Category Archives: Loving Others

An Empty Faith

by Francois-Andre VincentTo anyone who has ever walked down the streets of a busy metropolis, the situation is probably a familiar one. A poverty-stricken individual approaches you. Before he even speaks, you know what he wants: “a little help,” “just some kindness,” or “only a few pennies.”

What is your reaction? Do you empty your pockets? Do you offer to buy him lunch instead? Or do you ignore him and continue walking? Quite often, we choose Option C and neglect the opportunity to show the love of Christ to a stranger. And while we may be able to rationalize our inaction based upon a myriad of “reasons,” how much different would our response be if the beggar on the street was not a stranger at all?

Pretend, for a moment, that the person asking for help was another believer – a member of your own church. Would you still walk away? Probably not. Hopefully not. But what if you did?

Now, put the shoe on the other foot. What if you were the beggar in the scenario, and the person from whom you were seeking help was a leader in your church? There you are, starving and clothed in rags, and a fellow believer – a friend – simply passes by with a greeting: “I’ll pray for you. God bless!” What would you think of that person? How would you view the testimony of your friend?

It seems like an incomprehensible situation, but it’s lifted directly from the pages of Scripture. In the second chapter of James, the half-brother of Jesus writes: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled!’ – notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body – what doth it profit (vs. 15-16)?”

James’ question is not merely a hypothetical situation, however; it is actually a poignant illustration of the point that he is trying to make: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he have faith, and hath not works (James 2:14)?”

James 2:14 has long been the source of consternation among students of the New Testament. On the surface, it would seem that James is contradicting the doctrine of justification by faith. A cursory reading may suggest good works are somehow necessary for salvation, and that faith alone is not enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, James is indicating that a faith devoid of godly works is a useless faith, and certainly not of God. In other words, if a man’s works do not show some indication – whether small or great – of a continual transformation into the image of Christ, then the question will inevitably be asked: “Was it ever saving faith to begin with?”

To prove his point, James offers up the illustration of the destitute believer and his heartless brother. In the illustration, the needs of the starving brother are clearly refused. The most shocking part of the story, however, is not the inaction of the fortunate believer; it is his acknowledgment of the destitute brother’s situation. His command to “depart in peace” was both outwardly pious and terribly religious. In essence, the fortunate believer is saying, “Go with God! Trust him to fill all your needs!” While this sounds good, it accomplishes nothing. When the fortunate brother leaves, the destitute brother is still naked and starving. Rather than offering pious idioms, the fortunate brother should have been the answer to the destitute brother’s prayer.

The point that James is trying to convey is that the “faith” of the fortunate brother is useless (unprofitable), and as empty as the poor man’s belly. Just as this “faith” failed to fill the needs of the destitute brother’s body, so it had already failed to meet the needs of the fortunate brother’s soul. This kind of faith – a faith without works (Christ-like behavior) – offers no proof of the spiritual change in a “believer’s” heart, because the heart in question was never actually changed.

Like his response to the situation of a brother in need, the faith of the fortunate brother is merely an acknowledgement. An acknowledgment, however, is merely passive; faith, as it is described in Scripture, is always active. While we are saved by faith alone, it takes a specific kind of faith to convert the soul. The “faith” that functions solely as an acknowledgment of a condition or a creed (James 2:19) is not enough. This kind of faith is incapable of rendering any sort of spiritual change. In a mature believer, true faith is evidenced by active godliness and Christ-like behavior. There is no action – no good deed – that can reconcile a man to God; we are justified and saved by faith alone. It is a man’s actions, however, that give evidence of his salvation.

So, when James asks, “Can faith save him?” in verse 14, what he is really asking is this: “Can this kind of faith – a faith without works – be saving faith?” And the answer to that question is a resounding “No.” True faith – saving faith – will give proof of itself through the transformation of a person’s behavior. Sometimes, it is a subtle transformation (as in the life of a child); other times, it is drastic and impossible to miss. Either way, saving faith will always give evidence of its own existence. Like every aspect of the believer’s life, the purpose of saving faith should be the glory of God, and nothing brings Him more glory than when the life of a sinner is radically changed into a reflection of the Savior.

© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts


What It Means to Be One of You

A few years ago, I heard a sermon that recent events have brought to the forefront of my memory. It was a rare occasion when I was unable to take notes, but I have never forgotten the title of that message. It was called “What It Means to Be One of You,” and it was taken from the last twelve verses in Colossians. I do not recall all of what was said that day, but I would like to borrow the title of that sermon to express a few thoughts of my own.

The Epistle to the Colossians was written while Paul was in a Roman prison. In the letter, Paul dealt with the growing problems of Gnosticism, Jewish legalism, and pagan mysticism in the church. He also stresses two important doctrinal principles: the nature of Christ’s church (Col. 1:18, 24-25; 3:11,15) and the preeminent sufficiency of Christ in all areas of life (Col. 1:15-20, 2:2-15).

At the end of his doctrinal discourse, the Apostle Paul mentions the names of nine other believers in his parting words to the Church at Colossae. Little is known regarding most of these individuals, but the Holy Spirit deemed it appropriate and necessary to record their names in the pages of Scripture. Because all of God’s Word is profitable for us, there is something to learn from this diverse group of individuals:

“All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here (Col. 4:7-9).”

Tychicus – Although he is mentioned several times in Scripture as Paul’s trusted scribe and messenger (Eph. 6:21,24; II Tim. 4:12), relatively little is known of this man. He was a Gentile convert that Paul took with him to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), and was apparently a capable leader who had filled in for Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). With the exception of the final verse, the Epistle to the Colossians had been penned by Tychicus, and he was charged with delivering the letter to the church in Colossae.

Onesimus – He was a runaway slave who, after arriving in Rome, had encountered Paul and was led to the glorious saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He was returning to Colossae with Paul’s trusted friend Tychicus, presumably because the journey was too dangerous to make alone (because of slave catchers). He carried with him a letter from Paul that was addressed to the master he had defrauded (The Epistle to Philemon). Though he had been at once unprofitable to his master, he now stood on equal footing with Philemon in the presence of the Greatest Master of All.

“Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus… and Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me (Col. 4:10-11).”

Aristarchus – He was a Jewish traveling companion of Paul and no stranger to the trouble that followed the apostle: he had been seized in Ephesus by a riotous mob (Acts 19:29), and was now in prison with Paul in Rome (Col. 4:10). He was a man who was faithful both to the mission and to his friend – particularly in hours of peril and need.

Marcus (John Mark) – Mark had been led to the Lord by Simon Peter (I Pet. 3:15), and was a man who understood the meaning of restitution. He had, at one time, fallen out of favor with Paul because of his desertion in Perga during Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:13). His uncle Barnabas gave him a second chance, however (Acts 15:39), and he was at some point returned to Paul’s favor – first as an acceptable companion in Rome (Phi. 24, Col. 4:10), and later as a one whose ministry was profitable to Paul in the apostle’s final days (II Tim. 4:11). He also penned the Gospel account that bears his name.

Jesus (called Justus) – Nothing is known of this man, except that he was a Jewish believer who was noted for his righteous living and exemplary testimony (as evidenced by the name used to address him).

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis (Col. 4:12-13).”

Epaphras – He was the pastor of the Colossian church (Col. 1:7), and was visiting Paul in Rome at the time that the Epistle was written (Col. 4:12). He had been saved under Paul’s ministry while traveling in Ephesus, and had evidently begun the church in Colossae upon returning to his hometown. He was a fervent prayer warrior, who had a singular love for the church at Colossae and the same desires for her people as the Apostle Paul himself.

“Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you (Col. 4:14).”

Luke – Of all of Paul’s traveling companions, few were as faithful as the beloved physician. He was with Paul at the end when all others were gone (II Tim. 4:11), and he served as the recorder of the apostle’s missionary journeys. He was used by God to write more of the New Testament than any other known penman, and was an accomplished doctor and historian. He was not a preacher, but an incredibly talented layman that was used to encourage the Apostle Paul in a mighty way.

Demas – He was a man with incredible potential, who had shown great commitment to the Lord’s work (Phi. 24) before abandoning Paul and falling in love with the world (II Tim. 4:10). He is a poignant reminder that even the strongest servant of Christ can drift away from the ministry when he loses his first love.

“And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it (Col. 4:17).”

Archippus – He was the son of Philemon, a “preacher-boy” trained by Epaphras, and the pastor of the church that met in his father’s house (Phi. 2). Because Paul had never been to Colossae (Col. 2:1), he had never met this young man. But Epaphras had no doubt prayed for Archippus diligently, and had spoken highly of him to Paul. Paul’s words of encouragement to the young Colossian minister strongly resemble his charge to Timothy, the apostle’s own protege and beloved son in the ministry (II Tim. 4:5).

“The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen (Colossians 4:7-18).”

Paul Little needs to be said of Paul, who was the most visible member of the church. He was a man filled with zeal and committed to the furtherance of Christ’s Kingdom. At the time of this epistle’s writing, he was also the brother of the Colossian church who was most in need of prayer and encouragement.

In reading through this list of names, it becomes very evident how different these men were from one another. Tychicus was a Gentile; Justus was a Jew. Aristarchus and Luke were consistently faithful; John Mark and Demas were at times guilty of desertion. The church at Colossae and the companions of Paul were comprised of people from all walks of life. And looking over this list at the end of Colossians, there is nothing apparent that could have united them – except for Christ.

Paul had written earlier in the epistle that Christ was the Head of the Church, and it was under this Headship that these men had become a body – a cohesive organism working toward a singular purpose. Nowhere is this more evident to me than in the phrase that Paul uses to describe both Onesimus (the criminal and runaway slave) and Epaphras (the diligent minister of the church): he referred to both of these men as one of you.” When Christ became the preeminent Master in the lives of these believers, they all came to stand on equal soil. Not one man was elevated above another, because Christ had been elevated above them all. Because of the Gospel, these diverse individuals now shared in one magnificent fellowship. They were “fellowservants” (Col. 4:7, literally “bondslaves”), redeemed to the same God; “fellowprisoners” (Col. 4:10), under the same blessed reproach; and “fellowworkers” (Col. 4:11), laboring for the same cause.

From the runaway slave to the educated physician, this body was united by their love for the Savior; and His amazing love had transformed their hearts in such a dynamic way that they had also learned to love one another. Nothing in this world brings more glory to God than a church that functions as one body, united under the Headship of Christ. This is the church as Jesus intended it to be. And this is what it means to be one of you.

© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts; title from a sermon by C. Scott Pauley

The Untold Story of the Other Simon

I have always been fascinated by the obscure characters of Scripture, and in particular by those who appear within the Gospel narratives. When reading about these individuals – men such as Joseph of Arimathea and the maniac of Gadara – I find myself wanting to know more about them. Just who were these men, exactly? What were they like? What brought them into the earthly presence of the Master? And what happened to them when they walked away?

One such character is a man named Simon. He was one of the twelve disciples, and to distinguish him from his more famous counterpart (Cephas), he is identified in the Synoptic Gospels and in Acts as “the Zealot.” Simon Zelotes is a character so obscure, that his name is only recorded four times in Scripture – and even then, he is merely listed in a roll call of the Twelve. He never speaks. He never acts apart from the other apostles. And after the events of Pentecost, he is never mentioned again. But even from a character that is only mentioned in passing, there is something for us to learn.

The Zealots were an underground sect of Jewish loyalists, renowned for their fanaticism and hatred of Rome. The majority of their ranks posed as law-abiding citizens of the Empire, but secretly they were a merciless hoard of freedom fighters – a band of ruthless men, waiting in the shadows for the opportunity to bring Rome to her knees. Certain of their members were men called sicarii (“Dagger-killers”), dangerous assassins skilled in the art of stealth, and known for murdering Roman sympathizers in public places. The rest of the resistance was comprised of bandits and outlaws who financed their clandestine operations by robbing both Jews and Gentiles alike. The Zealots were dedicated, and singularly focused. Their passion was as much for Israel’s independence as it was for the destruction of Rome. And whether sicarii or not, every Zealot was ready and willing to kill or be killed for their cause.

With just one descriptive word, the penmen of the Gospel accounts identify Simon as a former political terrorist. He had been at worst a murderer and at best a thief. He was a man of fiery passion – a man willing to lay down his life for a cause. But somewhere between his days as an insurrectionist and his days as an apostle, his cause changed – from the violent pursuit of an earthly kingdom to the peaceful agenda of a spiritual one. Something drastically altered Simon’s worldview. That Someone was Jesus.

The most astounding part about Simon’s relationship with Christ was that Jesus stood for everything that Simon had stood against. Simon had been taught to hate his enemies, but Jesus had taught him pray for them instead. Simon had lived a life of violence and bloodshed, all for the glory of Israel; but Jesus advocated a life of peacefully suffering persecution, all for the glory of God. Jesus was the Messiah, but He was not the Messiah that Simon had envisioned. But somehow, that Messiah miraculously transformed Simon’s passion for Israel into a passion for Him.

If ever there was an earth-shattering example of becoming a new creation in Christ, it was Simon the Zealot. Not only did he abandon his ruthless vendetta, but he chose to follow Christ with a man like Matthew, a former publican whom Jesus had found in a Roman tax booth. In his past life, Simon would have executed or robbed Matthew without a second thought. But now, these two men of formerly opposing worldviews were united in their call to follow the Master. In the presence of the Savior, Simon’s prejudice and hatred had fled. The testimony of Simon working side-by-side with Matthew is a beautiful illustration of a heart that was conquered by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Even the untold stories of the Bible have the power to convict me. When I think about Simon’s testimony, it occurs to me how self-centered I can be. There are those in this world with whom I have vehement differences of opinion. Whether it is the liberal politician in Washington or the Muslim fanatic in Afghanistan, the world is filled with worldviews that are in direct opposition to my own. Much of my worldview has been fashioned by the anvil of Scripture and the hammer of the Spirit, but that does not entitle me to feel superior to those whose perspective is blinded by the same sin that once blinded me. In order to be conformed to the image of Christ, my mission in life must be to love my enemies and to reach them for the Kingdom of God. This is how God changed Simon: the very people that he had once sought to destroy, he eventually sought to save.

But even more than loving my enemies in the world, I am reminded of how imperative it is to love the other disciples in the church. Everything about Matthew the Tax Collector had been the antithesis of Simon the Zealot. The only common ground these two men had was Jesus, and He had commanded them to “love one another, as I have loved you… By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:34-35).” And then, to punctuate His words in the Upper Room, Jesus demonstrated His love for them by dying in their place on Calvary’s cross. This was the love with which Christ had loved Simon, and this was the love with which Simon was commanded to love Matthew. Before Simon could show the love of God to a dying world, he had to love Matthew as Christ had loved him.

History and tradition tell us that Simon would later take the message of the Gospel into Egypt and other parts of northern Africa, and perhaps even as far the British Isles. Although the details of his life after Pentecost have been lost to the sands of time, most scholars agree that Simon was eventually martyred – sawn asunder – because of his incredible passion for the Gospel of Christ.

His name is recorded only four times in the Bible. He never speaks, and he never acts alone. But God used a Zealot named Simon to turn the world upside down for the Kingdom of God. And that is why I love the obscure characters of Scripture.

© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts