21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21–22, NKJV)
Wanting to follow Jesus is not the same as actually following Him. That may seem obvious, yet we easily convince ourselves we follow Him when the evidence says otherwise. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Doing the Father’s will begins in the heart and produces conduct consistent with the heart’s intention and devotion. This man had kept the commands of God from his youth (Mk. 10:19-20). But he lacked one thing. His heart was greedy and he trusted in riches more than God (Mk. 10:24). His love for personal possessions controlled his conduct toward others. His unwillingness to sell and give exposed his selfish heart. Why do we emphasize complete obedience to Jesus? Not because it earns us treasures in heaven, but because it expresses a heart that loves God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30; Rom. 6:17-18). One thing prevented this man from having heavenly treasures. If even one thing is hindering your obedience from the heart, repent, and do what Jesus says (Lk. 6:46). Jesus knows our hearts just like He knew this man’s heart. Do we (2 Cor. 13:5)?
“submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21, NKJV)
Submitting to one another in the church grows out of our fear of God. Submission means to “subordinate” or “subject oneself” to another. This requires yielding up our will to the will of the other person. Sometimes that is easy (when our wills agree). The challenge comes when we are called on to subordinate our will and our preferences to another person’s will and preferences. (Of course, we are discussing non-sinful things here. The Scriptures do not teach us to submit to sin and error, Gal. 2:4-5.) To successfully submit to one another requires that we fear God. Honoring and yielding to His desire and will must be paramount to us. When we fear God we are equipped to “be submissive to one another” and to “be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5). If we think of ourselves as better than others we are being driven by “selfish ambition or conceit” instead of humble love and the fear of God (Phil. 2:3-4). In today’s verse, “fear” is translated from phobos (“to be put in fear, alarm or fright,” Strong’s). As we revere and respect God, we dread displeasing Him because of its terrible result (Matt. 10:28). The fear of God compels us to respect one another and submit ourselves to each other in genuine efforts to seek each other’s salvation and spiritual blessings (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31-33).
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1–5, NKJV)
The apostle warned of perilous times (seasons of particular fierceness) against godliness and righteousness. These stressful times are identifiable by the character and conduct of harsh, ferocious, even savage people, who cast off the moral restraints of divine truth. There can be little debate that we live in such a time. Love for God and for one’s fellow man is easily abandoned for selfish indulgence. Brutality is minimized, and at times protected as legitimate expressions of free speech, even as voices of faith and reason are silenced by intimidation, threats, and violence. What are the righteous to do? Paul did not tell Timothy to compromise with such people, he told him to avoid them! Do not join them in their appearances of godliness. Rather than trusting the arm of flesh, we must rely on the power of God during such “evil days” by redeeming our time and putting on the whole armor of God (Eph. 5:16; 6:13-17). With patient endurance, we will stand solidly in the power of God’s truth, and share in the victory of faith (1 Jno. 5:4).
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4, NKJV)
Combative mindsets and contentious conduct permeate society. The works of the flesh (“adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”) are producing devastating results all around us (Galatians 5:19-21). Look at the contrast in today’s passage with the works of the flesh. Selfish ambition thrives in the arrogant heart that sees others as “less than” we are. Pride feeds the desire to look out for ourselves first – before others. When we estimate others to be better than ourselves it follows that we will not injure and harm them through the works of the flesh. (Look at that list again and see how often our sins invariably hurt others.) By developing hearts of humility we become servants of others instead of users and takers. Living for others instead of ourselves protects us from sin as it spreads the influence of righteousness. Be the salt of the earth by maintaining a humble heart that values others and becomes a blessing in their lives (Matthew 5:13).
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2–3, NKJV)
James continues to bring our focus to the driving motives behind conflicts and battles with others. Selfish cravings never satisfy one’s desire to be satisfied and fulfilled. Lust leads to fights and battles with those we believe are preventing us from acquiring our desire. Murder and greedy yearnings are never satisfied through hateful actions that deprive others of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When one’s motive is to “spend it on your pleasures,” others will be treated as disposable rather than with decency and respect. Asking God to help us achieve our goals when evil motives reside in our hearts is a hypocritical and futile approach toward God and toward life.
Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2, NKJV)
Nobody likes a braggart. Praising oneself is a prideful display of self-importance. Christians do not go around “tooting their own horn.” Their meek and quiet life will speak for itself (see Jas. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:11-12). Praising oneself is a mark of self-righteousness, not humble self-denial. The self-righteous Pharisee “stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’” (Lk. 18:11-12). Praising oneself indicates one is absorbed with selfishly demanding the spotlight. Christians do not seek the praise of men, but the praise of God. Therefore, we must not draw attention to ourselves through the vanity of self-adulation. Instead, let us be busy directing our attention toward serving others, and toward humbly obeying God. Then, we will have neither the time nor the inclination to draw attention to ourselves.
30 “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.” (Ezekiel 33:30–31, NKJV)
Everybody wanted to hear the prophet! Yet, God was thoroughly disgusted with His people. They were comfortable with their outward display of being interested in God, even while their hearts were far from Him. They were excited to hear what the prophet said “from the Lord”, but they were not at all interested in doing what He said. Their words talked of love for God, but their hearts were full of selfishness – and their lives showed it. Let us learn from them and avoid being like them. We must completely devote our hearts to loving God. Only then will we conform our words and our actions to God’s word, and by doing so, come into His presence.