Watchfulness

So equip yourself in time
And shun all sin
Living in righteousness
That is true watchfulness
Whereby one can attain
to eternal blessedness.
~16th Century Anabaptist Hymn1~

We’ve reached the end of our little series about doing everything through love. The first post was a simple reminder that all things find their worth through love. The second post explained just what exactly love means from a Christian perspective. Outwardly it will form as seeking the best interests of those around you. It is utter selflessness with a result of serving others. Inwardly, it’s a complete devotion to God. Love is the natural outflowing when the correct conditions are met, that is, when we abide in Christ in the same way that he is abiding in the Father.

This last post will be more practical in nature. How do we cultivate that love? How do we abide in Christ? Before we begin, I want to be very clear that this will not be a step by step guide to becoming holy (or loving or godly or whatever else you’re looking to be). If you are looking to be one of those things, then you will never reach it. How can one become selfless with a motivation to be great? Let us start with the psalm in Philippians 2 to remind us of the person in whom we are to find our being, our love. If we have any holiness, it is only because we have forsaken our dreams of becoming so and have instead fully dedicated ourselves to following Him in the way He laid out for us.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.


Watchfulness

What we will be talking about in this article is called different things by different traditions and different people. To my knowledge, Eastern Orthodoxy has the most established tradition of this and it is most often called watchfulness in that tradition, so that is what I will call it here.

Watchfulness is the guarding of the heart from evil thoughts. If you recall from the last post, usually what we call sinful actions are the result of little seeds which have grown to fruition. The seeds of sin are most often planted as small thoughts. They float through the air and land in the soil of our hearts. Here, if we are not careful, they will take root. Watchfulness is simply staying alert and keeping the seeds from ever landing. We, like Habukkuk, we must stand at the gates of our hearts and keep watch, never allowing the enemy to enter yet always prepared to receive our Lord (Hab 2:1).

Throughout the day we are tempted with seemingly innocent thoughts. Pleasurable to our minds and emotions, these persistent thoughts are what most often cause us to fall. St. Francis de Sales reminds us that “although the greater temptations exceed in power, there are so infinitely more in number of little temptations, that a victory over them is fully as important as over the greater but rarer ones.”2 In fact, St. Mark the Ascetic said, “When you sin, blame your thought and not your action. For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed.”3 These small, enjoyable thoughts fill us with pride or grow into great monuments of lust. Surely a person has never lost their temper who didn’t harbor thoughts of anger, pride or contempt.  These small and natural thoughts stay and rot our hearts until an opportune time to strike. Of course we may always repent and ask forgiveness, but we should be always striving to rid ourselves of such damaging actions. To do so, we need to keep as far away as possible from the seeds of sin. “Let us flee from it in our thoughts so that we may have nothing in common with the enemy of God.”4 

We cannot control when a thought enters our mind, but we can decide how to deal with it. Often there is not a moment of our waking hours that a thought is not floating through our minds. While that in and of itself is not bad, we must not allow these thoughts to take root.

The first step we must take is to be aware. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.” Jesus and the New Testament authors all gave several warnings to be prepared, alert, ready, watchful and awake lest we be taken by surprise.5 Several psalms and proverbs remind us to keep careful watch over our hearts as well.6

When a thought floats into our minds, we must be aware that it has done so, but we must also not give it attention. When we try to attack it head on we in fact give it strength. We cannot fight these thoughts off ourselves, so we must turn to Christ. He is our savior, our victorious King.  In his death and resurrection he has defeated evil.7 In him they are powerless, so to him we must turn. As St. Hesychius said, “Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart”8. This ‘invocation of Jesus Christ’ can take many forms. St Hesychius was most likely referencing the Jesus Prayer9, a traditional Orthodox prayer taken from Jesus himself, but it need not be. I personally like to recite scripture which directly contrasts the thoughts which are tempting me. When I feel irritation slipping in for example, I do not focus on the irritation, but instead focus on the words of Paul when he said, “Love is patient and kind… It is not irritable or resentful.” When I pray these verses with my heart in Christ, the weeds of irritability never take root, never even germinate. Instead, the seeds of patience begin to grow. 

This is not always immediate and sometimes the thoughts keep raging. It is important to recognize that if we “try to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance, [we] will become more entangled in them instead of driving them away.”10 Recognizing that these evil thoughts and temptations cannot actually harm us unless we give them the power to do so, St. Francis de Sales tells us to “despise all these trivial onslaughts, and do not even deign to think about them; but let them buzz about your ears as much as they please.. do no more than simply remove them, not fighting with them, or arguing, but simply doing that which is precisely contrary to their suggestions, and specially making acts of the Love of God.. Simply turn with your whole heart towards Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet.”11


Morning and Evening Prayers

Watchfulness is sitting at the feet of our Master and listening to His voice and His alone. We ignore the distractions in the background that bring our attention away from Him and focus all the more intently on his voice. This is not only done as the distractors come, but should be done in deliberate times when we are free from distractions. I find that set prayer times are the most effective way for me to ensure I have regular time alone with my Master. Through this practice, I am much more prepared when the little seeds of distraction do come. We must always be on guard lest we are unknowingly carried away from abiding in Christ and the effectiveness of preparing both before the day begins and after it ends can hardly be overstated. Especially for those areas in which we are particularly weak, we need to work on fully turning them over to Jesus during times when we are not being bombarded by temptations. “In a word, let your time of peace,—that is to say, the time when you are not beset by temptations to sin,—be used in cultivating the graces most opposed to your natural difficulties, and if opportunities for their exercise do not arise, go out of your way to seek them, and by so doing you will strengthen your heart against future temptations.”12 

To begin a day devoted to God, it is best to begin with time set apart for prayer. Do your best to start this sacred time with God before any thoughts can enter your mind. Avoid texts, social media, television, other people even, until your devotions are finished. This can be difficult, and I understand even impossible for some people at times, but it is most helpful so I encourage you to do the best that you can.

Praying first thing in the morning, before even looking at your phone or eating breakfast, sets the tone for the entire day. By putting aside your hunger and praying, you are making a conscious effort to follow God even over your own desires. “Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord, because the whole day will belong to whoever gets the first start.”13  It releases the floodgates to allow Father’s love to pour into and through us thus squashing many thoughts and keeping our focus on him. At some point I would like to discuss more about morning prayers, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

There is no perfect way to pray, but surely there are more effective methods than others. I have found St. Francis de Sales’ method for morning prayers to be indispensable.14 He suggests we start with thanksgiving, as all prayers should. A rejoicing to the Lord of All that we have made it through the night and into the next day that He has made. Then we should go through the day we have ahead of us in our minds. Of course we cannot completely predict what will happen, but we know many of the trials in which we’ll face. Pray now for those specific things, to remain strong in Him and that His love, faithfulness, peace and kindness will flow out of you rather than the frustration and anger which normally does. End your prayer recognizing that without His Spirit, you could never live as you should. You have an uncountable list of failures as evidence.

This structure is only a suggestion though I do highly recommend something similar. As you change and the situations surrounding your life change, what is most effective will change as well. We must always be willing to adapt our lives to follow the Spirit. Similarly, if you have a morning prayer routine different than what I have described and it works well for you, don’t abandon it for this one! 

Just as we begin the day with prayer, so should we end with it. Mornings tend to invoke ideas of life and beginnings whereas night is often most conducive for dwelling on death and sin. Each night as the sun sets we need to remember that our lives will set someday as well. It is most helpful to go through our day reviewing those situations in which we recognize the Spirit of Christ working through us as well as those when we let wickedness rule. We must offer thankfulness for our successes and ask for forgiveness for our failures15.

In addition to evening prayers, it is best to have our last thoughts as we doze off be those of prayer. I personally, taking note from Clement of Alexandria, like to recite Psalms until I fall asleep.16In doing this, we can ensure that both our first and last thoughts of the day will be of and devoted to God.

Of course, we should not be legalistic about such prayers. We are not dependent on morning and evening prayers, but on Christ himself. And we should never feel satisfied at simply completing our two daily prayers, but should always take advantage of a time when it arises. “At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.”17 


When You Fall

Note that I said when you fall not if you fall. On the one hand I don’t want us going into this with a losing attitude. On the other, it is important to recognize that we are weak and will eventually stumble. I find the words of Brother Lawrence most helpful in this regard. In his short book Practice of the Presence of God, Lawrence describes his simple life of devotion. He said we should live in “one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to God” (Fourth conversation). Brother Lawrence had, since becoming a monk, always desired to live for nothing and no one other than God. Yet for ten years he lived in guilt and misery over how much he continually failed in that endeavor. Eventually he stopped living in shame and instead turned even his failures over to God. When he stumbled, he simply confessed his fault and said, “God, I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself; it is you who must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss.” After this, he felt no further uneasiness about it but simply continued in his constant walk with God.

To give in to guilt and shame is to give into the very powers in which we are struggling against. We have our worth through Jesus. When we sin, we must not turn to shame or guilt, but turn immediately to him. When we do this we learn humility which is to take the failure and convert it into victory. “I will merely say that for all the passion mentioned above, the remedy is humility. Those who have obtained that virtue have won the whole fight.”18 


I’ll end with the words of St. Hesychios, “We are not mightier than Samson, wiser than Solomon, more knowledgeable about God than David, and we do not love God better than did Peter, prince of the apostles. So let us not have confidence in ourselves; for he who has confidence in himself will fall headlong.

Let us learn humility from Christ, humiliation from David, and from Peter to shed tears over what has happened; but let us also learn to avoid the despair of Samson, Judas, and that wisest of men, Solomon.

The devil, with all his powers, ‘walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; (1 Pet 5:8). So must you never relax your attentiveness of heart, your watchfulness, your power of rebuttal or your prayer to Jesus Christ our God. You will not find a greater help than Jesus in all your life, for He alone, as God, knows the deceitful ways of the demons, their subtlety and their guile.

Let your soul, then, trust in Christ, let it call on Him and never fear; for it fights, not alone, but with the aid of a mighty King, Jesus Christ, Creator of all that is, both bodiless and embodied, visible and invisible.

The more rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, Christ’s holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.”

Just as the Word is spread to but does not take root in all soil (Matt. 13:1-23), so let us strive to be inhospitable soils for the seeds of sins. If sin is refused germination, it will never bloom. The soil which is ripe for the Word, is death for sin. A soul which is rich for the Word, is arid for sin. Humility, faith, gentleness, patience, self-control, love and kindness will choke out the weeds of sin before they can even begin to take root. But the Word flourishes in such conditions and surely we may reap 100 fold in crop.

“Let this be your rule and practice, to ask yourself: Am I really doing this in accordance with God’s will?”19 


Further Reading

There are many resources for watchfulness in the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions. Here are a several works about watchfulness or with parts pertaining to it.

The Philokalia The Philokalia is a five volume collection of writings from monastic Christians between the 4th and 15th centuries, although only four are available in English (only 99¢ for a digital copy of all four volumes!) The topics of the writings vary but are primarily related to quiet prayer within the heart. It is very highly regarded in Eastern Orthodoxy. Some of the writings which have helped me the most in regards to watchfulness are St. Isaiah the Solitary’s On Guarding the Intellect, St. Mark the Ascetic’s On the Spiritual Law, St. Hesychios the Priest and Nikiphoros the Monk.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent Another book valued in Orthodoxy is this one by John Climacus. This book describes the virtues a Christian should strive to encompass and is very practical in nature. Chapters 26 and 27 are the most relevant for our topic.

Prima the First Things… Written by Puritan mystic Isaac Ambrose, this book is wonderfully practical and enlightening. The most relevant chapter starts on page 28.

Practice of the Presence of God This incredibly simple book by Brother Lawrence gives you a peek into the life of a man who is living exactly as I have suggested we should strive to live. He devoted all thoughts and actions to God and saw no difference between times of prayer and times of work.

Introduction to the Devout Life Written by St. Francis de Sales, this book is odd for the time in that is was written specifically for lay people, not other monks. As such, it makes it very accessible to all of us lay people! The chapters are short, simple and powerful.

The Spiritual Watch This short book written by a moderate puritan Thomas Gataker can be difficult to read because of the spelling and language, but offers a deep insight into keeping a spiritual watch.

 


  1. If Now We Must Part: A Parting Hymn
  2. although greater temptations exceed in power… St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Chapter 8
  3. When you sin, blame your thought and not your action… St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law #119Philokalia Vol. 1
  4. May we have nothing in common with the enemy of God… Nikiphoros the Monk, On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart. The Philokalia, vol. 4
  5. New Testament warnings to stay watch… Luke 12:35-39, 12:15, 21:34; Matthew 25:1-13; Mark 13:34-37, 14:38; 2 Peter 1:19; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 4:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; Hebrews 2:1
  6. Psalms and Proverbs related to watchfulness… Proverbs 4:23, 8:33-34; Psalms 39:1, 141:3, 123:1-2; 
  7. In his death and resurrection he has defeated death… Col 2:5, Heb 2:14-15, 1 Jn 3:8, Jn 12:31, Acts 2:32-36
  8. Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart… St. Hesychius the Priest, On Watchfulness and Holiness #143. Philokalia Vol. 1
  9. Jesus prayer
  10. try to overcome temptations without prayer and patient endurance… St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law #189. Philokalia Vol. 1
  11. Simply turn with your whole heart towards Jesus Christ Crucified, and lovingly kiss His Sacred Feet… Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV Chapter 9
  12. let your time of peace be used in cultivating the graces most opposed to your natural difficulties ibid.
  13. Devote the first-fruits of your day to the Lord… St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 99
  14. St. Francis de Sales’ method for morning prayers… Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II Chapter 10
  15. This is a type of Prayer Examen. For more information about this, here is one set of steps and here is another.
  16.  “Finally, before partaking of sleep, it is a sacred duty to give thanks to God, having enjoyed His grace and love, and so go straight to sleep. And confess to Him in songs of the lips because in His command all His good pleasure is done, and there is no deficiency in His salvation.  Instructor Book II, Chapter 4
  17. At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers… St. Mark the Ascetic, #25. Philokalia Vol. 1
  18. The remedy is humility Ladder, p. 94
  19. Ladder, p. 98
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Becoming Loving People

In the last post, we looked over 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and Paul’s declaration that nothing has meaning apart from love. Now we are going to discuss a bit on what exactly the New Testament authors meant when they spoke of love and what exactly it would mean to do something with love.

We hear the word love tossed around in our conversations and songs and movies and greeting cards. The love as our culture defines it is often a very fuzzy concept, one likely to change and wiggle around in order that we stay comfortable. As such, it’s impossible to pin down what exactly people mean by love, and perhaps that’s the point. To the world, love is there to make you feel moral and important. But is that what the authors of the New Testament saw love as? A warm fuzzy feeling? A lack of guilt?

To find what love means, we need to first look at Jesus. Jesus is the perfect image of a God who is love. Numerous times in scripture we are told to strive to be as God is and to imitate Jesus.1For Jesus, love was not about doing certain acts and avoiding others. Love came from a natural spring, the Father, who was the one actually producing the appropriate works through the Spirit. Love manifests in one’s own spirit when the person is completely aligned with the Holy Spirit. The easiest place to start when looking for Jesus’ description of love is probably the Sermon on the Mount. It is here that Jesus lays out his moral standard most plainly.

In Jesus’ himself commentary on the OT commandment thou shalt not kill, he does not narrow the word as many commentators attempt to do, but widens it. He does not stop at physical murdering, but digs deep into the heart of it and condemns anger towards others as well. He then slowly makes his way back to the surface meaning, condemning contempt and hatred along the way. That is why John could say in 1 John 3:15: “He who hates his brother is a murderer.”

He does the same thing with adultery and finds lust lying deep within its heart. We also see this principle described in several metaphors throughout Jesus’ ministry. He criticizes the religious leaders for washing the outside of the cup instead of the inside. It was the heart of the matter he was after, not the following of arbitrary rules. He said that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:19). When we see only the outermost part of sin, we miss the rest of the iceberg hidden beneath the surface.

So is the heart evil then? Not exactly. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Whatever has been planted within our heart is what will sprout, whether it be good or bad. If one’s treasure is pleasure, status and other worldly things, then out of the heart will come worldly things. But if one’s heart dwells on the things of the Spirit, things like patience, gentleness, peace, joy and self-control, then such will be its fruit. This is why Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8). Besides the metaphor of dishes and treasure, our Lord also compared the effects of our deepest selves to plants. Just as trees naturally produce the fruit they are designed to, so too will we produce fruit based on who we are. Who we are is found in the deepest part of ourselves. What is the difference between a good person and a bad person? Jesus. No one but God is good and, left to ourselves, we could only produce the most damaging of thorns if anything at all. But just “as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Unless we graft ourselves into Christ, who is himself grafted into the Father, we will never bear good fruit. Some may bear fruit from the Spirit without fully realizing they have been grafted in and others may produce superficial fruit (though it’s actually poisoned to the core). Only when we turn from the world, from earthly pleasures, from anger and greed, lust and jealousy and turn towards the Spirit, to love and faith and patience and gentleness (i.e. the entire person of Jesus) will we be grafted into the vine and given life bearing fruit. Only in this way may our cup be cleaned from the inside and only when the cup is cleaned from the inside will it be clean at all. Blessed are the pure in heart.

This is precisely what Jesus’ followers taught as well. Paul says in Romans 6:16 that we are either slaves to sin or to righteousness. Peter made it clear that it was not the outside of a person which is important but the inside (1 Pet 3:4) and when he says in 2 Peter 1:4 that we are to be “partakers of the divine nature”, he is describing the phenomenon of abiding in Christ. James describes this process of sin aptly when he says “each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

This is not unique to the New Testament either.  Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Ezekiel 26:36 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Jeremiah 24:7 I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.

And this is the most important aspect to know about love. It is not a feeling. It is not an action. It is a general disposition towards Christ. We are not to do loving things but to become loving people. If we want the outside of the cup to be clean, we must first wash the inside. In doing so, the outer will be cleaned as well. And we do this by abiding in Christ. He abides in the Father, cultivating all of his perfect love, and we abide in Christ, which allows his love to be cultivated in us as well. This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. In short, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.

Now certainly there are certain emotions and actions which will naturally arise from a loving spirit. These are talked about extensively in the New Testament so let’s now discuss what love does and doesn’t look like when practiced.

Once again we turn to Jesus first. Jesus’ love was characterized by utter selflessness. We are to treat others as we would have them treat us, to love both our neighbors and our enemies. We are not to harm anyone, not even our enemies, but are to return evil for good. We are not to lust, be angry, keep people from the Kingdom, have anything above God, love the things of this world nor behave hypocritically. We are to be poor of spirit,  meek, mournful, merciful, seekers of righteousness, peacemakers, pure in heart and ready to endure suffering for the sake of righteousness. We are told that there is no greater love than one who lays down their life for another. We see all of these lived out in his life. He knew no political, religious, gender or social boundaries. He preached his good news to everyone who would listen and chastised those who tried to keep them from hearing his healing words. He never retaliated when attacked, but instead returned injury with forgiveness. Everything he did was a following after his Father. He did nothing of his own will but emptied himself in complete humility (John 5:30, 8:28, 12:49; Phil 2:5-10). Even when he did not feel like doing what was loving, his commitment to his Father’s will and not his own led him to bear the most bountiful fruit that has ever been bourn.

His immediate followers said and did the same. In Romans, Paul encourages Christians to “let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21)2. Paul constantly told his audience to remain humble just as Jesus was humble 3. Throughout Paul’s ministry he made sure never to burden himself on others whenever it could be avoided. He always fought against evil and wrong, yet never harmed another.

When we look at Peter’s life, we see him go from arguing that he would become the greatest in the Kingdom of God to breaking his Jewish traditions in order to expand the Kingdom to even Gentiles. He says that we are to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” We are to keep our behavior “excellent” among non-Christians in order to bring them to glorify God (1 Pet 2:11-12). He told us all tobe harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, ‘The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it’” (1 Pet 3:8-11).

James says that “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21). John says simply that “the one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:10-11).  In short, love looks like treating our neighbors as we would like to be treated.

Conclusion

Love is more than doing or feeling certain things. Love is the Spirit working through our lives. When we love our God above all else, then he will give us the ability to love our neighbors as we should. He will give us the ability to love others in direct proportion to the degree that we’ve given our selves to him. Normally we are slaves to sin; that is why we do what we do not want to do. When we give ourselves to Christ, we become slaves to righteousness. Love looks like a selflessness which has the wellbeing of others as a top priority. There is no selfishness in love, for love of self and love of God cannot mix.

I want to make sure before I close it is clear that, though we become slaves to righteousness and though we are compared to trees which naturally bear fruit, it does not mean that there is no work involved. We must constantly strive to put God first and to trust in Him and his Son. This is what Paul was talking about when he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7) and told the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi 2:12-13). Staying on the path is difficult. Keeping Christ in our deepest selves must be done in diligence. So we must ceaselessly strive to give him more and more of ourselves over to him. Not my will but yours.

So how exactly we can abide in Christ. How do we walk according to the Spirit and not flesh (Rom 8:5-11; Gal 5:16)? That is the subject of the next post.


  1. We are to imitate God/Christ: Matt. 5:48; 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18;  Eph. 4:26, 5:1-2; Col. 3:13; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 John 2:6
  2.  Lists of virtues and vices: Eph 4:1-3, 5:15-21; Phil 2:1-4; Col 5:6,8-9, 12-17; 1 Thess 5:13-15; Gal 5:19-23 and of course 1 Cor 13:4-7
  3. Be humble as Christ is humble: Rom 12:16, 2 Cor 12:10, Phil 2:3-5; 1 Thess 2:6-7

Previous post: Love or Nothing

Entering the Kingdom, Step by Step

Jesus came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was here. He knew it was, because he himself was living in it. While the rules of the earthly kingdoms are selfishness (however cleverly disguised), Jesus lived by the rules of gentleness, kindness, self-control, faithfulness, hope, meekness and peacefulness. When we look at Jesus, we get a glimpse into the Kingdom of God. He invites us to live there with him now.

This is not to deny the afterlife nor to say that life right now is Heaven. But we can live in the Kingdom now amidst the earthly kingdoms.

A whale comes to the surface to take a deep breath of air before diving back into the depths of the water. It sustains itself on the air it took in from the surface. It may look similar to a fish who filters out its oxygen from the water, but inside the whale is fresh air from the surface itself. The whale must resurface eventually, but back down into the sea it will return as soon as it’s caught its breath. We are living in the world — we are surrounded by water. Through prayer, we take a deep breath of the Spirit. It is this Spirit which sustains us while we mingle around the watery depths. Surely it would be better to be able to walk on land with air surrounding us, but we are not there yet. We can, however, hold that Spirit within us wherever we go. And this is how we enter into the Kingdom of God.

If we abide in the Spirit, then we shall bear the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are what the Kingdom look like. When someone is in a country with no rights and a poor economy, they move to a country with freedoms and benefits. As we bear these fruits, others will see and wish to join the Kingdom as well.

This begs the question: If I wish to do my part in spreading the Kingdom, what should I be doing now?

I’ve been wondering about this for years now. The seed that would germinate into what I am talking about now was planted a few years ago. The bold part is what struck me so hard. I included the rest because he says so much of what I’d love to say so well.

To do this thoroughly, Love must come at the centre of our lives in such a manner that each of us is prepared for any sacrifice. .. We must be ready like Jesus himself to pray for our murderers if ever the occasion arises. That is His absolute standard, and He will never lower it.

Let us, first of all, get as far together as we can in those matters wherein most of us would be agreed. Even today it is surely practicable and feasible for Christians, not only individually, but in groups, to renounce superfluous wealth and live in the simplest manner possible, which will make them more at one with their poorer neighbor…

If groups, as well as isolated individuals, sprang up everywhere, inspired by such a love of Christ for humanity, they would form ‘cells’ of a new ‘peace’ and ‘love’ in the Body of Humanity which would multiply by their very contagion of attractiveness wherever the faith of Christ was truly held and taught…

We each must take the next step forward from where we are. Perhaps this means opening your house to travelers. For someone else they may just need to smile at a beggar instead of scoffing or looking to the ground. Someone else may need to give up even a single coffee a week and use the money to help someone who needs it. Of course, from there we need to keep taking steps further and further along the path. Our pilgrimage will never end on this earth, but it almost always progresses one small step at a time.


Some things we as a community could stand to do starting today:

Reduce spending: Figure out where you are spending needlessly and stop. Use that money for someone who needs it.
More responsible spending: Avoid companies which exploit workers and needlessly destroy the environment. Ethically sourced coffee etc. Of course it’s probably impossible for most to completely switch over to ‘ethically sourced’ goods and it’s certainly impossible to know for certain what it took for the goods to reach you, but we can do the best we are able.
Work on your attitude: Behave with love and kindness, firmness when necessary but always in the pursuit of peace. Cultivating our love for people as well as the rest of creation. In each interaction with people that we have, be it face to face, on the internet or just sitting next to them on the bus, we must cultivate Christlike behavior in order to truly bear the image of God so all may see Him.
Engage in Community: All of this should be done in view of community. Sometimes we may be acting alone, but we are always part of the larger community. No one bear all burdens alone. I will not always use my money as wisely as I should. At times I will be grumpy to children of God. As an individual I am a poor representation of Christ, but as a community we can pull on the strengths of each of us and truly be Christ’s body.

Love or Nothing

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

In this prelude to his love hymn, Paul explains, in no uncertain terms, the absolute priority of love over all else. If we have incredible socials skills, are smooth talkers and great debaters, but do those things without love, we are doing nothing but creating noise pollution. If we are brilliant and highly educated, smarter than everyone who has ever existed, even if we know for certain every single fact about the universe, but are devoid of love, we are nothing. If we have all faith, yes, even if we are incredibly religious and put our entire trust in God, but do not have love, we are nothing. He doesn’t say we’re missing something, that our lives are a bit lopsided. He says it’s all worthless without love. If we are incredibly religious by way of action and give up our bodies, even to painful death, without love, we gain absolutely nothing.

Don’t let familiarity of these verses dampen their strength. He is quite literally saying that everything, whether it be valued by the world or religion, is completely worthless without love. That does not mean that they have no value, but that they have no value apart from love. In and of themselves, they are worthless.

As followers of Christ, we cannot speak of miracles without speaking of love. We cannot speak of humility or sacrifice without speaking of love. We cannot speak of God or faith or hope, without first speaking of love. Our logic and knowledge are useless without love.

Paul denounces secular and religious areas, both inner and outer, if they lack love. Nothing surpasses love.

And I think this is where the idea of “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” comes from. We often look for rules to follow. We want to be good Christians. We want to know what we need to do or avoid in order to do right so we can be ‘good’ people. But Paul says that all of that is completely and utterly worthless without love. First, we must seek love. For all meaning comes from love. There is nothing which has its meaning apart from love. Once we are motivated by love, then we can talk about what we should or should not do. Because no matter how right you are, if you don’t have love, you’re wrong.

I realize this post is incredibly vague. Left here, one could interpret love to be whatever they so happened to desire it to be. The next post will describe what exactly Jesus and the writers of the New Testament meant by love. The post after that will discuss ways of achieving that love. But I hope this will at least lead some to rethink their method of being “good Christians” or, more generally, “good people”.


Some additional verses on the subject to meditate on:

Proverbs 3:3-4

Proverbs 10:12

Matthew 22:35-40

John 15:12-13

Romans 13:8-10

Ephesians 5:13-15

Colossians 3:12-14

1 Peter 4:8

1 John (The entire letter is essentially this post repeated again and again)

 

Next Post: Becoming Loving People