How do you know for certain that you have fellowship with God? Too often, Christians are unsure about their salvation, but Jesus would have us know for certain our situation before the Father. In 1 John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” wrote to his “little children” concerning the plague of false prophets surrounding them. To give them confidence of their standing in Christ and warning against these false prophets, John gave them a series of “by this we know” statements to use as test of fellowship.
- We can know we “have come to know Him” by “keeping [Christ’s] commandments” (2:3).
- We can know that we abide in Him if we “walk in the same manner as He walked” (2:5-6).
- We can know that we have “passed from death to life” if we “love the brethren” (3:14).
- We can know what love is by witnessing how Jesus “laid down His life for us,” which teaches us to do the same (3:16; 4:9).
- We can know we are “of the truth” if we love, not only in word, “but in deed” (3:18-19).
- We can know that “He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” which, he tells us, is done by keeping His commandments (3:24).
- We can “know the Spirit of God” and if we are “of God” if we confess that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (4:2).
- We can “know the spirit of truth and error” and “know God” if we listen to the apostles teaching (4:6).
- We can “know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (4:13).
- We can “know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments” (5:2).
- We can know that we “have eternal life” by the apostles’ message (5:13).
The LORD called your name, “A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form...” (Jeremiah 11:16a)
God’s people are often compared to a tree in the Scriptures. The man who delights in God’s law is “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water” (Psa. 1:3). The souls that we win for God become themselves trees of life (Prov. 11:30). But not only are individuals likened to trees but the nation of Israel herself is like a tree also, just as in Jeremiah 11.
When Isaiah asked how long he was supposed to speak God’s message, the Lord replied, until “The LORD has removed men far away… Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, And it will again be subject to burning, Like a terebinth or an oak Whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump” (Isa. 6:11-13).
A pattern emerges from the OT Scriptures of God tending a beautiful tree or plant or vineyard (representing Israel) that ought to produce good fruit, yet over time, becomes corrupted. That plant must be either pruned, burned or cut off (God’s judgment on Israel). But consistently God keeps a remnant just like the tenth portion stump in Isaiah 6. There will always be a faithful few who continue to serve God when the rest of the nation has gone astray. Elijah thought he was the only prophet left of all Israel but God kept a remnant, 7,000 “that have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kgs. 19:18).
This is the point that Paul is making to the Roman Christians concerning the mysterious plan of God in uniting Jews and Gentiles in Romans 9-11. God knew that the Jews would not receive Christ, so these unbelieving branches were broken off the tree. Yet there would be a remnant of believing Jews, Paul being one of them. The breaking off of some "natural branches" (the unbelieving Jews) opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles, which Paul describes as "wild branches" that were grafted on to cultivated olive trees (Jews).
Through that Jewish lineage, the Seed of Abraham who is Jesus the Christ (Gal. 3:16) in whom rested the great promise of blessing to all peoples, would come at the "fullness of time." Jesus sprung up as a "tender shoot" (Isa. 53:2) from that faithful remnant of Israel bringing salvation to all nations through His suffering. Today, if we are to bear any fruit for God, Jesus says we must abide in Him, the true vine.
Paul's teaching in Romans 11, using the illustration of the olive tree of Israel, is to encourage us to be humble minded toward one another, persisting in our faith and zealous in our devotion to one another lest we be cut off from the root. Remember these principles when reading passages like Rom. 11, Jn. 15, Gal. 5, and the parables of the sower and of the tares in Matthew 13. Abide in the root of Jesus by faith and you will never be cut off. We see the proud being cut down in Isaiah's prophecy of the Christ in Isaiah 10:30-11:5 of the Christ to come:
Behold, the Lord, the God of hosts, will lop off the boughs with a terrible crash; Those also who are tall in stature will be cut down And those who are lofty will be abased. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe, And Lebanon will fall by the Mighty One.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
It's no surprise when John the Baptist, making straight the way of the Lord, said to those who trusted in their Abrahamic lineage for salvation, "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Mt. 3:10) So he says, "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" (v.8). Let us follow this powerful teaching so that we can remain in the love of God never to be cast away.
“But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim — for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”
When we think of jealousy, we generally think of its negative usage in the Bible. The Law against covetousness is meant to keep us from sin. However there is a positive usage as well. The Hebrew word for jealousy is akin to being zealous. Whether the term jealousy is applied negatively or positively depends on what we are zealous about. Our neighbor’s big house or God’s love? In Exodus 34, God is said to be so zealous for His people’s worship that He calls Himself Jealous.
James rebuked a group of Christians who were jealous for the wrong things, the things of this world, and asked them, “…do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” (4:4) He went on to summarize a teaching from the Old Testament in verse 5, “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?”” God has generously made His Spirit to dwell within us (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) but He yearns for continued ownership and control of that Spirit. How dare we, vessels of dishonor made honorable by our Potter so the Spirit could be housed within us, serve and worship anything other God? God is jealous for our sacrifice, our service, our love and our worship. Are you as jealous for God as He is jealous for you? Or, we might say, are you as zealous for God as He is for you?
Recall the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25. After the story of Balaam and Balak, when the Israelites were dwelling in Shittim, they became influenced by the Moabites and their idolatry. The Moabites invited God’s people to worship their gods and the Israelites agreed! They ate the food offered to their gods and bowed their heads in worship to them and the Scripture says, “So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel” (Num. 25:3).
This was exactly what God was trying to prevent His people from doing. Now His jealousy was stirred up and He instructed Moses to take drastic measures. All those who turned their back on God and went along with the Moabites to worship Ball of Peor were to be destroyed. As a consequence to this blatant idolatry God sent a plague among His people. Then, as God’s people were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting over this grievous sin and resultant plague, an Israelite named Zimri, boldly and in broad daylight, brought a Midianite woman into the camp of the Israelites for everyone to see.
This woman was of high rank (25:15) and her meeting with Zimri probably wasn’t coincidental. We get the impression that the women, the daughters of Moab and Midian, were used by their kings to entice the Israelites to serve their gods (Num. 31:16) and join them. This idolatry and the thousands of deaths by plague were all brought on by the foolish council and treacherous heart of Balaam (Num. 22).
So what were the Israelites to do when they saw Zimri bringing this idolatrous woman into their camp in the midst of all this turmoil? Phinehas, jealous for His God, ran them both through with a spear, thus ending the plague! Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sins of Israel.’” (Num. 25:10-13)
God doesn’t call upon us today to chuck spears at anyone who brings sin into God’s camp, however He does call for us to be zealous in His service and jealous for Him. What can we take away from such a dramatic story? The words of Jude 3-4 come to mind:
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt it necessary to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Like Zimri, there are those even today, who would bring evil practices into God’s encampment, the Church. We are called to contend for the faith and notice when God’s grace is being perverted. Like Phinehas, we need to be jealous for God and see those who, like Zimri, “for pay have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam” (Jd. 11), who care only for themselves (Jd. 12) and would overturn the faith of others. Yet we do not do this with spears but with the only weapon approved and powerful enough to destroy error, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). This sword must be handled rightly (2 Tim. 2:15) with gentleness, patience and respect (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:15). Are you jealous for God? Are you zealous for your own purity and the purity of Christ’s church? Then keep yourself in the love of God and snatch others from the fire! (Jd. 21, 23)
Husbands are called by God to be the head of their wife, “as Christ also is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). His role as head is to lead his wife and provide for her every need. One provision husbands often fall short of is providing for his wife’s emotional needs. You don’t have to be guided by the Spirit of God to understand that emotionally, a husband is wired differently than his wife.
Peter commands husbands to live with their wives “in an understanding way…” (1 Pet. 3:7). If a husband is devoted to understanding his wife better then he will continue to court her to find new ways of pleasing her. Living with our wives in an understanding way suggests we have a gentle and forgiving demeanor during a certain time each month. It means giving her attention throughout the day that isn’t merely sexual. James C. Dobson, in his book “Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives,” offers steadfast wisdom on this issue:
“For the man who appreciates the willingness of his wife to stand against the tide of public opinion—staying at home in her empty neighborhood in the exclusive company of jelly-faced toddlers and strong willed adolescents—it is about time you gave her some help. I’m not merely suggesting that you wash the dishes or sweep the floor. I’m referring to the provision of emotional support… of conversation… of making her feel like a lady… of building her ego… of giving her one day of recreation each week… of taking her out to dinner… of telling her that you love her. Without these armaments, she is left defenseless against the foes of the family—the foes of your family!” (pp. 102, 103)
God’s Son became flesh and dwelt among us in order to know us better, to sympathize with us so that He could become the compassionate High Priest He is. How far short we fall of His example! Marriages will thrive when the Biblical pattern is written on the hearts of husbands and wives.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul is teaching the Christians at Corinth that though they had an abundance of miraculous spiritual gifts, their use of those gifts was entirely perverted. The one thing they lacked was love and without love, Paul says, we are nothing and our efforts profit us nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). If love is missing in the church it doesn’t matter what other perceived good might be going on; in God’s eyes the group is failing their mission. Love is an absolute necessity if we want to be pleasing to God and behave as His children (1 Jn. 4:7-8).
Couched within that beautiful description of love, Paul says, “love… is not provoked” (1 Cor. 13:5). In some versions the word “provoked” is rendered “irritable” or, as the NIV puts it, “not easily angered” which does no harm to the text. The Greek word simply means to stir up sharply a man’s spirit, to sharpen or stimulate. When Paul was observing the rampant idolatry in Athens, Luke records for us that in a righteous stirring of anger, “his spirit was provoked within him” (Acts 17:16).
But how often do lesser things provoke the children of God? The Christian is to have control over his passions. He must never be that person in conversation that makes everyone else feel the need to walk on eggshells. Consider the politically correct society we live in. One can hardly speak his mind without the fear of offending someone else. If the world we live in is so intolerant of the views of others then what better way to shine our light than to allow the foolish words of the unrighteous to slide off our back?
It is in direct contradiction to Biblical love to be offended by every little thing that comes out of our neighbor’s mouth. In fact, love is patient and bears all things (1 Cor. 13:4, 7). That doesn’t mean that we allow the name of Jesus to be trampled upon by our neighbors without a word from us. However it does mean that petty foolishness and personal offenses should easily be let go. This also doesn’t give us license to say and do what we want without regard to another’s emotions. We are looking from the perspective of the offended, not the offender. We ought to strive never to be the offender but as far as it depends on us, “be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
3,000-year-old wisdom tells us, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11). Brethren, let us not be so easily offended. Let us grow thicker skin and let petty, personal offenses go, especially in matters of the local congregation.
This attitude will only help us in being more forgiving with each other. Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). What does Jesus say the Old Law depended on but to love God and love your neighbor for, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:38-40)?
Being easily irritated and provoked is the way of pride and division in the church. When we are stirred up by every little fault of our brother’s we are only displaying our incapacity to notice our own (Mt. 7:1-5). Being easily offended proves that we are incapable of controlling our own emotions and makes other people responsible for them. But love is not easily provoked. Church families that take this instruction to heart will stay together and grown in unity. Let our love for one another be genuine, our devotion to one another be unbroken and our honor to one another be unconquerable.
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).