How to Cultivate Christian Graces


By John Thiel, Audio: mp3

Scripture reading: Romans 12:9 [Let] love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. 10 [Be] kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

…nourish the tender plant of love. Cultivate the graces of the spirit, cultivate tenderness, compassion for one another… {HM, January 1, 1892 par. 9}

Throughout the years of my ministry I have been perplexed with a large number of people who I have ministered to and observed in the churches who felt that they were Christians, and as I studied with them, they suddenly exclaimed, Oh dear, I am not! Many people take Christianity as an emotional romantic experience. Others are ever reading and studying the Bible and ascribing this as being Christian or ascribing to a set of doctrines and joining the church as that is what Christianity is. Or adhering to some very rigid standards of the Bible and claiming that this is Christianity. I was often in perplexity realising how many are living in a deception.

Jesus gave indication of this deception and this is what He says to people who will come to Him claiming He is their Lord and that they are Christians:

Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

These people are actually ministering people. Not only are they members of the church, but they are prophesying, preaching in His name, even casting out devils, and in His name they have done many wonderful things. Reading the Bible, standing by a few doctrines, standing by rigid standards, haven’t we done all these things? Jesus says, I’m sorry, I don’t really know you. How imperative it is to know our true position before that time comes when He says, I know you not.

Many profess to be on the Lord’s side, but they are not; the weight of all their actions is on Satan’s side. {2T 262.2}

Let everyone inquire seriously, “Am I a genuine Christian? Am I bearing the true marks of a Christian? {FLB 220.6}

Can you hear the Spirit of God coming to us through these words and saying, Inquire seriously whether you are truly a Christian. It is true that a Christian will be preaching, a Christian will be doing the things that they claim that they were doing, a Christian will read and study the word of God. Absolutely and they will ascribe to doctrines that are true doctrines and they will follow the standards of the Bible. However, while they do these things, I am to ask, am I bearing the true marks of a Christian? The Spirit of Prophecy says that, “Dress is an index of the mind and heart.” (Mind, Character, and Personality Vol. 1, p.289, par. 2) The way we dress shows what we are like inside. Is that a mark of a Christian? It has a suggestion of it. Yet we can be following correctly our way of dress, our hairstyle, our lifestyle, tithe paying and all these kinds of things, and yet we may not have the marks of the Christian.

The apostle makes it quite plain that you can have a lot of external revelations and yet fall short:

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.2 And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Are we understanding what we are reading here? What is the apostle saying? I have the gift of prophecy. I understand, what sort of mysteries, how many? All mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith. What is written here is amazing. You can have all and yet not have what that all is meant to create. The Bible studies we have, the church attendance we have, the dress that we have, the standards that we have, all these things, the bottom line of all these things is to lead us to the love of God, to have love. If we have all those things and we don’t actually have them for the purpose of gaining the Christian graces, the characteristic of love that this is meant to be promoting, it’s all an emptiness.

This is why, in my personal experience, I myself have had to often stop myself in my tracks when I felt a dearth. With all the knowledge that the Lord has given me, with all the presentations of the truth that I have had over the years, it can become a very empty kind of thing, in spite of it all. You can get excited about the knowledge of the truth and at the same time there can be something missing. We can do all these wonderful things to spread the word, but there might be something missing. All the good that we do, even caring for the poor, there may still be something missing that would make us estranged from God.

How will the world truly know that we belong to God?

John 13:35 By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

To be the disciples of Jesus, to be God’s church on earth, it can only be recognised in one way, if we have love one to another.

Romains 12:9 [Let] love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

Love without dissimulation; in other words, let it be a pure love, not being undermined by any falsehood.

Romains 12:10 [Be] kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

What is this love? Being kind one to another, tenderhearted, and if there is anybody that hurts me or fails me in some way, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. The Spirit of Prophecy expresses this:

Christianity is the revealing of the tenderest affection for one another. {1SM 114.3}

What is Christianity? Faithfulness in keeping the commandments? Faithfulness in reading the Bible, etc.? Well, yes, that’s all important.

Correctly dressed and so on. All this is important the bottom line of doing all those other things is to lead us to appreciate the great love of God.

True conversion is a change from selfishness to sanctified affection for God and for one another. {1NL 24.5}

Explore with me these marks of Christianity. Sanctified affection, tenderest affection, true love. Having affection, showing tenderness, is this easy when certain things upset you? When things are hard? When other people are giving us a hard time, can you be affectionate to them? Those Christian courtesies of being patient and kind and tenderhearted when this person is really annoying me and failing me, is Christianity required to be able to achieve that? Is the true understanding of Jesus necessary to be like that? I’ve seen people doing lots of wonderful things for people, but when it comes to human interactions they become short and cut upon each other and they say horrible things about each other and they get impatient with one another. Is that tenderness and affection?

We are to cultivate the Christian graces, the graces of the Spirit. We are to nurture and nourish the tender plant of love. If somebody is unpleasant to me, can I speak tenderly back or do I retort? If somebody is failing in what I expect of them, do I speak to them tenderly or do I become frustrated with them and speak in a very harsh cutting manner? Is that affection? Is it easy to be affectionate when these things are around us?

Jesus lays it out very plainly before us.

Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you,

Can you be affectionate and kind to somebody who is affectionate and kind to you? Yes of course. When somebody is tender to me, I can be tender back.

Matthew 5:46 …what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? do not even the publicans so?

We are to be tender and loving and kind even to the enemy, let alone to those that are part of the church and that annoy me.

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Love is the demarcation point of the true disciples. As Jesus said, By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. This love is described in 1 Corinthians 13. This is the true love and this is the bottom line of a true Christian. The true marks of a Christian are tenderness and sacred affection, affectionate love. Here is a very important criterion of what this love is, to be perfect as the Father is.

1 Corinthians 13:4 Charity suffereth long,

Is that all it says?

1 Corinthians 13:4 … [and] is kind;

When you suffer under some kind of onslaught, are you usually kind? But love suffers long and is kind.

1 Corinthians 13:5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own,

Selfishness seeks its own. When selfishness is there, if I am not comforted and pleased by what the other person is saying or doing, then I am not going to be happy. I am seeking for my own sense of comfort in my relationship with other people around me. But if I seek not my own, then it doesn’t matter what they do around me. That is love.

1 Corinthians 13:5 … is not easily provoked,

In other words, what they do doesn’t provoke me easily and I think no evil.

1 Corinthians 13:6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth…

How much?

1 Corinthians 13:7 …all things,

How? Lovingly, kindly.

1 Corinthians 13:7 …believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
You can endure something but you can huff and puff underneath. There is no kindness there.

1 Corinthians 13:8 Charity never faileth:

How sweet, how heavenly is the sight when those who love the Lord
In one another’s peace delight, and thus fulfill His word.

When each can feel his brother’s sigh, and with him bear a part;
When sorrow flows from eye to eye, and joy from heart to heart.
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How is it when you see somebody sighing and you say, What’s wrong with you? Have you ever said that? Why are you sighing all the time? The words of this hymn are beautiful, what a beautiful situation if this can be done with sorrow flowing from eye to eye, and joy from heart to heart…

<strong>When free from envy, scorn, and pride, our wishes all above,
Each can his brother’s failings hide, and show a brother’s love.

Is that affectionate kindly love? To see another person’s faults and mistakes that they are making and just leaving it alone. Hide it, make it of none effect. Don’t even aerate it, don’t even express it. Hide it and show a brother’s love. That’s suffering. I want everybody to know that I am suffering so we express ourselves with the suffering. But this is not the right kind of love.

When love, in one delightful stream, through every bosom flows;
And union sweet, and dear esteem, in every action glows.

Ideal isn’t it? How many people become absolutely distracted to think, well I wish that was the case in the church; and we expect it from everybody else. Why isn’t it here? Because it’s not in me who is expecting it. This love is a different kind of love and affection to what human beings usually exercise. It is a tenderness of love and kindness that is sacred affection. It is affection that comes from heaven. Therefore in everything I study, the bottom line is to come into experience with God, with Jesus and to let that take its course.
This is the admonition that comes forth from this love:

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another:

Why? What sort of love?

1 John 4:7 …for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

Not just exist, but live. Do we have that love?

1 John 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.

Now comes the mind exercise, do I experience this amazing love as I look at the amazing demonstration of Jesus suffering with my sinful flesh?

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

If we become conscious of the reason for studying the Bible, the reason for doing what the Bible says, then what will happen as I keep on dwelling upon this love which is not naturally in me? His love is perfected in us. It’s something that God is going to keep on working at to perfect in us because we don’t have it naturally.

1 John 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

Pure religion is an imitation of Christ. {6BC 1101.2}

It’s an imitation. It is a reflection of the very love that exists in God’s heart, in Christ’s heart.

To be a Christian is to be Christlike. {6BC 1097.6}

If the true marks of Christianity are directly from Christ and we cannot see them perfectly within us, then we are called upon to actually nurture and cultivate that love. Now that we see how that love comes from the contemplation of Jesus who was given to us as a propitiation, and as we dwell upon that, we are to nurture the beholding of that love and to cultivate it.

When you cultivate something, you keep on turning it over. You keep on looking at it and making it your object of study. We know that we don’t have that love by nature; we don’t have that tender affection. In our relation to our fellow human beings, whether it be the husband, wife, mother or daughter, whoever it is, we are to deal kindly and patiently with that person. Not to ruffle them by our activity towards them. If this is not natural with me, then what must I do? I must begin at once to behold this love that God is. This is the purpose of all Bible study. It’s not just to get information! It’s there so that once I’ve got the information, the love that exists in God may begin to germinate in my heart. This is our contemplation that love may be made perfect within us.

To have that love and glory, I need to cultivate that which is going to produce that kind of tenderness and sacred affection. Jesus had said that the glory He had with the Father, He wanted His disciples to have.
2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.

All our true Christian behaviour must be generated by beholding the love by exploring and cultivating it and having the statements in God’s word begin to be the source of my wonder and appreciation of His love. As I gaze upon it, I am to be changed into the same image. That’s how I am to cultivate those graces. I and anybody else can tell you as much as they like to admonish you and say, Come on, you should be more kind to your husband or more tender towards your wife, or more patient with your mother. Mothers get older and the younger children complain. Anybody who is suffering is a burden for us because we think, I wish they would just make it easier for me. No, let’s make it easier for them. That’s the issue. I can’t do it apart from gazing upon Jesus. That is where I’m going to nurture this.
The example of Enoch is very interesting because Enoch was taken to heaven. Jesus did not come to him and say, I don’t know you. He opened the gates of heaven for Enoch.

Enoch walked with God.

He made Christ his constant companion. He was in the world, and performed his duties to the world; but he was ever under the influence of Jesus. {6BC 1097.7}

We are trying to understand how to cultivate the love and affection. It is by actually having Jesus as my companion performing the duties, but always under the influence of Jesus.

He reflected Christ’s character, exhibiting the same qualities of goodness, mercy, tender compassion, sympathy, forbearance, meekness, humility, and love. His association with Christ day by day transformed him into the image of Him with whom he was so intimately connected. {6BC 1097.7}

How do I cultivate the Christian graces? As I am interacting with my fellow human beings around me and fulfilling my duties, I am actually working constantly in my connection with Jesus. This is how to cultivate it. Because as I keep Christ’s character ever before me in all the activities of life like Enoch, then Christ’s character, the beautiful image of Him with whom I am intimately connected, will reproduce.

Enoch was made perfect.

Day by day he was growing away from his own way into Christ’s way, the heavenly, the divine, in his thoughts and feelings. He was constantly inquiring, Is this the way of the Lord? His was a constant growth, and he had fellowship with the Father and the Son. This is genuine sanctification (RH April 28, 1891). {6BC 1097.7}

Being made holy.

The constant cultivation of a relationship with Jesus Christ in the everyday affairs produces the tenderness and the compassion that Jesus is. This is when the passions and the temptations come along our way, and the moment I feel like I’ve got to express my frustration, I say, Is this the way of the Lord? Jesus, how would you react to this frustration? We know exactly how He would react. He would be tender and kind and patient. This is what Enoch was learning.

Look to Christ, behold the attractive loveliness of His character, and by beholding you will become changed into His likeness. The mist that intervenes between Christ and the soul will be rolled back as we by faith look past the hellish shadow of Satan and see God’s glory in His law, and the righteousness of Christ. {6BC 1097.3}

The mist that is between us and Christ will slowly disappear and as it disappears we will keep on reflecting that beautiful light which Satan has veiled.

It is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, which Jesus said He would send into the world, that changes our character into the image of Christ; and when this is accomplished, we reflect, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord. That is, the character of the one who thus beholds Christ is so like His, that one looking at him sees Christ’s own character shining out as from a mirror. {6BC 1097.5}

We are to be the mirror through which Christ will reflect upon everybody else.

Imperceptibly to ourselves we are changed day by day from our own ways and will into the ways and will of Christ, into the loveliness of His character. Thus we grow up into Christ, and unconsciously reflect His image. {6BC 1097.5}

When people say to us, You are such a loving and loveable Christian, we say, What. really? We can’t quite see it because we feel the frustrations inside. But every time we feel the frustrations, every time we feel like saying something unlovely, every time we communicate in a short and cutting way, we catch ourselves, Oh, Jesus wouldn’t have answered like this. We will try to bless the other rather than expect the other to bless me because Jesus is my companion in the experience. How are we to look upon Christ?

Beholding Christ means studying His life as given in His Word. {6BC 1098.1}

As I share God’s expectations of the graces of God’s love, how many people have said, I’m not like that, how short I am to my husband, how nasty I am to those that I am regularly with, I’m not like God wants me to be. I don’t want to leave this expectation upon us, and have us come away with the feeling of total despondency that I am not like that. Let us not hang our heads in shame and say, Well, I am never going to be like that because look at me. By beholding, unconsciously to ourselves we will be changed. Don’t worry about looking at me and my failures, just look at Jesus and see His love. Then our effort to speak kindly and be tender and courteous and long-suffering with the people that aren’t perfect around us can actually take place.

Romans 5:3 And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also:

Isn’t it a tribulation when things are going wrong around me, and people aren’t getting the message that I am expecting certain things of them? But what do tribulations do?

Romans 5:3 …knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

What happens through tribulations? It creates hope. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. The glorious outcome of that perfect idyllic fellowship takes place as we put into practice the following counsel:

Jesus, who died for us, loves us with a love that is infinite; {RH, April 22, 1884 par. 9}

This is a love that is like looking out into the universe; infinite.

…and we must love one another. We must put away all selfishness, and work together in love and unity. {RH, April 22, 1884 par. 9}

When we think, This is getting too much for me, I wish somebody else would come and do something. No, that’s selfish. Okay, Lord, I look up to you and I will not be selfish, I will do my part and do it faithfully with you as Enoch did.

We have loved and petted ourselves, and excused ourselves in our waywardness; but we have been unmerciful toward our brethren, who are not as faulty as ourselves. The Lord loves us, and bears with us, even when we are ungrateful to him, forgetful of his mercies, wickedly unbelieving; but consider, brethren, how relentless we are to one another, how pitiless; how we hurt and wound one another when we should love as Christ has loved us. {RH, April 22, 1884 par. 9}

He is so long-suffering with me when I have been forgetful of His mercies, ungrateful of Him and wickedly unbelieving. He still tenderly cares for me. Haven’t we often marvelled at the fact that He still loves me? Yet as we marvel at that, how often we are so relentlessly hard on one another. We hurt and wound one another.

Let us make a complete change. Let us cultivate the precious plant of love, and delight to help one another. We must be kind, forbearing, patient with one another’s errors; we must keep our sharp criticisms for ourselves, but hope all things, believe all things, of our brethren. {RH, April 22, 1884 par. 9}

Jesus is a wonderful person to us and as we cultivate a vision of Him in every given situation, it will captivate us, it will stop us in our tracks. If we have let something slip, we immediately say, My precious friend, I’m so sorry for having spoken to you like that. Or before we even express it, we feel a passionate irritation, we look to Jesus and we cultivate the tenderness that He expressed to us. These are the cultivation skills to develop that kind of love and affection. It’s not this shallow affection that we are used to. To be loving and tolerant one to another with kind, tender words, this is something that can only be cultivated through Jesus.

Jesus says, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Love is not simply an impulse, a transitory emotion, dependent upon circumstances; it is a living principle, a permanent power. The soul is fed by the streams of pure love that flow from the heart of Christ, as a well-spring that never fails. {5BC 1140.3}

This is where it comes from. I haven’t got it naturally, I’ve got to cultivate it. You can try and cultivate it without Christ as much as you like, you won’t succeed. What must I do? I must keep on cultivating the closeness to Jesus. One look to Jesus and the Holy Spirit is right there. You’ve just got to look there and the Holy Spirit is ready to help you.

O, how is the heart quickened, how are its motives ennobled, its affections deepened, by this communion! {5BC 1140.3}

It is the communion that affects the affection.

Under the education and discipline of the Holy Spirit, the children of God love one another, truly, sincerely, unaffectedly–“without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” And this because the heart is in love with Jesus. Our affection for one another springs from our common relation to God. We are one family, we love one another as He loved us. When compared with this true, sanctified, disciplined affection, {5BC 1140.3}

Isn’t that an interesting language? What sort of affection is it? A disciplined affection.

When compared with this true, sanctified, disciplined affection, the shallow courtesy of the world, the meaningless expressions of effusive friendship, are as chaff to the wheat (Letter 63, 1896). {5BC 1140.3}

We have again taken another glimpse at what is expected of us and how far we fall short of that. We can gain what is expected of us by beholding this beautiful love that comes to us from God. This kind of love is Christianity when it is combined with dress and the lifestyle of all outward practices.
May God grant us this motivating love that we may come to an experience that is so affectionately bound with Jesus, that in all of our interactions with one another we will be able to express from a true, unpretending heart the affections that come from God.

Amen.

Posted on December 18, 2014, in Divine Service Sermons, Sermons by John Thiel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I really liked that message on cultivating Christian graces.

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