Don’t Love with Words?

1 John 3

Monday, October 17, 2022

If you have never heard of G.T. and the Halo Express, 1) you are missing out on quality kids music/plays and 2) sorry, you won’t be able to sing along with my devotions for the next few days.

I encourage you to read the whole chapter of 1 John 3, but I am just going to focus on one verse, my favorite – 18, (thanks to memorizing it in this kids play growing up).  The translation I learned was “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 

I have been listening to this one with my daughter, and it has sparked some discussion.  The song breaks it up a little bit, and the line that is sung together is “let us not love with words or tongue.”  When we look at the whole verse, it is easy to know that we shouldn’t stop there.  But for a 4 year old who doesn’t quite understand all the subtleties of language yet, that was confusing.  Why should we not love with words?

This isn’t saying we shouldn’t use our words to be loving, but rather that it shouldn’t stop at that.  If all we do is say that we love someone, it really means nothing.  We need to show people that we love them in how we act, and by being truthful.

It reminds me of James 2:17 “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

My dad taught a memorable object lesson to our class when I was growing up.  He took us for a car ride in one of the many winter months (it’s Minnesota – they all blend together) with the windows rolled down.  As he drove, he asked us, “Are you cold?”  When we of course said yes, his response was, “I’m really sorry you’re cold!  I wish you were warm.”  And he kept on driving.  His point was that even if you say the right things, when you can make a difference in the situation (such as putting the windows up) but do nothing, what you say doesn’t matter.

Jesus truly showed his love in action by his sacrifice for us.  We ought to show others that we love them, not just tell them.

It is a good reminder for a 4-year-old to be loving in her actions toward her little brother and a good reminder for everyone to be loving in their actions towards anyone they interact with.

~Stephanie Fletcher

Reflection Questions

  1. When have you found yourself saying the loving thing – but not showing love with your actions? What problem is created here? How can you fix this?
  2. According to the rest of the chapter what else do our actions show?

The Faith/Works Dilemma

James 2

Monday, October 3, 2022

In the second chapter of his letter, James continues with his onslaught of practical but difficult advice.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.” (James 2:14-19 NRSV)

It would seem from this section that just believing things is no good. If my interpretation of James is correct, that means it’s not enough to go around quoting John 3:16 and telling people they only need to believe in Jesus and they will be saved. There is no checklist of beliefs where you can just tick all the boxes and receive salvation. No single belief will save you, and neither will any magical combination of beliefs.

James is asserting that action must accompany faith in order for it to be the real thing. Doing good works is the evidence of your faith. Faith and good works don’t live isolated lives, but are coupled together. To decouple faith and works is to reveal an inconsistency.

Imagine that someone claims to believe in the value of human life as the image of God, yet they go around hurting or killing people. Or maybe they just neglect to help someone else they know is in need. You would notice the inconsistency in that. They must not truly believe in the value of human life since their actions show they don’t value it. James is telling us that actions are louder than words. He cuts right through the nonsense and says, “Hey, don’t just tell me what you believe. Show me.”

When we talk about this passage, it’s likely that we’ll also think of a passage from Ephesians that seems to be in tension with it.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV)

Paul here is saying that works can’t save you; it’s a gift you accept through faith. James is saying faith alone doesn’t save or justify you; you need works too. Is there a conflict between what James and Paul are saying?

Part of the beauty of this collection of writings we call the Bible is that different authors often have different perspectives on things. We have four different gospel accounts, each with their own angle and emphasis. The general story and message are the same, but some of the finer details differ. This is exactly what you would expect if you asked four different people to describe something they witnessed years ago. This is not a problem at all for the gospels, and in actuality, bolsters the case for their authenticity. It shows that four people didn’t get together in a room for a weekend and collude to produce the exact same fairy tale. Four real people wanted to pass on what they witnessed, and they did so under the inspiration of God.

We see the world with two eyes, each from a slightly different angle. This allows us to perceive depth, in other words, to see things in 3-D. Your brain does some kind of trigonometry with the signals from your eyes to give you an idea of how far away something is. If you had only one eye, it would be much harder to judge depth.

We can regard James and Paul as two eyes looking at the topic of salvation from two different angles, and the result is seeing it in 3-D. It’s the same core truth with different emphases. James sees something Paul doesn’t see, and Paul sees something James doesn’t see. At great risk of oversimplification, I’ll try to bring their viewpoints together. They would agree that faith and works go hand-in-hand. James is saying faith alone is not enough, and Paul is saying works alone are not enough. Neither would say that you can earn salvation by works, but would agree that the works are evidence of a saving faith. Well, I took a stab at it. My only hope is that they can get together sometime to discuss this topic and release it as a long-form podcast.

-Jay Laurent

Question Time

1. Why do you think it is so hard to really live out what you believe?

2. What small steps could you take this week to put your faith in action?

Bearing Fruit

Luke Chapter 13

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Jesus tells the following parable starting in verse 6 of Luke 13 –  “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

 

Some may think that this fig tree represents unbelievers, which would make sense as they would not be producing fruit.  But I think Jesus is actually talking about believers here. The fig tree is seen throughout scripture as being connected to and representative of Israel, in both the Old and New Testament.  In Mark 11:12-21, Jesus curses a fig tree that was not bearing fruit and it withers and dies.

 

The point here is that Jesus and his Heavenly Father are not satisfied if you have the knowledge of them and their sacrifice, and then only go to church on Sunday and stay awake during the sermon. That is not Kingdom living.  That is not bearing fruit.

 

Back in chapter 10 of Luke, Jesus said the way to gain eternal life was to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Is this love intended to be kept internal?  Goodness, no. If you truly love God with ALL of your heart, then that should overflow.  If you truly love your neighbor (simply others) as yourself, I think they would know.  

 

What sort of things do you do to serve?  What do you do to show the love of God to others?  How do you use your God-given talents to honor Him?  The answers to these questions are your fruit! If you can’t think of any way that you are bearing fruit in such ways, let the parable of the Fig Tree be a warning to you.

 

I know that DOING things sounds like Works, and we are told at times that it is Faith that saves.  But I believe that Faith lived out leads to the works that bear fruit.  In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

 

So, I go back to where I started, in Chapter 7.  The coming Kingdom is real! It will be amazing! It will last forever!  You and everyone you know will want to be there. So do everything you can to spread that news, and encourage and bless believers and non-believers in the meantime as well.  That is truly bearing the fruit which Jesus will be looking for.

 

Greg Landry

 

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