Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Rome, and more specifically, is found in verses fourteen through twenty-three of the chapter. This particular portion of scripture begins with a powerful statement concerning the saints which were at Rome, for the apostle Paul emphatically declared that he was persuaded concerning them. The apostle Paul declared of the saints in Rome that he was persuaded they were full or all goodness, they were full of all knowledge, and that they were able to admonish one another. While each of these can and must be studied separately from each other, it is absolutely incredible that we take a step back and seek to fully understand what the apostle Paul was truly saying concerning these saints. These saints which were at Rome were by no means perfect in their respect, and each and every one of them had their own individual struggles, and yet the apostle Paul first declared of them that he was persuaded they were full of goodness. Pause for a moment and consider that reality—not merely concerning the saints which were at Rome, but also concerning and regarding yourself and those around you. Perhaps one of the greatest questions I can’t help but find myself asking is whether or not you, whether or not I can see the goodness that is present within the heart and life of another. When you and I look upon another individual—regardless of what is visible on the outside—can I truly see the goodness that is found within them?
Are you able to look beyond the external appearances and facades and charades and masks others wear and see the goodness that truly lies within them? When you look at and look upon those around you, what is it you first notice? When you look upon another—perhaps in church, or on your job, or even in the street—do you first seek to find that which is good within them? How many timed have we allowed ourselves to become so jaded when interacting with those around us that we are completely and totally unable to find and see the goodness that lies within the heart of another. There is a lot of talk about trusting others and there are countless men and women—including myself—who may very well have a hard time trusting those around them. I am firmly convinced that if we deliberately and intentionally seek to look for the evil that might be found in the heart and life or another, we can and will miss out on the opportunity to engage ourselves in community with them. Even when you enter into the house of God on a Sunday morning, or perhaps during the midweek service, do you look for the goodness that is found within the hearts and lives of others, or do you immediately and perhaps even automatically look for that which is evil? It’s interesting and worth noting that the tree which was prohibited from partaking of the fruit thereof was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, the tree had the ability to cause men and women to become wise within themselves and to determine within themselves what is good and what is evil.
As I am sitting here right now I can’t help but think about how I myself have spent so much time looking for that which I can complain about within the heart and life or another rather than that which I could praise. I have spent far too much time looking for that which I can criticize and point my finger at rather than blessing those around me. I have spent far too much time immediately looking for faults and cracks in the armour or others rather than looking for that which is admirable and that which is good and wholesome within them. One of the greatest examples of this reality is when I come off the train in the city of Boston every morning to walk to work and the amount of homeless people I see sitting outside on the streets. I know there are a number of men and women who look upon such individuals and see that which is hopeless, that which is worthless, that which has no value, and they are completely and totally unable to see the worth and value that is inherent within them. There are men and women who walk by these individuals each and every day and see only individuals who are begging on the streets because they weren’t able to handle or manage their own lives. Imagine what would happen if you were able to hear the thoughts of men and women as they passed by the countless homeless men and women upon the streets. I am convinced there are a number of men and women who look upon such individuals and have an incredibly difficult time seeing that which is good within them because they are unable to see beyond the tattered clothes, the coffee of soda cup extended for money, and perhaps even their individual cries for help and assistance. The question I can’t help but ask myself is why can’t we naturally look upon, and if perhaps we can’t see it initially—seek to find the goodness that is present within the hearts and lives of those we encounter.
Within this passage of Scripture the apostle Paul emphatically declared that he was persuaded of those to whom he was writing—and not only did he declare that he was persuaded, but he also referred to them as brethren. I am incredibly challenged and convicted by the words that are found within this single verse, for within it is a reality that I know is present within my own life. It’s one thing to declare that he was persuaded of them, and yet leave out the declaration that they are brethren, yet the apostle Paul first declared he was persuaded, then went on to declare that he was persuaded concerning them who were his brethren, and concluded with declaring that they were full of goodness. Take this entire reality a step further and ask yourself if you can not only look for and seek after that which is good within the hearts and lives of others, but also view them as brethren. How many men and women can you look upon with genuine sincerity and declare of them that they are brethren? Can you view those around you as brethren, and even if they are not brethren right now, are you convinced and persuaded that they can become a brother or sister in the not do distant future? I am convinced that there are countless times within our hearts and lives when we are so guilty of immediately looking for the bad, the ugly, and the indifferent that is present within the hearts and lives of others rather than looking for that which is good. I am convinced that it is far easier to immediately jump to the bad, the ugly, and the negative within the hearts and lives of others rather than looking for the good that is present within others.
The single greatest question that I am finding myself asking—first of myself, and then of you who would read this writing—is this: Can you see the good that is found within those around you? Are you actually able to see the good that is found within those around you, or are you so jaded and so naïve to think that there is only the ugly, the bad and the negative? Jesus declared that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbours as ourselves, and yet I am convinced one of the greatest hindrances and road blocks to loving our neighbours is being unable to look for and see the goodness that is found within them. To sort of set the stage for this reality, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which David wrote in the Old Testament book of the Psalms, which are recorded for us in in the tenth chapter. Consider if you will the words which are found in this chapter beginning with the first verse: “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hides thou thyself in times of trouble? The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. For the wicked boasters of his heart’s desire, and blessed the covetous, whom the Lord abhorrent has. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffery at them. He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity. His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity. He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net. He crouched, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: He hideth His face; He will never see it. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble. Wherefore doth the wicked condemn God? He hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to require it with thy hand: the poor commmitteth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:1-14).
It is incredibly easy to read such words which were written by the psalmist David and think of all those around us who such words could apply to. Think of how easy it would be for you to immediately think to those whom you work with, or perhaps those who you worship with in the house of the Lord, and automatically declare of them certain realities that are found in this passage of Scripture. How easy is it for us to quickly judge those around us—and not only judge them, but also judge them and find them to be evil, and wicked? How easy is it for us to convince ourselves that we are experts on whether or not there is any good that is to be found within the hearts of those around us? I would dare say that it is much easier to look upon those around us and immediately allow our judgmental and critical selves to rise up within us and determine that there is absolutely no good that is found within them. I can’t help but think of how many men and women have been written off because those around them are unable to see the good that is present within them—perhaps buried beneath years of hurt, pain, sorrow, anguish, bitterness, resentment, anger, and the like., There are a number of men and women who have been written off as possessing absolutely nothing that is good or pleasant within them. One of the most incredible realities I am becoming increasingly convinced of is that there are times when the good that is present within those around us is hidden beneath the surface and needs to be sought out, perhaps even mined out like diamonds and coal from a mountain. There are times when the goodness that is and can be found within the hearts and lives must be mined out as a coal miner would spend their entire day mining coal from within a mountain. There are times when the good that is found within the heart and life of another individual is not immediately or automatically visible to the natural eye, and it requires a supernatural and spiritual sight and insight to be able to see.
There is a parable Jesus spoke which the apostle Matthew recorded for us in the thirteenth chapter of his gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus. If you begin reading with the forty-fourth verse of the thirteenth chapter you will find these words written concerning a very specific man and that which he found one day. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth the field” (Matthew 13:44). Within this parable Jesus speaks of a single man who found a treasure that was hid in a field—the likes of which when the man found this treasure, he went and hid the treasure, sold all that he had, and bought the field. If we are to truly understand that which is found in this particular verse and parable, it’s necessary to recognize and understand that in order for this man to find this treasure which lie hidden—perhaps even buried within the ground in the midst of the field—this man had to have been searching for it. I do not for one minute believe this man just so happened to stumble upon this treasure, but rather spent time actively seeking after and pursuing the possibility of treasure. The question I can’t help but ask is how much time do we spend pursuing the possibility that there is treasure buried within the hearts, within the souls, within the minds, within the lives of those around us. How much time do we spend actively entertaining the idea that there is actually goodness that is and can be found within the hearts and lives of those we encounter? I am convinced that until and unless we are willing to acknowledge and admit that there is goodness within the hearts and lives of those around us, we cannot and will not be able to love our neighbors as ourselves. I believe there has been a great deal of damage that has been done among us—even within the house of the Lord—simply because we have not been willing to look for the good that is and can be found within the lives of those around us.
INVESTING IN THE HUNT! INVESTING IN THE PURSUIT! I am absolutely and incredibly challenged when I read the words of the apostle Paul in this particular passage of Scripture, for there is a great challenge within our hearts and lives to actively invest in the hunt for that which is good in those around us. When you look at those around you, do you find it to be incredibly difficult to locate the good that is within them? When you are around those men and women you work with on a daily basis—those who you see more than you do your own family members—are you able to locate and find the good that is present within them, or do you immediately and automatically look for and locate that which is evil, that which is wicked, that which is bad. It is at this juncture when I must state that if you are one who consistently looks for the evil that can be found in the life of another, it is only evil you will find every time. If the only thing you look for in others is that which is negative, and that which is bad, the only things you will find is that which is negative and that which is bad. It is absolutely impossible engage ourselves in relationships and friendships if we are unable to see and find the good that is present within those we encounter and come in contact with each and every day. What’s more, is that I am convinced that ministry is and can be incredibly difficult if we are unable to see and locate the good that is and can be found within those around us. I would dare state that if you are unable to call men and women brethren, and if you are unwilling and unable to see and locate the good in those around you, you should not be in active ministry. The house of the Lord doesn’t need men and women behind the pulpit who only see the evil, who only see the wicked, who only see the negative within those around them, and are unable to see the good that is and can be found within them.
Please understand that what I am not speaking of is excusing and overlooking sin, transgression and iniquity. I am not in any way suggesting that we excuse and look over sin and iniquity within the hearts and lives of others, for any and all sin must be dealt with according to the word of God by the power of the Spirit. I am not in any way suggesting that we should excuse and justify sin in order that we might find the good that lies within the hearts and lives of others. I am convinced that sin of any kind and of any magnitude within the lives of those around us must be addressed and confronted, yet even with that being said, I am convinced that even beneath layers of sin, even beneath layers of iniquity, even beneath layers of transgression, there is that which is good within men. I am fully aware that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, and that there is none righteous, no not one. I understand that in Adam all sinned and all have transgressed against the commandment of the Lord. I also believe that despite and regardless of the fact that each and every one of us has a sin nature present within us, we were and have been created in the image of God, and as a result of this truth alone, there is goodness that is present within us. It is far too easy to conclude that there is nothing good within the hearts and lives of others because of the sin nature that lies within us, yet to believe such a lie is to diminish the fact that we were all created in the image of God. I believe with all my heart that because we are and have been created in the image of God—even though we are born with a sin nature within us—there is good within each and every one of us. If God is good, and if we were created in the image of God, then it logically follows suit that there is goodness that is present within us. We do a great disservice to the kingdom of God and to the cross of Jesus Christ to think and believe that there is nothing good within those around us, and make absolutely no effort to seek after and search it out.
There is a great need among us in this generation to actively seek after and pursue the goodness that is found within the hearts and lives of those around us—even if such an action and endeavor is too difficult for us. I know there are men and women among us who find it absolutely and incredibly difficult to look for—much less find the good that lies buried within those around us. There are those among and those around us with whom that which is good within them is easier to find, while there are others when more work and effort needs to be done to find that good. There are those among us who need to make a conscious and deliberate effort to seek after and search for the good that is found in the lives of others, and not only seek after and find that which is good, but also invest in it. The apostle Paul declared unto the saints which were at Rome that he was persuaded of them as brethren that they were full of goodness, which should present us with a tremendous challenge on how we interact with those around us. I am convinced that we cannot and will not invest in those around us if we cannot see, or perhaps are blinded to the reality that there is goodness to be found within them. Why on earth would we invest in that which we do not believe to be truth concerning those around us? Why on earth would we invest in those around us if we cannot and do not believe that there is goodness that is to be found within them? I believe with everything that is inside me that there is a great need for us to get over ourselves and to begin looking for the good that is to be found in others. What’s more, is that I am convinced we need to stop being self-seeking, stop being self-centered, and stop being all about ourselves, and actually seek to draw out that which is good within the hearts and lives of those around us. I believe there is a great need for us to actively pursue with everything that is within me that we need to diligently strive to draw out the good that lies buried within those around us—even those around us whom others would naturally write off and conclude have no worth or value. The question is whether or not you are willing to spend the time necessary to invest in drawing and bringing out that which is good in others—especially knowing that such an undertaking is not, cannot and will not be easy.
The apostle Paul wrote concerning the saints which were at Rome—those whom he viewed and regarded as brethren—that he was persuaded they were full of goodness, they were full of knowledge, and they were able to admonish one another. Consider the third reality that is found in this particular verse—able also to admonish one another—and consider how incredible necessary this is within our lives. One of the greatest challenges facing many churches and congregations is the ability for men and women to admonish one another—to encourage one another, and to be able to spur each other in our most holy faith. One of the greatest questions I find myself asking concerning our coming together into the house of the Lord is whether or not we come to the house of the Lord simply to receive ourselves without actively giving of ourselves unto and into the lives of those around us. It is one thing to come into the house of the Lord and to desire to hear the word of God preached, and to perhaps even respond to an altar call, and even to give of our tithe and offering, but it is something else entirely to come into the house of the Lord and to be able to admonish one another. There are a number of men and women who look to the minister, who look to the preacher, who look to the pastor to bring the admonition, and to encourage and challenge those within the house of the Lord. The truth of the matter is that this simply is not the case for those among us in the house of the Lord need to be able to admonish, encourage, challenge, and exhort others. The apostle Paul believed of the saints which were at Rome that they were able to admonish one another which is in and of itself a task that is not easy to. When I read these words, I am immediately gripped with and gripped by the reality that the saints which were at Rome were not about themselves only, and that when they gathered together as a body of believers, they weren’t focused solely on what they could receive from the Lord. One question I can’t help but find myself asking is how much are we able to admonish each other—I mean truly admonish each other when we gather together in the house of the Lord? How much are we able to invest in each other and to encourage, challenge, exhort and admonish those whom we interact with in the house of the Lord? There has to come a point when our church attendance and our gathering together with the saints transitions beyond the place where we receive only, and where we are actually able to give of ourselves unto those around us.
As you go on to read that which the apostle Paul wrote in this passage of Scripture you will notice the apostle declare that he cannot, and could not, and would not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by him. The apostle Paul was determined to speak only those things which Christ Himself had spoken unto Him, and that which Christ had given unto Him to speak and proclaim. What’s more, is that I would also dare say that the apostle Paul could not and would not engage in anything that was not authorized by Jesus who is both Christ and Lord. I am convinced that the apostle Paul purposed within himself to do only that which was directly and personally authorized by the Lord, and would not allow himself to be engaged in anything that his Lord would not approve of or be pleased with. The apostle Paul would go on to write how he sought to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, in order that he might fully preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is absolutely incredible to read and consider, for how many times do we allow ourselves to get caught up and consumed in that which has not and that which was not authorized by Jesus who is both Christ and Lord? How many times do we attempt to pursue and undertake that which should never have been attempted in the first place? Much like Nadab and Abihu who attempted to offer strange fire before the Lord in the Tabernacle in the wilderness, there are men and women who would dare offer unto the Lord that which He did not personally authorize. There are actually translations that when speaking of the fire which Nadab and Abihu offered before the Lord, speak of that fire as being that which was unauthorized. Oh, how much of what is taking place among us within the house of the Lord is and has been personally authorized by Jesus the Christ who is Lord of all and Lord over all? How much of what is being done “in the name of God” has actually not been authorized by Him, and is simply inventions and exploits of our own choosing and creating? How many of us are truly willing to take the time to understand what has been authorized by the living God, and by His Christ, and by the Spirit of Almighty God?
If you keep reading within this passage of Scripture you will find the apostle Paul writing how he strived to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not where Christ was named, lest he should build upon another man’s foundation. In other words, and in essence, the apostle Paul purposed within himself to go where no one has gone before, and to do in those places that which wasn’t done before. The apostle Paul purposed within himself to engage himself in ministry where it wasn’t already done—not in order that he might be the first to do so, and thereby boast in and of himself, but so the gospel concerning Christ would be heard by those who otherwise would not have heard. GO WHERE IT HASN’T BEEN DONE! GO WHERE IT ISN’T BEING DONE! I have to admit that as of late I have been incredibly challenged by the reality and concept of going to that place, or perhaps go to those places where it isn’t being done, and to actively engage in ministry for and before the Lord in those places. What’s more, is that I would even take this a step further and declare that not only is there a great need to go where it isn’t being done, but also to go where it won’t be easy. There is always the temptation to go where it is already being done, and to go where we we know it can and will be easy, and yet the truth of the matter is that that simply is not and should not be the case. There are many among us who not only will do that which has not been personally authorized by the Lord Jesus, but those who will also go where it is already being done—perhaps because it is easier on them, and because the work they need to do is much less than if they had chosen to go where it isn’t being and where it hasn’t been done. There are countless men and women among us who when it comes to ministry look for the easy way out, as they look to engage themselves in those places where it is already being done. I am personally being challenged within my own heart and life to actively engage myself in those places where it isn’t already being done. Moreover, I am incredibly challenged to engage myself in ministry where it isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. What’s more, is that I am incredibly challenged to engage myself in ministry for the Lord where others around me would perhaps reject and shy away from because of the conditions that are found in that place.