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Prayer and Boasting

Prayer and Boasting

In the book of Romans, Paul talks at length about the righteousness that only comes by faith in Christ.  He takes us now to the next truth that we must understand.

Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded.  On what principle?  On that of observing the law?  No, but on that of faith.  For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Romans 3:27-28

Paul asks us some important questions here.  They need to be answered correctly if you’re going to progress in your walk with God.  Fortunately, he gives us the answers so we don’t have to guess.

In this whole discussion of righteousness, he now asks where boasting fits in.  It’s obvious why he does this.  Paul was a Pharisee.  The entire lifestyle of that sect revolved around boasting.

Many of the Pharisees made sure that they were very conspicuous during their times of prayer (Mark 12:40).  On days that they fasted, they looked like they could barely survive (Matthew 6:16).  They always kept the boxes of Scriptures they memorized (phylacteries) on their person to show how much they knew (Matthew 23:5).

Religion is a great supporter of boasting.  We want to compare ourselves with others.  We want to prove to ourselves that we’re doing better than most.  As if that gives us any points with God. (It doesn’t!)

But, the most interesting thing that I found was in the word, boasting itself.  It turns out that the Greek word used actually comes from a word that contains the word, prayer.  This is exactly where many of us get into trouble.

A good example of this is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18:9-14.  This Pharisee came before God and started out by listing all the “spiritual” things he had done.

This idea brings frustration into our Christian walk.  We sometimes get the wrong impression that when we’re living right (i.e. – reading our Bible, praying, attending church) there’s a better chance that God’s going to hear and answer our prayers.

That’s actually a form of boasting.  Thinking that my good works will somehow impress God enough to make Him answer my prayer.  That’s absolutely not the case.

In actuality it doesn’t matter how religious I am.  None of my good works will improve my standing with the Father.  The key is that by faith, God sees me in Christ.  That’s what truly matters.

Paul goes on to confirm that whether you’re religious or not, it’s that same faith that makes us all acceptable to God.

Is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles too?  Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.  Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?  Not at all!  Rather, we uphold the law.

Romans 3:29-31

That’s something the think about.  It may not sound logical, but it’s the truth of our righteousness in Christ.  If I try and put myself under the law, I’ll never be justified before God.  If, on the other hand, I put my faith totally in Christ, I’m upholding the law of God in His eyes.

Praise God for His wonderful work!

Question: How have you seen the law of faith at work in your life?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2020 in Legalism, Prayer, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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Rules vs. Spirit

Rules vs. Spirit

In my last post we started to see that legalism is really a form of hypocrisy.  We’ll never be able to follow a set of rules, even if we’re the ones who came up with them.

Now Paul continues by talking about those who follow God without even knowing the rules.

Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.  If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

Romans 2:25-27

Paul uses circumcision as a picture of following a law.  That’s because it was the outward sign of the covenant for the Jews.  No God-fearing Jew would ever let their infant go without being circumcised.

The problem is that you can have the sign of the covenant without obeying the terms of the covenant.

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

Romans 2:28-29

It’s not enough to only deal with the outward.  Our outside will never permanently change unless we have a change of heart. The problem is that our heart itself is very deceptive. We can’t always trust what we’re feeling.

That’s why true change can never be imposed upon us from the outside, by the written code. It must come from the inside, by the power of the spirit. Isn’t it great to know that your spirit can change your heart?

It’s important to know that, right from the start, Paul explains that change is by the Spirit and not by following rules.  Even something like circumcision, which was a part of God’s law to the Jews, has no power to bring about change.

In this letter to the Romans, Paul is bringing us to the realization that we can only serve God acceptably through the spirit.  It’s something that’s consistent through all his writings.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Galatians 5:16

Understanding the power of prayer in the spirit should give us insight into what this verse is actually saying. Many times, when people quote this verse, they’re using it as a weapon.

I’ve heard people say things like, “Look at how that person lives, and they call themselves a Christian. They’re walking in their flesh so they must not have the Holy Spirit in them. They can’t really be saved.”

This isn’t a verse that Paul gave us to test whether a person is saved or not. This is a passage of Scripture to tell us how to receive the power we need to walk in victory over the flesh. The only way you’ll have the power you need to not gratify the flesh, is to live your life in the spirit.

You cannot do it by exercising the will power of your soul, or even disciplining your body. This means that you spend time praying in the spirit, communing with God in the realm of the spirit. That’s where we access the power to overcome the desires of the flesh.

It’s never about following rules.  It’s always about submitting to the Holy Spirit.

Question: Why is it impossible for us to simply follow a set of rules?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 

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The Form of Religion

The Form of Religion

In my last post we started looking at Paul’s view of religious people.  We saw that it’s foolish to rest on a set of rules rather than the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul continues…

…if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth…

Romans 2:19-20

Remember, when talking about religious people, I’m referring to those who choose religion over relationship with Christ.  They’ve convinced themselves about a number of things.

They see their lifestyle as superior to those around them.  They view others as blind, in the dark, mindless, and infantile.  On the other hand they view themselves as a guide, a light, an instructor, and a teacher.

That’s the unfortunate attitude of legalism.  By constantly judging the lives of others, you have a huge blind spot concerning your own walk.

Let me say this to all the godly teachers reading this.  There’s nothing wrong with being called to teach or guide others into the truth.  It’s all about your attitude.

My calling is to be a pastor and teacher in the body of Christ.  But, I’ve learned over the years that there’s a fine line that I have to walk.

My job is to help people to know and understand God’s Word.  I endeavor to show how the Scripture applies to your life.

That’s as far as it goes.  I have to realize that I cannot change anybody’s life.  It’s the job of the Holy Spirit to do that.  If anyone is blessed, it’s because of the Lord working in their life through the Word.

I might be the one you see speaking or writing.  But, I want it to be the Spirit teaching and guiding you.  Like I said, it’s all about the attitude.

However, I think there’s an important point that we miss in the above passage.  It has to do with the words that were used in translation.

When Paul says, you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, it gives the wrong impression.  The word, embodiment, is actually a word that means a form or appearance.  Following a set of rules only appears to be a logical way to serve God.

Unfortunately, we’re told that it’s not the best way.  In talking about what people would be like in the last days, Paul makes this comment about them.

…having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.

2 Timothy 3:5

Simply following a set of religious rules is a form without the substance.  These rules are like a jail cell.  Can we say that a car thief has changed just because he’s in jail?  Absolutely not!  It’s just that there are no cars available for him to steal.

It’s the same with a set of rules.  As long as my will-power is intact, it appears that I’ve changed.  However, when opportunity and weakness get the better of me, I show what’s really on the inside.  I need the true change that only comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in me.

Don’t allow empty religion to get the better of you.  Spend some time becoming more intimate with the Lord through His Holy Spirit.

Question: how do you overcome the temptation to be religious?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Religion vs. Relationship

Religion vs. Relationship

We’re continuing our walk through the book of Romans.  In my last post we finished the section where Paul is talking to those without Christ.

He now shifts gears and begins talking to the Jews who have not yet received Christ as their Messiah.  In our generation, this part of Romans would deal with religious people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The apostle has some very strong words for the religious community.  He starts by describing who he’s talking to.

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law…

Romans 2:17-18

The first thing we see is a kind of dichotomy.  One mark of being religious is that you rest on the law – a set of rules for living – yet you brag about God.  Instead, the most important thing is to get to know God on a personal level.

But it’s the way a religious person follows the rules that’s the most telling.  The next phrase, approve of what is superior, implies that you’re only following what you consider to be the best rules.

That’s the problem with legalism.  Usually, when you make yourself a set of religious rules, you only include the ones you’re comfortable with.  You have your own approval system that tells you what rules you’ll accept or reject.

An ongoing relationship with Christ through His Holy Spirit, however, will bring about a change.  It will change your heart, your mind, and your actions.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

This should be the goal of my life in God’s kingdom.  Instead, religion only deals with how well I’m following the set of rules I’ve established.

That’s why relationship always wins over religion.  It’s how we grow and mature.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…

Philippians 1:9-10

It’s through our relationship with Christ that we discern the best way to please Him.  Rules will only take you so far.

I want to know how to live right now, in this point in time.  There are things taking place that have never happened before in recent history.  Without the discerning of the Holy Spirit, I’ll be as confused as the rest of society without Christ.

We’re living in dangerous times.  Playing church isn’t going to bring us through it successfully.  We need a strong, intimate relationship with the only One who knows how to navigate the future.

It’s time to put religion aside and concentrate on strengthening your relationship with the Lord.

Question: What are you doing to bring your relationship with Christ to the next level?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2020 in Legalism, Prayer, Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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A Call for Repentance

A Call for Repentance

We’ve been looking at Paul’s “open letter” to the unsaved society around us.  That’s how he starts his letter to the Roman church.

He warns that without Christ, judging each other is pointless.  Of course he gets to the heart of the matter.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Romans 2:4

That’s the real question that those in the world need to be asked.  It’s our job as believers to show them the kindness, tolerance, and patience of the Lord.  All the while we should be leading them towards repentance.

The problem is that many times we do the first part while ignoring the second half of this verse.  We love and accept the unsaved just as they are.  However, if we never show them the way of salvation, they’ll be lost for eternity.

Too often we stay silent because we fear rejection.  But they’re refusal of the Gospel is not on us.  It’s a choice that they might make.

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”

Romans 2:5-6

Remember, Paul is speaking as if to the unsaved.  As believers, we don’t need to worry about God’s wrath.  There’s no wrath in Christ.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)

Most of us don’t like to think about this truth.  Yet, I believe it’s something we need to ponder.  If I, as a Christian, don’t understand what’s at stake, I’ll be very uncaring about the lives within my sphere of influence.

We have a responsibility to warn the ones we love about this future event that everyone needs to prepare for.  The apostle shows us the clear choice.  It all hinges on what a person is seeking in life.

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism.

Romans 2:7-11

This passage is actually a great guideline for checking someone’s readiness to receive the Gospel.  You can tell by their works what they’re seeking in life.  The words, glory, honor, and immortality, have more than just a religious meaning.

It’s talking about an unsaved person who consistently shows certain qualities.  They try to do things that raise dignity, add value to life, and produce long-lasting effects.  These are the ones who are ripe for the Gospel message.

Those who are self-serving and only accept what they want to believe need to be interceded for.  They need a change of heart by the work of the Holy Spirit first.  Then they’ll be ready for that saving Word.

But the bottom line is, no one is outside of God’s love or His grace.  Everyone has the potential to receive the forgiveness and salvation of Christ.

Question: Who needs to hear the Gospel in your sphere of influence?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2020 in Faith, Ministry, Prayer, The Gospel

 

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Weakness + Grace = Power

In my last post, we looked at God’s answer to Paul’s weakness.  It’s something we need to apply to our own lives today.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

It all comes down to the grace of God.  We have to understand that this grace is everything God is working in us.  It’s the power He bestows on us whether we realize it or not.

What I also need to hear is that His power works perfectly in my weakness.  That goes contrary to what many people believe.

We sometimes get the idea that my weakness diminishes how God’s power can work in me.  That’s a lie we need to fight against.  If I had no weaknesses, I could never see the power of God at work in me.

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:10

What Paul is saying here comes from years of experience walking with Christ.  He’s found that all of these challenges are really good things.  They’re invitations for the power of God to show up in your life.

Later on in this letter, Paul explains it in more detail concerning Christ.

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.  Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you.
2 Corinthians 13:4

Here Paul equates the crucifixion with weakness.  That tells me that all the challenges we face are a part of the dying process in our flesh.

Spiritually speaking, we need to take them to the cross of Christ and leave them there.  Then, we look to the Lord with expectancy that His power will show up at just the right time.

That’s also why I need my mind to be renewed by the Word of God.  Instead of fear and doubt clouding my vision in times of trouble, I need to see things the way Paul does.  I must realize that problems and weaknesses are the preludes to my most powerful victories.

This means that I have to rely totally on the Holy Spirit of God at work within me.  After all, that’s why God chose to place Him in our lives.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Romans 8:26

Nothing can replace time spent praying in the spirit.  It will change our attitudes and ultimately our situations.  It gives God permission to change our weaknesses into His power.

Question: How do you view the challenges of life?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 

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The Thorn

We’re continuing through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  He’s boasted about his sufferings as well as the revelations given to him by the Holy Spirit.

Now he talks about something that’s the subject of a lot of debate in Christian circles.

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
2 Corinthians 12:7

There are many who use this verse to “prove” that healing is not provided for all in the atonement.  They teach that this thorn was a physical sickness – probably an issue with his eyes.

This line of thought says that Paul sought healing.  God said that he would receive grace instead, to help him in spite of the sickness.

I don’t go along with this reasoning.  I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use certain words for a reason.  These words don’t support the sickness theory.

The first thing I see is that this was not an ongoing issue – like a sickness – but something that occurred once in a while. Why do I say that?

Paul associates this thorn with his temptation to become conceited because of his revelations.  In order for that to happen, this thorn only showed up when Paul started to think too highly of himself.

Then there’s the word, torment.  That’s not a good translation of the actual Greek word used.  It literally means a punch, not ongoing torture.  In other words, Paul starts to get conceited, and he receives a smack in the head… spiritually speaking.

Another clue we have is the being that was sent to him. Paul calls it a messenger of Satan.  What does a messenger do?  He brings a message.

What is this message?  It’s from Satan, the accuser.  I assume it must be some sort of accusation.  I know from Paul’s writings that there’s something that plagued his memory.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
1 Corinthians 15:9

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.
Galatians 1:13

I believe that whenever Paul was tempted to exalt himself, he heard the accusing voice of this messenger.  “Who do you think you are, Paul?  You’re nothing but a murderer.  No one should be listening to you.”

I believe that Paul tried to get the Lord to remove these thoughts from his head.  He wanted to be free of these memories.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

God made it clear to Paul that no matter what’s in the past, Christ can be glorified through his life.

Questions: What does the enemy try to use against you?  What’s God’s answer?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2020 in Healing, Power of God, Prayer, Spiritual Walk

 

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Burden of Ministry

As we continue through Second Corinthians, we see Paul beginning to do some boasting.  He felt the need to undermine the boasting of those who were simply masquerading as apostles of Christ.

This is a long section, so I don’t have the space to quote it all here.  You may want to read 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:6 before continuing.  Remember, this epistle was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  He must have wanted Paul to record these events for our encouragement in our struggles.

It’s amazing when you see all the difficulties that Paul had to endure.  That’s especially true when we realize that his imprisonment and shipwreck (in the book of Acts) is still ahead of him.

In spite of all these challenges, there’s something that sets him apart from the false ministers.  It’s his care for the churches under him.

Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
2 Corinthians 11:28-29

This is the mark of a true minister.  It’s also something that the normal church member will never understand.  That’s the burden of ministry.

Most people look at the daily life of a pastor and say, “That’s a pretty easy job.  You get to study or visit people all day.  Then you make a speech on Sunday.  No problems.”

People think like that and never see the other side.  When a true pastor – a shepherd – sees his or her congregation, there’s an unseen burden that comes with it.

They see individuals that need to be cared for, healed, fed spiritually, and protected.  Many times those that are hurting are fighting against the very thing that will help them the most.  A true pastor is burdened by things that a large percentage of people will never know.

So often when a member is struggling with sickness or tragedy, the pastor feels helpless.  I sometimes feel inferior only being able to listen to them and say, “I’m praying for you.”  I could sometimes wish that God would give us a super-power that could miraculously wipe away every problem our people face.

Then there’s the sin problem.  It happens when our people are led into the wrong areas.  The word Paul uses here means to be trapped, like an animal in a snare.

So often I could see the choices one of my people was making.  I knew exactly where it would lead them.  I’ve even tried to lovingly warn them about it.

Too often I’ve heard the words, “I know what you’re saying, Pastor, but that won’t happen to me.  I know what I’m doing.”  Then, months or years later, they need help and spiritual counsel to put their lives back together.

No, I’m not complaining about it.  These things come with the territory of being a minister of Christ.  I tell you about them so that you’ll be faithful in praying for your leaders.  In that way, we’ll all benefit from a strong healthy ministry.

Question: How often do you pray specifically for your pastor and church leadership?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2020 in Leadership, Ministry, Prayer, The Church

 

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The Nature of Spiritual Warfare

We’re continuing our walk through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church.  He has spoken very boldly to them on a variety of topics.

He knew that there were some critics in that church.  He knew what their response would be to some of his teachings.  He now wants to pre-empt their comments.

By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you — I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away!  I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.
2 Corinthians 10:1-2

He gets right to the heart of the matter.  These people have a worldly mindset.  They view the church the same way they would see any secular organization.

It’s not the same.  The church is not an organization, but an organism – the body of Christ on earth.  As such, we live by a whole different set of standards.

That also puts us in the middle of a spiritual conflict between us and the world.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
2 Corinthians 10:3

We’re in a battle. Not against people, but unseen spiritual forces. Do we really understand the nature of this conflict?

I’ve heard Christians use the term spiritual warfare in many different contexts. Does our teaching line up with Scripture? That’s what matters.

At one point the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and made a statement I found hard to accept. What I heard on the inside was, “Do you realize that there’s been no spiritual warfare for hundreds of years?”

How can this be true? I hear people say they’re doing spiritual warfare all the time. We sing about it. We preach about it.  Eventually, I was able to understand what the Spirit of God was trying to get across to me.

In the above verse, the phrase, wage war, literally means to serve in a military campaign. This is where our definition of spiritual warfare falls short. Our skirmishes are not warfare.

According to the Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary, war is “a contest between or among nations…carried on by force or with arms.” That’s where we miss it. War is between nations, not individuals.

For instance, what if I got upset about some things that Canada is doing (I’m not!). What if I then covered myself in weaponry, Rambo style, then walked to the border of Canada and declared that I was going to war against them. How long do you think that “war” would last?

As crazy as that sounds, that’s what many believers do in the spirit. Then they call what they’re doing spiritual warfare.

We need to realize that true spiritual warfare will not take place until the church wakes up from its sleep. Then, in the spirit, we must begin to pull down the strongholds of Satan. This is not just the job of one or two bold Christians. It’s something that the Lord is calling us all to take part in.

We can either spend our time complaining about our society or doing something that will make a difference. Time on our knees before God will bring great change on the earth. Prayer, fasting, intercession, and prayer in the spirit are what it will take to bring revival to our land.

Question: What’s your part in this spiritual battle?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2020 in Ministry, Prayer, Spiritual Warfare, The Church

 

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Ministry Qualities Part 3

This is the third in a series about the earmarks of a godly ministry according to the Apostle Paul.  He wrote about them in his second letter to the Corinthian church.

…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left…
2 Corinthians 6:6-7

My last post ended with patience.  Now we’ll continue on…

Kindness – This is a quality that most believers don’t understand properly.  For a detailed explanation, click here.

Simply put, kindness is not just a matter of doing nice things for people.  In God’s eyes, the definition of kindness is; doing good to those who absolutely don’t deserve it.

Our problem is, when someone is doing wrong, we want to see them punished.  Of course, when we do something wrong, we want to be forgiven.

We need to spend time with the Lord so that we can pick up the same heart that he has.  In that way we can show the love of Christ to all people – even those we label as “undeserving”.  We must see others as the Father sees them.  They all have great potential in Christ.

In the Holy Spirit – This is probably the most important one.  Many of the qualities we’ve looked at so far are impossible to maintain in our own strength.  We need the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

That’s how the fruit are produced.  We must remain in the vine – Christ Jesus.  Time spent praying in the Holy Spirit is never wasted.  It changes us more and more into the image of Christ.

Sincere Love – This is a big one!  The literal Greek reads love without hypocrisy.  How can we do that?

This verse is talking about agape-love.  This love is a choice; there’s no emotional involvement.

So if I show love – doing something good – for someone I really don’t like, isn’t that hypocritical?  Good question.

Actually, that’s not being hypocritical; it’s being obedient to the Lord.  Hypocrisy would be to do something nice for them now, then gossip about them when they’re not around.  We’re to show people love and respect whether we like them or not.  This also includes whether they’re physically present or not.

This is another reason why we need the power of the Holy Spirit active in our lives.  Without His influence, we could never hope to live up to these godly qualities.

Question: How have others treated you with kindness and love in the past?

© 2020 Nick Zaccardi

 

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