Love Comes First

Indian Rocks 5

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT

Jesus didn’t say, “if you want to go to heaven, obey my commandments.” He did not say, “if you don’t want to go to hell, obey my commandments.” Okay we already knew all that, but while studying Monday’s lesson about the works of the law, it occurred to me something else Jesus did not say. He did notsay, “If you obey my commandments then I will love you.” He said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” I believe this is what Paul meant when he said we are not justified by the works of the law. The works of the law don’t lead us to God’s love. God already loves us! His love leads us to His law of love.

Paul does not teach earning love by our works, but rather working because we are already loved.

working through love. Galatians 5:6 NKJV

What is important is faith expressing itself in love. Galatians 5:6 NLT

The Adventure’s pledge goes, “Because Jesus loves me, I will always do my best.” The pledge does not go, “I will always do my best so Jesus will love me.”

Please take a look with me at a couple of passages, where Paul uses the phrase “Works [or deeds] of the law.”

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. … Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. Romans 3:28-31 NLT

Notice, justification by faith establishes the law. That’s because God is the One doing the justifying and God is love and His law is love, which is why Paul says that justification by love will establish the law of love.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! Galatians 2:16-17 NKJV

Paul makes it clear that our works will not lead to God’s favor, but God’s favor will lead us to works of love. God’s love and justification will not lead us to sin. Paul says Christ is not the minister of sin. He does not give us grace so that we can continue in sin and disobedience. Suppose I promised to pay everyone’s speeding tickets here in Florida. An officer pulls a man over and gives him a $200.00 speeding ticket. “No problem!” the man says, “I will just take this ticket over to William and he will pay for it.” And the next time he does the same thing and the next time. By paying his speeding ticket all the time I would be encouraging him to speed! This is very dangerous. Paul says this is not how grace works. Grace and justification by faith lead to obedience.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV

Notice God’s grace does not respond to our faith. Our faith responds to God’s grace. God does not say, “William has faith so I will give him grace.” God gives me grace and that is why I have faith. Notice too in the passage that while works do not lead to grace, grace leads to good works. In legalism our works lead to God’s favor.  In the gospel God’s favor leads to our good works.

As with us, this is how Jesus justified the woman taken in adultery.

“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” John 8:11 NKJV

Notice Jesus did not tell her that if she would go and sin no more that He would not condemn her. It is because He gave her favor instead of condemnation that she could go and sin no more.

In legalism and pagan religions, the works of the law lead to the gods love and acceptance. In the gospel God’s love and acceptance lead us to express our love by doing good works, because we love Him because He already loves us!

Thus Jesus said,

If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT

A Tribute to Community Service Volunteers

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

How special are the men and women working in our community services centers around the world? Well consider this: Nowhere in the Bible do I read of a high priest being raised from the dead, or a pastor or head elder. But I do read this:

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. Acts 9:36-41 NKJV

I remember when I was a boy, Seventh-day Adventist Churches named their community services centers after Dorcas, and they were called Dorcas buildings. Like Dorcas, community services volunteers demonstrate to the community the love and compassion of Jesus today. Through community services centers we see a practical demonstration of the very essence of Who God is. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing practical services for the community, this is the one branch of the church the community would most obviously miss if the church were to disappear.

I know we are not saved by works. I realize many a hard worker has died at an early age. Still, I wonder if Dorcas was such a wise steward of her time and blessed so many people in the community, demonstrating the nature of God, that God felt it necessary to extend her life? High priests, apostles, pastors and head elders have never been raised from the dead yet, but God raised a humble community services center worker back to life. That tells me community services workers have a very special place in God’s heart and in my heart too! Thank you to all of you who minister to the community at your local Seventh-day Adventist Community Service Centers!

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

Salvation is Not Based on Rank or Title

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Years ago Brett Favre, a famous American football quarterback said in a commercial,

“the history books won’t record me as a quarterback, but as a football player.”

As well as setting all kinds of passing records as a quarterback, Favre also was not afraid to block or even make tackles if the other team got the ball. While the quarterback position is considered a glamorous position, Favre was eager to work just like everyone else to win. He did not let his position define who he was. He let his hard work define him. When I saw that commercial I remember thinking to myself, I don’t want to be remembered as a Bible Worker or lay pastor. I want to be remembered as a Christian.

Jesus received His authority by his behavior and not by any title. Jesus was willing to work as a Servant to help others become winners.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 NKJV

While Jesus had not titles or glamorous positions neither did Enoch. Yet God took Him to heaven not because He was a high priest. He wasn’t. He wasn’t a king either. He was not the head elder at church or Bible Worker or pastor. Enoch was known for one thing. And that one thing is why He went to heaven without ever seeing death.

And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:24 NKJV

Enoch was not taken to heaven for being a priest or king. He was taken to heaven because He walked with God.

Ellen White, In Gospel Workers Page 255 tells this story.

God’s messengers must tarry long with Him, if they would have success in their work. The story is told of an old Lancashire woman who was listening to the reasons that her neighbors gave for their minister’s success. They spoke of his gifts, of his style of address, of his manners. “Nay,” said the old woman, “I will tell you what it is. Your man is very thick with the Almighty.”

No matter what your talents, gifts or positions or titles are, your success comes from being “very thick with the Almighty.” Your entrance into heaven will be because you walked with God.

No one was ever taken to heaven for being a king or priest, pastor or elder. God takes those who walk with Him.