporary work is not miraculous and that the time of miracles in the first-century served its purpose (I Cor. 13:8b-10; Eph. 4:11-13; Jn. 14:26), we can know with assurance that God has not ceased working for His people.

That brings us to one of the most interesting considerations associated with contemporary providence: we cannot know just exactly when it is dispensed. We might, due to its “within the system” nature, attribute its actions to natural phenomenon, or vice versa (cf. Jas. 5:16-18; Lk. 13:1-5). God uses His supernatural ability to effect what might otherwise be just natural occurrences. Not to worry though, our ignorance of the particulars need not bring us to dismay. As stated, we can know that God is at work (Heb. 13:5-6). Our God is alive, and He is the helper of all who serve Him! There will be no miraculous voices in the night, we will not walk on water or raise the dead, but God will be with us in our studies of His word and in all our work on His behalf. We will not experience Calvinistic enlightenment, but we will be benefited as we pray for understanding. We are not totally depraved, but we are all adversely affected by our sins and need all the help we can get to be the best that we can be. We must exercise personal responsibility (Jas. 2:14-26; II Tim. 2:15), but we are not alone (Matt. 28:20). God is with us!

JESUS AND EVANGELISM

Unhurried Urgency

            When we look at Jesus and see how He did evangelism, we cannot doubt the urgency He associated with the responsibility. However, at the same time, we must acknowledge that urgency looked different on Him than it often looks on us.  Many times when we do “urgent,” we come off looking panicked, running around in a frenzy trying to dart about in many different directions all at once. Jesus, on the other hand, does not appear harried or rushed, rather, He is always in control, never panicked.

            In fact, there are times when we would never classify His lifestyle as appearing to be driven by urgency.  He sleeps through a seemingly perfect one-on-one teaching opportunity while He and His disciples were alone on a boat (Matt. 8:23-27).  We might be prone to think “If He had crammed in just one more lesson maybe the disciples would not have been so confused about the kingdom.

            By way of appearance, doesn’t He spend way too much time eating meals with people when He could have using time more effectively (Matt 9:9-13, Luke 19:4-10)? You know what they say, “It’s hard to get any effective teaching done in groups.” Or, if it’s groups you want, what about the time when He delayed going to the Feast of Booths?  Those great crowds gathered for that particular feast only once a year. Wouldn’t it have been better to have arrived early and stayed late (John 7:2-9)?

            Jesus did, of course, know what He was doing. He just pursued urgency differently. He never missed an opportunity to tell people what they needed to know so they could take the next step on their eternal journey.  He invited the woman at the well, though He was tired and hungry (John 4:5-26).  He told Simon the Pharisee things he didn’t want to hear. He did this while reclining at the table, instead of waiting for a more socially acceptable moment (Luke 7:36-50).  He taught and fed 5000 after hearing His cousin John had been killed (Matt. 14:13-21).  He said and did what was needed when it was needed. He did not a frantically careening about trying to make up for lost time; He redeemed time.

            With this in mind let’s all commit to living our lives more urgently, truly making the most of every opportunity. If we will do this, when we get to heaven’s gates we will not be anxious about what we have left undone. However, we need “Jesus urgency.” We don’t need to be scurrying about, just consistently living the values and priorities of the Christ.

            “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity“ Col. 4:5).

LEADERSHIP IN THE JESUS’ STYLE

The Jesus Style of Leadership

Matthew 20:20-28

             There are few lessons Jesus taught that are of greater practical importance to His cause than His teaching about leadership. Leadership is without doubt vital to the success of God’s people. From the Old Covenant prophets (Jer. 3:15; 23:1-2), to Christ in His earthly ministry (Matt. 9:36-38), to the Church Age (Acts 20:28), serious attention is given to those who lead the people of God.

            Of all the passages that deal with leadership, perhaps the one that best captures the essence of the subject is Matthew 20:20-28. The context, the teaching, and the example of Christ all combine in these few verses to portray the heart of Christ-like leadership.

            The context of the passage finds James and John jockeying for position in the soon-to-come Messianic kingdom. They even got their mother involved in the maneuvering! Jesus made it very plain; however, that the kind of leadership they coveted was not suitable for His kingdom. What they wanted was the style practiced by the rulers of this world. Jesus wanted otherwise.

            Jesus’ admonition in these verses adds additional power to His rebuke of James and John. Earthly rulers are the ones who exploit their authority over others. Secular powerbrokers major on issuing commands that reflect their selfish, personal wishes. Jesus says that the self-centered, authoritarian way of the world is totally unacceptable among His people!

            Additionally, and most powerfully, the personal example of Jesus left no room for misunderstanding. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Greatness for the Christ came in the form of humble service. As Jesus saw it, being great meant being a slave. Therefore, those our Lord regards highest are those who become as slaves to others. If Jesus, God’s sinless Son, could be a servant-leader, how can we refuse to do otherwise?

            All too often, however, our models for leadership come from corporate America. The boardroom with its closed doors and political style of maneuvering has wielded more influence among us than we might care to admit. Jesus, in forming the church, created a spiritual family (Matt. 12:46-50; I Cor. 12:12, 14, 20). We have sometimes invented a military-like chain of command or corporate matrix. Therefore, personalized, servant leadership in a family setting is, at times, replaced by a detached, cloistered group of decision makers.

            Even well intending men can all too easily find themselves molded by the world rather than being transformed by the Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). Projects become more important than people, points of an agenda get more attention than the needs of the flock, and schedules interfere with immediate shepherding needs. Such a situation can also bring about a strong temptation to serve for the personal pride of holding a position rather than to humbly serve the cause of Jesus.

            The cure is found in the Jesus Model. Unlike the many secular based rivals, it is the only one that insures that kingdom business will be properly addressed. The rule exercised by God’s leaders has nothing whatsoever to do with personal preferences and everything to do with the mind of Christ (I Cor. 10:16). Servant/slave leadership destroys convenience, pride, prejudice, and politics as prime movers and establishes sacrifice, humility, fairness, and biblical principles to rule in the church. Indeed, only the Christ-given model can ever succeed in a spiritual kingdom. As with all things, let us look to God rather than to the world as our example for acceptable, productive leadership. Remember, brothers and sisters, among us the Christ rules!

TEACHING LIKE JESUS, PART FIVE

JESUS TAUGHT TO CULTIVATE A RELATIONSHIP

OF LOVE BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HIS DISCIPLES

                        Depending on whether you use a KJV or NKJV as your basic study text or you use a translation based on an eclectic Greek text such as the ASV or NASB, you will get the principle first in either John 14:15 or John 14:23.  Either way, the key to success in the teaching process, viewed as a whole, is easy to grasp, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

                        In the church, we often fret and fuss over failures and unsuccessful ventures.  We wonder what to do? We try different programs and methods that only frustrate us.  We have long lists of “things” to try, but these things seem to give only fleeting results at best.  What is missing?

                        The answer is simple – we fail due to a lack of love.  That doesn’t mean there is a total lack of love, just that there is an insufficient amount necessary for the challenge at hand.  This principle has gigantic implications that should forever change the way we commonly teach.  If we really want to be successful, we need to first focus on growing in our love for Jesus.  To the extent that we love Him, we serve Him and serve Him well.

                        A conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter in John 21:15-19 is instructive at this point.  Prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, Jesus had told Peter he would deny Him, which, as we know, Peter said he would not do (Mk. 14:27-31; Lk. 22:31-34).  The conversation at the end of John’s gospel draws from that previous exchange between Peter and Christ.

                        In the passage from John, there is an interesting twist in the Greek text.  The back and forth between Jesus and Simon employs the word “love” six times, three by Jesus, three by Simon.  It goes like this:  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  Do you love Me?  Yes, I love You.  The curious feature, unrevealed in our English Bibles, is that “love” is not always translated from the same Greek word.  In order of appearance from the Greek text, it goes like this:  First exchange – agapao/phileo; second exchange – agapao/phileo; third exchange – phileo/phileo.

                        Two principal views are advanced to explain this peculiarity.  Some feel it is merely a stylistic characteristic common to John. He often uses two different words to mean the same thing.  The other main line of interpretation believes there is more to be made of the words chosen than just John’s writing style. I side with the latter.

                        While it is true John does, at times, use words with double meanings and either meaning can fit, or use different words to mean the same thing – this looks different to me.  The a/b, a/b, b/b rhythm is unbalanced, it is not uniform.  Those who read the gospel in Greek would have readily noticed the obvious difference at the point of the third exchange.

                        Here’s what I make of it.  Remember the pre-crucifixion conversation where Peter pledged not to deny the Lord, only to deny Him three times. The later conversation in John seems to draw a direct connection as Jesus asks Peter for a threefold affirmation.  Additionally, although agapao and phileo can be used interchangeably, and John does this on occasion (cf. Jn. 3:35 and 5:20; 11:5 and 11:36), the words possess a degree contrast. Unlike the common view that phileo is purely emotional and agape involves only dogged determination, the differences are not always so stark (note I Cor. 13:4-8a where agapao is shown to have quite a bit of emotional content).

                        Although the two words have overlap, there is also the possibility of contrast.  Phileo may have a stronger emotional emphasis; it does not have as strong a mental toughness as agapao might express.  The point of the Holy Spirit using the different words, I believe, was Simon’s need for both a stronger and a different sort of love.

                        Jesus deals with Peter’s need in a very realistic and helpful manner, though the process is a difficult one for Simon.  First, Jesus gives him a reality check so He and Simon can move forward in keeping with the realistic nature of their relationship.  In short, Simon did not have as strong a love as he had previously professed.  In order to grow, Simon needed to begin where he was in his commitment to Jesus.  The third exchange in John 21:15-17 highlights this reality check.

                        In the third question and answer phase of the conversation, Peter is not, as I understand it, upset because Jesus asks him a third time if he loves Him.  In other words, the number of times the question was asked is not the issue.  I am convinced the matter striking Simon in the third exchange is that Jesus questions if Peter actually possessed phileo love.  Thus, I believe Peter’s third response finds him smarting because Jesus now asks him if he truly does have even the lower level of love represented by the word phileo.

                        Peter’s third response virtually cries out, “You know all things; you know I don’t have the agapao level of love I professed, but you do know I have phileo love for you.” At this sobering moment, I believe a needed reality was achieved!

                        Yes, Peter had a strong love for Jesus. I believe he would have died for Him without hesitation, if he could have done it his way (cf. Jn. 18:10). Phileo, however, has its limitations. Agapao has an expression exceeding that of phileo; agapao can act when everything else, including phileo, gives up and runs away. Peter needed growth in his love for Jesus. He would later experience that growth in his love (Jn. 21:18), but it needed additional development. Jesus was willing to take Peter where he was and move on to better days. He is willing and eager to do the same with us.

                        My point is this, if we are going to move forward with our Christ-likeness, we must have a sufficiently strong love – otherwise our progress will be slowed.  Therefore, Jesus developed relationships with people so their love for Him could increase the quality of both their character and their service.  We should honor this vital factor and give a strong priority to cultivating an ever-growing love for Jesus in ourselves and in those we teach.

                        How will we do this?  Remember how we previously observed there was a message in how God determined that the four Gospels would fill about 50% of the New Testament. A light bulb of discovery should be turning on at this point. Jesus living among us in the flesh is without doubt the most pointed focus of the New Testament. This “in the flesh” view of the Christ is fundamental to all that follows in the church (cf. Jn. 1:14, 18; 14:8-9).

                        We have at times heard among that Acts 2 and the beginning of the church is the “hub” of the Bible.  It may be “a” hub, but it is not “the” hub.  Jesus, the builder, founder, and anchor of all that pertains to the church is the undisputed, unrivaled, unchallenged “hub” of the Bible. Our love and loyalty to Jesus is what establishes our love and loyalty to His church, not the other way around.

                        I have considerable passion for this point, but you can easily see the reason for the passion.  All loves are secondary to our love for God. In the Christian Age, this love focuses on the Christ (cf. Jn.16:13-16).

                        Therefore, let’s reflect on a pivotal passage in the Epistles to reinforce even further the critical nature of our point about loving Jesus.  Our text is II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their ¬¬¬¬behalf (NASB).”  The point is hard to miss isn’t it?

                        Now, back to our point relating to extremely high percentage of New Covenant content taken up by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Here we see Jesus in action in the best object lesson God could ever give – God in the flesh (Jn. 2:14; 14:7-9).  We get a sense of who God is and what that means for our life in this incarnated opportunity that surpasses all other learning experiences.

                        As we see Jesus in action, if we have any ability at all to appreciate and love God, this will arrest our hearts.  His courage, compassion, brilliance, commitment, devotion, energy, ingenuity, wisdom, zeal and love make Him the Man among men.  Jesus is unlike any person who has ever lived.  If we cannot love Him, how could we ever love anything?  We will be drawn to Him in shameless adoration, unless selfishness and pride are allowed to rule (cf. Lk. 7:36-50).

                        Moreover, the clincher is this; this God/Man died for us!  While we were sinners, He died for us (Rom. 5:6-8)!  He is the greatest gift of love that ever could be given (Jn. 12:32-33)!

                        The Gospels are indeed foundational.  Some have shortchanged this truth; others have distorted it to undermine the presence of the mind of Christ in the Epistles. The fact, however, remains — the Gospels are fundamental.  Apart from the Christ presented in the Gospels, there is no reason to move any further with the New Covenant.  Because of Jesus, however, there is every reason to grow in our love and our service to the Christ.

                        Yes, to grow in love for Jesus is truly the key.  Even as a devoted mother would suffer great injury, even death, without thinking of abandoning her child, so a devoted love for Jesus will not think of abandoning Him!  Much more than not abandoning Him, however, we will imitate Him without embarrassment, even as a child imitates a beloved parent.

                        Teaching begins with love; the love Jesus has for us and the love we have for Him. Apart from the motivation of love, we will fail.  The lesson is unavoidable; we need to employ as a first priority the development of relationships of love between Jesus and all of humanity. Our teaching must seek this high standard.

SUMMATION AND CONCLUSION

                        JESUS is preeminent. The “Jesus First” principle of always looking first to Him is non-negotiable. His character was the basis for His success as a teacher. From His God-like nature He successfully employed a variety of real-world discovery methods to engage the true searchers in a great adventure of personal growth. As the greatest, most giving person who ever lived, He draws us to love Him with a love exceeding all others. With the love of Christ in our hearts we are motivated to serve Him with the best we possess. As we teach, let us remember these things. May we use our knowledge to grow in the Lord and help others to do likewise.

Teaching Like Jesus, Part Four

PARTICIPATION AS A FACTOR IN CHRIST-LIKENESS

                        One other needful thing Jesus put into the character development mix was the active participation of His learners.  We touched on this earlier when we noted discovery learning requires a learner to participate mentally in the learning process.  In addition to using our brains, Jesus wants us to use what we discover and apply it to life – practice makes perfect.

                        Some “for instances” are in order.  If we are to get the most out of our teaching opportunities, those opportunities need to be seen as part of a bigger whole.  Since we are talking about character development, instruction alone is not enough.  Christ-like maturity isn’t like memorizing state capitals for a History test.  If teaching is to lead to character development, we need mental participation to make discoveries using the facts we have taken in, but we also need to apply and practice our discoveries (Heb. 5:14).

                        Notice how Jesus expected people to do something with what He taught them.  Preceding the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told the inquiring lawyer regarding the two greatest commandments, “…do this and you will live” (Lk. 10:28).  After the story, He said, “Go and do the same” (Lk. 10:37).  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the folly of merely saying “Lord, Lord” and of the wisdom involved when we both hear and do (Matt. 7:21-27).  He pointedly asked why people would talk the talk without walking the walk (Matt. 23:3; Lk. 6:46). Jesus wanted action.

                        Therefore, it would seem we need to include “doing” in our teaching ministry.  When children are involved we need partnerships with the home that will be something more than just grudgingly filling in the blanks of a workbook.  We need real-world deeds to do.  Families making commitments to be collectively involved in serving others would be a good way to address this need.  Personal responsibilities for individual students, supported, facilitated, and encouraged by parents would also foster character development.

                        Similarly, adults could work with their mates, or with their Bible class, or with smaller groups, or in private life to put into practice what they are discovering or what they already know.  The things we know factually come to be better understood and appreciated when we use our knowledge in practical ways (Heb. 5:14).

                        A congregational-wide commitment can also be developed with encouragement given to all members to participate (Eph. 4:16).  We are, after all, a body – each of us has something to do as we work together as a family (I Cor. 12:12-27).  Also, let us remember, Jesus is not a subscriber to the 80/20 principle where 80% of the work is done by 20% of the membership.  If the Holy Spirit endorsed that minimalist concept, I Corinthians 12:12-27 would never have been written!

                        Our journey of discovery has covered a considerable distance. We have observed several vital truths. Jesus taught from within Himself to address effectively the real world He faced.  In so doing, He most commonly used discovery-learning strategies to facilitate character development.  In this, He not only wanted mental participation, He wanted people to practice what He preached.  Education needs to honor these principles.  With everything thus far presented in mind, we are ready for the vital missing ingredient – the secret to 100% success every time!