John 3:1-17 contains the controversial statement that no one has ever gone into heaven except he who came from heaven, the Son of Man. How can that be? Did not Elijah go to heaven? We first need to understand the timing of the statement. Jesus had not yet ascended into heaven, yet he said that he had already gone into heaven. Was this past tense? Did he somehow ascend into heaven during his earthly ministry? Or is this in a prophetic use of past tense, like speaking from a future time when the ascension would have been past tense? There is another possibility. In Jewish culture it was accepted to speak figuratively of Moses ascending into heaven to bring the law (Jerusalem Targum commentary on Deuteronomy 30:12). What is clear is that only Jesus has come from heaven.
A spirit of murder encompasses more than just the act of killing itself (John 15:26-16:15). It has nothing to do with the Spirit of God. The spirit of murder expresses itself in hatred and division between Christians. The Holy Spirit guides us in the opposite direction, love and unity. The truth that the Holy Spirit leads us is into is not some picky doctrinal twig, but deeper love for God and neighbor. He testifies about Jesus, because while many teach us to hate Christians who believe different from us, it is Jesus who taught us to love. When many create division within the Christian church over non-essentials, it is Jesus who taught us to strive for unity. The remarkable unity among Christians over the essentials of our faith is a testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work among us.
More Christians have been murdered for their faith in the past century than in all previous centuries combined. Why is it that those who murder Christians (John 15:26-16:15) think that they are doing God service? Even Christians have been guilty of murdering other Christians. As a Catholic priest once said, the church is sometimes the Whore of Babylon and sometimes the Bride of Christ. The cause of anyone engaging in such evils is that they have not known God. If they had, they would have known that the Christian way is the opposite extreme of murder. At opposite ends of human experience are hatred and murder on one end and love and unity at the other. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into unifying, loving truth and making it known to us.
How can we Christians be unified? We can keep unity by following God’s example expounded in John 15:26-16:15. Here we see the way Father, Son and Holy Spirit act in perfect unity. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. He is not a rebel, who speaks words that divide, but speaks only what he hears. From whom does he hear those words? It is from Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit receives the words that he makes known to us. As we look down through Christian history, perhaps we can see that division comes from politics, lust for power and words of mere human beings. However, there is something that unifies us all, the words of Jesus. When we emphasis the truths that Jesus taught, we become more unified. The Trinity teaches us how perfect unity behaves.
Acts 2 was not a usual Pentecost. John 15:26-16:15 describes a Pentecost which occurs every day. The Advocate comes alongside to plead our case as the Accuser gossips about our sins. The Holy Spirit also helps us testify to Jesus in the face of opposition. He puts the world to shame regarding sin, justice and judgment. The opposite of sin is not impossibly perfect law-keeping, but faith. The remedy for sin is faith. The Holy Spirit convicts us that the world’s idea of justice is unjust and causes oppression, inequality and poverty. The Holy Spirit in us judges the world. The Holy Spirit guides us into the truth which is in Christ and nowhere else. Eastern Orthodox Christians call this theosis, growing into union with God. In the west we call it spiritual formation and it is a mystical experience.
Philadelphia is known as the city of “brotherly love” but that is not the entire meaning of the Greek work philos. John used the word when he recorded the friendship Jesus has with us. The word philos also means someone dearly loved. For example, in John 15:9-17 Jesus stated that if we keep his commands we remain in his love. The principle command that he issued was to love one another. Then he stated that we are his friends if we do what he commands. Sometimes churches fall into squabbles over silly things, perhaps something to do with buildings or music. When churches fight they do not live up to their Christian ideal. Christianity without the love between brethren that Jesus commanded is hardly Christianity at all. When we love one another, we are dearly beloved friends of Jesus.
An ancient law made capital punishment the penalty for dishonoring parents (Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9). Historians believe that law may not have been enforced very often, but it was perhaps a good deterrent to bad behavior. How bad is dishonoring parents? Isn’t it rather old fashioned to honor our parents? The Bible teaches us to honor parents, the elderly, the king (national leader) and each other. Why? What good does it do to honor people. Dishonoring parents produces an unsafe society with high crime and in society’s basic building block, great family instability. Jesus set an example by honoring his Father in heaven (John 15:9-17). Those who honor parents gain longevity and contribute to a stable society. If we honor our aged parents, when we are aged, perhaps we will have taught our children to honor us.
Some rules just don’t make sense. Stupid decrees which are a waste of time and resources just incite rebellion and disrespect. It especially makes Christians angry to be judged for ignoring brainless rules made up by bossy control freaks who think they have the right to interfere in private faith. Nobody likes to be shackled by idiotic regulations. Yet there is one rule that makes more sense than any other. If we all obeyed this rule the world would be wonderfully transformed. Those who disobey it are fools because it benefits everyone. That rule is to love each other (John 15:9-17). Sometimes it even makes sense to obey a stupid rule, if by doing so we are showing love to those whose faith is weak and tied to that rule. We show love by not offending a little one.
Our mother was mean. She fed us healthy food when other kids got to eat junk. We only got soft drinks on birthdays while other kids had it all year. Dad called it sugar water. Mom wanted to know where we were all the time and who our friends were. We had to take regular baths and wear clothes that she had made herself while other kids got to wear brand names from the store. She made us do chores, while other kids could play all day. Though none of us are millionaires, we all grew up to have marriages that lasted and have never spent a night in jail. What do we blame for all this? A mother’s love. Our mother was mean. A mother’s love is pure goodness and mean mothers are the best mothers (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Labels: Ephesians 06
Jesus taught about abiding in the vine, then abiding in his love (John 15:9-17). The two ideas are connected by the context. How do we abide in his love? If we keep his commandments we remain in his love. What commandments? His commandment is this: that we love one another as he has loved us. Remaining in the love vine makes us able to bear much fruit. It is such an important command that it is repeated: love each other. How is that love defined? What is the supreme example of such love? Laying down one’s life for one’s friends can be applied in many ways. Death is one way to lay down one’s life. So is living a life of self-sacrifice. It is the kind of love that a parent shows when time is given to a child.
Many of us honor our mothers and fathers who gave so much of their lives for us. It is a sad fact when such giving is spurned in favor of a selfish life where career and money come before the love of children. Children are too often an inconvenience to be farmed out to a babysitter school system and day care. Those things have their place and every parent certainly needs a break. However, when the priorities are for self, our children suffer neglect. Yet the love of an unselfish parent can teach us to love each other, just as the love of our heavenly parent teaches us what selflessness is all about (John 15:9-17). A self-love that takes life from others destroys the taker. A love that gives life is the greatest love of all.
Honoring our father and mother was one of the Ten Commandment that came with a promise. The promise was that our days may be long (Exodus 20:12). This is such an important commandment that Paul repeated it in Ephesians 6:1-3, that is may be well with us and we may live long on the earth. What would happen to a society where parents are dishonored, taken for granted, mistreated and spat upon? Would we have a vicious and hateful society much like ours? Jesus introduced us to a relationship with parents that was very different (John 15:9-17). He loved his Father in heaven and obeyed his commandments. Love is something that we normally first experience at home in a mother’s care and in a father’s provision, and if we didn’t, we can still learn it from God.
In 2010 scientists in Binghamton, NY discovered that men and women with the 7R+ variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be engaged in acts of infidelity. When interviewed as to whether or not these people were destined to commit adultery, scientists said that two factors determine behavior, genetics and the environment. A genetic predisposition did not remove a person’s ability to choose how to behave. In 1993 geneticist Dean Hamer found a link between the XQ28 chromosome band and homosexuality. A 1999 Canadian study disputed the claims. Is it dishonesty when people take such findings and on the one hand claim the ability to choose behavior, yet on the other hand claim the inability to choose because they were “born that way?” Genetic predisposition may be biologically determined but does it really remove the freedom to choose?
Getting a promotion in corporate life can mean stress without rest, long hours, few days off and vacations that are cut short. Those with ambition to earn a better income for their families may be saying goodbye to family life. That is too often the experience of those who begin to climb the modern corporate ladder. Success is counted in dollars earned, not in marriages lost. It is counted by corporate titles received, not by family events missed. Those who put job before God and family receive hollow congratulations from employers, but not from where it really counts. Making time for important work at home and resting one day in seven blesses family and country. Those who abide in Christ (John 15:1-8) put God and family ahead of the corporation and find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30).
We came to Jesus for Sabbath rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). We decided to stay, abiding with him (John 15:1-8). When we attach ourselves to his vine, we also agree to the terms of the arrangement which include being pruned by God. Vines do not have nerve cells and so there is no pain, but pruning does still include certain minor temporary setbacks, which must be accommodated. In the long run, pruning keeps a vine from going wild and helps it produce a much better grape harvest. It may sound silly, but a vine that is cut off cannot bear any fruit. It is just headed for the fire. Cutting ourselves off from Jesus and connection with the church causes our lives shrivel up. We cast our lives into the fire. Better to stay connected and fruitful.
Today’s world offers many fake substitutes. The Bible calls wealth a delusion because we substitute it for life’s most valuable things, and the best things in life are still free. Perhaps we have witnessed the woman on television with no true friends, but a closet full of shoes. Perhaps we have had a glimpse of the billionaire’s life, filled with material things, but marriages that continue to fail. One of the great blessings of church life is that connection to God and his people (John 15:1-8). If we abide in that connection, we get the best things in life for free. Abiding in church creates a support network of true friendships that stand the test of time and a friendship with Jesus develops a fruitful life that will last for all eternity. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.
There are many reasons why people don’t go to church. “But the music is boring,” may be one excuse. “The preaching is not very exciting,” may be another. Another popular reason is a particular church has political issues, or people are too narrow minded. If I was a starving person, I would not care what music was playing, or if they only had green beans and no ice cream to eat. And I certainly would not care if the staff did not get along perfectly or what their opinions about picky issues were. Abiding in Jesus means that we stay no matter what (John 15:1-8). If a church preaches Jesus, that is, not just his name but also what Jesus taught, then that’s a place I want to be. The music, style of preaching, and personal problems are insignificant.
Abiding in Jesus (John 15:1-8) means abiding in church and that can be problematic. We must also abide with people problems. We may not want to, but Jesus wants to be around his people. He knows our sins, but forgives. He knows our silly fights between denominations, but perhaps is not as interested in our picky opinions as he is in grace. Forgiveness and grace are necessary in any human relationships, perhaps even more so in a church setting, where we expect higher standards of conduct. Yet, do we also expect higher standards of grace and forgiveness from ourselves? So then abiding in Christ, means that we also abide with each other. Surprising as it may seem, those who do, live longer and healthier lives than those who cannot abide church, so there must be something to this abiding.