Posts Tagged Love

The Temple Pattern: Friendship Pt. 2

Last week I wrote a blog post about true friendship, what it means to be a friend Biblically, and whether or not Christians should be friends with non-Christians. I may have stirred up some contention in your minds, and I wanted to clarify what I meant when I said believers shouldn’t be friends with nonbelievers. This example that was given to me has been extremely helpful in understanding where people should stand in their intimacy with me.

First let me say that we live in a day where people and things are invading private space more than ever. Many marriages are breaking up because the children are put in the place of the spouse. Every relationship in our lives has its proper place. It’s when we mess with that pattern that our lives begin to crumble. I hope that this example can clarify some of these things for you, as they have for me.

When I first heard the example of relationships and the temple in Jerusalem, I did some research of my own. I was amazed as I saw how perfectly that design works with the way our lives ought to be:

The Outer Court – the Court of Gentiles

The first layer is where the Gentiles were allowed to enter and fellowship with the Jews. They were not allowed to go any further than that line. As the Jews were separated from the Gentiles, so we are called to be separate from the world. This does not mean that we are never to associate with non-Christians. Please don’t misunderstand me. Jesus ate with sinners, but for a purpose. Paul met and reasoned with sinners, but for a purpose. I think that purpose was two-fold, as exemplified in the temple and in 1 Peter 2:

“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

The Gentiles are to be brought in that they might, as in the temple, 1) behold the need for sacrifice and grace and 2) to behold the glory of God within. They are not to be intimate counselors, brought deeper into fellowship in their current state of unbelief; the tension is that we desire them to come in, but in full faith in God. I have seen the ill effects on a Christian when they only have non-Christian friends around them; it leads them to sin, conviction, and guilt, and their witness is tarnished.

The Inner Courts – The Courts of Women and Men

I found it quite interesting that the next court was particularly for the women, since I am a guy. Ladies, for you the next two sections will be the exact opposite. However, as I said before, we live in an age where relationships between men and women, particularly young men and women, are being corrupted. Why? I think it is because this wall of separation has been removed in the name of “equality”. Again, listen closely and don’t misinterpret me: all are in equal need of a Savior and stand in equal grace in Christ, no matter their gender; but in practically everything else, men and women are entirely unequal. Paul commands Timothy to treat “the younger [women] as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). Peter calls women “the weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7). Don’t take that as an insult; take it as a compliment. The best way I can think to explain is an analogy a friend of mine gave: men are like cast-iron kettle pots, made for sitting in the heat of the furnace, boiling and brewing and taking the hits; women are like fine china, to be handled with grace and care, to be treated in a refined manner.

As a man, I should never treat a lady like I treat my brothers in Christ. I am to care for my sisters as family, but with a particular tenderness; never flirtatious, never playful or rowdily. I should be open to them as family; but there are some things about me that no woman should ever know, save one (we’ll get to that later). Thus, though they are part of my family in Christ, they are not in the position my brothers are.

The Court of Priests (Family and Deeper Friendships)

As I said earlier, there are some things my sisters will never know about me; but even more there are some things that some brothers will never know that others do. The next chamber in is the Court of Priests. This place is reserved for those who are closest to me: my family, my band of brothers, and eventually, Lord willing, my children. These people have a deeper and more ready access to me than anyone in the previous courts. They know me better than anyone else, either because I’ve lived with them my whole life or because I have grown close to them over time.

Proverbs 17:17 says that “a brother is born for adversity.” Though I said in my last post on friendship that that verse could be retranslated, I love the idea that my older brother is given to me to be a help and a source of strength in time of need. God has given me these particular family members and these particularly deep friendships so that I might be encouraged, edified, and, if necessary, rebuked. When you let people deep into your life, and trust is built, they will likely see your flaws better than you do; thus, though it is true in all relationships, it is especially true in this one that we must be humble and submit ourselves to one another, that we may grow together.

The Holy of Holies – the Most Intimate Place

And now we come to the final chamber. For me, this chamber is currently empty, because it is reserved for one person alone. Of course, my greatest intimacy is to be with God; but in regards to human relationships, there is one person who should take the most intimate spot in my life: my wife. Ephesians 5 gives us a powerful example of what it means to be married, using Christ’s relationship to the church as an example. As a husband, I am to love her, give myself for her, sanctify her, cherish and nourish her. My relationship with her is to be the most intimate, the deepest relationship in my entire life. That’s why Charles Spurgeon called the Song of Solomon the holy of holies of the Bible. When this chamber is defiled by allowing the outside to influence it, that intimacy will be broken and harder to find.

Honestly, this theme of friendships and relationships could be (and has been turned into) a book. The purpose of this is to realign ourselves with God’s pattern, that He might be most glorified. When humanity fell, everything was broken by sin, rebellion, and selfishness. But God can, and has, reversed the effects of sin on the cross of Jesus Christ. He alone is the Friend who has loved so deeply that He gave His life, even to those who hated Him. Allow Him to build your life into His pattern; and if you do not know Him, then give your life to Him this day, for is not the Lamb that was slain worthy to receive the rewards of His sufferings?

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Of Hearts and Heroes

That delightful holiday, Valentine’s Day, is soon to arrive, and for some of you it may be an enchanting day where you get to spend time with a beloved, or, for those who have no such special friend, I hope it will be a time of remembering Christ’s love for the church. Whatever your feelings may be for Valentine’s Day – dread, joy, or bitterness – I hope you hear me out on the history of Valentine’s Day which, surprisingly, has little to do with romance. In doing this, I hope to remind you what our lives are really all about.

Valentine’s Day was set in our calendars back in 496 AD by Pope Gelasius I in honor of three saints named Valentine. All three are honored as martyrs, but it is primarily with Valentine of Rome, who lived around 270 AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius, that I am concerned with. Not much is known about him, and for this reason the Catholic Church has decided to remove the holiday from their religious festivals. However, we may perhaps truth in legends, for every tale has its origins in some fact.

As the story goes, Valentine was a Christian priest during the reign of Claudius who, like most Emperors before him, persecuted the church heavily. Many Christians were thrown into cruel prisons, where they were beaten, tortured, and left in poor conditions. Valentine had had enough, and began saving prisoners covertly. Another tale reports he was performing secret Christian marriages, though this may be an addition to add romance to Valentine’s history. Nonetheless, he was discovered by the Emperor and was immediately jailed for his faith. It is said that Valentine had an interview with Claudius himself, and he was asked what he thought of the Roman gods. I imagine him answering in this fashion:

“The gods of the Romans are indeed no gods, O Emperor, but are sticks and stones made by men’s hands. There is only one true God, the God of all the heavens and the earth and thou shalt be answerable to Him, O Emperor, for thy actions. Yet this God sent His Son to us as a sacrifice that we might be forgiven our misdeeds, and He alone is Lord of all the earth.”

It is also said that Claudius was impressed with Valentine’s speech, yet, angered that he was the one being proselytized and not Valentine, Claudius threw him into prison.

Yet he continued to minister, preaching to the guards in the prison. One guard, a good man, had adopted a blind girl as his daughter, and asked if perhaps God would have mercy on his daughter. Valentine prayed, and soon the blind girl could see. There was great rejoicing and glorification of God, and the guard and his family became Christians. Valentine found great joy, even in the deepest darkness.

Of course Claudius heard what had happened. It seemed this Valentine would not, for any price or penalty, cease speaking of this Jesus. Thus, Valentine was beheaded.

John 15: 13 reads, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  Valentine was willing to lay down his life for the cause of Christ, and, like Paul before him, became an “ambassador in bonds” (Eph. 6:20). He knew the immeasurable worth of Christ.

Unfortunately, much of Valentine’s Day is commercialization now; it’s all about chocolate, hearts, roses, and, as a friend of mine put it, “a short, chubby toddler coming at you with a weapon.” Alas, we are too prone to forget the important things and care too much about the trivial.

Valentine’s Day is a holiday about love. Love is not what the world would have us believe it is, though: a mushy feeling you get, like butterflies playing ping pong in your intestines, lightheadedness, and an irresistible force to be obeyed. 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Nothing about feelings here. Love is about sacrifice, and, primarily, selflessness.

True love was expressed for man upon the cross where Jesus died. Romans 5:8 reads, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” There was nothing we could do about our condition: we were entirely without hope, estranged from God with no bridge to get us back. Then Christ came and, offering His own life as the perfect sacrifice, gave Himself for our sins. “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

If you have someone you love this Valentine’s, rejoice in that, inasmuch as it is God given. But whether you do or do not, know that you shall not ever find fulfillment in any love save God’s, for He is the essence of love. Delight in Him, and you shall find a fountain overflowing that shall not run dry. In all things, pray to be more like St. Valentine, who gave his all for the gospel, and that Christ would be exalted in your life or your death, now and forevermore.

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A Hard Question: Should Christians be Friends with Unbelievers?

I realize that the content of this particular post may be confusing and easily misunderstood. Read through it fully before you come to any conclusions about what I am saying. For more on this theme, I wrote a follow up post that should clear up any misunderstandings. Blessings. 

This isn’t a hard question in the sense that it took me much time to mull over and find a good answer to. It’s a hard question because the answer I will give you will likely be different than the one you’re thinking I will give.

“Christians shouldn’t be friends with non-Christians.”

That was the statement my roommate at Ellerslie made once, and it stuck with me. Of course, at the time, I disagreed with him; how else is a Christian to impact the world aside from being friends with those in it? However, it recently came to mind again, and, after some study, I think I agree with him.

In our American society, we have defiled and degraded the real meaning of friendship. Pause a moment, and think about it: how many Facebook “friends” do you have? How many of those do you actually see on a regular basis? How many do you talk to outside of Facebook? Yet we still consider them our “friends” when, in reality, they’re practically strangers to us. Dr. Baarendse, one of my brother’s professors, said in an essay, “Facebook has inflated the definition of friendship and thus devalued it. A friend used to be solid currency you could bank on: David and Jonathan, John Newton and William Cowper, John and Abigail Adams, Lewis and Tolkien. Diana is Anne Shirley’s bosom friend; Hopeful comforts Christian in Doubting Castle and lifts his face above the icy waters of the Jordan. In Facebook’s world, friend has come to mean casual acquaintance.”

But what is a friend, and why was my roommate convinced that Christians should not be friends with unbelievers (this has nothing to do with who’s your “friend” on Facebook, by the way)? Looking into scripture, I found a much more powerful definition of what it means to be a friend.

Friends share intimate council with one another:

In Exodus 33:11, it says that “the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend.” Abraham is called “the friend of God”, not because God shared a meal with him, but because God shared intimate knowledge with Abraham, even giving Abraham an opportunity to object to God’s plans (Gen. 18:23-33). If a friend is one with whom we can share intimate council with and receive advice from them, that should not be an unbeliever, because their counsel wouldn’t come from God’s Word, but from their own ideas, which may not be right.

Friends love one another at all times:

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Some commentators have said that this verse could be translated in this fashion: “A friend loves at all times and becomes as a brother in adversity.” Proverbs 18:24 goes even further in saying that “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Through thick and thin, friends band together, as allies in war. We are in a war, between the powers of darkness and light. You want allies around you who will not draw you towards the enemy, but towards the King’s side; how can someone not on the King’s side help you do that?

Friends sharpen countenances:

The phrase, “Iron sharpens iron” is very well known, and comes from Proverbs 27:17, which states, “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” When two friends meet and talk, at the end of the night, they both ought to be better off than they were an hour before. This goes back to sharing intimate counsel with your friends. Whether it’s a discussion on scripture, or simply life issues, friends always strive to better the other where they are lacking. Tolkien and Lewis, who were good friends, critiqued one another on their books, essays, stories, and thoughts, and because of it, they were that much better. Some even speculate that the character Treebeard in Lord of the Rings is the way Tolkien pictured Lewis. As a question, if we are turning to unbelievers to sharpen us, particularly spiritually, the result will more than often be a dulling of the spirit. Unbelievers don’t think spiritually; how then can we expect them to refresh our spirits?

Friends are willing to say and do things that hurt the other:

Proverbs 27:6 tells us that, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” So often the enemy slays us spiritually with comfort and ease; but God pushes us onward with discomfort and hardship. I can attest to the fact that being rebuked by a friend hurts. You don’t want to be hurt, but in order to grow you know there must be pain. They sit you down, and say, “Listen we need to talk about something…” and then they proceed to tell you something you don’t want to hear. But it’s exactly what you need to hear. They are willing to tell you when you’ve messed up and when you need to fix something. Only a true friend will do that. Can you find that in the world, which so often laughs at our standards instead of reinforcing them?

Friends lay down their lives for each other:

Christ said to His disciples in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” It is one thing to call someone your friend; the ultimate test is when it comes down to your life or theirs. Paul tells us in Romans 5:7, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. (NIV)” It is a rare thing to find the type of man or woman who would literally give their lives that you might live. If you have such a friend, you are very blessed. Such a friend will stand beside you through thick and thin. Would a person, living in the world and in selfishness, be willing to do such a thing as that?

We have degraded friendship to mean something very small, when Scripture calls it something grand. I do not think a Christian should have an unbeliever in their intimate counsel, as those that help them along life’s way. Do not think that I am saying a Christian should never associate with unbelievers. That would be silly and erroneous. What I mean to ask you is, who is your intimate counsel? Who loves you at all times? Who sharpens your countenance? Who is willing to wound and rebuke you when necessary? Who is willing to lay down their life for yours? Are you that type of friend?

There truly is only one friend who can and will stand by you forever. Circumstances may separate you from your earthly friends; even if they are the type of man or woman as described above, there will come a day when you are all alone. What then? Who shall you stand by? The only Faithful Friend, Jesus Christ. He said that “Greater love has no man than this”; and He meant it, proved it by giving His own life that we may live eternally. When there are none to guide you, let Him be your Counselor. When there are none to love you, let Him show you His everlasting love. When there are none to purify you, let His consuming fire burn you. When there are none to rebuke you, let Him search you and try you. And know that He has laid down His life that you might live. Let Him be your Friend, First in your heart; He shall stick closer than a brother, forevermore.

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Obedience from the Heart

Since I’ve been at home, I’ve felt a little bit of stagnation in my spiritual life. Not too much, but enough to bother me. I thought nothing of it until it led me down a road towards compromise. It was then that I began to focus and see what the problem was.

I examined the way I was spending my time. I was praying in the mornings and reading the Word… what was the problem then?

Delight thyself also in the Lord…” – Psalms 37:4a

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” – Psalms 40:8

It was these two things that I realized I was not doing. Sure, I was doing all the right things, but the problem was that it was not my delight to do them. I would pray, sure… but after I had spent an extra 20, 30, 60 minutes in bed. I would read my Bible… but after I had gone for a run or checked my email or taken a shower. None of these things are intrinsically wrong. But I found that I had preferred other things over being in the presence of God.

My roommate at Ellerslie, Johnny, told me a story about his dad, and I found it quite profound.

Dad said, “Johnny, sit down, please.”

“No.”

“Johnny, sit down now.”

“Fine!” And Johnny reluctantly did what his father wanted. However, Johnny’s dad could see through the actions. “Johnny, you may be sitting down, but in your heart you’re still standing up. Obedience isn’t just doing something; it’s doing it with a good attitude.”

I saw that this is what I was doing in my own life, and it manifested itself with all my distractions. Whether it was sleeping, running, Facebooking, or emailing, I was finding my delight in things apart from my God and King.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 6, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

It’s almost a direct parallel with the verse in Psalms. When I looked at not only what I was doing, but why I was doing it, it was because I had delighted myself in things other than the Lord. So even when I was doing the right things in obedience, I wasn’t doing it out of love for my Jesus or as joyful worship; I was doing it, well, because I felt I had to.

As I was reading through Deuteronomy, I came across this verse (10:12-13):

“And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?”

God didn’t just desire the Israelites to do the things He had said. His desire was for them to love Him, and out of the increase of their love for Him obey all the words and keep them well. It’s just like what Jesus said about the greatest commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”(Matthew 22:37-40)

Without love for God, obedience isn’t worth very much. This was the lesson I learned, that if I wanted to find fulfillment in my prayer time, if I wanted to find satisfaction in the Word, than the thing I must do is delight myself in my God and King. For the pleasures of this earth are so vain, so empty, so worthless. But the pleasures, the life, the love, the joy that God offers to those who will delight themselves in Him is everlasting and richer than a river of gold.

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