Christlike Behavior

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” (Colossians 3:14-15a, ESV)
Paul offers words of wisdom to help believers grow into the image of Christ, to gain spiritual maturity. This does not involve learning spiritual secrets or following the law or adopting a severe lifestyle. The way we grow in Christ is by putting off our old way of living and thinking. When we became Christians we die to the old self and became new creatures in Christ. This death is symbolized by baptism which graphically proclaims that our entry into the kingdom of God only comes by death to self. This death must affect every aspect of our passions, lusts and selfish desires. This takes time and the disciplined work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish as He motivates us daily to set aside the old ways and put on the new.
And in this new life we are united to Christ and so to all other believers as well. Men and women, slave and free, black, white, yellow and brown we are all equal in Christ so we should treat everyone accordingly. We are to focus on being tender-hearted and kind toward all people. We are to forgive always even as we have been forgiven. We are never to seek our own agenda. This may disturb us because it will mean we will usually have to quietly accept abuse, scorn and reproach from our fellow human beings when we are really tempted to justify and defend ourselves to prove others wrong. The good Christian realizes however that his sense of worth and identity come from Christ not other men. We must always take care that what we say and do is tempered by love and humility.

The Humble Servant of the Lord.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:25-26, ESV)
When we read about Christmas we read about the census that the Emperor Augustus commanded that brought about the birth of Jesus in the small town of Bethlehem. Augustus gave no thought to the thousands of people who would have their lives disrupted as they were forced to jump to do his bidding. Yet while the Emperor, his generals and various puppet kings and princes were ruling over a huge chunk of the civilized world and exercising authority and power over millions, in one small corner of the Empire an event took place which would bring down that mighty empire with the good news of God’s love and mercy to all the world.
The great leaders who thought they were in control played only a peripheral role. It was a few faithful righteous ones at lower level of society who were the main participants in this monumental event including Simeon and Anna. Neither possessed any great talents, prestige, political power, celebrity or fame. Yet God chose them to proclaim His word.
The Lord God always does this. He calls and chooses the least likely ones to bless and use as His servants. The world rejects His way because it is an affront to man’s pride. The world thinks that those who should be blessed are the ones who do great deeds, have talent, strength, beauty, political power and self-confidence. But God’s way demands the opposite: man must admit that he is powerless, unattractive, unable to accomplish anything. God’s way means total self-surrender to Him, utter dependence on His strength and wisdom. God’s way demands deep humility, love for those who hate you, mercy and grace for those who mistreat you.

The Expression of God’s Love.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, ESV)

The opening verses of John’s gospel take us back before the book of Genesis. Before God created anything, He existed. The Word that John writes of is Jesus. He has come to speak the truth and to bring the light of God into the sin-darkened world. He is the Messiah who was promised to the Jews, yet He existed always; He created all things; He holds all things together by His power. He is God incarnate, in the flesh. If we want to know what God is like, we must look at Jesus who is the fullness of God’s revelation to man. He is full of mercy, truth and peace. The Law of Moses too was truth but it revealed that we needed God for the Law was an onerous burden which was impossible to keep. The good news is that though we cannot keep the Law Jesus came to do this by becoming the Lamb of God, the sacrifice which would atone for the sins of all mankind.
Jesus is who He says He is, but not all would agree, particularly the rulers of the Jews, the ones who held religious authority in the time Jesus was born. Though they claimed to walk in the light they were dwelling in spiritual darkness. While it was true that they looked for the Messiah, Jesus was not who they expected. They looked for a warrior King who would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and establish a new and victorious nation, not a baby born in a manger, not a suffering servant who would be executed like a criminal. Those who were oppressed by sin and Satan, these would accept Jesus. They would no longer dwell in darkness, but in the light of God’s truth revealed in the Word. They share that light that all may enter into the peace of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus wants us.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13, ESV)
The earliest memory I have of Christmas in church is when I was about six years old. It was my first Christmas Mass, one attended almost entirely by children. I remember that in the sermon the priest challenged us to give a gift to Jesus. I do not know what he meant by that, what kind of gift he had in mind, as I do not remember the rest of the sermon, only his challenge. I do recall thinking that the only thing I had on me at the time that I could give (since I had no money) was a pair of mittens. Well, I figured if I had to give Jesus a gift, it would have to be the mittens.
When the Mass was over the children all filed past the Nativity crèche to deposit their gifts at the crib of the infant Jesus (or so I thought). While waiting my turn, I began to struggle with what I thought I had to do. I knew that my mother would probably get mad with me if I gave my mittens, even if I gave them to Jesus because she would have to go and buy another pair and times were hard. But I was afraid that I would look silly if I was the only one who did not give a gift among all those kids, and maybe Jesus would be mad if I left nothing (or at least the priest who was watching would be). To my immense relief, I discovered as I approached the crib, that nobody was leaving any gifts, and on top of that, the infant was just a statue, not even the real Jesus! So I just held on tightly to my mittens and walked past.
Jesus does not want things from us. He has no use for a pair of mittens, money, computers, video games, a CD player or a gold watch. He does not necessarily want us to spend more time in church or for that matter to go to the mission field in some far corner of the earth or even to give more of our money. He wants us.

Obedient Joseph.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20b-21, ESV)

What about dreams? Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? If He did, how would you respond? Would you explain it as merely the workings of your restless subconscious mind seeking to resolve some unresolved issue from your past? Would you dismiss it as Mr. Scrooge did of Marley’s ghost as “an undigested bit of beef, or a fragment of underdone potato?” Would you try to rationalize it as mere coincidence? Would you make major decisions based on dreams? Would you invest money or move your family or get married? Many people do and most of them we classify as irrational, superstitious, or strange.
We see here that Joseph made a major, life-changing, irrevocable decision, based on a dream. This decision would expose him to ridicule and shame. Life with Mary and Jesus would be hard because people would always look at Joseph in two ways. First, people would have looked at him with ridicule, as a man whose wife had committed adultery, and he knew about it and still married her. That would not be pleasant for Joseph, but it would be worse for Mary and Jesus. Joseph would have to endure the pain of seeing them ridiculed and scorned. Joseph would have to work to protect them from any hint of abuse. That would be difficult.
But people could also view Joseph as a good man who sinned, who, in the passion of the moment, got his wife pregnant before their marriage. And who could blame him? These things happen. After all, he made it right by marrying her. To a righteous man, however, it would be humiliating to be thought a sinner, without seeking some way to rectify the situation by telling everyone the truth. But who would believe the truth? Back then, they would have been laughed to scorn. No, he would not tell the truth, for this would only open him and his family up to further pain.
Joseph knew the consequences of obeying God. He knew he was in for a rough time. But he knew God well enough to know that no matter what the cost to him, abuse, pain, misunderstanding, scorn and heartache, He would enable him to carry out His plan. As God’s willing servant, he would respond as Mary did “Be it unto me according to your word.” Joseph heard the voice of the Lord and he obeyed immediately.
What about you? Do you know the voice of the Lord? Do you know when He is speaking to you? Can you distinguish between his Word and the voices of the world, the flesh, the devil? If you heard God’s voice, how would you respond? We don’t need angelic visitations, dreams, or miraculous signs to hear his voice or to tell us His will, although we ought to be open to such possibilities. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us directly, as well as through the Scripture, God’s Word and through the church, the fellowship of believers. The question is not, “Is the Lord speaking to us?”, but “How will we respond?” If we are truly God’s servants we must respond as Joseph did. We must obey God’s commands no matter what the consequences, or how the world will ridicule us.

Greatest in God’s Kingdom.

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28 ESV)

After John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod, he realized that his ministry had reached its conclusion. He wanted his disciples and others to follow Jesus. He wanted them to see that the miracles Jesus was performing demonstrated that He was the promised Messiah, the one for whom John had prepared. The signs, the healings and miracles were, as Jesus pointed out, fulfillments of the prophecies of Isaiah 35:4-6 and 61:1-11, passages which refer to the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Jesus had demonstrated that he had power even over death. To the Jews, the works Jesus performed were signs that He was a great prophet on a par with Elijah and Elisha. But He was greater than both of them and greater even than John the Baptist. John led people to repent of their sins, but Jesus would actually cleanse and forgive them by His death on the cross.

John, unfortunately, was executed by Herod before he could see the completed work of Christ, though by faith he saw and believed it. As such he is ranked with the Old Testament prophets and saints such as those that are mentioned in Hebrews 11. Thus, as great as John was, as dynamic as was his ministry,  Jesus points out that those in God’s Kingdom, those under the New Covenant are far greater for they have seen and experienced things John never did. We have seen the redemption of the cross, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all who believe, not just prophets, priests or patriarchs, but on every single one who puts their faith in Christ for salvation from sin, from the greatest to the least. Our ministry is to help others to realize the same mercy and forgiveness that has been granted to us.