Getting To The Heart of The Matter

“But Daniel purposed in his heart
That he would not defile himself…”
Daniel 1:8a 

       The month known for love’s expression through cards, flowers, and candy is here once again. February seems to tiptoe its way into each New Year and snuggles in between the long winter months of dark January and windy March. In the northern hemisphere February sometimes offers short, tantalizing hints of the spring to come before coyly retreating behind curtains of snowflakes.

       Regardless of the weather, the state of the world, and predictable commercialism, Valentine’s Day is a pleasant interlude with its reminder of the wonder and beauty of love and all of love’s varied manifestations. The love of God shed upon human hearts, like the warm kiss of sunlight on a budding rose should cause an immediate response—a joyful quickening of the spirit in blissful abandon to our Father in heaven. “We love him, because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19.

       However, the truth is we human beings are not predictable little rose buds, but rather agents of freewill with fallen dispositions that naturally prefer to receive love more than give love, prefer to be honored rather than give honor, prefer to live for self rather than live for God, prefer to love God for what He can do for us rather than for who He is, and in the end it all adds up to the fact that we really do love ourselves more than we love God. In addition, the incessant drumbeat and emphasis of the Church in the past few decades has been “God loves you,” period. End of discussion. That’s all you need to know, so now we can go party. It has also been the end of discipleship (commanded by our Lord) that begins with humility, repentance, consecration, self-denial, cross bearing, sacrifice, obedience, and emphasis on the virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:3-11 among other things.

       Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” John 14:15. It can’t be any clearer than that. Anything less is sin. If you love God, you will obey Him. If you fail to obey Him by either commission or omission, it is sin. It’s simple. But, somewhere somebody is going to figure out a way to gather a committee of over-educated idiots to dissect Jesus’ statement, because, after all, it’s in the interest of self that there must be some way around believing, being and doing what the Bible says. Everybody in the modern world of secular psychology is programmed to know that the three-letter word “sin” is outdated, irrelevant, repugnant, disgusting, and insulting to the degree that anyone who dares to pinpoint sin as the source of man’s plight should be locked up in an insane asylum, along with people who believe God still speaks to people. As for the post-modern Christian who is marinated in the pickle juice of positive, possibility thinking, he or she has  no problem believing that God has changed His mind about sin and the consequences of it (such as hell) since “sweet Jesus” came, and therefore, there has to be a more advanced explanation of Scripture to suit our “progressive culture.” To such unbelievers that have convinced themselves they are “Christians” because they are “spiritual” sin is nothing more than “error” or a “mistake” or a “disease.” Besides, you are supposed to love yourself, and love everybody and it is not considered loving to confront lost souls with that archaic three-letter “S” word.

       Sin messes up everything in the belief systems and ideology of self-loving progressive, humanistic, modern man who, in spite of stark reality hitting him or her in the face from every direction insists on clinging to his or her excuses and delusions. Delusions that are propped up by excuses, wicked imaginations, pride, and rebellion are stick houses built on shifting sands. We all know what will happen when the floods come and the winds blow. Jesus gave us the answer as to why people prefer their delusions in John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”. To love God is to love the light, the truth and righteousness.

       Back to the antichrist experts who take their place around the conference table to discover the real meaning of “If ye love me, keep my commandments” some bright brain is going to question if that is what Jesus really meant, or if there is some hidden meaning that fundamental, Bible-believing, “uneducated” and “simple” people just don’t understand. After all, the “laity village people” should be thankful that the “advanced, religious, intelligentsia” cares enough about them to redefine what Jesus “really meant.” They are convinced that their righteous religious duty is to try and persuade everyone to conform to their way of thinking in the interest of unity. The problem is, however, people who have “cut their teeth” on the Bible, especially the King James Version, are the most difficult to “re-educate” into the post-modern, New Age, one-world, politically correct, counterfeit “church.”

       How can you persuade someone whose heart is fixed, who loves the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their strength, and with all their mind; and their neighbor as themselves” to forsake the God of the Bible and receive “another Jesus, another spirit, another gospel”? Such people love Him because they know Him. You cannot love, trust and obey someone you do not know, but you begin to know Him through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, by His Word, through prayer, through the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone on before, the testimony of those who walk with Him, and through your own personal experiences and revelations of Jesus as you draw nigh unto Him in humility, and in Spirit and in Truth.

       Consider Daniel, who as a young captive in Babylon, faced the same type of temptation in the idolatrous, godless, highly advanced, cultured civilization of his time. Instead of wringing his hands in self-pity and blaming God for his plight, because of the love he had in his heart for God he purposed in his heart to withstand temptation and not defile himself. The result of his refusal could have resulted in death, which shows us that his love for God and his desire to obey Him (the Law of Moses) far exceeded his love for food, or even for his own life. Perhaps Daniel also knew Proverbs 23:20, “Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh” and it was his heart’s desire to honor the LORD. Sometimes as Christians we need to remind ourselves of Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Our love for God must be our priority in all things.

       Think about Job whose heart was also established in his love for God which made him a target for Satan. The LORD said to Satan, concerning Job, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause” Job 2:3. How many of us could suffer as Job suffered and still declare, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” Job 13:15a? Job also purposed in his heart not to defile himself with sexual fantasies in his imagination. He said, “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” What would Job say today to the men of all ages (and women too) who are participants in our culture’s obsession with pornography? How many people confess with their lips that they love Jesus, but are addicted to porn in their hearts? Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” Matthew 5:28. Surveys show that 60 to 70% of Christian men view porn. (See http://www.blazinggrace.org/) No one can faithfully serve two masters. A person is either a bondservant to Jesus Christ, or a slave to Satan.

       Reflect on Peter’s encounter with Jesus as recorded in John 21. In this account, nowhere do we read that Jesus tried to convince His disciples that He loved them. That was already understood and established. Instead, he asked Peter if he loved Him, and He asked it three times. No doubt Jesus publicly asked Peter three times because Peter denied Christ three times. Surely Jesus wanted to cause Peter to go deeper into the depths of his own heart, for who truly knows his or her own heart? We can all give a surface, emotional, or automatic confession of love for Jesus, but when pressed with the question a second time by our Lord, we know that He sees beyond our shallow response to what lies underneath, and He wants to show us the state of our own heart. After the first response, Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” Now that Peter had confessed he loved the Lord, the Lord gave him a charge to new believers in the faith—innocent, vulnerable lambs. After Peter’s second response, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” Now Peter is given more responsibility to those growing in the faith. Then Jesus went deeper, asking Peter the third time, and Peter’s heart was grieved. Jesus’ three questions had completely filled Peter’s heart, leaving no space for anything but Him. I believe it was a tearful Peter that confessed that Jesus knew the depths of his heart, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee” John 21:17b. Again Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

       It was then that the most remarkable thing happened, for Jesus revealed that He does indeed “know all things” (past, present, and future) when he said to Peter, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” John 21:18. All of Peter’s life, from beginning to end was in the Lord’s hands, and Peter’s heart was now prepared to step into the calling of God, for God’s glory. Jesus had brought Peter to the place where He could say, “Follow me” knowing that Peter would indeed follow Him unto death.

       There is much to be learned about love for God from the account of Jesus eating dinner at the house of Simon the Pharisee. “And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment” Luke 7:37, 38. The Pharisee watched this taking place in his house without saying a word, but in his heart he came to a conclusion about Jesus, thinking to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”

       Jesus, of course, knew exactly what Simon was thinking and said, “I have somewhat to say unto thee.” The Pharisee not knowing Jesus knew his thoughts, said, “Master, say on.” Then Jesus said, “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” Simon seemed eager to answer the question and said, “I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.” I can just imagine that by now Simon felt pretty smart. But his exaltation didn’t last more than two seconds for Jesus turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

       There are many lessons we can draw from this passage of Scripture. Simon’s personal agenda to judge if Jesus was a prophet or not, and his pride set him up to be humbled by Jesus’ words. When it came to love for God, he would be the one people would automatically look to because of his religious training and position. Yet, he failed to offer the proper cultural hospitality of washing his guest’s feet, greeting Jesus with a holy kiss, and anointing him. Each of these things is symbolic in Jewish culture. Anointing a guest showed respect and represented God’s special blessing, or commission. It also corresponds with consecration (setting apart) for God’s service. The Apostle John said that Christians “have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20).  Who is this Holy One?  First John 2:27 gives us more on this anointing, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” 

       Foot washing in the Bible was not a ritualistic religious practice, but was a practical cultural service in washing the dust off of a guest’s feet. Generally the host’s servants would perform this duty. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet He was showing self-humiliation and forgiveness, and taught his disciples to humble themselves and serve one another. As for kissing one another in greeting, this was an ancient practice and one which the Apostle Paul urged them to do in a godly or holy manner. Thus we see that Simon the Pharisee failed to honor Jesus with customary social hospitality, and we see the sinner woman humbling herself before the Lord because she knew who He was. Her actions spoke louder than words as she anointed Him with precious oil, symbolizing her faith in His heavenly origin and being; washed His feet with her tears in true humility and repentance because by faith she knew only God can forgive sins; kissed His feet without ceasing in love and thankfulness for who He is, merciful Savior and Lord. Truly, she loved much because she was forgiven much. What a beautiful example for all of us to remember and put into practice if we truly love Him. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” John 13:34, 35.

       In the book, Pepper and Salt, Vance Havner wrote, “I dreamed that I walked down the street of a town—it could have been any town—and came to a church—it could have been almost any church. The congregation was singing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers,’ and if there had been one more verse they might have sung themselves to sleep. The text was, ‘All things are possible to him that believeth’ (Mark 9:23). I said to myself, ‘If they really believe this, it will be interesting to see what happens after the benediction.’ After the sermon they sang ‘Rescue the Perishing’ and I could hardly wait to see them start rescuing the perishing. But nothing happened. Someone made a remark about the weather and when I asked, ‘But when do you start rescuing the perishing?’ He looked at me in alarm and hurried away. As I walked down the street, there walked beside me One whom I did not recognize at first. I asked Him, ‘Do they always act like this at church?’ Then I knew who He was when He said, sadly, ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me’ (Matthew 15:8).” What is also sad to me is how so many people who claim to be Christians are publicly ashamed of Jesus, but not ashamed of talking and acting like children of the devil. It makes a person wonder who their father really is.

       Concerning free will and our love for God, A.W. Tozer said, “Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token homage to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is ABOVE, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choice he makes day after day throughout his life.” There it is again—free will. We all have a choice to make whether we will love the Lord with all our heart, or choose to ignore, disbelieve, or refuse to obey the first and great commandment to our own peril. If there was an award ceremony for those who love God the most, who do you think would win it?

       Again, Tozer gives us valuable insight: “For His own children our heavenly Father has provided right moral objects for admiration and love. The FIRST IS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Our Lord ‘loved righteousness and hated iniquity.’ (Hebrews 1:9) Here the pattern is fixed. To love is also to hate. The heart that is drawn to righteousness will be repulsed by iniquity in the SAME DEGREE. The holiest man is the one who loves righteousness most and hates evil with the most perfect hatred. The NEXT IS WISDOM. So high do the Old Testament writers place wisdom that sometimes we can scarcely distinguish the wisdom that comes from God from the wisdom that is God. Another object for Christian love to fix upon is TRUTH, and again we have difficulty separating the truth of God from God Himself. Christ said, ‘I am the Truth,’ and in so saying joined truth and the Deity in inseparable union. To love God is to love truth, and to love truth with steadfast ardor is to grow toward the image of truth and away from the lie and error.” (Read Paul in Phil. 4:8)

       It’s all a matter of the heart. Jesus still calls to the Laodicean Church, saying, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” Revelation 3:20. Are you supping (communing) with Jesus, or is the door to your heart closed because of guilt, shame, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, fear, unbelief, or some secret sin? Perhaps you are afraid of surrendering your whole heart to the Lord because you cannot trust Him to do things your way. Maybe you are in an endless cycle of destructive behavior, addictions or habits that you need to be set free from. Whatever it is now is the time to open the door all the way open and let Jesus come in and make you free. “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation) 2 Corinthians 6:2. Salvation means deliverance, and oh! How we all need on-going deliverance from the world, the flesh and the devil.

       Have you purposed in your heart to love the Lord your God with all your heart? Or are you lingering like Lot, looking back like his wife, or leaning on the “arm of the flesh?” Who or what is more worthy than Christ? Who or what other than Jesus can save your soul? May the Holy Spirit today part the veil over every heart and reveal the mighty holiness, splendor and power of heaven and the one who sits on the throne in majesty—“And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” Revelation 5:11-13.

       What a day that will be! Amen!