No Man Is An Island

 

The quintessential American hero is the loner.  He is a man who lives and travels alone, and to all outward appearances has no need of companionship.  In the old westerns his only possessions were the clothes on his back, his gun, his saddle and the gear packed in it, his horse, and maybe a dog.  He spent his life going from place to place, pausing only long enough to pick up supplies, and, if necessary, to vanquish the bad guys.  When the dust settled, he rode off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

This portrayal has long been associated with Americans and we have reveled in this imagery of “rugged individualism”, a phrase that was popularized by Herbert Hoover during his presidency.  The paradox of our love affair with this imagery is the fact that few of us are emotionally or psychologically inclined toward it.  The plain truth is that most of us would find such an existence so lonely that it would destroy us.  In fact, we generally tend to look with concern upon anyone who seems to not need or desire social interaction with others.

Whatever our views of the loner might be, we need to recognize that this is not the way God intended for us to live.  The scriptures show this in two ways.  First, after God created Adam the scripture says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him'” (Gen. 1:18).  God knew that human beings need intimate companionship.  For this reason He made the woman and gave her to Adam to be his wife.  The marriage relationship not only provides this needed companionship, but also helps us avoid sexual sin.

Second, the scriptures teach that Christians do not make the journey to eternal life alone.  In Rom. 12:3-8 and in 1 Cor. 12:12-26 Paul taught that Christians are individually members of the body of Christ.  As such we are connected to each other in the same way that all the parts of the human body are connected to each other.  Thus, what each one of us does, or does not do, affects the rest of the body.  Paul dramatically made this point by saying that one part of the body cannot say to another part that it has no need of it (1 Cor. 12:14-21).  In other words, no part of the body can subsist apart from the rest of the body.

In Eph. 4:11-16 Paul illustrated the importance of our interaction with each other as members of the body.  He said that the body only grows when each individual part functions as it should in conjunction with all the other parts of the body.  This is one of our purposes as Christians.  If we are not involving ourselves in the lives of our fellow Christians we are not only missing out on the encouragement and edification that they give us, but we are robbing them of the same.

In 1624 the English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

As human beings we are inexorably tied to one another.  What affects one affects all of us.  However, how much more so is this true of Christians?  We cannot help each other on our journey to eternal life until and unless we are involved in each other’s lives.  We, of all people, should desire the sweet fellowship of those who share our faith in Jesus Christ.  We, of all people, should get out of our comfort zone and refuse to be loners.

Which Way?

 

On the night in which the Lord was betrayed, He revealed to the eleven apostles (Judas having been dismissed from the Passover meal) that He would be leaving them.  However, the Lord assured them that they would not be forgotten.  In Jn. 14:1-4 He promised them that He was going away to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, and that one day He would return to take them there.  Then, He told them that they knew the way to where He was going.

In v. 5 Thomas asked the question that each of them must have been thinking.  He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”  The Lord’s reply in v. 6 was simple, yet enigmatic.  He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  This could not have been the answer the apostles expected.  They were still expecting the Lord to establish an earthly kingdom so they may have thought He was going to some wilderness place to which they had never been.

An earthly kingdom of the type they anticipated was never the Lord’s plan, though.  His was and remains a spiritual kingdom.  During His ministry on the earth the Lord revealed that His miraculous works showed that the kingdom of God had come upon mankind (Mt. 12:28).  Nevertheless, we don’t enter the kingdom in the same way that we catch the flu.  Although the kingdom is all around us, we still need directions in order to enter it.

This prompts us to ask a question which is very much like the one the apostles asked at the Passover meal in Jn. 14.  If we truly wish to enter the kingdom we must ask, “Which way must we go?”  The answer the Lord gave that night is still the correct, and only, answer.  The Lord is the way to the kingdom of God, but what does this actually mean?  How can we know that we are going the right way?

In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord gave the first indication of which way we must go in order to reach the eternal reward.  In Mt. 7:13-14 He said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  This, like the Lord’s statement in Jn. 14:6, seems to be a simple declaration, but He had something very particular in mind by both of these statements.

To follow Jesus, the way, and to enter the narrow gate, means to obey His commands.  This is the most basic factor in our quest to enter the kingdom and to receive eternal life.  On the night of His betrayal, shortly after telling the eleven that He is the way, the Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15).  This was not something new, for He had emphasized this much earlier in His ministry.

In Luke’s record of the Sermon on the Mount he included a statement not found in Matthew’s account.  In Lk. 6:46 the Lord asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?”  He then followed with the parable of the wise and foolish builders.  His point was that we will only be blessed by God if we obey the things which His Son commands us.  This is a timeless truth that is, sadly, lost on many today.

Nearly 600 years before the birth of our Lord, Jeremiah said, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).  This is as true today as it was then.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to ask, “Which way?”, as we travel down the pathway of life.  Then, having received the answer, “I am the way,” let us follow the Lord by obeying everything He commands us.

I Am Resolved

 

The beginning of a new year is the time at which many people make resolutions regarding what they intend to do in that year.  It may be a commitment to live more healthily, or to stop some bad habit.  It may be to do a better job at work or at school, or to improve one’s skills in some area.  However, in one sense New Year’s resolutions have become synonymous with failure.  This is because so few people make them, and fewer still actually keep them.

Whether one keeps a typical New Year’s resolution may not seem important in the ebb and flow of life.  We may wish we were slimmer, healthier, more active, more intelligent, kinder, or wiser, but most of us manage to rationalize our failure to become so.  As our resolutions drop by the wayside, we comfort ourselves with the thought that at least we did not become worse in these areas of our lives.  This may or may not be the case, but the farther into the New Year we go, the less it matters to us.

When we consider resolutions in the context of spiritual matters, however, they are far more significant.  To resolve means to reach a firm decision about something.  The implication is that once this decision has been made it must be carried through without fail.  This is certainly the expectation that we find in the scriptures.  In Acts 11 the scripture tells us that certain disciples came to Antioch of Syria and began preaching to the Gentiles.  When the church in Jerusalem heard of this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on this report.

When Barnabas came to Antioch he found that these Gentiles had indeed been converted to Christ.  In Acts 11:23 Luke says, “Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.”  These Gentiles had made a firm decision to obey the gospel and to follow Christ.  Barnabas exhorted them to remain true to that resolution.  The evidence suggests that they did just that, for beginning in Acts 13 the scriptures tell us that this church sent Paul out on three missionary journeys to proclaim the gospel across the Mediterranean.

Men like Barnabas and Paul are living examples of what being resolved in Christ means.  While the focus of the latter half of Acts is primarily on Paul’s work, we know that both he and Barnabas remained true to the Lord with resolute hearts the rest of their lives.  At the end of Paul’s life he summarized his situation in 2 Tim. 4:7-8.  He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

This is the key for all Christians.  We have made a resolution, a firm decision, to follow Jesus by our obedience to the gospel.  Therefore, we must remain true to that commitment with resolute heart through all the ups and downs of life.  This is the example of the great apostle, and it is the expectation of the scriptures.  The crown of righteousness is only given to those who fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith.

Therefore, as we begin a New Year, whether new in the faith or with many years in Christ, let us be resolved that we will “with resolute heart” remain true to the Lord.  Satan will try to deter us from this great resolution, but the reward for faithful service is too great to give up before reaching the goal.  In the words of the wonderful old hymn, let each of us say, “I am resolved, no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delight”.

A Happy New Year

 

As we prepare to welcome 2018, should the Lord grant it to us, there are some qualities that can insure we will indeed have a happy new year, if we are willing to make them a part of our character.  To illustrate this principle consider the following qualities, each of which stands for one of the letters in our standard  year-end greeting, “Happy New Year!”

H — Honesty.  The old adage says that honesty is the best policy.  For believers it is the only policy.  In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord said, “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, Yes,’ or ‘No, No,’; anything beyond these is of evil.”  

A — Ambition.  Ambition can be good or bad, but the believer’s ambition is molded by God’s word.  In 1 Th. 4:11-12 Paul told Christians to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life, to attend to their own business, and to work with their hands.

P — Persistence.  The human adage is “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”  This agrees with scripture.  Those who are faithful until death will receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).  If we fight the good fight, keep the faith, and finish the course, we will receive the reward (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

P — Prayer.  Most people pray only as a last resort.  Believers are exhorted to pray without ceasing (1 Th. 5:17).  If we do so, we are promised that the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

Y — Yearning.  To yearn for something means to desire it to such a degree that one would do anything to possess it or to achieve it.  The Lord said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”.  Hunger and thirst are two of the strongest yearnings that humans have.  If we have this kind of yearning for God’s word, we will be blessed, and happy.

 

E — Enthusiasm.  Human enthusiasm is fickle and can fade as quickly as it rises.  However, this word actually means “God in us.”  If we truly have God in us, we will not lose our enthusiasm for doing His will.  In Col. 2:23-24  Paul said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily (or enthusiastically), as for the Lord, rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

W — Wisdom.  Some equate knowledge with wisdom.  Unfortunately, there are too many knowledgable people who lack wisdom for this to be true.  Wisdom cannot come without knowledge, but knowledge alone makes one arrogant (1 Cor. 8:1).  As we learn God’s word, it exhorts us to ask God for wisdom and promises that He will grant it to us (Jas. 1:5).  True wisdom is exhibited by obedience, as the Lord said in Mt. 7:24-25.  The wise man is the one who hears God’s word and obeys it.

Y — Yoked With Christ.  Many adults consider themselves to be free from all constraints, but everyone serves a master.  There are only two that we may serve, though.  In Rom. 6:16-18 Paul said that we are slaves of whomever we present ourselves to in obedience.  These masters are sin or righteousness.  When we yoke, or bind, ourselves to Christ in obedience to His word, then we will be blessed.  In Mt. 11:28-30 the Lord said His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

E — Eagerness.  Some people must be dragged kicking and screaming in protest to every good thing in life.  This attitude greatly diminishes the value of that good thing, whatever it may be.  However, believers are called to be eager in their pursuit of godliness.  The people of the ancient city of Berea were such.  They eagerly received the word and examined the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).

A — Amity.  Amity simply means love.  We all want it, and we all need it, but in human terms love can be a very fragile thing.  This is because human love is based on our emotions.  In Christ, however, love is a choice of the will.  It is a determination to do what is best and right for all in every circumstance.  In Jn. 14:15 the Lord said if we love Him we will keep His commandments.  In 1 Jn. 4:17 John said that we love because love is from God.

R — Respect.  To respect means to give due regard to others.  This doesn’t always happen in human relationships, but it is expected of believers.  In Rom. 12:17 Paul exhorted believers to respect what is right in the sight of all men.  He was referring to God’s word.  If we respect God’s word, we will have no trouble giving respect to others, or receiving it from them.

Each of these qualities will contribute to a truly happy life here on earth.  Best of all, these qualities, which are based upon the truth of God’s word, will lead those who practice them to the greatest happiness of all, eternal life.

Happy New Year!

It’s A Wonderful Life

 

One of the classic movies of the Christmas season is the 1946 film, It’s A Wonderful Life.  It starred James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose dreams were always derailed by some calamity not of his making.  After spending most of his life helping others while putting his own desires on hold, George suffered what appeared to be the final blow.  His savings and loan company was short on its accounts and he was about to be arrested for bank fraud.  Believing that his life had been meaningless, George’s despair led him to the brink of suicide.  Only the intervention of an unlikely angelic visitor prevented George from taking his own life.  In a heart-rending final sequence, the film concludes with dozens of townspeople giving George the money to balance his books and avoid prison.  In the closing scene George’s brother offered a holiday toast to his big brother, “the richest man in Bedford Falls,” as everyone sang Auld Lang Syne.

It’s A Wonderful Life was one of the last of a genre of films in the 1930s and 1940s that extolled the basic goodness of the American people.  However idealized these portrayals may have been, we believed that this is the kind of people we ought to be, even if we sometimes failed to live up to these ideals.  Sadly, it is not so certain that we are this kind of people today.

Most of us hope for happiness and success and all the things that moviemakers have often portrayed as being the signs of a wonderful life.  The nature of human life is such, however, that we sometimes wonder if we can ever achieve it.  We expect ups and downs, successes and failures, good times and bad.  We hope that as we weigh them on the scales of time that the good will outweigh the bad.  If so, we may look upon our life and say it was good, even if not as wonderful as common culture defines it.

Christians on the other hand have a different perspective.  The Lord promised that He came so we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).  The English word “life” translates several Greek words.  Two of these words are bios and zoe.  These are the words from which “biology” and “zoology” are derived.  While both of these terms may be used to describe one’s physical life or one’s material possessions, the Lord used zoe in a particular sense in His teachings.  Zoe is the word that is always used in scripture with reference to eternal life.  Thus, it has come to have a more significant meaning and application to Christians.

Some have made their careers preaching a “health and wealth” gospel from Jn. 10:10, but this is not what the Lord intended.  When the Lord said He came so we may have life abundantly, He was not referring to our physical life and material possessions.  We may indeed lead healthy and successful lives and amass great fortune in life, but the Lord’s purpose in coming was for us to have a better life which is eternal in nature.

To have abundant life is to be safe in the fold that is guarded and provided for by the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  In this fold, we are under His watchful care.  He knows us by name and He calls us to follow Him.  We know Him and we respond to His call.  Living in the fold of Christ is a wonderful life.  It is so, not because of the absence of trials, troubles, sickness, or failure.  It is a wonderful life because we know that what happens to us here cannot compare to the glory that will be revealed to us at the end of time (Rom. 8:18).  It is a wonderful life because godliness holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:8).  If we belong to Christ we live better here, and we will live better in eternity.  This, truly, makes it a wonderful life!