Tidbits and Blessings Blog
by Jeanie Malone
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Who doesn’t love a good love song? They move us and make us smile. Many of us are familiar with the 1973 hit song by Blue Swede, “Hooked on a Feeling” that says, “I’m hooked on a feeling; I’m high on believing that you’re in love with me.” Iconic love songs all seem to focus on and appeal to emotions. These songs speak to our hearts; that’s why they comprise a large part of the multi-billion dollar music industry each year.
If we aren’t careful, we will fall prey to the lie that love is a feeling. We hear it when we turn on the radio, we see it in our favorite shows and movies, and we even hear it from our best friends. We have been indoctrinated to believe that we deserve happiness and that if we aren’t happy with a particular person, then we should ditch them and their negativity and move on with our life, seeking our own happiness.
Few are inoculated from this self-serving love. The only chance for inoculation we have is in a close relationship with Christ. Every person has human nature as part of the very design of who we are. Even true Christians sometimes fail to let God lead and instead follow feelings to react out of hurt, fear, shame, disgust, greed, or self-preservation.
The only two commandments Christ taught were specifically about love. In Matthew 22 when responding to the Pharisee lawyer’s question meant to trap him regarding the law, Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (37-40).
Key to understanding what Jesus meant is knowing the original Greek word Jesus used and is translated to English as “love.” In Biblical Greek, four words were used to describe different types of love: storge—empathy bond, philia—friend bond, eros—romantic love, and agape—unconditional love. Jesus used forms of the Greek word agape in both commandments He presented, meaning we are to love God and others unconditionally.
Unconditional means no matter what. Unconditional means in good times and bad; it means when we are head over heels happy or head in hands heavy-hearted.
We aren’t commanded to be happy about every situation we are in or every choice a person makes. Sometimes we won’t be pleased with someone’s choices, but our emotional response is not meant to guide our love. On the contrary, our emotional response is supposed to be guided by our love.
Agape love is a choice, a commitment, and benevolent actions; it is not feelings. Agape love is only possible with Christ, and even then, it is our choice, not an automatic product of being a Christian. Being happy has nothing to do with agape love except the fact that we are commanded to love with no regard to happiness or displeasure.
Recently, I witnessed a relational catastrophe involving several church members including the pastor, deacons, their wives, the church treasurer, and several other members. The situation was neither handled nor resolved biblically. The key mistake was being led by emotions. I heard each hurt party air their grievances filled with statements beginning, “I am hurt…,” “I feel betrayed….,” “I feel unappreciated…,” “You disrespected me….,” and many similar statements. I wanted to say, “Folks, this ain’t about your feelings.”
Our heart is our emotional seat—where our feelings come from. We know by God’s Word that living by our emotions is unstable, misleading, and a hindrance to God’s work in us and through us. We are told in Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
We are to be in control of our hearts, not to be controlled and led by them as pop culture would have us believe. A message from God through the prophet Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:9,10).
In his second letter to believers in Corinth, Paul encouraged and exemplified patience and humility in love for others. He emphasized that the war is not with other people; the war is spiritual and starts within our own thoughts and feelings.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled. Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's.” (2 Cor. 10:3-7)
Our hearts and emotions have a beautiful place in our lives, by God’s design. However, we have placed ourselves on a throne and seek to feed our ego by carefully filtering everything through our emotions instead of filtering our emotions through God’s Word. Living this way will never lead us to the abundant life Christ offers us.
We must deny ourselves and pick up our cross to understand and have joy in Jesus’ offer. Recorded in Luke 9:23-24, Jesus taught, “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” By this we know that self-seeking, self-promoting, or self-preserving actions will cause us to lose the life we are offered by Christ.
Some real world applications of the love Christ teaches us to have are smiling, offering a kind word, pausing to listen intently, making time for our spouse, kids, aging parents, and others when we feel too busy.
Over the years, I have gone deep down trails I never wanted to travel; however, I know that my suffering will not end in tragedy or despair. Yesterday, I identified and thanked God for five specific beautiful blessings that have grown out of a deeply painful trial. Then I received more bad news pertaining to that trial. Despite the latest bad news, I am compelled to rejoice because God is still in control; He is still all-powerful, unchanging, loving, and compassionate, causing everything to work for my good because I love Him, live to honor and obey Him, and am called according to His purpose.
Faith is the cement in our spiritual foundation. Faith enables us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to the will of Christ Jesus who died for our sins and gives us hope. Faith enables us to not fret over bad news. It is faith that stirs our souls to wait for the good news, knowing that we already have the victory in Christ. It is faith that keeps us from despair. It is by faith that we have access to God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Faith is powerful, and it is important to understand the power behind faith. Faith isn’t a distinctly separate force with power in and of itself. God is the origin, cause, anchor, and end of our faith.
Sometimes we want so badly to understand why something is happening to us—Did we do something wrong for which God is punishing us? Are we suffering unfairly? Self-reflection doesn’t typically give us a clear answer because we know that God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11-16), and it rains on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).
And sometimes wondering can drive us berserk. It’s not meant to be our focus. Focusing on anything other than God allows fear to take root. Fear is the opposite of faith; they cannot coexist. They push apart like oil and water. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him, “according to the promise of life which is in Jesus Christ,” that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:1,7).
For more evidence that we are to focus on Jesus, we see immediately following the famous “Faith Chapter,” Hebrews 11, that Paul exhorts the Hebrew believers who are suffering persecution for their beliefs to focus on Christ. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” *Emphasis added.
Faith is important. Often people say, “Just have faith.” But what does that mean? Faith is important, and it’s important to understand why it’s important.
A couple of months ago, I heard a popular preacher telling people, “have faith in your faith.” He explained how important it is to have confidence in your own faith. Sadly, since becoming aware of this misconception, I have seen that it is widespread in cultural Christianity.
The problem with having faith in your faith, or confidence in your faith, is that there must be an object of faith—a person or something trusted and believed. In other words, having faith in your faith is as unfruitful as having faith in nothing at all. It’s equivalent to telling someone to trust their trust. And that makes no sense. We don’t trust our trust. We trust in someone or something, or we trust that something is or will be.
As Christians, we are to have faith in God alone. He is the author and finisher of our faith; He is to be the sole object of our faith. We cannot have faith in faith; that is empty faith. Having faith in anyone other than God is misplaced faith.
Sometimes we misplace our faith and depend on someone to not disappoint us, mess up, or sin. It’s important to love people but trust only God. All people are susceptible to human error and sin. We are imperfect creatures with limited knowledge and understanding, and we all have desires of the flesh. We aren’t the perfect anchor that God is. He is to be the only object of our faith. Faith in anyone or anything besides God is wishful thinking at best. When a person puts full trust, or faith, in another person, holding them to perfection, it ultimately leads to a crumbled relationship and broken lives.
God gives us peace when we truly trust Him. Parenting through the continual crisis that was my daughter’s teenage years, I could have had faith that everything would settle down, I could have had faith that my parenting and our family support would bring her back around, I could have had faith in her character that I hoped to influence as her mother, or I could have had faith in her simply as my daughter. I had faith that whatever happened, God was still in control and loved us immensely. I had faith that everything would work out. Not knowing the definite outcome, I still had peace.
Nothing holds the same anchoring power as having faith in God alone. During my parenting crisis, faith in God alone meant acknowledging that my daughter’s choices were uncertain and unpredictable. Faith in God alone meant trusting His character over my own or my daughter’s. Faith in God alone meant knowing His love is perfect and effectual.
For all of us, faith in God alone means seeking His wisdom for all aspects of life, especially relationships, including marriage and parenting. Faith in God alone means that we acknowledge our complete helplessness and the insufficiency of our own wisdom and skills. Faith in God alone means not predetermining the outcome as a basis for our faith. Faith in God alone means acknowledging His constant, unchanging goodness despite our uncertainties and circumstances.
We recognize that people can fail, but God can never fail. We have confidence in people every day, and while that’s a necessary part of life with others, having faith in God is different because He is the infallible, all-knowing, ever-present Creator of the universe.
As we navigate life—relationships, hardships, victories, and even the mundane, it takes conscious effort to live our lives focused on Christ. We must remind ourselves of truths such as that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, good, and just. When we take our eyes off what we can see and deliberately focus on Christ whom we cannot see, we have a peace that passes all understanding and wisdom that carries us into the right decisions. Even when things seem upside down, we can trust that God sees, cares, and is working all things for our good.
What makes Christianity truly unique? All major religions besides true Christianity are works-based, meaning your future or afterlife is determined by works, or what you do now. Obedience is a big tenet in every religion but in a very different way than it is in Christianity that believes in salvation by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.
Obedience in most religions is necessary for salvation or other desired result but is evidence of salvation in true Christianity. Think of a person’s obedience to God’s Word as a result of his or her faith in God and as the evidence others need to believe. Obedience in faith is a testimony of the positive choice regarding the faith God gives each person. Salvation is the result of a choice to submit to God and own the truth of Christ’s sacrifice. Obedience is faithfulness in gratitude for the salvation given in grace through faith.
My most read devotional, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, reads the following for March 28: “Faithfulness to Jesus means that I must step out even when and where I can’t see anything (see Matthew 14:29).” Chambers argues that faith is not “intellectual understanding” but is “a deliberate commitment to the Person of Jesus Christ, even when I can’t see the way ahead.” He states that we can know when instructions come from God “because of their quiet persistence.” So while faith employs reason, the emphasis is put on the choice to surrender and commit.
Chambers continues, “When I begin to weigh the pros and cons, and doubt and debate enter into my mind, I am bringing in an element that is not of God. This will only result in my concluding that His instructions to me were not right. Many of us are faithful to our ideas about Jesus Christ, but how many of us are faithful to Jesus Himself?” Youch! That cut is deep and personal, convicting and fruitful.
We see Chambers’ point illustrated when Peter walked on water to Jesus as recorded in Matthew 14:29-31:
And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Peter allowed questions and debate to enter his mind; these caused him to doubt reality because it didn’t make sense within his understanding of physics and more. Peter’s faithfulness was only as fruitful as his commitment to Jesus Himself. Once doubt entered Peter’s mind, his commitment lost strength and thereby fruitfulness. Peter was given by God a measure of faith. The fruitfulness of Peter’s faith was determined by Peter’s commitment, or choice to believe.
To have faithfulness, one must have faith. Pastor and preacher Alistair Begg says that it helps to understand what something is by understanding what it is not. He says in a sermon he preached July 22, 2020, titled “What Is Faith?” “Faith is not a subjective feeling that is divorced from the objective truth that God has made known.” He looks at Hebrews 11:1 for a definition of faith, which says in the King James Version, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In the English Standard Version, it says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is the assurance even though there is not a physical, tangible confirmation. Interestingly, the word transliterated as faith is noted as Strong’s #4102 for this verse, meaning it is persuasion given by God alone.
It’s important to note that we use reason in conjunction with the faith God gives us to trust in Him, His love, and His plans, even when we don’t see the whole picture or we lack wisdom or understanding about a situation. However, just like Peter allowing doubt to stop his reciprocation of faith, we often do the same thing by looking at our circumstances instead of focusing on God and fully trusting Him personally regardless of what we can or cannot see or understand.
Looking at the words used concerning faith in the New Testament, when there is a preposition used with a form of pisteuo in the Greek, it is always noted in Strong’s Concordance as #4100, a verb meaning self-persuasion, personal belief, or human confidence. Often, Bible translations say believe or trust since this is a verb use and denotes the use of reason resulting in persuasion of self, rather than persuasion of God; however, only context dictates for certain if this faith, belief, or trust is self-serving or stems from persuasion of God.
Faith is not only activated by evidence but is also evidenced, or proven true, for others to believe, for them to have the evidence they also need to place their personal trust in God. In the Apostle Peter’s first letter, he encouraged wives whose husbands did not yet believe and obey God’s Word, saying that their husbands would be won over by the wives’ beliefs and resulting lifestyles and character.
Faith, as persuasion by God, is evidenced by works, as we see in James 2. This chapter says a lot about activity resulting from faith. Some Bible translations and added section titles may confuse people to think that works are necessary as part of salvation. However, the original intent of this passage seems to be that genuine faith, as persuasion by God, would lead to a determination by one to believe and trust, showing both sides of faith, if you will. Faith is said in James 2 to be evidenced by one’s activity and interactions. James 2:21 says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” The original Greek word translated as justified here has several meanings, and one of them means to show proof or evidence. Our works are evidence of our salvation.
In Galatians 5:22-23 we see the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Each listed fruit of the Spirit is a unique quality of God and can only be bestowed by God. The fruit of the Spirit is the result of a close, trusting relationship with God. Besides being another argument for the triune nature of God, this reminds us that we cannot attain these qualities on our own; they are a gift of God.
Faith is listed among the fruit; some translations list it as faithfulness. The original Greek word used is transliterated as pistis, noted in Strong’s Concordance as #4102, which is only used to refer to the persuasion given by God, not something we can produce on our own. Strong’s #4103 is used as an adjective meaning faithful, “typically, of believing the faith God imparts” and seems to represent the other side of faith—our response.
To clarify, studying the uses of the words noted in Strong’s Concordance as #4100, #4102, and #4103, those noted as #4102, typically as a noun, represent the faith given by God. Those noted as #4100 and #4103 represent our response, typically as a verb and an adjective, respectively. God gives us faith and the option of what we do with it. He knows only by His design will faith be fruitful, but in His great love He gives us the choice to commit to Him with our faith or to ignore the fullness of His invitation.
I love Paul’s description and admonition to Timothy in his second letter. Many of us can quote 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” but what follows helps us understand the bigger picture: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
It is God who called us, God who saved us, God who by His purpose and grace gave us faith to believe in this grand plan that was in place long before we were born but that considers us in every aspect. I encourage you to read the entire letter, chapters 1 through 4, which is centered on faith as God gives and as we can choose to commit and live.
Without the faith that only God can give, there would be not fruit of the Spirit, no opportunity to commit and make a choice given by that faith. God provides us with what we need to live a life that successfully honors Him in all things. I credit a friend on Twitter with the following categorization of how the fruit works in our life:
He continues with the reason for adding these:
“For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1-11).
In 2 Peter 3:18 he says, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”
In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul emphasized the supremacy of Christ and outlined actions of a life lived through faith in Christ as a person of the triune God. That faith would be a choice to believe resulting from the persuasion by God.
Colossians 3:1-2, 10-17 says,
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all; Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
I encourage you to read the entire letter, or at least the third chapter. This passage shows clearly how our two-fold faith creates a life that is evidence of the God at work in us.
To recap what we learned:
I'm tired of running from God and am trying to learn to run to Him instead.