“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV)
The turmoil of unrest in our country and around the world impacts us in many ways. These things unsettle our thoughts, our emotions, and attack our faith. They give our adversary, the devil, an opening to infiltrate our hearts with evil thoughts, words, and deeds (1 Pet. 5:8). Scripture teaches us to meditate on good things – even when things around us are awfully bad. (Recall that Paul was imprisoned unjustly for more than two years when he wrote this exhortation.) The word translated “meditate” means “to take an inventory” (Strong, G3049). Rather than becoming immersed in the sinful venom and bile of worldly people, the gospel of Christ calls Christians to inventory our thought process and dwell on things that are 1) Noble (honest, honorable), 2) Just (innocent, equitable), 3) Pure (holy, clean), 4) Lovely (friendly towards others), 5) Of good report (of worthy reputation), 6) Have virtue (morally excellent), and 7) Praiseworthy (commendable). The God of peace guards our hearts with His peace as we trust Him and meditate on these heavenly things (Phil. 4:7, 9).
17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17–18, NKJV)
Obedience to God springs from the heart. Otherwise, it is not obedience at all, only an empty shell of pretense, self-righteousness, and vain ritual (Matt. 6:1-18; Lk. 18:9-14; 6:46). Today’s passage explains we are set free from sin when we obey the gospel (“that form of doctrine”) from the heart. Unquestionably, obedience is essential for salvation from sin. Now, back to the heart and our obedience. Scripture teaches the heart is the source of obedience to God. Belief is the result of the word of God acting upon the heart, and without faith, obedience does not occur (Rom. 10:10, 16-17). Love is an action of the heart (will) that Scripture shows to be obedience, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jno. 5:4). Love itself is obedience to God. Without the heart, obedient love is impossible. The fear of God resides in the heart that keeps God’s commandments (Eccl. 12:13). Faith, love, and the fear of God spring from the heart as necessary traits of obedience. Do not try to separate your heart from your obedience. Every attempt to do so results in faithless, loveless, irreverent, and futile attempts to please God.
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness. (Psalm 119:33–36, NKJV)
Living by faith is not a blind leap in the dark. Faith is the rationale response of the heart that longs for God, His ways, and His blessings. Note this as the psalmist implores God to teach him the path of divine statues, and he will keep them (v. 33). He pleads for an understanding of God’s law so that he may keep it with a heart that is enlarged and completely devoted to God (v. 34; Psa. 119:32). He yearns for the discipline that comes with divine instruction so that he will walk on the path of obedience (v. 35). He obeys the commands of God with delight because his heart is full of the love of God, not greed for plunder (v. 36). Like the psalmist, let us pray for understanding to keep God’s word with our whole heart (Col. 1:9-11). Obeying the gospel from the heart freed us from sin’s slavery (Rom. 6:17-18). Now, let us keep on learning and living the commands of God with our whole hearts “to the end” (v. 33). Problems of sin arise when we no longer want God to teach us. The heart hardens against the way of His statutes. The path of His commands is no longer delightful. If this is where your heart and life are, then repent (change your heart) and return to the delight of obeying God with your whole heart.
2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (James 3:2–3, NKJV)
The mighty steed obeys the bridle and bit. It is impressive to see such a powerful animal controlled and steered by such a small object. But, one must be skilled in using the bridle and bit to prevent the horse from stumbling (or even running wild). “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (Jas. 3:5). The analogy calls on us to control our words and thereby direct our conduct so that we do not stumble. Self-control (heart control) is at the core of tongue control (Matt. 12:34-35). Controlling our words requires controlling our emotions. In the heat of the moment, our words can come from anger, bitterness, spite, etc. and cause us to stumble into more sin (in addition to the sinful attitudes the words express). Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all (Prov. 29:11). We can avoid allowing our tongue to steer us into trouble and stumbling by refusing to be hasty with our words (Prov. 29:20). By controlling our emotions, we will have time to think before we speak. That alone can keep us out of trouble. Therein lies a mark of maturity (the “perfect,” complete person). Remember, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19, ESV).
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17, NKJV)
The “world” of which John writes is the system of evil that opposes God. The world is the dominion of Satan and is antagonistic toward the Father, His will, and His love. Many stiffen their necks against God’s commands not to sin (like the command in verse 15, “Do not love the world…”). But, God has a reason for giving us “thou shalt nots” – He wants us to love Him instead of loving the world. God wants us to have eternal life instead of living under the control of Satan, and then dying eternally. Loving the world is set in motion by the things of the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Therefore, we must arrest the cravings of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life. From godly sorrow, let us repent of loving the world (2 Cor. 7:10). Let us redirect our hearts toward heaven (Col. 3:1-4). Loving the world gives momentary pleasure (Heb. 11:25). But, the things of the world will never satisfy the heart’s yearning for completeness, contentment, and comfort. Ultimately, the world brings desolation, despair, and death.
But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? (Mark 2:8, NKJV)
Do you have a secret? Only you know what it is (you’re sure of that!). Oh, but you would be mistaken. The Lord Jesus already knows your secret. He knows what’s in your heart. He even knows the motives, intentions, and reasonings that are going on in your head as you work out how to conceal your secret. These men “reasoned in their hearts” that Jesus was a blasphemer because He told the paralytic man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk. 2:5-7). Jesus knew what they were saying to themselves in their hearts. And, the Lord knows what is going on in our hearts, too. When all is said and done, He will judge our both our hearts and our deeds. “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). What is in our hearts drives our words and our actions. By purifying our hearts and cleansing our conduct we are able to draw near to God and have His blessed presence in our lives. James wrote, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8). We must remember that God will judge “every secret thing” according to the gospel (Eccl. 12:14; Rom. 2:16).
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:6–8, NKJV)
The call from many pulpits is to receive Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior, and you are saved. We agree one must receive Jesus to be saved. The important question is, how does a sinner receive Jesus into his or her heart to be saved? How did the Colossians received Christ Jesus? Christ is not received through the vain and deceitful philosophies of men, through religious traditions that men originate and practice, or by following the principles of the world (v. 8). Prayer is not identified as how sinners receive Christ Jesus. Colossians 2:11-13 teaches they received Christ Jesus the Lord when their sins were cut away by God’s power (“the circumcision of Christ”). This happened when they were “buried with Him (Christ, jrp) in baptism” (v. 12). In the Bible, one is not baptized because he is already saved, but as an action of “faith in the working (power) of God” that raised Jesus, to raise the sinner from sin’s death to new life in Christ (forgiven, v. 13; Rom. 6:3-4). When they were baptized is when they received Christ Jesus the Lord. Saved by the power of God, we are called to live faithfully in Christ with thankful hearts. And, we must be on guard lest our treasures in Christ are plundered by those who bring false messages of salvation (Col. 2:3, 8).
1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:1–4, NKJV)
Giving to the poor is undeniably a way Christians “do good to all” (Gal. 6:10). The rich are reminded to be “ready to give” (1 Tim. 6:17-18). (In today’s world, most of us qualify as rich.) We should look for and use our opportunities to help others. When we do, God sees the motive of our heart. Jesus said we ought to seek God’s honor and not the praise of men for our acts of charity. To announce our charitable deed is like blowing a trumpet before us so they will know how generous we are. It is selfish hypocrisy to help others out of a heart that wants others to honor us for it. Though honored by people, such will not be rewarded by God. Let us do our charitable deeds from a heart of compassion. In due time, we will reap what we have sown (Gal. 6:7-10).
1 Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know. (John 14:1–4, NKJV)
Jesus was preparing His apostles for His impending departure. His crucifixion was just hours away. They would scatter – fearful in the moment, uncertain of the future (Matt. 26:31-35). Asking questions like, “Where are you going?,” and “Why can’t we follow you?,” their souls were unsettled, stirred up, confused (John 13:36-37). In their moment of distress, although He was facing the cross (and their approaching abandonment), Jesus reassured their hearts with a call to believe in Him. Jesus had always told them the truth. The faithful heart is comforted in knowing the Father has many dwelling places in His house. Christ’s death and resurrection would prepare the way for them (and us) to abide in the house of God with the Father (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 2:19-22). Finally, eternal heavenly dwelling places are prepared for Christ’s disciples. Jesus had said, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (Jno. 12:26). Jesus is the way to the Father (Jno. 14:6). In times of spiritual disturbance, the troubled heart is calmed by faith in Jesus and the preparations He has made for the soul.
37 And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38 When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:37–40, NKJV)
Jesus did not concern Himself with the traditional ceremonial washing of hands which the Pharisees and all the Jews held as binding (Mk. 7:1-3). Just as the Pharisees found fault with the Lord’s disciples on the matter, so this Pharisee disapproved of Jesus. Whether the man verbalized his astonishment is unclear. Still, Jesus spoke directly to him of the hypocrisy on display by demanding the washing the outside of a cup or dish while leaving the inside filthy. Of course, these are metaphors of a heart “full of greed and wickedness” (v. 39). A corrupt heart is not concealed from God by external religious rituals and displays of purity. We must first cleanse the inside of our cup – our heart – so the outside (our conduct) can be pure. Otherwise, we are hypocrites like the Pharisees, pretending to be pure yet having defiled hearts. James explained the purification God accepts, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8). Repentance produces purity of heart and life. But without heart conversion, religiosity is feeble, futile, and false (Jas. 1:26-27).