Reconciliation

The thing that separates the human race from all other creatures on the earth is that it was created for the specific purpose of having fellowship with God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man in his own image, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The fall of mankind resulted in the separation of God and man (Genesis 3:8) and made it necessary for something to be done to restore the fellowship that was once existed (Genesis 3:15). One of the first steps in God’s plan of salvation was the establishment of a covenant with Abraham that made it possible for them to have a relationship based on equality. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word that is translated counted, chashab (khaw-shab’) means that God ‘reckoned’ Abraham’s faith as righteousness (H2803). Reckon is an accounting term that has to do with settling accounts, to make a calculation. Generally, the word chashab “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived.” Therefore, when God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, he was applying the credit that was established when Jesus died on the cross in advance in order to make it possible for Abraham to be free from his moral debt. The biblical term for this is act is atonement. The theological meaning is that of “‘covering over,’ often with the blood of a sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29; Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

The beginning of the restoration of fellowship between God and mankind was the construction of a tabernacle which was also referred to as the tent of meeting, a place where God could reside among the Israelites (Exodus 25:8). God told Moses, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The materials that were needed for constructing the tabernacle were taken from the Israelites’ personal possessions through freewill offerings that had to eventually be stopped because the people brought much more than was needed for doing the work that the LORD had commanded them to (Exodus Exodus 36:5). Exodus 38:24-25 states that “all the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels by the shekel of the sanctuary.” Using today’s prices, the silver and gold that was used for constructing the tabernacle would have been worth about $70 million dollars. The interesting thing about the huge amount of gold and silver that was collected was that it came from millions of pieces of jewelry and other such trinkets that weren’t worth very much on an individual basis (Exodus 35:22). It was only because everyone did their small part that the massive fortune that it took to build the temple was able to be accumulated.

In spite of their extreme value, the articles that were inside the tabernacle were not kept under lock and key. The tabernacle or tent of meeting as it was also known was literally a tent that was made up of ten curtains that were clasped together so that they appeared to be a single structure (Exodus 26:6). The simple arrangement of the articles inside the tabernacle suggest that it was meant to be for the most part an open space where God’s glory could rest (Exodus 40:34-35). Exodus 40:2-8 describes the tabernacle’s layout. It states:

“On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. And you shall bring in the table and arrange it, and you shall bring in the lampstand and set up its lamps. And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. And you shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court.”

The most important item in the tabernacle was the ark of the testimony which was separated from everything else by a linen veil (Exodus 40:3). The Hebrew word that is translated veil in Exodus 40:3, paroketh (paw-roh’-keth) is derived from the word perek (peh’-rek) which means “to break apart; fracture, i.e. severity” (H6331). It could be that the veil was somewhat like a do not enter sign that served as a warning to any curious observers that might have been thinking about checking out its contents. The ark of the testimony is described in Exodus 25:10-16 which states:

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”

A cubit was roughly 18 inches, so the dimensions of the ark would have been about 45 inches long by 27 inches wide and 27 inches high. The fact that the ark was overlaid with pure gold inside and out meant that it was not only expensive to produce, but also very heavy. The poles that were used to carry the ark were very dense and therefore, resistant to decay, but they also added additional weight that made transporting the ark an arduous task. The stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments were kept inside the ark and were identified as “God’s testimony (Exodus 25:16; 31:18; 32:15).” Because the Ten Commandments represent the covenant that God made with Israel, they are also called the “‘tables of the covenant’ (see Deuteronomy 9:9; 11:15);” and they were preeminent in the tabernacle. As a result, the tabernacle is sometimes called the tabernacle of the testimony; and the ark is sometimes called the ark of the testimony (H5715).

The Apostle Paul talked about God’s word in the context of something that is being veiled from unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Paul may have associated his gospel with the ark of the testimony because he received it from God through direct revelation (Ephesians 3:5). Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us: (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul referred to his physical body as a jar of clay in order to emphasize the point that God was using him as a vessel for carrying his word to the Gentiles, but being made out of clay meant that Paul wasn’t necessarily a good vessel or one that was enhancing the contents of his message in any way. Paul indicated that the surpassing power of the gospel, which was its ability to draw men to God, belonged to God and not to those who were preaching it (2 Corinthians 4:7). The Greek word that is translated surpassing, huperbole (hoop-er-bol-ay’) comes from the word huperballo (hoop-er-bal’-lo) which means “to throw beyond the usual mark” or surpass in the sense of going above and beyond the call of duty (G5235). The Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to miraculous power (G1411) makes it seem as if surpassing power would have been unnecessary, but I think that Paul wanted people to understand that God’s word has no limits. It can achieve anything that God wants it to. Paul said:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16)

The reconciliation that Paul was talking about had to do with bringing together the Jews and the Gentiles under one covenant that would make it possible for them to share in the riches of God’s grace. Paul explained to the Ephesians that Jesus achieved a level of excellence that would result in God’s commandments being fulfilled. Paul said:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

The body building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16) was one of the main lessons of Paul’s gospel and a central theme of Jesus’ teaching during his ministry on earth. When he was asked to give a brief summary of the Mosaic Law, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Paul used the comparison of a tent and a building to drive home the point that our physical bodies, though similar to our spiritual bodies, do not have the same capacity to make us feel at home in God’s presence. Paul said:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Paul’s reference to being found naked was related to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. It says in Genesis 3:7-11, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'” Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God because they knew they had disobeyed his commandment and became aware of the fact that they were naked through their sin. “Nakedness (the uncovered sex organs) is symbolic of shame” (H6172). Paul used nakedness as an analogy when he compared mortality with eternal life. He explained, “not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4), meaning that God’s gift of eternal life takes away the shame that sin makes us feel.

Jesus was able reconcile God and mankind because his death on the cross paid the penalty for every sin that ever had and would be in the future committed against God (Hebrews 9:26). Paul said that “he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5). The guarantee that Paul was talking about was “part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest” (G728). In this instance, that means that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a partial reality of what it will be like when believers are resurrected and have the full benefit of eternal life. Paul concluded, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Walking by faith is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts and minds. In order to walk by faith, we have to depend on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the way that God wants us to live our lives. Paul said, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he had done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul’s use of the word soma (so’-mah), which is translated body in this verse, was not meant to draw attention to the physical activities of our day to day life, but to emphasize the current reality of living on earth. Paul said that each of us will receive what we are due for what we have done during the time in which we were limited by physical existence (Matthew 25:14-46).

Paul summarized his message about Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation this way:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

The essential point that Paul wanted to make was that the way God was able to reconcile the world to himself was by not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul described a process that he later referred to as regeneration in which believers become a new creation. He said, “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul talked about regeneration in his letter to Titus where he stated, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). Regeneration “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is the act by which God brings him from death to life” (G3824). Paul also mentioned the renewal of the Holy Spirit: “The gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive, but is a fellow worker with God.” Paul indicated that the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit work together to bring believers into a state of oneness with God and others. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus asked that his followers might “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). In other words, Jesus’ request was that we would be completely reconciled to God and others, meaning that there would be equality between us and Jesus in God’s accounting system.

Love

John’s first epistle focused on the characteristics of God that are expected to be seen in his children. John started out by saying that God is light and in him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5) and then stated, “If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (John 1:6). John was pointing out that there should be similarities between Jesus’ behavior and our own. The way that we become like Jesus is by following his instructions and confessing our sins to God. John said, “If we live in the light as He is in the light, we share what we have in God with each other. And the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, makes our lives clean from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, NLV).

John’s understanding of the transformation that occurs through spiritual rebirth was limited, but he saw Jesus as the pattern that all born-again believers were to follow. John acknowledged his limited understanding when he said, “Dear friends, we are God’s children now. But it has not yet been shown to us what we are going to be. We know that when He comes again, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2, NLV). John seemed to be saying that our eternal existence begins the moment we accept Jesus as our savior, but our likeness or similarity to Jesus is limited by our current physical form. John talked about seeing Jesus as if it was a requirement for the full manifestation of our eternal character to become operational.

John mentioned the quality of love numerous times in his first epistle. The Greek words agapao (ag-ap-ah’-o) and agape (ag-ah’-pay) appear more than 20 times in the second and third chapters of 1 John alone. John said, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). John went on to say that our love for other believers should be demonstrated in tangible ways that can be measured (1 John 3:18) and then, he said about God, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).

John implied there was a connection between obedience to God’s commandments and getting answers to our prayers. John clarified what he meant by keeping God’s commandments when he stated, “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). Basically, what John was saying was that all God requires us to do in order to be blessed by him is to be born again and to love each other, but according to John, our ability to love others isn’t even dependent on us; it’s dependent on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 John 3:24).

Jesus connected being born again with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and made it seem as if these two aspects of spiritual life were essentially one and the same. Jesus told Nicodemus:

Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh. Whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wants to and you hear its sound. You do not know where it comes from or where it goes. It is the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit of God.” (John 3:6-8, NLV)

Jesus indicated that the only requirement for being born again was to believe in him. He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

John identified God as the source of agape or unselfish love and went so far as to say that apart from God it is impossible for us to love each other the way God loves us. He stated, “Dear friends, let us love each other, because love comes from God. Those who love are God’s children and they know God. Those who do not love do not know God because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8, NLV). John indicated that God demonstrated his unselfish love toward us by sending his son Jesus into the world to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10) and then he stated, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Real faith

At the same time Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, he wrote a personal note to a man named Philemon whose slave he had converted to Christianity. Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to forgive his slave Onesimus for stealing from him and running away because he was now his brother in Christ. Paul’s personal appeal to Philemon was based on the same principle he had been talking about in his letter to the Colossians. Paul said, “I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 5-6, NKJV).

Paul’s statement, “that the sharing of your faith may become effective” (Philemon 6, NKJV) meant that he wanted Philemon’s faith to be real, he wanted him to act like the Christian he claimed to be. Philemon was well known for his hospitality to believers (Philemon 7), but the fact that he owned slaves may have made some people wonder whether or not he had actually been born again. Paul encouraged Philemon to exhibit behavior that was consistent with being a follower of Christ, doing something that Jesus would have done.

Paul’s appeal to Philemon to act like a Christian and forgive his brother in Christ was counter to the culture of that day. Slaves were expected to be treated differently than others and were severely punished for any wrong doing. Under Roman law, Onesimus’ crime was punishable by death (Introduction to The Epistle of Paul to Philemon, p. 1754). Paul explained to Philemon that there may have been a greater purpose in what happened to him. He said, “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 15-16, NKJV).

Paul concluded his appeal to Philemon by stating, “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me” (Philemon 17, NKJV). The Greek word Paul used that is translated partner, koinonos means a sharer that is associate (G2839). What Paul was saying was that he and Philemon were equals in the eyes of Christ and Onesimus was also. Paul pointed out in his letter to the Colossians that there was no distinction between believers. He said, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

A good example

The conclusion to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians included a few good examples of appropriate Christian behavior. Paul started by encouraging the Corinthians to support the believers in Jerusalem that were suffering financially because of their faith. He said:

I want to tell you what to do about the money you are gathering for the Christians. Do the same as I told the churches in the country of Galatia to do. On the first day of every week each of you should put aside some of your money. Give a certain part of what you have earned. Keep it there because I do not want money gathered when I come. When I get there, I will give letters to the men you want to send. They will take your gift to Jerusalem. If I can go, they can go with me. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4, NLV)

The second thing Paul told the Corinthians to do was to show Timothy respect because of his work in Paul’s ministry. Paul said, “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers” (1 Corinthians 16:10-11, ESV). Basically, what Paul was saying was don’t give Timothy the cold shoulder; treat him like you would me if I were coming to visit you.

Paul’s final admonition to the Corinthians was for them to behave like mature Christians. Paul told the Corinthians to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). The words Paul used: watch, stand, and be strong all had to do with guarding a city. Most likely Paul was referring to the kingdom of heaven and wanted the Corinthians to be alert to the threat of spiritual warfare. Paul’s last statement, “Let all that you do be done in love” was probably meant as a general rule to guide their behavior. Whenever the Corinthians were unsure how to handle a situation, the easiest way to determine God’s will was for them to ask the question, how can I show this person love? Ultimately, Paul’s goal for them was to act like Christ.

Love

Paul concluded his discussion of spiritual gifts with this statement, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31, NKJV). Paul’s reference to a more excellent way was meant to describe the ultimate attainment for a believer who wants to become like Christ. You could say that Paul was unlocking the secret to a successful Christian life. He said:

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I do not have love, it will sound like noisy brass. If I have the gift of speaking God’s Word and if I understand all secrets, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I know all things and if I have the gift of faith so I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give everything I have to feed poor people and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, it will not help me. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLV)

Paul was talking about a way of life the ran counter to the mainstream culture of his day. Paul’s ministry took place when the Roman Empire was at the height of its success. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written around 55 B.C., when Nero had just become the emperor of Rome. Nero was one of the most violent leaders of the Roman Empire who killed his own mother and made public his hatred of Christians by burning them alive.

Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 emphasized the importance of putting others above ourselves. His statement “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV) suggested that Paul expected believers to strive toward perfection in their pursuit of loving others. In fact, Paul likened Christian love to the completeness or perfect maturity that a believer is able to achieve in his or her life. Paul stated, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).

The Greek word translated perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is teleios. “Teleios means brought to its end, finished” (G5046). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The word he used, teleo and teleios are derived from the same Greek word telos, which means “to set out for a definite point or goal” and by implication, “the conclusion of an act or state” (G5056). Paul made it clear that the goal every Christian should be to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39), but he also understood that perfection was not something that could be attained in this life. Paul concluded his discussion with a statement about life after death. He said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face;: now I now in part; but then shall I know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). What Paul was saying was that everything we know about each other right now is like a snapshot that can only capture a brief moment in time. When we get to heaven, we will see the whole story and be able to recognize the truth about who we really are. We will have a type of full perception that enables us to be perfectly united with everyone we love (G1921).

Walking in the Spirit

Paul’s explanation of Christian living focused on the freedom believers obtained by becoming children of God. He said, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). The Greek word translated liberty, eleutheria (el-yoo-ther-ee’-ah) is derived from the word eleutheros (el-yoo’-ther-os) which means “unrestrained (to go at pleasure) that is (as a citizen) not a slave” (G1658). Slavery was common in the Roman Empire and it is likely that many of the people that Paul preached the gospel to were not Roman citizens. Paul may have used the term eleutheros to describe the effect of salvation as a way of illustrating the complete transformation that occurred when someone was born again.

Paul defined liberty as a choice to love others instead of oneself. He stated, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:13-14). The connection Paul made between love and liberty may have come from the personal revelation he received from the Lord, Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). Paul wanted us to understand that the result of receiving salvation by grace was that the Christian’s heart was no longer to be focused on harming others. Instead, love was to be demonstrated to everyone in need.

Paul identified the essential key to successful Christian living in Galatians 5:16 where he stated, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” The phrase “walk in the Spirit” implies spiritual activity. What Paul may have been thinking of was the daily decision-making that controls our behavior. In connection with the freedom he referred to in Galatians 5:1, Paul seemed to be saying that walking in the Spirit was a continual choice to do what God’s word tells us to. Jesus illustrated this principle in his parable of the good Samaritan who chose to stop and help a wounded man in the road rather than pass him by like the priest and Levite had (Luke 10:25-37).

Paul indicated the result of walking in the Spirit was the development of spiritual fruit. After listing the works of the flesh, Paul said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Even though these characteristics might seem like natural human tendencies, Paul made it clear that they were only possible as a result of the Holy Spirit’s influence on the believer’s heart. Paul’s statement, “against such there is no law” meant that keeping the law would not produce these divine behaviors. It was only by identification with Jesus Christ that a believer could be expected to act like a child of God.

Abiding in Christ

Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe his relationship with his followers. The main point Jesus was trying to communicate was the importance of sticking together. Jesus used the words abide and remain to convey his message, as well as the term husbandman to describe God’s role in the process. In the second and third verses of John 15, Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

The word translated purgeth in John 15:2 is representative of the pruning process, but it actually means to cleanse and metaphorically, Jesus spoke of purging his worshippers of guilt (G2508). To be clean means that we are free from guilt. Jesus said in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” In other words, reading our Bibles and hearing its content preached to us takes away our guilt. We grow closer to Jesus and show visible signs of spiritual health when we spend time studying the Bible.

Jesus linked our ability to abide in him with love and obeying his commandments. He said in John 15:10, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” The word translated love in this verse is agape (ag-ah´-pay), which is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God” (G26).

If you think of agape love as doing what God wants us to do rather than what we ourselves want to do, then abiding in Jesus’ love means that we are always doing the will of God. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Jesus did God’s will by dying on the cross for us, so we should show our love for others by doing God’s will for them. This could be as simple as praying for a friend that is sick or giving away our time by serving in a church ministry.

One of the keys to abiding in Christ and bearing fruit is the realization that we have been chosen by God and appointed to serve him (John 15:16). We are knit together by close spiritual bonds that form us into the family of God and separate us from the world (John 15:19). The separation we experience is actually evidence that we belong to God. The farther we get from the world, the adornment and decoration of temporal possessions, the closer we get to Jesus and the will of God.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

The law of love

Jesus’ teaching provided a sharp contrast to the laws of Moses which were intended to keep the Jews from defiling themselves and preventing them from entering the temple in order to worship God. Perhaps the most controversial statement Jesus made was directed at the multitude of followers that flocked to him for healing of their diseases. He told these believers, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27). This clear direction was probably intended to thin the crowd and impressed upon the people that sought fellowship with Jesus that his way of living was not about an easy way of life, but actually involved the hardest choice that anyone would ever have to make. Jesus didn’t say, forgive your enemies, or forget about the wrongs that they have committed against you, but he commanded his followers to love their enemies in the same way that God loved them.

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated love is agapao. The Greek word agape, which describes the attitude of God toward his Son (26), is derived from the word agapao. Agapao expresses love in a social or moral sense and is sometimes translated as “beloved” in reference to believers (25). Within Jesus’ explanation of this agapao type of love is what is sometimes referred to as the golden rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31). Afterward, Jesus stated, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them” (Luke 6:32). Jesus was telling his disciples that they had to live a completely different way if they wanted to be members of God’s kingdom. The first criteria for gaining access to God’s kingdom was a genuine love for all of mankind.

Digging deeper into his law of love, it could be seen that a principle of sowing and reaping or reciprocity was the basis of Jesus’ new way of life. Jesus told his disciples, “Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom, For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:36-38). Comparing his followers to the religious hypocrites that had condemned him for breaking the sabbath, Jesus’ warned his disciples against judging others (Luke 6:42) and told them, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).

After defining his remarkable law of love, Jesus encouraged his disciples with an example of what they could expect if they chose to follow his difficult teaching. He said:

Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: he is like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon the rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built a house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:47-49)

Rejection

God demonstrated his love for his chosen people by selecting them to receive his mercy and forgiveness even though they didn’t deserve it. God’s explanation for doing this can be found in Malachi 1:2-3, where it says, “I have loved you, saith the LORD, Yet you say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” The Hebrew word translated hated, sane´ (saw – nay´) “represents an emotion ranging from intense hatred to the much weaker set against” (8130). Regardless of the intensity of his negative emotions, what the LORD was making clear was that he had made an intentional effort to destroy Esau’s inheritance, while preserving that of his beloved people, the descendants of Jacob.

If there was any doubt about where God’s wrath was directed, the Jews were assured that it was not directed at them. Even though he had sent his people into captivity to punish their unfaithfulness, God did not abandon them or allow his people to be destroyed by their enemies. In fact, after they had been given permission to return to the Promised Land (Ezra 1:3), many of the Jews decided to stay in Babylon and were almost exterminated there (Esther 3:13). Even then, God delivered the Jews from their enemies and eventually commissioned Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem for their protection. Comparing the Jews to the Edomites, God said, “Whereas Edom saith, “We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever” (Malachi 1:4).

God’s disappointment with his people was primarily directed at their political and religious leaders. In particular, the priests had failed to teach his people how to live according to his laws. God warned the priesthood, stating, If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse on you, and will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already because ye do not lay it to heart” (Malachi 2:2). Another way of interpreting the phrase lay it to heart would be for God to say, You need to take me seriously or, You need to do what I tell you to. The thing the Jews seemed to always keep forgetting was their obligation to do God’s will. The priesthood was set aside for a particular purpose, to give God glory through their worship and their sacrifices in his temple. In his final reprimand of the priests, the LORD stated, “For the priests lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:8-9).