Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

3 John 11

 

John is giving us a proverb here. He is setting out a very simple and direct statement about an aspect of living in conformity with God’s will. This is the sort of thing that is intended to guide a follower of Christ into engaging with the world in a manner that will actually make a difference in this place and that demonstrates Christ to the people that we meet. What John tells us might seem to be very easy to agree with, for most of us would say that we do not go about looking at evil actions and embracing them as the model to follow for the day at hand. Yet, is that really true for the manner that each of us does, in fact, conduct life?

 

If I give it some careful thought and consider each interaction that happens during my day, I start to lose confidence in the nature of some of those engagements. Then, when I play back my internal audio track that records what I was thinking during some of those moments, it gets worse as I hear the negative, defensive, and down-putting words and feelings that went unspoken during those instances. So, it would seem that there are times during the course of my days when I am imitating the words, manners, and way of that which God deems to be evil, and if that is true then I am certainly not imitating Christ, who is the totality of goodness, during these times.

 

John’s proverbial warning is essentially a cautionary statement for each of us as we seek to live out our days as a follower of Christ. It is very easy to get caught up in a moment in the sort of worldly thinking and acting that pulls us off of our Lord’s righteous path and that, in so doing, diminishes the credibility of our witness to the love, grace, and redemptive nature of His Gospel. Evil does surround us, and its words of negativity and death saturate the very air that we inhale; so, it is easy to be influenced by it. However, God and His word of truth is even more present and is much more powerful than all that evil can throw at us. God’s Word itself provides guidance and encouragement to love others and to engage with creation as Christ does. The Spirit dwells within to speak truth and grace into each encounter and engagement that we face during our day, and prayer is our way and means for bringing all that Christ provides to us by way of goodness to bear upon every moment of the journey that our Lord is taking us on. So, the goodness that we are called upon to imitate is with us, and in so imitating it, we truly do see God and so does the world around us.

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And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into the world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.”

John 9: 39

 

Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but there seem to be two basic ways of viewing a personal relationship with God; in one, the person lacks an awareness of who God is and of how He works in this world and, more specifically, of how He seeks to relate to each of us. In the other, the person believes that he or she already possesses all the knowledge and understanding of God that are required so there is no need for any change in these beliefs; this is essentially an attitude of self control, determination, and reliance. Fortunately, God understands both of these perspectives, and He seeks to communicate truth to all of us regardless of where we are coming from.

 

From my own experience, these states of being, at times blinded to the truth and at other times overly confident in my own understanding and application of it, continue throughout life. Although, I have known Christ and have been seeking to live in an intimate relationship with Him for many years, there are times when I still need to have Him apply His healing mud to my sin obscured eyes, and there are others when I need to have the Spirit of Christ grab me by the shoulders and shake the delusional thinking from my mind. The extraordinary thing about God is that He will continue to do both of these things for me for the rest of my life, and He never stops seeking to bring all people into a place of sound, solid, and complete understanding of His loving truth.

 

It is true that Christ came into this world in order to judge our sinfulness; however, the story doesn’t stop there, for He also came in order to bring healing and restoration to our wounded souls. For people who do not know Him, Jesus removes the blindness from their eyes and lets the light of relationship with God into their hearts, and for those who do know Him, Jesus is the answer to our need for ongoing guidance and direction in order to navigate the challenging and sometimes dangerous path that is set before us in this life. Like He did with the blind man and the Pharisees, Jesus asks each of us to trust Him for our vision, to open our hearts to His truth, and to follow the path that He sets before us.

 

For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God.

Hebrews 11: 10

 

We know the story. What Abraham did was no small thing, for he left al behind and headed out into the hostile unknown in order to respond to what God called upon him to do. He would never know the comforts of a dwelling place that was constructed out of stone or bricks or even of well fitted wood. He would be a tent dweller for the rest of his life, and that was fine with him so long as what he was doing was pleasing to the Lord. Abraham knew that God’s promises to him had a very long duration and a distant horizon of full execution. Although it wasn’t always easy to wait on the development of God’s plan, and Abraham did take things into his own hands from time to time, he was mostly content to trust in the Lord and to dwell in the land of faith and hope. This was not easy to do for him, and it is seldom so easy for us to rest easy under similar circumstances.

 

Yet, this looking ahead with hopeful anticipation is a part of the journey that God sets most of us on. There are always aspects of trusting the Lord that involve a form of waiting and aspects of hoping and trusting. We trust that what we hear from God in His Word, in teaching, and through what the Spirit says to us is accurate and true. We act upon the sort of input that is typically discounted or dismissed in the world outside of the church; so, in faith, we often do things which defy the logic of the world where we live and the people who we engage with in its environment. This can make people who follow Christ seem to be irrational or even imbalanced to others as we make important, life-altering decisions for reasons that often run counter to all that is of primary importance in society at large. Still, these decisions are made in due consideration of what Christ is saying to us and are founded upon our God-granted understanding that this life is significant for the way that Christ uses it for the sake of the future of His kingdom.

 

In this way, we join in with Abraham in considering the foundation that is being constructed by God’s hand as He works through our small efforts. We may see only a stone or two of that wall as it is laid out upon the ground of our world. We might not even get to touch that much of the future during the brief span of time that we have here, but even in these minimal dents in the sand, eternity is found. A simple act of obedience today may very well ripple through the future with powerful effect as Christ works in the hearts and the minds of others. We do not know what the outcome may be, and that is truly by virtue of God’s design. We are, like Abraham, simple workers in the Lord’s field. We are tasked with following Christ in trust and by faith into that still forming future that He is working out, Himself in obedience to the Father. Still, we join with Abraham in looking upon God as the builder of something that is great and glorious beyond all imagining as we set our hands to work in placing by faith the stone that Christ directs us to set.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19: 14

 

We might think that words are a small thing in the grand course of the affairs of our world. They are so easy to throw out, and there certainly are many of them in the air at all times. Even the ones that are written down in some form or other are as numerous as those ancient sands on the beach. Most of us say things that we do not really mean, and we enter into discussions wherein the way that we engage with others is not well considered or given much weight. We humans just tend to be careless with our words. But carelessness is really no excuse, and thoughtlessness is no reason for us to put out words that are harsh, demeaning, and rudely inconsiderate. I don’t think that it is accidental that David not only prays for the words that he speaks but links them to the things that his heart contemplates. Our words are a reflection of the state of the heart, and the state of our hearts is influenced greatly by what we say and how we say it.

 

With the wonderful complexity of the languages that God has given to us for use in expressing ourselves, there is really no excuse at all for using words and expressions that are demeaning or imprecise unless that is exactly what we intend to do. So, when someone makes reference to others in ways that set them apart as inferior or as undesirable, this is not a casual event or just a picturesque way of speaking; rather, it is a deliberate attempt to set up the speaker as the superior being and the object of the statement as the lesser form of humanity. This sort of thing is directly opposed to the way that God views others and it is also a specific contradiction of the manner that Christ has instructed us to view them. In simple terms, thinking and speaking of people in a derogatory manner is sinful and stands under God’s condemnation as such.

 

Like all sin, there is grace for the sinner and repentance brings that person under the restorative care of Christ. But that is the only answer to this pervasive problem in our world. The use of our words for the sake of diminishing others and thus for building up ourselves, the application of coarse and vulgar speech, and the harsh nature of our rhetoric is a pervasive concern in our day. This sort of sinful behavior is coming out of the mouths or presidents and kings, and it has infiltrated into our houses of governance and of worship. It is time for us all to repent of this sort of thinking and the words that flow out of it. It is time to say “enough, stop!” to all of this sort of interchange. We do not need to listen to it, and we certainly must not engage in it. All who do engage in this sort of behavior are sinning in the eyes of God and their thoughts and words should be rejected as those of the ungodly so long as they continue in this manner. Human nature is no excuse, and passion is not a valid reason for this sort of thing, for the Lord has granted to us His Word of life and His words for use in expressing love, edification, encouragement, and praise. Let’s make those Godly thoughts and words what we reflect upon and the manner of expressing what our heart contemplates.

 

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

Mark 1: 22

It isn’t necessarily surprising to hear that people were so taken aback by the words of instruction and illumination of scripture that Jesus spoke. He was a village kid, the son of a tradesman, and He had no letters behind His name to signify proven credentials. Yet, Jesus had the audacity to go into the place of gathering for worship and to pick up the sacred scrolls and read. Then, He started to deliver a message that brought to life the truth and the hope that God had imparted to humanity through those words, through His word. Still, the people who were there on that day and on many others like it over the course of Jesus’ time of public ministry, did not realize who and what they were encountering. This was true for even the select group of intimate followers that we know as His Disciples.

 

Even today, with thousands of years of reflection upon the wonder of God’s gift of redemption that came to us by and through Jesus, people are unbelieving, incredulous, and disinterested in this teaching that brings life with it and in the teacher who provides God’s salvation to all who do believe. We humans are given to disbelief. We fight against God’s truth with great diligence and vigor while clinging tightly to our own versions of what is real, valid, and true. The problem with all of this is that God has given to us the gift of redemption from sin and salvation from the living death that it causes and the eternal loss of relationship that is its ultimate result. This redemptive gift is taught to us through God’s Word and by Christ’s Spirit in the model of instruction that Jesus set out on days like the one described by Mark.

 

Unfortunately, the same sort of astonishment and reluctance to believe the fullness of Christ’s teaching often plagues those of us who state that we are followers of Christ today as it did with those first disciples. We try to pick and choose what we are comfortable with hearing; so, we reinterpret or restate the rest of God’s Word in order to attempt to make it state what we wish for it to say. Yet, we have the master teacher here before us. He is not sitting upon the seat of instruction in the flesh as did Jesus then, but He is no less tangible and present in our day as He was in that one. The Word of God is living and true, and the Spirit is very real among and in us. Christ desires for those of us who know Him to listen well to His instruction, to accept the challenges for life that He sets forth, and to go into our world with those same words of life pouring forth to meet the true needs of the world around us. We should no longer be astonished at Jesus’ teaching; instead, we can proudly and confidently proclaim the teacher in all that we do and say.

 

For you have delivered my soul from death,

my eyes from tears

my feet from stumbling

I will walk before the LORD

In the land of the living.

Psalm 116: 8, 9

 

It seems obvious that things have not been going very well for the writer of this psalm. There are frightening and frightful events and circumstances in the way of enjoying life to the fullest, and this follower of God is recognizing the importance of faith in God in staying true to His calling for the way that life is to be lived out. This song of thanksgiving and praise is also dedicated to remembering the many ways that the Lord has provided for the writer and the trust that is being placed in God for the continuation of life in its truest and most complete form. There is something else that struck me about these words, and that is the nature of the pace of the journey along God’s path. The writer speaks of walking before the Lord rather than other possibilities such as running, riding, or just traveling.

 

Walking brings about a number of interesting aspects in the journey. The speed of travel is necessarily slower than when we are running and is much more so than when we are riding in a vehicle. Steps are a part of our own bodies and we measure their progress internally; so, travel become personal process. This step by step approach to moving about places us in close contact with the world around us, and it allows for interaction with all that is found along the way. It doesn’t require an extraordinary amount of focus on our parts to do the activity; thus, it allows for contemplation and meditation as it also affords the mind and the heart an opportunity to listen and to hear what God is saying to us about life and about the people and the places that are around us.

 

With our busy schedules and the heavy demands that are often placed upon our time, most of us don’t consider walking as a primary or even as a desired form of travel. Yet, it seems that our experience of God’s presence in our lives and in our world might be enhanced if we were to take the opportunity to utilize a more meditative approach to the way that go about the day. Walking is one way to do this, and there are others, too. The real point is that in our results driven and pace of life oriented world, we need to plan to slow down and to open our wyes to see the Lord’s presence and to hear His words of truth, encouragement, direction, and love. This more deliberate means of engaging with the journey of life also opens us up to engagement with the world around us, and this is what Christ has called each of us to do. So, regardless of weather or the pressures of schedule, today is a good day for a walk through life in the presence of the Lord.

Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

Colossians 4: 5

 

There is a very real irony in the way that a lot of Christians are perceived in this world and in the way that many people view the church, also. We are frequently seen as angry, critical, and graceless; yet, the characteristic of God that has set us apart from the world is His grace. We are the recipients of a gift that is completely foreign to human experience in that the way that we have lived and the thoughts that we have held beg for God’s anger, disappointment, and judgment; still, He embraces our hurt and heals our wounds, and the Lord takes us into His presence and wants us to stay there for eternity.

 

God wants us to take this same approach to others. We are His children, His emissaries, and the workers in His field of souls. There are times when direct honesty is the right way to communicate with others, and there is oppressive and destructive wrong in this world that needs to be confronted. Still, God wants us to separate our view of the people that we deal with from that of the institutions that need to be changed. He also would have us seek to be loving in all situations, even ones where we are speaking hard truth. At the end of the day Christ wants us to embrace and enfold others into our lives rather than separating and isolating them.

 

The wisdom that God wants us to employ in dealing with people who don’t share our faith comes from His Spirit through His word and should be the starting place for all of our relationships. Paul makes it very clear in the way that he says this, for his words literally mean that we should “buy up all of the opportunities” that we have to show the grace and the redemptive love of Christ to others. We are to hold nothing back. There is no spiritual rainy-day fund to be kept in reserve, and we are to be as committed as Christ, Himself, in seeking after relationships with people who need to know their Savior.