Feigned Words

False teachers have an agenda: to benefit themselves through religion. (Ro 16:18) They may be covetous (1Pe 2:3), looking for an easy living, or seeking prestige, respect and admiration (3Jn 1:9); generally, it’s both. Whereever Christianity abounds we’re sure to find impostors. (Ac 20:29) How do we identify them?

One easy litmus test is to listen as if we’re one-on-one and they’re speaking to us as an individual, by name. Do their words make us feel uneasy, pressured or manipulated? Are they speaking down to us? Or are they preaching to someone they love and honor? (1Pe 2:7a)

If it’s the former, the teaching springs from corruption, not the love of Christ, friend to friend. (Jn 15:15) These are feigned words: crafted, fabricated and engineered to impress and/or manipulate. (1Pe 2:3) They wound our souls in ways that are difficult to perceive, whereas the tongue of the wise heals and edifies. (Pr 12:18)

Pastors may not realize they’re doing this, trained to speak to no one in particular and everyone in general, in superficial, elevated, arrogant or even condescending tones. So what if they’re speaking truth, and very helpful truth: this is expected from false teachers (2Co 11:15); if they were always lying and deceiving, we’d dismiss them much more readily. Yet it’s as they model ungodly behavior that they do the most harm (1Co 15:33), enticing others to emulate them. (1Pe 5:3) An insincere, unhealthy spirit inevitably corrupts the divine message. (2Co 2:17)

We may indeed train ourselves to listen to disconnected, inauthentic speech in a disconnected, inauthentic manner, as if these sermons are directed at others; we may enjoy the beat down even if it would be harmful and offensive if delivered in person, solely at ourselves. Agreeing with such corruption pollutes our own spirit, feeding our religious pride and deepening our bondage. (2Ti 3:13)

It should not surprise us then to find that in public speech the Apostle Paul deliberately presented himself in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. (1Co 2:3) He was earnestly trying to avoid impressing or controlling anyone (4); he wasn’t promoting Paul, trying to please men (Ga 1:10) – he was uplifting Christ that all might know and love Him more. (1Co 2:2)

If a pastor or a teacher desires to be respected and admired (Ga 5:26), above a common brother (Mt 23:8), this will inevitably bleed through in his teaching, exalting himself, putting down others and poisoning the flock. (2Co 11:20) This isn’t love (1Co 13:4-5), so it’s worthless. (1Co 13:2) Only men of godly character qualify as church leaders (1Ti 3:2-3), and they must have the kind of extensive life experience that keeps men humble in praise. (1Ti 3:6)

When someone’s genuinely trying to help from a place of humility, to edify by proclaiming truth, they may address difficult topics (1Ti 4:2), but they won’t strive (2Ti 2:24), they’ll be meek and gentle (1Th 2:7) like Christ (2Co 10:1); their message won’t be condescending, patronizing or offensive, even if we’re the only one present and the speaker’s addressing us personally by name: love works no ill to anyone. (Ro 13:10)

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The Scornful

Scorn is a word indicating lack of respect, or contempt for another, to find someone unworthy of proper consideration. It’s often expressed through laughter or ridicule at another’s behavior (Mt 9:24), as if what someone says or does makes them less valuable to God.

God Himself scorns the scornful  (Pr 3:34), those who fail to esteem others better than themselves (Php 2:3), walking in pride. (Ps 123:4)

We may find others in error without feeling scorn by recognizing that if it weren’t for God’s grace of in our lives (1Co 15:10) we’d likely be doing worse. (1Co 4:7) Grief is the appropriate reaction in the face of evil (Php 3:18), not disdain.

We’re to honor all people (1Pe 2:7), praying for and thanking God for everyone. (1Ti 2:1) Of course, some deserve more honor than others (Ps 15:4a), but we shouldn’t disrespect anyone, even in our hearts. It’s the way of the blessed. (Ps 1:1)

Each and every person is deeply precious to God; He’s handcrafted each soul uniquely (Ps 119:73) in His image, for His own pleasure and purpose. (Pr 16:4) It matters not what they’ve done: He’s willing to become sin for them. (2Pe 3:9) If we don’t love those we can see, who are the special handiwork of God, how then can we say we love their Creator? (1Jn 4:20)

So, when we find ourselves laughing at someone in contempt, the joke’s on us: the enemy has leveraged another’s fault to take us down again. This is war; when we’re laughing at sin and brokenness, there’s no victory. God chooses who to restrain from evil and when. (Ro 1:24) If He’s mercifully kept us from certain types of sin and let others go their way (Ro 9:16), we’ve nothing to glory in. (1Co 1:29-31)

Think of every single soul as family, brothers and sisters, relatives; we’re members one of another (Ep 4:25), all of the same blood (Ac 17:26), all part of the human race.

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Puffed Up

How do I feel when I find myself in the right and others in the wrong, or in the know when others are ignorant? Do I feel superior, more important, more significant, more valued? Do I tend to get puffed up in my knowledge? (1Co 8:1b) This isn’t love (1Co 13:4); it’s rooted in pride, and tends toward alienation and division.

How does knowing more than others make me better? Why should this move God to love or value me more? It doesn’t; God loves each of us infinitely, because He’s made us each in His image: His love is truly unconditional. (Jn 3:16) I can’t do or be anything to get God to love or value me any more or less.

Yet false religion tries to use spirituality to make itself look better than others (Mt 23:5), to exalt itself (Lk 18:11) because it isn’t grounded in the love of God. (Ep 3:17-19) At it’s core, this is ugly and uninviting, and I think we all know it.

Love is concerned for others who are misinformed, deceived, carnal (Php 3:18) and disobedient (Ps 119:136); Love esteems other better than itself and humbly seeks to help. (2Ti 2:25) This is pure religion (Ja 1:28): without love, I am nothing. (1Co 13:2)

The love of God equalizes everyone, levels the playing field, so to speak. We all have the same invitation to come (Re 22:17), to be as close to God as we like, to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4) and joy in Him. (1Pe 1:8) What we do with this amazing invitation, how we employ our skills, abilities and resources in going after God, is what defines success. (Mt 25:21)

As we pursue God we’ll come to know Him better (Php 3:8) and understand more of His Way. (He 11:6) We should be deeply thankful for such a precious privilege to know and walk with the living God (1Jn 1:3-4); it shouldn’t make us feel better about ourselves (Ep 3:8), or move us to devalue those who don’t get it.

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I Will Exalt My Throne

Satan fell the instant he decided he didn’t need God, that he was sufficient in himself without God, that he was free to displace God and treat himself as if he was God. (Is 14:13) He’s been God’s enemy ever since.

Eve fell similarly, as she preferred being like God to being with God, discerning right and wrong for herself (Ge 3:6), knowing good and evil. (Ge 3:22)

The tragic Fall of Man, bringing ruin and misery upon the entire human race, was a single, simple step away from God, breaking a dietary law, the least of His commandments. (Ja 2:10) What seemed so small a step for man was in fact an infinite leap for all mankind; no willful sin is little.

The Fall continues in us whenever we doubt the goodness of God, or question His justice: we’re essentially presuming we know better than God. Our bitterness, discontent and resentment testify that we’d rather be in charge, that we’d be doing a better job than God in avenging evil and rewarding good. (Ps 119:75)

Similarly, whenever we sin willfully we’re putting our own will first, displacing God’s, putting ourselves in the epicenter of the universe and dishonoring Him. (He 10:26-27)

Put very simply, in every sense that we’re feeling independent of God, that we don’t need Him, that we can do without Him, live apart from Him … as we ignore and neglect Him … this is the pride of life, the very heart of wickedness. (1Jn 2:16)

These are the many shades of pride, self-exaltation exuding from the heart, spilling out continually on every side. The careless, carnal mind, that isn’t continually abiding in thankful, reverent fear, joying in God, and cares not for this, reveals a child of the wicked one, in and through whom the devil freely lives. (Ep 2:2)

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The Judgment of God

God commands us to love our enemies, to do good to them that hate us, and to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us. (Mt_5:44) This is so unnatural for most of us it’s almost scary; we deeply struggle to seek the best for those who’re harming us. Is this because we’re afraid justice won’t be honored? Let’s see.

Think of such a person, someone who’s done you much evil (2Ti 4:14), someone you have a difficult time loving, helping and serving. Are you wishing them the best, and acting accordingly? Does the thought of them being blessed and doing well threaten you and make you uneasy?

Now, imagine they have a new form of cancer, and they’re clueless about it. In a few days the disease will begin attacking their central nervous system, compromising all voluntary movement and causing intense pain. The pain will continually increase while their ability to move and respond diminishes. Conscious, yet completely immobilized, they’ll spend the rest of their lives in the most extreme suffering imaginable.

If it’s any easier now to serve and bless and pray for them sincerely, the cause is unbelief. If we don’t believe justice will prevail, in the perfect time and in the perfect way, we don’t trust in the ultimate goodness of God, and it will be difficult for us to love as He has commanded.

Our intrinsic desire for justice is good; we’re all made in God’s image. God is just, and we instinctively align with Him in calling for wrongs to be made right. But God forbids us to retaliate: vengeance belongs to Him (He 10:30) since all sin is primarily against Him. (Ps 51:4)

If we think we know better than God how and when to apply justice, that we’re somehow thwarting justice in loving the wicked, it’s because we don’t know the end of the story, how God’s going to right all wrongs perfectly, in the perfect way at the perfect time, in spite of the fact that we’re blessing our enemies. (Pr 16:4)

Neglecting to love our enemies, to seek their welfare as appropriate (Pr 25:21), is actually being passive aggressive (Pr 24:17-18); it’s withholding proper good from them to try to force God to judge them (Pr 3:27), according to our own purpose and timing rather than His. It’s seeking a sort of back-handed vengeance, denying God what’s rightfully His.

To overcome this we must be convinced that the judgement of God is according to truth in dealing with every single sin that’s ever been committed by anyone. (Ro 2:2) All sin will be perfectly accounted for and dealt with, completely and ultimately and finally. (Ge 18:25) The truth is that God will be much more severe in His response to sin than we can possibly imagine. The worst tortures human beings can devise pale in comparison. (Mt 10:28) It’s only as we’re armed with this knowledge that we will be empowered to love our enemies as God has commanded us to.

But what if we perceive our enemies to be believers, justified by the death of Christ such that they’ll get a free pass, Christ becoming their sin and taking their due punishment, setting them free? The problem with this concern is that it’s unfounded: every believer in Jesus Christ both loves Him (1Co 16:22), and also loves all those that belong to Him. (1Jn 5:1) Deceived believers who willfuly harm us will be fully dealt with in this life – no exceptions. (1Pe 4:17) No one gets away with anything. (1Co 11:32)

When we’re struggling with loving our enemies, we must keep the end in mind, the goal, trusting in the ultimate love and justice of God. While keeping healthy boundaries and protecting ourselves, there’s no room for malice; we must benevolently pursue the ultimate welfare of those who hate us, and leave the outcome to God. He must let His enemies act like enemies in order to reveal Himself and them. (Ec 8:11) In the end, He will be glorified in every single event that has ever transpired. (Ro 11:36); For those of us who love Him, this is enough (Ro 8:36-37); He’s working it all out for our good according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28)

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