Jesus: Giver of Grace & Truth

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John 1:14 – 18

The Word Became Flesh

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.1

Stop!  Listen!  God’s Word is speaking powerfully here.  What we know to be true, and have heard many times, is a very profound truth.  Nine short words that say so much.  In fact, a large part of the Christian message is contained within these words.  What are these words you say?  They are the first nine words of this new section we are studying, brief and succinct but very powerful:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

As we learned from our first study (John 1:1-5), the “Word” was, and is, one of the eternal Persons of the Godhead.  This Person, the Word, was the Agent through whom all of the created universe came into existence and became real in time and space.  And now we find out that this Eternal Word stepped into our time and space to become a real human being and to live among us.

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Theologically, this is known as the “Incarnation”, where God emptied Himself of His own divine nature so that He could take on the form of man and share in the specific culture and language of a first century Jewish person.  He came and “dwelt among us”, which literally means that He “put up his tent for the purpose of living with us.”  He wanted to become one of us so that as a Man, He would be able to help save all men.  Only as an Insider could He do this, not as an Outsider.

This is one of the most important goals we aspire to as missionaries.  Though we could never really compare ourselves to Jesus, who left Heaven to become a human, we too must be willing to leave all that is wonderful and comfortable back in our home countries to go and live among some of the poorest and most neglected peoples of the world.  This is called “Incarnational Ministry”, where we go live among the people as one of them, just as Jesus modelled for us.

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As we look at our Scripture passage above, we see that Jesus modelled much more for us as well.  John writes “we have seen His glory”, which is another way of saying, “we have seen how marvelous and wonderful He is.”  And what had those early followers of Jesus seen?  That Jesus was full of “grace and truth”.  Along with the word “glory”, we have in this short passage three of the most complex and theologically loaded words of this Gospel, and of the Bible.

According to Newman & Nida, in Section III of Apendix II, “the word ‘truth’  in this Gospel refers primarily to God himself, though it may be extended to include the revelation of God or a description of persons who respond to that revelation.”2  In other words, our passage above is telling us that Jesus had complete knowledge regarding the very nature of God the Father.  For anyone who wants to truly know God, that knowledge comes through Jesus.  And verse 18 says that in fact that is one of Jesus’ great ministry tasks here on earth, to help us come to know who God the Father really is.

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Not only did Jesus come to earth full of the knowledge of the nature of God, but it says He also came “full of grace”.  One way of translating “grace” is “loving kindness”.  Using this definition, we see that Jesus came not just to teach us the truth about God (which we so often compartmentalize on just the intellectual level), but Jesus came to demonstrate God’s loving kindness towards us.  This I think is even more important.  As they say, “Actions speak louder than words.”

God wants to lavish His love upon us.  He sent His only Son (who would ultimately die for our sins) as His greatest act of love towards mankind.  So it is not surprising that in this short Scripture passage that speaks about Jesus coming to earth, and why He came to earth, that we find the words, “From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Putting that another way, when Jesus came to earth, He came to shower “loving kindness upon loving kindness” on us.  Another Christian term is “blessings”, and so we can read this as “we have received blessings upon blessings.”  Isn’t that truly amazing?  Jesus, the unique Son of God, loved us enough to want to leave his glorious home in Heaven to live among us, to reveal God the Father to us, and to shower wonderful blessings upon us.

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My questions, dear friend, as you read this article are these: Do you know Jesus? Have you experienced His amazing love and forgiveness of your sins?  Do you want to know Jesus and invite Him into your life?  Write back to me if this is what you want and need to do in your life.  God bless you.

1  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jn 1:14–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2  A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John. 1980, New York: United Bible Societies

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Partners In The Gospel (Phil. 1:3-7)

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Sharing in the Work of the Gospel

Philippians 1:3-7 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.  Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.

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It is very clear that Paul had a close and special relationship with the believers in the church at Philippi.  He prayed for them, often.  And it says here that he gave thanks to God whenever he remembered them, and in his prayers for all (not just some of them, but all of them), he was filled with joy as he prayed.  And note how he says, “for you have a special place in my heart.”

We must ask ourselves, why did Paul has such a strong and positive emotional attachment to these people in Philippi?  If we look back into the book of Acts (chapter 16), Paul spent a very short time in Philippi, probably a few weeks or so.  And the highlight of his visit there was spending a night in a dirty, dingy jail.  Or was it?

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We are fairly certain that there was no active worship building, like a synagogue for the Jews.  Paul and his companions had to go outside the city to the river where they found only a few woman gathered there for a time of prayer (Acts 16:13).  By the time Paul left Philippi, he had preached the gospel and we know that Lydia and her household, plus the jailer and his household had accepted Christ and were baptized.

There may be more who joined the fledgling church when Paul was there, although we don’t know who they were.  But what we do know from the book of Philippians in this short passage is that Paul says they were “partners in spreading the Good News about Christ.”  And in 4:15 he says, “you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.”

To fully appreciate what is going on here, we want to exercise the skills I introduced a few articles back about doing an Inductive Bible Study.  There are a few very interesting key words in these verses that are worth taking a closer look at.  Specifically, I want to examine “partners”, “defending and confirming”, and “special favor of God”.

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Partners:  In other versions, the term for “partners” has also been translated as “partnership” or “participation”.  Upon reflection, it suggests to us that there was a close relationship between Paul and the people in Philippi in evangelizing the city.  It was not as we might think today of a “business partnership” where the executives decide how the employees should do the work, but they themselves do not get involved.

The partnership in mind here is the shoulder-to-shoulder “let’s go out and get this work done together”.  Now the reason why I find this word so interesting is that it comes from the Greek work “koinōnia“.  And this word is quite often translated as “fellowship”.  In one Bible dictionary, this word is explained as “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement”.

The key for me here is that “Christian fellowship” is meant to have an emphasis upon “involvement” with others and in other’s lives.  Don’t get me wrong, I love when we have potlucks at church, but I wonder how deep the thought is when we say, “Let’s stay for the potluck fellowship.”  I think it often just means to people, let’s chit-chat and fill our bellies with food.

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Defending and Confirming:  This leads us to consider in verse 7 what it was exactly that Paul was doing, and that which the Philippians were partnering together to do.  We have already said that they were “spreading the Good News“, but in this verse, Paul says that he was defending it and confirming it.  And the implication in this passage is that Paul was engaged in doing this activity whether he was free or whether he was in prison.

Both of these key words are Greek words which carry a legal courtroom-like aspect to them.  The first one “apologia” means to “defend publicly that something is not wrong”.  We get the word “apologist” and “apologetics” from this word.  And many 1st and 2nd century Christian leaders were called apologists as they stood up and declared that Christianity was not a false religion, but was the very Truth of God.  And that is the other side of what they did, they were “confirming the Truth of the Good News“.

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Special Favor of God:  Now I don’t know about you, but I must admit that there are many times that I feel awkward and embarrassed to share my faith.  But Paul tells the Philippians that it is a “special favor of God” or “grace” (the literal Greek) to be serving God by publicly standing up for the faith.  And if that is the case, then God would provide the courage and the words to be His spokesman or spokeswoman.

And Paul says here that for these kinds of people, those who count it a privilege to be followers of Christ and let others know publicly about it, he has a special place in his heart for them.  Just as Paul is bound or “united” with Christ in his faith, so he is also bound intimately with those who are willing to share their faith with others.

So how about you?  Do you feel the same kind of passion as Paul had, to be willing to live out your faith in public?  And even to suffer because of it?  Then you stand as a partner with Paul, and are in true fellowship with the apostles and prophets, and are united (stuck) to Christ, who grants us His grace / favor to do this awesome and important task.  May God bless you as you live for Him.  Amen.

Breaking Down Barriers

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Breaking Down The Barriers

Read Ephesians 2:11-22

Throughout the New Testament, whether in the narrative stories of the four gospels and the book of Acts, or in the teaching letters that make up the rest of the New Testament, we read about the great love that God has for all of mankind.  He demonstrated this by sending His Son, Jesus, to live among people to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven and then to die on a cross to make the payment for all of our sins.  This is called Grace!  And for many people, this is considered a great mystery.  And in the Bible it says that “many prophets and righteous men longed to see…and hear…” the things that the disciples of Jesus saw and heard. (Matthew 13:17)  Even the angels look on at God’s wonderful acts of grace and are amazed. (1 Peter 1:12)

But there is more to this mystery than just man being reconciled with God, although this is in and of itself an amazing truth.  What may be even more amazing for some people is that Jesus’ sacrifice has paved the way for people to be reconciled to other people.  Considering how many wars there have been over time, and continue to be between people, it is almost beyond belief that warring parties could ever put down their weapons, put away their hostility, and forgive each other, even to the point of calling each other “brother”.

This is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:19.  From the time of Abraham up until our present day, there has been hostility between the twelve tribes of Israel, which eventually became known as the Jewish people, and all other people groups of the world, whom they called “Gentiles”.  But Paul teaches us that those who are joined with Christ become “one people”.  Jesus tore down the “dividing wall of hostility” and made one people out of two.

This expression used here, “the dividing wall of hostility”, is thought of by many commentators to be an allusion to the wall found within the Temple at Jerusalem that separated the Jews from non-Jews, prohibiting the latter from entering in further into the Temple.  It was a constant reminder to the Gentiles that they did not have direct access to the God of the Jews, who is in fact really the God of all mankind.  But Jesus broke down that barrier and has allowed both Jew and Gentile to be able to come directly into God’s presence.  And in the process, he eliminated the hostility that had existed between them.

I can’t help but think of a fascinating experience that we had while we lived in a village in Papua New Guinea.  Having lived in PNG for a few years, I was well aware of the fact that hostilities run deep in the culture there, and fights can break out at any time.  One of the reasons why most villages are small in PNG, often less than a hundred people, is because of these constant rivalries, feuds, disputes, and hostilities that break out.

This led to a distinct problem in that country over the centuries, namely how to get wives for the men of the village.  Until recently, one of the ways the people solved this was to go out on raiding parties and storm another village, taking some of the young women for their men.  If the village about to be raided had enough warning, they would construct a solid bamboo wall to block the raiders from gaining entry into the village.  For millennia, there have literally been walls of hostility built up between the people groups of PNG.

So it was of great interest to me and my family when we heard that a man from our village was going to “claim” his wife-to-be from a neighbouring village.  We watched the men of our village as they put on their war paint and get ready to raid the other village.  We followed them down the trail to the other village.  And as expected, there was a massive bamboo and foliage barrier blocking our path.

That’s when things really got interesting.  Men on both sides of the barrier yelled and hooted and hollered as loud as they could.  Some men with bow and arrows jumped around looking for a target.  Others who had long spears or machetes banged them together and made threatening advances against the barricade.  All around me was noise and confusion, until suddenly, the barricade fell inwards and in one big rush we swarmed into the village.

All the men of this village were corralled into one side of the open square, and all the women were gathered together on the other side.  Meanwhile, our men searched the entire village until finally the wife-to-be was found and brought to the open square and presented to the hunting husband.  And do you know what happened next? ….. Suddenly, all the people from both villages clapped, and cheered, and laughed at the great entertainment they had that day.  It turned out that everyone was play-acting, while still remembering their tribal culture of days gone by.

So what changed these tribal people so that they could embrace their neighbouring villages, instead of going to war with them?  I’m sure there are many factors that are involved with this change in PNG.  But I am convinced that the entry of Christianity over the past 100 years into these primitive areas of the world has had a profound effect on the people.  Where there had been dividing walls of hostility before, now I am seeing more and more that the people of PNG are embracing each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  This is what Christ came to do, to reconcile mankind with God, and also to reconcile men and women with each other.

Thank you Jesus, that You are the Lord of all!