The Christian’s Ethic is Love

We just finished our exposition of 1 Cor. 13 this last Wednesday night. What a convicting chapter. What a mirror to the heart. Lord, help us to see our true state clearly! Help us to grow in our love for you and for others.

What 1 Cor. 13 does for us is it reminds us that the Christian’s ethic is love. When we say “ethic” what do we mean? The word “ethic” indicates for us principles of conduct (yes, that is John Murray’s title for his book on ethics). The word “ethic” indicates the moral code by which we live our lives. Our “ethic” is the guiding system by which we make moral choices and conduct ourselves. The Christian has an ethic, that is a moral code of conduct. But too often, in our circles especially, our ethic is a fundamentalist ethic. We have a taboo list, often comprised of things the Bible never explicitly or implicitly addresses. A “fundamentalist ethic” looks at ethics in black and white, root and branch. “This is evil because it has this source, this origin; this is wicked because it is worldly, and worldly is what I define it to be.” This kind of ethic is external. Worldliness, for instance, is primarily, if not exclusively, tied to places, things, activities, and not the heart. A fundamentalist ethic is easy, it is based on rules, plain and simple. There is no nuance, no gray, just rules. Now I believe in rules. I believe in the Law of God. I believe in the relevance and authority of the Ten Commandments. But a fundamentalist ethic always goes beyond God’s moral law. It smells like the Pharisees’ 613 prohibitions and commands, which helped “clarify” the Law of God.

In 1 Cor. 13, along with other passages on ethics in the NT, the text draws our focus not so much to what we do and don’t do. Don’t misunderstand. There are “put off” and “put on” passages. There are vice lists which we are to avoid, and virtue lists we are to emulate. But even these passages prove the point: the primary focus of the NT ethic is how we treat each other and that we love each other. When we consider, for instance, the fruit of the Spirit and the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-23), we see that there is an ethical focus that is horizontal, that is, many of the deeds of the flesh relate to how we treat others, as do many of the fruits of the Spirit. We cannot ignore this. The NT ethic is less concerned about whether you have a TV and is more concerned about how you treat your brother, your sister, and your neighbor. (I know, they didn’t have TVs in the NT era, but you get my point). The NT is not unconcerned with behavior and action, far from it, but it is primarily concerned about how I treat you and you treat me. My words matter. My attitude matters. Yes, my tone matters. My actions matter. Why? Because the Christian ethic is love.

So how are you doing? How am I doing? It is too easy to find examples of where we were kind and loving to someone who is kind and loving to us. Think about those relationships which are more difficult. Think about that person that you struggle with, or just don’t like. Think of that person you disagree with. Think of that person. How I treat that person is the real barometer of the work of the Spirit in my life. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:32-33).

Yesterday I had a point of contention with someone. I believed they were in the wrong. They believed that I was “sinfully uncharitable” with them. What happened? Well, I love this person. He is a brother. I went to him and explained to him why I believed he was wrong about something. He listened. He then spoke. I listened. We discussed. We asked questions. We explained. We listened. I asked for forgiveness. He granted it. He discussed some things he learned from the conversation, and how he could do better. Why do I bring this up? Because it is an example of real life. Real life will not be a perfect living out of Christian love, but a Christian ethic will govern how we respond to those we love, especially when we fail.

Here some questions we can ask ourselves for examining our ethic:

1.            Is there anyone in my life that I have mistreated because of pride or other sinful attitudes in my heart? If so, I have not walked in love. I need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and the person I have sinned against.

2.            Is there anyone in my life that I have spoken to, even in the name of truth, in a way that was hurtful, disrespectful, and proud? Oh saint, be careful here! It is easy for us to justify our words, justify our attitudes, and our tones. Have my words, even true words, been words of death? (Prov. 18:21). This is not “truthing in love” (Eph.4:15). If we are guilty, we need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and the person I have not loved.

 3.           Is there anyone in my life that receives the brunt of my impatience and lack of graciousness? If so, I am not walking in love. I need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and them.

4.            Is there anyone in my life that has suffered from my selfishness? If so, I am not walking in love and I need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and that person.

5.            Is there anyone in my life that I have held a grudge against, been embittered against, kept a record of their wrongs? There is no way we can love when we hold a grudge and keep a record. Take those grudges, that bitterness, and the ledger straight to the Cross, and leave it there, with your sins. Go and repent and seek forgiveness.

The Christian’s ethic is love. God cares about how I treat other people. When I soak in God’s love for me, I want to love Him more and love others better. Let us clean out the leaven of unloving words, thoughts, attitudes, and actions, and make a beeline to the Cross.

Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in the matchless hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded:

 What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this, thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to thee.

What a great prayer! But we could also add, “Lord, let me never, never outlive my live for my brothers, my sisters, and my neighbors.”

When I Am Afflicted and Needy

This morning I was reading Psalm 86, “A Prayer of David.” David was afflicted and needy. The combination of these two words creates a powerful picture of someone in distress. The first word (ʿānî) means “weak or afflicted from some kind of disability or distress.” In other words, it can be either physical or emotional. The second word (ʾebyôn) could poor in a material sense, but can also describe one who is in desperate need of help or deliverance.

David petitions Yahweh, his covenant God, as he does so often in the Psalms, to “incline Your ear and answer me.” His desperation is clear, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, For to You I cry all day long” (3).

Here is what struck me as I read this Psalm: The first thing is the vividness of David’s emotional state. He knew his weakness, he felt his distress, he was desperate.

The second thing is that he prays. “Well of course he prays.” No, don’t skip over this as if we all pray in times of deep distress. David prays and oh how he prays. What does he ask for? He asks God to “Make glad the soul of Your servant” (4a). His joy is gone, affliction and desperation have overwhelmed him, and now he prays and he prays for a glad soul. This echoes Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”

The next thing is that he prays with utter confidence in God’s goodness and God’s willingness to answer. God is “good, ready to forgive, abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you” (5). You can see other affirmations throughout of the Psalm of David’s confidence, but here is the lesson. When darkness overtakes us, we must pray, but we must pray remembering who our God is and what He is like and we must infuse those prayers with declarations of God’s goodness, even when it doesn’t feel like He is good.

The power of Psalm 86 is that David appears to have every reason to be depressed. Depression often causes us to withdraw and turn inward. But David will not turn inward, he turned upward. And he doesn’t simply turn upward so that he merely complains of his circumstances, he turns upward with bedrock truth about God. In his darkness his prayers are God-centered, read the whole Psalm, highlight everything David says is true about God. He petitions God towards the end, “Turn to me, and be gracious to me, Oh grant strength to Your servant, and save the son of your handmaid” (16). David’s confidence is so strong, “Because You, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” Maybe David is reflecting on times past, which is a good thing. Maybe he is so sure that God will come through that he can state it as if it has already happened. The bottom line is that David is honest about his state and condition, but he knows where to turn and how to turn.

Maybe today you need Psalm 86 because you are afflicted and needy. Cry out to the LORD, fill your prayers with His praise and glorious truth about Him. Remind yourself of who He is for you. He is the God who delivers the afflicted and needy.

The Fleeting Privilege of Parents

Life is a vapor (Hebrew: hebel). As you have heard many times, this is the pain of Ecclesiastes. Life is a breath on a cold morning, it appears and then is gone (James 4:14). The prime of life, the best part of earthly life, is spent working. There can be a monotony about that. But it occurred to me as I was thinking about being a grandpa and Ashley being a parent, that the prime of life is also spent parenting. Granted, parenting seems much more meaningful than work. We are talking about children, image-bearers, immortal souls, moral beings with minds, hearts, and wills. The prime of life is spent training them in the things of God, teaching them God’s Word, taking them to church, having family worship. The prime of life is spent having talks with them about the important and the not so important things of life.

The hebel of parenting is experienced in two ways. The first is that they grow up so very fast. They are little then they are big. They make little messes and then make bigger messes. It all goes by so fast. It can be downright depressing if you don’t keep perspective. Their lives are a vapor too. What you are experiencing, they will experience too, just like your parents before you. The prime of their life will be spent working and parenting too, and it will be here before you know it. We want them to stay kids forever, but that isn’t how God designed it. Their lives are also a breath on a cold morning. The breath doesn’t last forever, indeed, it is gone before you know it.

The second part of the hebel of parenting relates to what I’ve compared to chapters in a book. The way to ruin the end of one chapter is to try to prolong it instead of preparing for the next. Life is a series of vapors; each vapor is a short chapter in a short book. Try to prevent or delay the end of one chapter and the next one will start without you. That next chapter may start off differently from what you imagined because you didn’t finish the last chapter well. Although you can’t write the script for the next chapter, you can close out the current chapter in a way that you are a welcome part of the story for the next one.

Because life is a vapor, there is another perspective in Ecclesiastes: you can’t get more out of life than it was intended to give. You can’t turn life into an achievement to give you significance, a project to inflate your image or increase your joy. Life under the sun is life, and life is meant to be enjoyed as it races along, trying to suck more out of it than it can give sours it. The same truth applies to parenting. Don’t try to get more out of parenting than was intended. Parenting, in terms of children under your roof and care, is a temporary job. Why did God give us children? Why did He make us parents? Simple, to raise our children to become adults. Adulthood is the goal. If you try to squeeze your child so tightly and live as if they will be at home forever, you will exasperate them and possibly sour your relationship. By the way, they are not ours, they belong to God. God has given them as a fleeting stewardship for you to shape them and prepare them for adult life. They are a gift, not an achievement.

About nine years ago I wrote a very brief blog, “Let Them Follow and Please the Lord for Themselves”. I had heard a sad story about parents who had two daughters, one desperately wanted to go to college and earn a degree. She still wanted to be a wife and a mother, but she wanted to go to school. She believed God was leading her that way, opening doors for her. The parents dug in, “girls shouldn’t go to college.” The tension increased. This wasn’t rebellion, the girl was a solid Christian. The parents would not entertain the idea that God could directly lead their adult daughter. I guess it never occurred to them that they raised her to think for herself, follow God for herself, and make decisions for herself. She went to college. Although I do not reference the story, I concluded that blog with this paragraph:

We raise our kids to follow Christ, to live a life that is pleasing to Him, and then we try to play the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding them. If we have raised them right, we should yield to the Lord’s leading in their lives and not try to control them under some misguided concept of parental authority. If we have raised them right, they will seek our counsel and even the counsel of other godly people. If they are seeking to please the Lord and serve Him, then by all means let them! Do more than that, rejoice! It is sheer grace, not the wisdom of your parenting that brought them to that point.

Parents, keep in mind, parenting is enshrouded in hebel. Our lives are a vapor. Our kids’ lives are a vapor. Our calling and our stewardship are short. Let’s keep the goal in the mind. I say this as one who painfully realizes that my grandkids will grow up faster than my kids did. I say this as one who wants to grandparent in a way that builds into the lives of my grandchildren. Don’t mar the chapters because you didn’t accept the hebel. Don’t sour the relationship because you took your eye off the goal. As they start to spread their wings, rejoice, these are the moments for which you raised them.