Many people lose their physical lives because they believe a lie. Years ago, it was not uncommon for physicians to advise patients with a sore throat or chronic bronchitis that they should smoke. It was thought that smoking would be like breathing in steam, that it would warm up the lungs and help clear up the bronchitis or whatever the related ailment was. Physicians used to prescribe cigarettes and other tobacco products, and people died because they believed a lie. The physicians did not intentionally lie—it was not a malicious lie, but it was a non-truth. People are lost for believing a lie.
Need to Know Truth
We need to know the truth. God has told us and promised us that He will guide us into all truth. (John 16:13.) That is a very important promise, because the Bible says that in the last days there will be every wind of doctrine blowing. (Ephesians 4:14.) What makes it especially critical is that God wants to guide us into a fuller understanding of Bible truth than we now have. So, we cannot just overthrow everything that we do not understand and say that since we have never seen something a certain way before we will not listen to new or different understandings. We cannot do that. Yet we cannot just run off after every tangent that comes along. Nevertheless, as the Holy Spirit leads us, we need to be willing to investigate new truth. We must do it carefully and prayerfully, because it is very, very easy to be deceived.
When we are investigating something, we need to read the whole context. If it is quoting from the Bible, read from where it is quoted—read the entire chapter and the surrounding chapters. Many people quote a certain aspect from the Bible, but they only quote a little phrase or sentence, and by taking that one thought out of context, sometimes they change the whole meaning of it.
Purpose of Study
Truth is very important. It is vital to salvation. But as important as that may be, that is not the most important thing we can study in our daily devotions. The thing that must happen in our devotional lives with the Lord is to become like Jesus!
It does not matter what truth we may know; if we are not like Jesus, we have not accomplished anything. In our devotional lives, we must have our characters changed. That is why in our devotions it is important to spend some time every day in studying about Jesus. We may not be learning all kinds of wonderful theology in studying about Jesus, but we will be becoming like Him. We need to, as well, find time to study Daniel and Revelation and Malachi and Zechariah and Isaiah—all of these wonderful books—but we find Jesus scattered all through all these books. We must spend some time every day in just looking at the life of Jesus, trying to meditate on His character, and asking Jesus to make us like Him. That is the most important thing that can happen.
It is much more important to be able to live a Christian life than to preach a good sermon. When we live Christian lives, lives like Jesus, then God is going to pour out His Holy Spirit upon us.
When Jesus was here, He preached all kinds of wonderful sermons, but the Holy Spirit was never poured out. But when the disciples got together at Pentecost, and spent time in prayer and put away their sins and became like Jesus, then the Holy Spirit came. There is a place for sermons, and there is a place for evangelistic meetings, but the first thing that must happen in our lives every day is that we must look at Jesus and try to become like Him.
Why Jesus Came
Jesus came down to this earth to teach us new truth, but the biggest reason Jesus came down to this earth was to show us the love of God, to demonstrate a Christian life. When we read the Bible stories from the gospels, we read some of the sermons that Jesus gave. Matthew records quite a few sermons. John records some of His teaching. What most of the gospel writers recorded, however, are not so much His sermons as His life. It was Jesus’ life that shows us the love of God.
Consider Jesus on the cross. Why is it that so much of the Bible is written about Jesus’ experience on the cross? There was no sermon there at all, was there? God’s love was demonstrated there. It showed that God loved us enough that He was willing to send His own Son to die for us. That is the same kind of love we must have. When we have that love, then we will have the same kind of power that Jesus had.
Secret of Witnessing
Surely you, like I, have been impressed with various mission stories. I love mission stories! Sometimes I have heard stories of people who have gone out and witnessed who had not been trained for public speaking, who did not have very many skills, but the Holy Spirit led them to souls, and because the Holy Spirit was working through them, the people were converted. I have watched people that I have thought really did not do a very good job at preaching or giving Bible studies, but they had a Christian character, and the Lord used these people to win souls. The greatest thing we need is not more truth. We need truth, but the greatest thing we need is to be more like Jesus, to have His character.
Dwell in the Midst
In Exodus 25:8, it mentions how God asked the children of Israel to make Him a sanctuary that He might dwell among them. The sanctuary was put right in the middle of the camp of the children of Israel, so every day when they got up, wherever they were, they could see the sanctuary. John tells us that that sanctuary was a type of Jesus. John 1:14, in some translations, says, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” That is the way the Revised Version translates it, and that is the translation Ellen White often used for that verse—“The Word became flesh and tabernacled,” referring back to the tabernacle of the children of Israel that was put right in the middle of the camp. Jesus came and dwelt among us. Instead of a tabernacle of goat’s skin, Jesus came and dwelt in our midst, so God might dwell among us and we might see what God is all about.
In the first few verses of John 1, it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” What happened to that Word? It came down to this earth and dwelt among us so that we might observe and see what God is really like, so we might become like God in character.
Hebrews 1 begins almost the same as does the Book of John. In verse 3, speaking of Jesus, it says, “Who being the brightness of [His] glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Jesus was the express image of the Father. He came to earth in the brightness of His Father’s glory. What was that glory when Jesus came down? Did people have to hide their eyes because He was so bright they could not look at Him, like Moses was when he came down from the mountain? Moses was a type of Jesus, but that was only the type. When the real brightness came, it was a totally different kind of brightness than a literal brightness. The Old Testament always shows something literal, and the New Testament always shows what was literal in the Old Testament in a spiritual sense. In the Old Testament, when Moses, who was a type or a figure of Christ, came down from the mount, his face was radiant with glory, so the people could not even look at him. In the New Testament, Jesus came down from heaven, and He was radiant with glory but with spiritual glory instead of a literal glory—spiritual brightness instead of a literal brightness.
What was the brightness that lighted up the face of Jesus? Paul tells us in 11 Corinthians 4:4, 6: “Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” What is that glory? “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” It is God’s character that is revealed in Jesus. What was that character, in 1 John 4:8? “God is love.” That character was revealed through Jesus Christ.
Somehow we, day by day, must develop the character of love that Jesus had. We must show love—love to our husbands and wives, to our children, to our parents, to church members, to our neighbors, to one another. Things do not always go in a way that makes us want to be loving. It is when things go wrong that love is really revealed. Love is not revealed when everything is going right. That is how Jesus revealed His love.
Where did Jesus really reveal the most love? Was it when He was sitting down at dinner with Mary and Martha and enjoying a good meal, or was it on the cross when people were spitting in His face and hammering the nails in His hands? Where was the love shown the most? He had the same love both places, but we did not see all of it until He was put on the cross. His love was there with Mary and Martha, too, and we could see that it was there, but the worse the situation became, the more the love was revealed.
Ellen White wrote about Jesus: “The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan’s deceptive power was to be broken. This could not be done by force. The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; force or authority cannot win it. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him; His character must be manifested in contrast to the character of Satan.” The Desire of Ages, 22.
“Only by love is love awakened.” If we are going to have a church that will exemplify the character of God, that is, the character of love, how are we going to become that way? Is it by the board deciding that it is going to be that way and making a rule that we are all going to be loving from now on? How about a sermon? Could that do it? The only way that the church can become loving is by individual members becoming like Jesus and demonstrating that love to others.
The only way God’s love can be demonstrated is for God to allow Satan to bring a certain amount of hardship and trouble into our lives—not because He wants us to suffer anything but so our characters can be developed and we can demonstrate that God is living in our lives. One thing about the trials that God sends us or even the ones He allows Satan to send us, He always brings us through. We never lose anything when we are all done. We only gain. In fact, the Bible says that “everything works together for good to those who love God.” Romans 8:28. We never lose anything, if we remain true.
Every test that comes our way does one of two things: it either makes us more like God, or it makes us more unlike God. We either turn away from Him, or we turn towards Him. We cannot stay neutral when trials and tests come. So it is that if we are really going to demonstrate the love of God, very likely God will allow certain trials and troubles to come into our lives to develop our characters so we can demonstrate His love. That is one reason why, after Jesus talked about trials and troubles and persecutions and revilings and all those things in the Beatitudes, He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.” Matthew 5:10, 11.
Verse 16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” You see, it is when people say unkind things about us that we have a chance to let our lights shine and that we can demonstrate the love of God.
None of us, of course, have the love of Jesus by nature, do we? Neither can we develop it on our own. That is why we must spend time with Jesus every day in prayer and Bible study. Remember, the most important aspect of prayer and Bible study is not to learn truth but to become like Jesus.
If we are just trying to rush through a book and we have a certain schedule to follow to finish it, and when we get done, we check that book off the list—have our characters changed much? How much better it would be to read half as much and to kneel down and really ask Jesus to make us like what we are reading, to spend time thinking about it, and to become like what it says, letting our lives be changed.
Ellen White said, “The Lord desires me to call the attention of His people to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Read this chapter every day, and from it obtain comfort and strength. Learn from it the value that God places on sanctified, heaven-born love, and let the lesson that it teaches come home to your hearts. Learn that Christlike love is of heavenly birth, and that without it all other qualifications are worthless.” Review and Herald, July 21, 1904. Read that chapter not to learn some great new thing but to look at Jesus’ love. What is love? What is it that God wants us to become?
The Love Chapter
This is a chapter that probably describes Jesus’ character better than any other chapter in the Bible. It is a chapter that describes what we are to become. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” Verse 1. This is really speaking to preachers or Sabbath School teachers or evangelists. We can have silver tongues; we can speak like angels; we can be the greatest orators in the entire world; but if we do not have love, what good is it going to do? It is worthless.
“And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . .” Do you see why I said that learning truth is not the most important thing? Paul says we can know all the truth in the world; we can have even the gift of prophecy; and we can understand all the mysteries and all the knowledge and even have all faith so that we could remove mountains; but if we do not have love, we are nothing. Verse 2.
We do not have to make these two things exclusive. We can still learn a little knowledge while we are getting a little love. I am not saying we should not try to get a little knowledge along the way. We ought to know the Bible. That is very important, but the first thing is love.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” Verse 3. Nothing in the Bible is written without truth, and no illustrations are given without merit. Do you suppose that there could have been people who gave their bodies to be burned or eaten by the lions that really were not totally converted? Ellen White wrote, “We may obtain a knowledge of the truth and read its most hidden mysteries, and even give our bodies to be burned for its sake; yet if we have not love and charity, we are as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 133.
What Love Is
Then Paul tells us what love is: “Love suffers long [and] is kind.” It does not say that love just suffers a little while—it will suffer and suffer. People saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing or misunderstanding—that will continue. Life goes on. As long as life lasts, it will continue to manifest love no matter what the situation may be. And it is kind. That little four-letter word kind is such a nice little word. It is nice when people are kind to one another.
“Love does not envy.” Now that is a tall order! It is so easy to envy—especially when you think you are better than the other person is, but the other person is getting all the attention. That is what Satan did in heaven; he envied Jesus; he thought he could do a better job than Jesus. “Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil.” Verses 4, 5.
“[Love] does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” Verse 6. That really cuts right across gossip! Times do come when we need to know about certain situations. We need to be warned, but just plain rejoicing, just cannot wait until somebody stumbles or somebody does something so we can report it, is wrong.
Demonstrate His Love
“Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether [there are] prophecies, they will fail; whether [there are] tongues, they will cease; whether [there is] knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Verses 7–13.
What Paul is saying in these last few verses is this: All the prophecy we know of is just dimly understood. We do not really understand prophecy very much. We understand a little bit. We do not even know ourselves. We do not know one another very well. Just dimly do we really understand each other. We do not really read the hearts of one another. But there is one thing that we can demonstrate, regardless, and that we can have. We may not be able to have perfect faith or perfect hope or perfect knowledge, but we can become like Jesus in character, and we can demonstrate His love. That is what God wants in the church today. He wants the church to demonstrate the love and the character of Jesus.
It is interesting that 1 John, the book that talks about how Jesus came down to earth and lived, ends with what it is that God is like. “God is love.” That is what we are to become—like God—and God is love. How is it that we can develop this kind of character? It is not something that happens overnight. We can gain knowledge much quicker than we can gain character. It takes time to develop character. That is why God gives us a time to live. We need to use every moment we have to be developing that character. Every time a trial comes our way, we need to realize that this is a chance to develop the character that God wants us to have. We will miss all those opportunities, however, unless God is helping us.
The Fruit of Love
Jesus said, in John 15:1, 2, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” What is the fruit? One part of the fruit is winning other souls, but that is not all of the fruit. What is the fruit of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, longsuffering. (Galatians 5:22.) As we study John 15, we see that Jesus is talking about the fruit of the Spirit as well as the fruit of other souls. First and foremost, He is talking about the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of our character.
Verses 12 and 13 tell us the fruit with which He is especially concerned: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Throughout the chapters of John, Jesus talks about the fruit of our characters, the fruit of love especially. In chapter 13, He said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Verse 35.
Every branch that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2.) “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” Verses 3, 4. Think of the one fruit that He is really addressing here. He is addressing all the fruit, of course, but consider the one He comments upon later, the fruit of love. Insert that in these verses and read it to get the full import. We could insert other fruits of the Spirit, too, but we will just use love.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear love He takes away; and every [branch] that bears love He prunes, that it may bear more love.” Pruning means to cut or take away unnecessary things—those extras that we do not really need, but we think we need, that God sometimes takes away. He may take it out of our checkbook or He may take it out of our time. We may have our day all planned, and God takes away some of that time for something else—our day may get pruned.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear love of itself, unless it abides in the vine, 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, bears much love; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw [them] into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much love; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in my love.” Verses 4–9. Is He talking about love?
To the Point
He comes right down to the point at the end. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and [that] your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Verses 10–12.
More than anything else, I want to see all of God’s people perfectly demonstrate the love of God towards one another. When we have that, we will have joy, Jesus said, and we will have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We cannot have it of ourselves. We can only have it as we abide in Jesus day by day. Our daily devotions are especially for the purpose of our becoming more like Jesus.
Yes, we need to study and understand Daniel and Revelation. We need to study Isaiah and Deuteronomy and Leviticus as well as the other books of the Bible, but we need to make the first part of our study specifically something that will help us to become more loving like Jesus. Study about the life of Jesus.
Ellen White says, “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.” The Desire of Ages, 83.
Pastor Marshall J. Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.