Scriptural Gem for June 2016

The following five readings need to be read in order:Psalm 145:18 / James 2:14-25 / 1 John 3:11-24 / 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 / 1 John 4:7-15.
First, let us look at Psalm 145:18: “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” The word 'truth' in this verse is 'emeth' which comes from the root 'aman' which means 'concrete, real, of substance'. This is important for what follows. It indicates that God does not only listen to the prayer coming out of our mouths in the form of words, but also to the prayer coming out of our hearts, our inner beings, our lives (the actual reality)—and it is vital that these two are in agreement.
The passage from James 2, which refers to faith and deeds, how our 'faith' is proven by our 'deeds' and how the two fit together to make a whole, is familiar to us all. To that passage we need to link 1 John 3:18: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but in actions and in truth.” Here, when we study the sentence construction, we find that 'words' link with 'actions', and 'tongue' (language) link with 'truth'. This word 'truth' has a very similar meaning in Greek as the word 'truth' in Hebrew above—it means 'unveiled reality'. So in this reading, not only do we find 'words' contrasted with 'action', but it is taken a step further and 'language' is contrasted with 'reality'.
In our next reading from 1 Corinthians 13, Paul speaks about love, and emphasizes how love is the substance, the wellspring of an authentic (outward) loving action. Surprisingly, he states that even the actions of self-sacrifice or giving everything to the poor means absolutely nothing if not proceeding from, welling up from the actual substance of love inside (see verse 3).
Now, after reading the passage from James 2, we need to pause because we might be tempted to conclude that as long as we add an outward action to our words, all is well. But, for a full and proper understanding, we must consider what God says from Psalm 145:18 and from 1 John 3:18—God looks at the reality behind the action, the actual heart motive! We cannot mechanically add an action to our words and then congratulate ourselves for doing what the Bible says and being such a 'Good Christian'.  Dear friends, if we are thinking like this, we are genuinely deluded. Let us read again what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13—if the action is for the sake of having an 'action' to tack onto my words, it is MEANINGLESS. From God's perspective, a loving action is only authentic if it proceeds from a wellspring of love in the heart. Think carefully about this! Is it even logical for us to believe that we can just 'manufacture' actions to go with our words? At best, it is a pretense, a fraud; and at worst, we dare to insult the living God, insinuating He is not able to discern the fake from the real. Here we face a conundrum: we all know very well how we still “groan within ourselves” and struggle with selfishness and sin. Perhaps we should just stop trying to be nice? But, then, what would people think of us?
Our reading from 1 John 4 provides the final word about the source of this true substance, pure love. God Himself is love and if He is dwelling in us, so then His love will be in us and will manifest itself in those very actions. Apart from Him we can do no good thing, and even the best of our so-called loving actions will be polluted with our selfishness, a sad, self-made copy designed to fulfill our own purposes. The best, and only, thing for us to do is to come clean before Him, confessing our pathetic attempts to 'love' in our own strength; then cry out to Him for the genuine article. He alone, by coming and dwelling in us, will be the very wellspring from which 'real' deeds proceed. Amen.