We all know that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church was pretty harsh. Paul spoke very boldly concerning their divisiveness that was driving Christians back into their former paganism. There was little tolerance for such behavior in the church. Christians were fighting over spiritual gifts, were living in rampant sexual sin–the kind that even pagans were ashamed of, they were getting drunk at the Lord’s supper and excluding the poor, their worship was complete chaos, and women and men volleyed for status in the church, to name a few.
In Paul’s second letter, he reminds them again that that behavior belongs to a former life. Now they have hope through Christ Jesus. Then he made an extremely bold statement: “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end” (2 Cor. 3:12, 13 ESV). We are very bold, not like Moses! Now that’s a bold statement! Last time I checked, Moses sort of led the Israelites across dry ground in the middle of the Red Sea. Moses also appeared and spoke with Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountain!
Speaking of being transfigured, Paul goes on in 2 Corinthians 2, after telling them that they are bolder than Moses, to say that they “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (Vs. 18). The word he used is the same word Matthew and Mark used to say that Jesus was transformed or transfigured in front of them! So now we Christians, through the Spirit, are also being transformed with Christ the same image. In other words, we are becoming just like Christ by mirroring his image. This, in turn, gives us absolute boldness to tell other people about Christ.
When Jesus preached the famous sermon on the mount, he told his disciples not to be anxious about their life, what they will eat or drink tomorrow or what they will wear. He assured them that God cares more for them than he does all the other creatures he takes care of. He asked an important rhetorical question: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 ESV).
Jesus then did a compare and contrast with what the Gentiles seek verses what Christ-followers should seek. The Gentiles seek after food, drink, and clothes. Jesus said, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:32-33).
It seems counterintuitive to seek God instead of food, drink, and clothing but God is clear that seeking the kingdom and God’s righteousness first will ensure that the food, drink, and clothing will be taken care of. As our theme suggests, we must always put God first in everything!
Our theme this year is God First. This quarter’s focus is on God and you. As children of God, we can’t talk about our relationship with God without focusing on prayer. Prayer is vital to our faith, spiritual health, and for building our relationship with God. Without prayer, we have no communication with God. Jesus showed the importance of prayer in the garden when he said to Peter, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 ESV).
When God established the Temple as his house, he told Solomon that he will tune his ear to the people who humbly pray and seek his face: “. . . if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). God promises that “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place” (vs. 15).
Over and over God is calling his people to repent, pray, and seek him. God always says that he heals them when they seek and pray. A case-in-point is when Hezekiah prayed for the Israelites when they repented but celebrated the Passover in a way that was not commanded. Hezekiah poured over the people in prayer “And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30:20).
This year’s theme is God first. We’ve been talking about God and you–developing a deeper relationship with God. John says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV). God loved us enough to send his only son for us. Therefore, John concludes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (vs. 11).
We have confidence that God remains in us because he gives us his Spirit. Furthermore, “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (vs. 15). This gives us absolute confidence for the day of judgment and we know that we will spend eternity with God.
John concludes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (vs. 18). If we’ve really been perfected in love, Christians should have no fear of death or judgment. This gives us peace of mind and courage to teach others, knowing that we are secure with God.
Everyone who has ever read the Bible at all is familiar with the creation narrative. On day seven God rested from His work and called the day holy: “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:3 ESV). Hebrews echoes the holiness of resting with God: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9, 10).
Jesus, of course, invites people to enter into his protective rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). There is ample evidence that rest is not only beneficial for our walk with God, but it is actually commanded.
God designed us to rest from our work. When we do, there is a clear link to peace. Over and over again the scriptures tell us that we will find peace when we rest. Psalm 23 is a very clear example of this. A huge part of working on our relationship with God entails resting both with and in him.
Our family has a hard and fast rule when we visit anywhere, whether it’s a restaurant, hotel, or are a guest somewhere. Our rule is to always leave a place better than you found it. This is a rule that we never break. As parents, it’s great to watch our kids pick up trash, tidy things up, and wipe things down. We taught them not to refuse to clean up other people’s messes. Even if the mess is not ours, we still clean up and leave the place better than we found it.
But a more important principle that we need to teach is to always leave a person better than what we found them. There may be some things in their life that is out of sorts. They may be struggling with something or are just having a terrible day. We may not be able to fix their problems, but are we leaving them in better shape than when we found them?
Romans 12:10 (ESV) says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In other words, leave people in better shape than you found them. Doing this takes a tremendous amount of self-control. We have to be intentional about it. We have to stay positive. When we build others up, we are built up too.
The book of Leviticus talks a lot about the holiness of God. God is holy (set apart), therefore we are holy. Holiness means that God’s people are distinguished from the world. Where the world perpetuates violence, injustices, and hatred, God’s people are to show compassion, justice, and love. God does not permit his people to take vengeance.
There are very specific commandments for how to treat one’s neighbor. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV). This commandment is what Jesus referred to as “the second greatest commandment,” behind loving the Lord your God. In fact, these two commandments were so strong that Jesus said all of the law and the prophets hinge on these two commandments.
Over the next few weeks we will specifically talk about what it means to love ourselves. There are plenty of references in the Bible yet Christians don’t seem to take this charge to love ourselves as seriously as they should. Love is not perfect if we don’t love ourselves.