“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21)
We are exhorted to hate evil. The American Heritage Dictionary defines evil thus: “Causing harm or injury.” We are to hate those things that cause people harm or injury. Our hatred is not focused on people. People are victims or tools of unseen spiritual forces and are unwittingly in bondage to behaviors that injure others. I did not say that they are innocent, because they are not; they ignore God’s revelation and choose evil. Nevertheless, we are not to hate the person. We are to hate the behavior. We are to hate the spiritual forces of darkness that manipulate people. We should hate injustice, violence and sin in any form. Sadly, Christians can too often be accused of hating their enemy (even if that is not the case) because of their zeal for a cause. This can happen quite easily when we get involved in political battles. We need to be cautious about being involved in “civilian affairs” when our real battle is spiritual. I am not preaching that Christians should not be politically involved. We need to be “wise as serpents” in choosing our battles and we need to be careful not to wage battle in the manner that the world does. We should never lower ourselves to mudslinging or other carnal acts of revenge.
While hating evil we must cling to what is good. This is a connected thought and is clearly intended to balance the first part. It is interesting that this sentence is sandwiched in between two exhortations to love. Hating evil and loving what is good are expressions of true godly love. Many people dissociate love and hate. Yet, properly directed, hate is an expression of real love. God hates sin and God is love. We must be careful to avoid two extremes. We can be so caught up with hating evil that we forget to cling to what is good, or worse, begin to hate evildoers. Our instruction is to, “overcome evil with good.”
The other extreme would be to never feel any righteous indignation about evil. Many Christians struggle with Jesus’ behavior in driving the moneychangers from the temple. Yet it was His love for the people that caused Him to hate what the money changers were doing in preventing people from worshipping. Guthrie points out that it was the extortion of excessive interest that the moneychangers were exacting on foreign worshippers, thus capitalizing on the people’s desire to worship properly, that probably caused such moral outrage in Jesus. With great moral authority He quoted the prophets, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” His love for the moneychangers did not prevent Him from taking necessary action to stop the evil that was occurring. Guthrie further points to the fact that none of them resisted as an indication that they themselves were aware of their guilt. Significantly, His disciples, upon seeing this display of moral outrage, recalled the Messianic prophesy, “Zeal for your house consumes me….” Further on in this exposition on sincere love, zeal is identified as an essential characteristic of such love. Yet He did not kill the moneychangers. Instead He willing died for their sins!
Cling to “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable….” Cling to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.” Cling to God! He is the one who embodies all of these principles. In our battle against evil, never lose sight of the good. Never be so consumed with the battle that we lose our joy, for “the joy of the lord is our strength.” Our joy comes from a revelation of what is good and from He who embodies what is good.
The gift of encouraging is vital to the triumph of the church over the kingdoms of this world. Romans 12:8 begins, “If it is encouraging, let him encourage….” One who is an encourager would increase courage in the recipient. Courage is much like faith and is both an indication and a product of faith. The importance of courage in facing our spiritual battles cannot be over emphasized. In the first chapter of Joshua, as the Lord instructs Joshua to conquer the Promised Land, He exhorts Joshua three times to “be strong and courageous.” Each time, the Lord couples the two character traits together, perhaps indicating a connecting relationship between spiritual strength or vitality and courage.
Barnabas is commended by Luke for his gift of encouraging. In fact, his name means “Son of Encouragement.” In Acts 11 we are told how Barnabas encouraged the new church in Antioch. The scripture describes him as “a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith….” The result of his work of encouragement was that “a great number of people were brought to the Lord”. He is identified as a prophet in Acts 13:1. One of the main reasons that God gave the church the gift of prophesy is “so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” We see Judas and Silas, identified as prophets, fulfilling this ministry in encouraging the new Gentile church in Antioch.
The ability to fulfill this ministry of encouragement is listed as one of the qualifications for an elder in Titus 1:9. Paul instructed both Titus and Timothy that encouraging the flock is one of the main tasks of a pastor. Encouragement gives the body strength to withstand trials. Timothy was sent to encourage the Thessalonians in their faith “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.” Encouragement helps us overcome fear by building faith in our hearts. It tells us that we are not alone in the battle. Fear seems to have a grip on the western church. We have been bullied by our secular humanist culture to the point that many Christians are afraid to open their mouths about their faith. We need prophets and pastors with the gift of encouraging others to be bold in their faith.
We have reaped the results of the sexual revolution that was encouraged by easy birth control, including elective abortion. The fruit of this revolution has been marriage and family breakdown, to the point that roughly half of all marriages end in divorce and 42% of children have no father in the home. This breakdown has and will have devastating consequences for society. As in a typical downward spiral, this bad experience with marriage has resulted in an increasing unwillingness to marry, further encouraging people to be sexually active outside marriage.
What does God say about sex outside marriage? How should Christians respond to non-Christians who ask the common question, “What’s wrong with sex before marriage?” We have to make it clear from the start that God, in love, has given us a good plan to enjoy sex. Unfortunately, some Christians have given the impression that all sex or any physical enjoyment is evil. We have to belay that notion, which really has more to do with early Greek pagan dualism than what God reveals in his Word, the Bible. The physical body is not evil. In fact, God says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Ps. 139:14) God created a physical universe, including sex, and He said it was all good. Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame. They had no guilt attached to their sexuality. Jesus took upon Himself a physical body, thus revealing God’s plan to redeem the physical universe. The “kingdom to come” is not in heaven, but will be here on earth! The sexual urge is God-given. Pleasure is God’s idea, not the devil’s. One writer has likened sex to fire: it’s a very pleasing thing in the fireplace, but if you start a fire in the middle of the living room, you may burn the house down.
The Bible teaches that sexual intimacy should take place within the bounds of a covenant marriage. In fact, in the Bible, sexual intimacy is revealed as a form of communication. When referring to married people having sex, it will often say that so and so “knew” their spouse. The Bible teaches that sex is much more than just a physical act.
Being equipped to answer someone about this question requires an understanding of what sex really is. Sex is not just a bodily function as with animals. Do you know what is wrong with most public school sex education programs? They start in science class by teaching that we are just animals that evolved, that we are not specially created in the image of God, with a spirit and that we are intended to be a reflection of our Creator. Once they have the children convinced that they are just animals whose lives have no special purpose, then they teach them all about sex as just another “natural” bodily function. So, why not indulge?
We are not like the animals. We are made in the image of God. We are spiritual creatures. We have a soul. Sex is not just a physical act, but a life uniting act. 1Cor 6:16 says, “Do you not know that he who is joined to an harlot is one with her? For the two shall become one flesh, says the Lord.” God knows that sex must involve commitment to work properly. Therefore, His plan is that sex take place only in marriage.
That leads to the question of what is a marriage in God’s eyes. As described in God’s word, marriage is intended to be a life long covenant. A true biblical covenant is witnessed and confirmed in submission to God ordained authority, that is, the church and the state. A wedding is a public expression of commitment. Marriage is intended to be a reflection of God’s relationship with His people. It should be public and permanent. When Jesus spoke on marriage, He referred back to the creation account: “A man will leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This creation account reveals an intended progression. Leaving comes first. It implies a public act of commitment first. Then there is uniting. This is more than just sex. It involves communion. Only then do the two become one. Marriage is God’s plan for commitment. It is not just a piece of paper as some so glibly state in seeking to dodge commitment. Life uniting intent is evidenced by marriage, not engagement.
God warns against distortions of His plan. God’s plan was distorted by sin, which affects every area of our lives, including sex. Adultery includes all rebellion against God. Spiritual adultery is the root of all sin. As the heart wanders from God, it will surely wander from the mate. Sinful sex is just a symptom of an adulteress heart. As the heart grows cold towards God, there remains a void which leads the sinner to start looking for something to replace God. This cycle leads to compulsions, addictions, and even demonic control.
What’s wrong with premarital sex between singles? The answer requires an understanding of what sex really is. Sex is a life uniting act. It unites body, soul and spirit. Without life uniting commitment, both parties get injured. Any dissociation of the physical from the spiritual aspects of sexual activity invariably leads to dissociation of sex and commitment. Sex outside of God’s plan in marriage brings physical and spiritual death. God is not a kill joy. He warns against premarital sex because it hurts people. People hurt themselves. Premarital sex destroys a person’s understanding of who they are. 1Cor. 6:18 says that a person who commits sexual immorality sins against their own body. Illicit sex destroys one’s understanding of what we are created for, to be the temple of God.
Unfortunately, many people have already made the mistake of not following God’s plan and have been hurt. As believers, we need to make sure that people understand that the good news is that God has sent Jesus to restore us. He came to save us from sin. He didn’t come to condemn the world, but He brought forgiveness and healing, and the power to resist temptation.
We are not called as Christians to go about condemning pagans for their sins. As unbelievers come to know us and desire to have the spiritual peace that we know, they will ask about these difficult topics, such as pre-marital sex. When they ask, speak the truth in love. You must present both the law and the gospel. The good news is not good news until people know the truth and recognize their sinful condition. Only then can we offer forgiveness and grace.
I believe that spiritual reality precedes and causes physical reality. The natural things speak of the invisible. God teaches us that nature, physical reality, reveals His nature (Ro. 1:20). God created the natural, physical realm to reflect the spiritual realm. He established marriage in order to reflect the intimacy He intends for the believer and Himself. Someone once said, “Marriage is not finding the person with whom you can live, but finding that person with whom you cannot live without.” That should be our attitude not just about our earthly spouse, but our groom in heaven. Unfortunately, many have had bad experience with marriage. Often, the reason for this is a lack of relationship or intimacy with God.
The Bible teaches that the individual believer is married to Christ. In Romans chapter 7 Paul uses the illustration from marriage to show how we should no longer be in bondage to sin because when we are born again we are married to Christ. “So, my brothers, you also died to the law [bondage to sin] through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”(Ro. 7:4) You can only die to sin through intimacy with Christ.
The Song of Songs written by Solomon is a story of marital intimacy between Christ and His bride. You can contrast the Song of Songs with Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote both. One is the greatest love song ever written the other deals with vain endeavors, running after God versus running after things. One is a book for the heart before and more than the mind, for lovers rather than intellectuals, those who want intimacy versus those who want knowledge.
The Song of Songs records the wooing and wedding of a shepherd girl to King Solomon. There are three players in this drama. Metaphorically, the Shulamite woman is the individual believer. The King is Christ and the daughters of Jerusalem, or virgins, are the other believers, the church/ Israel. It recounts a journey of intimacy that corresponds to the walk of many believers as we grow in relationship. It begins with the initial stirring of holy passion and immature attempts to run with God. This often leads to disillusionment and frustration in a desperate search for God. As we seek after Him, He draws us away and restores us with His transforming love.
The Shulamite woman begins: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is more delightful than wine…. Draw me away with you!” (Song of Songs 1:2, 4) This is the kiss of marital intimacy not just brotherly love. Paul prayed that believers would know Christ intimately: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” (Eph 1:17-18) He is not talking about knowing Christ in the sense of intellectually knowing about Him. He is talking about knowing Him as a bride knows her husband; an intimate relationship.
The Shulamite says, “for your love is more delightful than wine.”; His love is better than the intoxicating wine of carnal pleasures. His love is better than fame, power, money, control, fleshly pleasures, TV, rock stars, houses, boats, games, careers. Solomon had it all: money, power, women, comforts and he said it was all vanity. The love of God is better, but people have forsaken Him and tried to find fulfillment in everything but God. He loves us with abandon and is totally committed to us. Our passion for Him is the fruit of recognizing that dedication and it comes by revelation. You must have your eyes opened; you can, you must ask for it.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (He 11:6) Saving faith believes that Christ is not only reliable but is desirable. We must have Him whose affectionate love is far better than religious obligation or the wine of earthly experiences and possessions.
The Shulamite says, “Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;” She is drawn by the fragrance of His person, His character, not by intellectual knowledge of Him. This speaks symbolically of the graces of His person, the beauty of who He is. “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps 34:8). It recognizes the perfection of all that He does; “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, … The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness. He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever, holy and awesome is his name.” (Psalm 111)
He is our creator, redeemer, deliverer, provider and healer. How could you not fall in love with such a person? She calls Him King. Knowing Him as Lord is a perquisite to intimacy. The truth of who He is comes by revelation, which is a gift you must seek. The Shulamite says, “your name is ointment poured out, therefore the virgins love you!” Christ’s name, that is His person and character, brings healing. He is called the Balm of Gilead. His compassionate sacrificial love heals the whole person, body, soul and spirit. We all need healing/ salvation. We are a broken image.
She asks Him to draw her away, not just to Him, but away from the other things and people. She recognizes her inability to pursue Him on her own. Our motivation to seek Him is caused by His drawing us to Himself. It takes God to love God. He draws her into His chamber, the intimate place. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God… Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Ps 84:1).
The intimacy that they have produces a rejoicing that affects the other seekers/ virgins. She is not the only one in His quest. Our affection for God will have an effect on others. How do we develop this intimate relationship? We must ask Him to draw us to Him. His word says, “you have not because you do not ask” and, “seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened” We need to hunger to be with Him; for His manifest presence. We must hunger like David: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” We must practice the spiritual disciplines that will cause that intimacy to grow. Praise and thanksgiving are two disciplines that will draw us close to God. That is one reason why it is so important that we be committed to a worshipping body of believers. Delight is incomplete until it is expressed in words and actions. Unfortunately we express affection as if it were an obligation. Expressing praise and adoration to God is not an obligation but a blessing
Intimacy must precede ministry. There is a Divine order of ministry: We must minister to God before we can minister to others. He brings us to a place of intimacy in order to put His life and power in us that we may be like Him and freely extend that love to others. He doesn’t draw us away so that we can hang up a do not disturb sign. The heart of God is love; He wants more children; He wants intimate relationship with more people. He says freely you’ve received, therefore freely give. You can’t do one before the other. We must be drawn away from things to Him before we can minister to Him and for Him.
It is the character and charisma (power) of God in us that enables true covenant. Galatians 5:16 says, “walk in the Spirit and you won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” The term “flesh” here refers more specifically to the carnal nature, not the physical body. The same chapter compares the deeds of the carnal nature to the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, the context of this whole section of scripture deals with relationship, especially between believers. This section is bracketed by “love fulfilling the law” (5:14) and “bearing each others burdens.” ( 6:2) “Walking in the Spirit” means how we live, our lifestyle. What sustains us?
The carnal nature destroys relationships. The fruit of the Spirit maintains covenant relationships. Our actions should reflect where we live. If we are “born again”, then we live in Christ. Unfortunately, sometimes our actions are more like the folks down the street who don’t know Christ. His Kingdom rule needs to be extended into every area of our life; our relationships, work, finances, feelings, and even our thoughts. The Bible says, “Bring every thought captive to Christ.” (2Cor 10:5) We are God’s workmanship; all we do should reflect that work. The testimony of our moral standards should confirm the testimony of the Word. We are ambassadors for Christ.
The root word for character means “to engrave” or “brand.” Character is the sum of all one’s inner qualities. The key question is: “do we exhibit Godly character or carnal character?” The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of Godly character. The discipline of the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One can’t be a disciple if one doesn’t undergo discipline. You can’t lead or disciple others, if you are not disciplined. The Bible says, “Whom the Father loves He disciplines.” Self discipline or control is submission of the will to the Holy Spirit. What does self control mean? It means having the carnal nature in submission to God By the power of God. It doesn’t mean exercise of the self will absent the power of God.
Charisma is the supernatural power of God. It is the power to minister and the power to persevere and be faithful. One of the ways that it comes is by the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Real charisma produces the fruit of the Spirit. Daniel experienced charismatic power, including prophecy, revelations, words of knowledge and words of wisdom. He had a disciplined prayer life. He submitted his will to the Holy Spirit.
There must be a balance between charisma and character. Chapter 12-14 of 1Corinthians deals with charismatic gifts. But, the real theme of those chapters is unity, cooperation and covenant relationships. The gifts are dealt with in the context of community life. 1Cor 12:7 says they are “for the common good..”
Charisma without character will come off phony and hypocritical. One who seeks charisma but resists the character building discipline of the Holy Spirit will be easily led into deception by supernatural forces opposed to God. Carnal efforts to develop character without the charisma of God are doomed to failure. True character development leads to a greater awareness of our inability to produce fruit without the full power of God. Godly character is only produced by the power of God.
So how do we deal with imbalance? First we need to discern the fake from the real. Jesus said you will know a tree by its fruit. People try to imitate real charisma, but false manifestations never bear the fruit of the Spirit. Instead, people get hurt. People try to develop character in their own strength. This leads to religious hypocrisy and legalism. People try to disciple in a carnal fashion by manipulating and controlling others. The answer to these problems is proper use, not disuse. The scripture is our authoritative standard.