THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – LOVE (3)

Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

“But earnestly desire the best [greater] gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” [1 Cor 12:31]

There had been some serious issues and excess in the Corinthian Church concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They had been misused, and some people were even forbidding others to use the gifts of the Spirit. People were judging one another and suggesting that those who were not exercising certain gifts of the Spirit were not spiritually minded. The whole matter was causing disunity in the Church. Against this background Paul wrote chapters 12-14 of his first letter to the Corinthians to correct them. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and emphasises strongly the importance of unity in the Body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul continues to teach the Corinthian Church about the gifts, and in particular, prophecy and tongues.

Sandwiched between these two chapters is one of the most remarkable chapters of the Bible and it is all about love. The gifts of the Spirit had become a divisive issue and the answer is love! In no way does Paul decry or put down the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and actually says that we should seek after and earnestly desire spiritual gifts [1 Corinthians 12:31a; 14:1]. Having said that, Paul continues by saying that he will show them a more excellent way [12:31b]. That way is love.

It is a more excellent way of living, and as we shall see tomorrow, without love the gifts of the Holy Spirit have no value. Jesus spoke about people who prophesied, cast out demons and did many signs and wonders, but he never knew them [Matthew 7:21-23]. Love, not signs and wonders, is the evidence of new birth [1 John 47]. God is love, and so to live a godly life means to live a life of sacrificial, self-denying, unconditional love.

Love is not only a more excellent way living but also of judging spirituality. Jesus made it very clear that we will recognise false prophets by their fruit. We should never judge a person’s spirituality by their gifts but rather by the fruit of their life, that is their character.

Questions:

What clear statements does Paul make about the Body of Christ in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians?

Read Romans 16:17 and Jude 16-19. What do the writers say about those people who cause division in the Body of Christ?

Why is it important that we don’t make spiritual gifts the criteria for judging a person’s spiritual life?

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – LOVE (2)

Bible Reading: John 12:9-17; Matthew 5:43-48

Love is the first of the aspects of the fruit of Holy Spirit, and comes first for the obvious reason that patience, kindness, self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, joy, peace and goodness are not only aspects of the fruit of the Spirit but also are evidences of love. Love is the greatest and its outworking is see in these other fruits.

Love is so difficult to define because the devil has done all he can to distort its meaning. The devil hates love because God is love! Words that perhaps best sum up love are selflessness, sacrifice, care, and courage. One of the most beautiful expressions of this is found in David Ireland’s book, Letters to an Unborn Child. David Ireland was dying of a crippling neurological disease. His wife was pregnant and he knew that he would probably never see the child. In one of his letters to his unborn child he wrote:

“Your mother is very special. Few men know what it’s like to receive appreciation for taking their wives out for dinner when it entails what it does for us. It means that she has to dress me, shave me, brush my teeth, comb my hair, wheel me out of the house and down the stairs, open the garage and put me in the car, take the pedals off the chair, stand me up, sit me in the seat of the car, twist me around so that I am comfortable, fold the wheelchair, put in the car, go around to the other side of the car, start it up, back it out, get out of the car, pull the garage door down, get back into the car, and drive off to the restaurant.

And then it starts all over again; she gets out of the car, unfolds the wheelchair, opens the door, spins me around, stands me up, seats me in the wheelchair, pushes the pedals out, closes and locks the door, wheels me into the restaurant, then takes the pedals off the wheelchair so I won’t be uncomfortable. We sit down to have dinner, and she feeds me throughout the entire meal. And when it is over she pays the bill, pushes the wheelchair out to the car again, and reverses the routine.

And when it is over – finished – with real warmth she’ll say, “Honey, thank you for taking me out to dinner.” I never quite know what to answer.”

That is what love looks like! David’s wife, Joyce, gives us the most amazing picture of what courageous giving and self-sacrificing love looks like.

Questions:

If giving has cost you nothing then do you think that it is right to call it an act of love? What are the reasons for your answer to that question?

What is your reaction to the remarkable story of David Ireland’s dinner date with his wife?

Will you make a fresh commitment today to allow the love of God to fill you and touch those around you?

What does it mean to love those who don’t love you [Matthew 5:46]?

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – LOVE (1)

Bible Reading: 1 John 4:7-21

Over the next few days we are going to look at the first aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love.

There are four types of love referred to in the Bible. Each is described by a different Greek word. The first word ‘philia’ means close friendship or brotherly love. The word ‘philia’ and other forms of this Greek noun are found throughout the New Testament. Christians are frequently exhorted to love their fellow Christians. For example, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour” [Romans 12:10 ESV].

The second word is ‘eros’ meaning sensual or sexual love. Although this Greek term does not appear in the Bible, ‘eros’, or erotic love, is clearly portrayed in the Song of Solomon.

The third word, ‘storge’ is family love. It is the natural love between mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. As with eros, this Greek term does not appear in the Bible but there many examples of family love found in Scripture.

The fourth word is ‘agape’ and is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It is the highest of the four types of love in the Bible. The word ‘agape’ is the word used to describe God’s love. It is the Greek word for love in the verse “God is love” [1 John 4:8].

God’s love is sacrificial. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” [John 3:16]. The evidence of God’s love is that He gives sacrificially, and that to undeserving sinners like us. His love is also totally unconditional. A lovely verse in John’s Gospel says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” [John 11:5]. He just loves them, not “if” or “but “when” or even because, but because He loved them.

The Holy Spirit wants to fill us with God’s love. Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul says, “the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” [Romans 5:5]. Once again the Greek for love in this verse is ‘agape’. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is God’s love in our life. It is not human or natural love improved upon, but Divine life in human vessels of clay!

Questions:

Can you think of any reason why God should love you? Why do you think that He does love you?

What do you think is the evidence that you love God?

Are there people who you find it very difficult to love? Would you ask the Lord to fill you with His love for those people?

 

 

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – 2

Bible Reading: Galatians 5:16-26

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things.” [Galatians 5:22-23 NLT]

The Bible speaks about the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. The word “fruit” is singular but with nine aspects. As we live in the Spirit all nine aspects of this one fruit of the Spirit should be increasingly evident in our lives. The gifts of the Spirit it is different. The word “gifts” is plural and the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different individuals.

Both the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit [I Corinthians 12:8-10] and the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23] making our character more like Jesus are important if we are to have a balanced Christian life.

A man had a problem with a leak in the roof of his house, and needed someone to repair it. He wanted to make sure the job was done properly and so looked for a workman with good references. He was given the names of two possible workmen and made enquiries about them. He was told that the first man would do an amazing job, and that the roof would probably not leak again for a hundred years, but the man would overcharge him, cheat and even steal from him. He had ability but no character.

Seeking references for the second man, he was told that he was such a lovely, warm-hearted and generous character, but sadly not very good at his job and the roof could well leak again within five years. This man had a good character but no real ability.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is the character of Jesus being formed in us. In order to be truly effective Christians, we need both the character that the Holy Spirit produces in us, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that enable us to serve God more effectively. Don’t be like the men with ability but no character or with the character but no ability.

The Bible says that we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 5:18]. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit He will give us the gifts that we need, and the more we are filled the Holy Spirit the more the fruit of the Spirit will make us like Jesus.

Questions:

Why do you think that people tend to emphasize either the gifts of the Spirit or the fruit of the Spirit and not hold both in equal tension?

What is the point of having gifts to serve God but not having a character that matches the gifts?

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – 1

Bible Reading: John 14:12-31

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” [John 14:16-17]

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful theme, but one of the problems is that many people and churches don’t really have a Biblical concept of who the Holy Spirit is. To some He is merely a force, influence, or a power, but He is far more than that.

The Holy Spirit is both a Person and God and He is the third member of the Trinity. He is known by various names, including the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. In the Old Testament He was there at creation [Genesis 1:2], and came upon people to equip them to serve God. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired God’s Word [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21]. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit, and anointed for ministry by the Holy Spirit [Acts 10.38]. He gave commandments to the early disciples after His resurrection and before His ascension through the Holy Spirit [Acts 1:2].

The Holy Spirit continued the ministry of Jesus on earth after He had ascended back into heaven. Jesus prepared the disciples for the time that He would return to heaven by promising that He would not leave them as orphans, but would send them another Helper. The Greek word translated here as ‘Helper” is ‘parakletos,’ literally the one who comes alongside to help, comfort and counsel.

There are two Greek words that can be translated as “another” in English. The first word is ‘heteros’ that means ‘another but totally different.’‘ The second word, used by Jesus in John 14:16 is the word ‘allos’ which means “another who is exactly the same”.

Jesus is saying that He will send the disciples a Person just like Himself, that is, one who is fully divine. Who was the first Counsellor? Jesus. He had been the disciples’ strength and counsel during the years of his ministry among them. Now He is going away, and in His place He will be sending a second Counsellor who is just like him. The Holy Spirit is a divine Person who is not just with us but living inside of us. Living inside of us, the Holy Spirit wants to make us more and more like Jesus – that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Questions:

Read John 14:12-31. According to this passage of Scripture, what are the things that the Holy Spirit does in our lives?

Will you take time just to thank God that the Holy Spirit is a Person who is living right inside of you? Ask Him to do new things in your heart and life?

ABRAHAM – HIS LASTING INFLUENCE

 

Bible Reading: Genesis 25:1-11; Galatians 3:6-9

The last days of Abraham are recorded in our reading today. He remarried after the death of Sarah and lived to be 175 years of age. Death has a remarkable way of bringing people together and it seems significant that both Isaac and Ishmael together buried their father. It was his death that brought them together. Just as the death of Abraham united Isaac and Ishmael, so the death of Jesus on the cross makes a way for both the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac to become one. It is only at the cross and in Christ that reconciliation can take place.

The blessing of God that Abraham experienced was passed down to Isaac on the death of his father [verse 11]. I recently met a family who were asked to speak on generational Christianity. The grandmother, her son and daughter-in-law, and her four grandchildren, all lovers and followers of Jesus, spoke at the meeting. There is a Chinese proverb, speaking about business, that says, “First generation good, second-generation not so good, third generation finished!” In Christ, that does not have to be the case and in God’s Word, we read that God shows love to “a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” [Exodus 20:6 NIVUK].

We can see the evidence of this verse in the influence of Abraham that has extended for thousands of years beyond his death. He is mentioned in 15 verses or passages in the New Testament, including James 2:23 where he is given the lovely title, “The Friend of God”. All those people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord are called the children of Abraham [Galatians 3:6-9]. The promise that God gave Abraham has been remarkably fulfilled in the millions of people who like Abraham have put their faith in the one true God through the death of Jesus on the cross. A life lived to the glory of God will have an impact that will last way beyond its length of days on earth.

Questions:

In what way do you think that your life will continue to impact people even after your death? Is there anything that God wants to change in your life in order that others might be impacted for good?

As we draw to the end of this series on the life of Abraham, is there anything in particular that God has challenged you about through these daily devotional studies? If God has challenged you in a particular way, what have you done about it?

Please feel free to contact me and share your thoughts with me. This will not only strengthen you but also be an encouragement to me as I write each day. God bless you.

ABRAHAM – A WIFE FOR ISAAC

Bible Reading: Genesis 24:1-67

Genesis 24 portrays a very Eastern way of arranging a marriage that although may be very foreign in the West, is also a marvellous cameo of how God guides us and how He makes “all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” [Romans 8:28].

Abraham wanted a bride for his son Isaac, but was very clear that she should come from his own people and not be a Canaanite. Guidance and faith go together, and Abraham knew that the angel of the Lord would guide his servant and lead him to the right woman as a wife for his son.

It is exciting to see the five stages, each summarised by one word, as the Lord led Abraham’s servant to find the right wife for Isaac. Firstly, move in the right direction. The woman had to come from Abraham’s family, so the servant had to go to the area where the family lived.

Secondly, pray into the situation. Abraham had taught his servant well and he prays a prayer of faith. His prayer is very specific. “Give me success… show kindness to my master,” and then he asks for a specific sign. The sign he looks for is a young woman who will draw water from the well and offer it to both him and his camels [verses 12-14].

Thirdly, wait until God moves. In this case it was almost immediate, as Rebekah came and did exactly what the servant had asked the Lord for. Nevertheless, the servant of Abraham still remained silent, seeking to know from the Lord if this was the woman that the Lord was preparing for Isaac. As soon as he knew that this was Abraham’s niece, he knew that God had answered his prayer.

Fourthly, worship, as he recognises that the Lord has led him to exactly the right place and person [verse 26-27].

Finally, see God work out all the details. Rebecca’s family also recognised that this was the Lord’s leading. It seems very wonderful that Abraham’s brother, Nahor, and his family, also knew the Lord and recognised what He was doing. Before Rebecca left them, her family spoke over her a word that would prove to be prophetic [verse 60]. So the servant and Rebecca reached the place where Isaac was, and he loved her [verse 67]. What a beautiful picture of God’s guidance.

Questions:

If you are seeking God’s direction for something in your life, then would you walk in this same way – moving in the right direction, praying a prayer of faith, waiting for God to make it happen, worshipping and thanking Him when it does happen, and letting Him work out all the details?

Why do you think people are impatient and do not wait for God’s time? What are the consequences of not allowing the Lord to direct?

ABRAHAM – A PILGRIM

 

Bible Reading: Genesis 23:1-20; Hebrews 13:8-16

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” [Matt. 6:19-20]

“This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore”

In the 1960s, Jim Reeves popularised a song that contains this verse, and it exactly describes Abraham who was a pilgrim. A pilgrim is someone on a journey to a sacred place. Abraham has journeyed across the known world to a place that God prepared for him, and yet when his wife Sarah died, he had no land in which to bury her. He  spent most of his time in Mamre, in the area of Hebron [see Genesis 13:18; 18:1; 23:2], but he also travelled to find pasture for his cattle. As Abraham sought to buy a piece of land as a burial site from the people of Hebron, he called himself a foreigner and a stranger among them. The writer of Hebrews describes Abraham as by faith dwelling in tents in the land of promise, as in a foreign country, but waiting for a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 13:9-10].

Speaking of Abraham and his descendants who believed God, the writer of Hebrews explains that they were looking for a country and a city that is heavenly, and that God has prepared a city for them [Hebrews 13:13-16].

Back in Genesis chapter 14 we saw something of Abram’s integrity as he refused to accept money from the king of Sodom. We see that same integrity again as he buys this piece of land as a burial site for his wife, and for himself at a later date [Genesis 25:7-11]. The people of Mamre recognised Abraham as a man of God. They called him “a mighty prince” [Genesis 23:6]. The margin of my Bible says, “Literally, prince of God.” They would gladly have given the land to Abraham as a gift, but he insisted on paying for it.

Abraham could have become a wealthy landowner but he chose not to make that his focus. Here is a man of God, understated in this world, with integrity, without presumption, and living and looking forward to his eternal home.

Questions:

What do you think Jesus meant when He said that we should lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven? How is Abraham an example of this?

Why do you think that it was so important that Abraham paid for the land as a burial site and did not receive it as a gift?

In what way does the testimony of Abraham among the people of Canaan, challenge you to be a testimony among the people where you live?

ABRAHAM – HE PASSED THE TEST

Bible Reading: Genesis 22:12,15-19

The Angel of the Lord praised Abraham for passing the test. Abraham can be assured that God has honoured him because he fears God. It is not a cringing fear that is destructive but a glorious reverence for God. The Bible says that this reverence for God and a desire to honour Him is the beginning of knowledge [Proverbs 1:7] and is to hate evil [Proverbs 8:13]. This healthy attitude of reverence for God is a choice that we make [Proverbs 1:29] and protects us from evil [Proverbs 16:6]. It not only brings peace and contentment [Proverbs 19:23], but also wealth, honour and life [Proverbs 22:4]. Abraham has proven his reverence for God in his total obedience to Him.

What exactly was the test? Perhaps the heart of it was whether Abraham loved God even more than the gifts God gives. Isaac was a special gift from God to Abraham and Sarah, and they loved their son. The danger is that the gifts that God gives us become more important to us than our love for God Himself. The hymn writer penned the words, “My goal is God Himself, Not joy nor peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God”. Much as Abraham deeply loved his son, his love for God was even greater, and the proof of this was his obedience to God.

Jesus said, “ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” [Matthew 10:37], and to love father or mother, wife or children, and brother or sister more than Him disqualifies them from being His disciple [Luke 14:26]. The last verse of John’s first epistle, written to Christians, says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” [1 John 5:21]

Jesus challenged Simon Peter on this very issue. Three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love me more than these?” [John 21:15,16,17]. Is love for Jesus more important to Peter than other people’s opinions of him, or even his love of fishing?

In His hymn, “O for closer walk with God” William Cowper wrote the words:

“The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

Questions:

Hudson-Taylor of China once said, “If Jesus is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all”. Why do people find it so hard to allow Jesus to be Lord of all?

What are some of the idols that people hold on to that hinder Jesus being Lord of their life?

If God were to test you in the way that He tested Abraham, would you pass the test?

ABRAHAM – GOD WILL PROVIDE

Bible Reading: Genesis 22:7-14; Philippians 4:19

Abraham was determined to obey God whatever it cost. He built the altar, placed the wood in order, and then bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the altar. God had not provided a lamb as a substitute for Isaac and so Abram took the knife to slay his son. This raises a question – how far are we prepared to go in obedience to God? At the last moment God stepped in and provided a substitute [verse 13]. So often, when it is a matter of obedience and faith, it is at the last moment that God provides. One of the hardest things for us is to wait for God and still believe even though it is the last minute.

Abraham called the name of the place where God provided “Jehovah Jireh” which directly translated means “The Lord will provide”. It is an interesting parallel between the ram offered on the altar as a substitute for Isaac and Christ offered on the cross as a substitute for us. Whereas God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, God did not spare His Son, Jesus, from dying on the cross. God provided both a substitute for Isaac and a substitute for us.

There is a tremendous significance for us today in God’s provision for Abraham at Mount Moriah. The text reads, “And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’” [verse14]. “To this day” means that beyond the time of Abraham God still provides on the mountain. We know that Jerusalem was built on Mount Moriah – “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah” [2 Chronicles 3:1]. Mount Moriah rises to a plateau on which the temple was built, but then continues to rise to its peak, north of Jerusalem, outside the city wall. The peak of Mount Moriah is shaped like a skull and known as Golgotha – it was where Jesus was crucified.

There has been a tendency to think that Jehovah Jireh relates primarily to God’s provision of finance, but that is only a small part of it’s meaning. God provided everything that we need today at Mount Moriah, known to us as Calvary where Jesus was crucified. At the cross where Jesus died there is forgiveness, cleansing, redemption, healing, peace, and every other form of God’s provision for us. The God who provided for Abraham still provides for us today and at the very same place. No wonder Paul said to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” [1 Corinthians 2:2].

Questions:

If you have been praying about a specific need, hang in there and don’t give up. Why do you think it is that God so often seems to provide for us at the very last moment?

What is you need today? Read Philippians 4:19 and note the word “all”. Will you acknowledge today that every need you have has been paid for at the cross, and then come in humility and ask God to meet your need?