love

The End Of All Things (1 Peter 4:7-11)

Fotolia_9489640_XS.jpg

Watch the Facebook Live stream here. Listen to audio here.

_____________________________________

Jesus is Coming. Look busy! 

It’s an uncomfortable phrase, because it feels disrespectful even as it seems like that might be how a lot of people think. But I think it raises a  question worth considering. If we thought Jesus was coming back really soon, would it change how we live?

I remember when my sister and I were old enough to be left at home, we would at times have to scramble when Mom and Dad were coming home. We lived at the end of a ½ mile lane in an old farmhouse for a while, and we would CRANK up our music when they were gone – until we saw them coming up the lane. Things changed in a hurry. When we were even older and they would be gone a couple days, it was clean up time about an hour before they got home.

Mom and Dad were returning, and we wanted to be sure we got the house in order in time.

1 Peter 4:7-11 The Voice (VOICE): "We are coming to the end (telos – completion) of all things…"

We hear a lot about End Times today, but biblically the “end of all things” is the completion of God’s plan for history. The end began with the arrival of Jesus. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in man ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son”(Hebrews 1:1-2) at "the end of the ages" (Hebrews 9:26).  James said that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8); John wrote, in 1 John 2:18, "It is the last hour." We are certainly always closer, but Christians have been anticipating His inevitable return since He left.

For 2,000 years, we have lived in the age in which the end is near. So what should we be doing in light of this?

 “So be serious and stable, and keep your wits about you in order to be ready to pray with perseverance.” 

We shouldn't have to scramble to clean our spiritual house like my sister and I did our physical house; we shouldn’t be afraid of our Savior’s return, wondering what we need to turn off or hide something; we shouldn’t be panicked about how we are going to survive whatever is coming.

Instead, we are to exercise self-control and exhibit the peace of the Spirit as we purposefully pray. We should be calm and collected, knowing that God is in control.

The Bible warns that we will face trials or persecution in the last days, and the last 2,000 years have proven that to be true. The United States will inevitably move in that direction if the history of world cultures has anything to offer our understanding of the times in which we live. I think we would do well to pay attention to Peter here, as I’ve noticed how easily we panic when the going gets tough for us as Christians.

There is no doubt that the United States is trending away from affirmation of religious belief and in some sectors is even becoming increasingly hostile. But even in a worst case scenario where anti-Christian bigotry eventually moves toward real persecution, what should our response be?

Should we be scared and angry, or should we glorify God by revealing His power in us by our calm engagement, peace-filled presence, and our ongoing, persevering attitude of prayer, which involves surrendering our fears to God and trusting in His sovereignty? Panic is not a good look for people of faith.

Now, Paul had no problem maxing out his rights as a Roman citizen, so I don’t have a problem with Christians around the world maxing out their political rights for their freedom and safety. But no matter what, in every situation, followers of Jesus should be “serious, and keep our wits about us, and pray more perseverance,” not panic, despair, and yell more loudly.

But, even more importantly:

Most of all,love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. 10 Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s gifts of grace in all its varieties. 11 If you’re called upon to talk, speak as though God put the words in your mouth; if you’re called upon to serve others, serve as though you had the strength of God behind you. In these ways, God may be glorified in all you do through Jesus, to whom belongs glory and power, now and forever. Amen.

It seems to me that “prepping” has increasingly been made a priority, as if it's the most urgent need facing us if the world falls apart economically or if we are ever forced underground. It is not. [1]There is prudence in preparation – I’m not belittling those who prepare - but it is not the most important thing. If Peter were to host a seminar on How To Prepare For End Times, it wouldn’t involve a lot of practical things we hear like converting cash to gold or buying food that will last. It would be this: Learn how to pray, love, help each other, and use your gifts for the glory of God!”

This love "covers a multitude of sins" – not our sins, but the sins of others. Love forgives seventy times seventy. It is not constantly critical or constantly requiring perfection of the other. God’s agape love flowing throughus toothers covers a multitude of sins.  The Bible does not mess around on this point:

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Then we see that love is expressed in hospitality, not just for those we know, but those we don’t. [2]It’s not padding our social resume, or hanging out with cool people, and it’s not surrounding ourselves constantly with close friends.  The Greek word combines philos ("friendly love") with xenos ("a stranger").  Really, this is the ability to be hospitable to strangers[3]- and let me tell you, some of us are strange J

Hospitality is a legitimate and important ministry. We can get caught up in thinking of ministry as something that happens when we are in charge of something, or oversees, or when we are involved in an official ministry. But going out for lunch with someone you don’t know, or helping someone with food, money, time or lodging when they are in need is an opportunity for deep ministry.

Finally, we SERVE EACH OTHER FAITHFULLY (v. 10-11) with the gifts God has given us.

There are a variety of gifts given by the same Holy Spirit to each different believer, just as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11). They exist for the good of the church and the reputation of God. You aren’t given your gift for you;you have been given a gift for us to"serve one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."[i] Here is a list of gifts present in the New Testament church:

  • Prophecy(boldly proclaiming God’s mind and purpose) 1 Corinthians 12, 14; Micah 3:8
  • Serving(a wide variety of ministries that “make the dust fly”)- 1 Peter 4; 1 Corinthians 12:5
  • Teaching- (explaining God’s truth)Romans 12; 1 Cor. 12; Ephesians 4
  • Working- (bringing energy to a project)1 Corinthians 12:6
  • Exhortation(motivational skills; encouragement)- Romans 12
  • Giving(joyful, sacrificial generosity)Romans 12
  • Mercy(compassion)- Romans 12
  • Intercession(prayer) Romans 8:26, 27
  • Wisdom(knowledge rightly applied to situations)James 1:5; Numbers 27
  • Words of Wisdom (giving insightful, practical knowledge)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Words of Knowledge(giving insight into doctrine/spiritual truth)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Faith(unwavering commitment)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Healing(miraculous interventions for sickness)1 Corinthians 12
  • Miracles- (supernatural acts)1 Corinthians 12
  • Discerning spirits (insight into the “spirit” of a situation)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Tongues(gifted in human or heavenly languages)- 1 Corinthians 12, 14
  • Interpretation of Tongues - (translating those languages)1 Cor. 12, 14
  • Apostle(founders of the church)- 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
  • Leadership(church planters and church sustainers)- Romans 12
  • Pastor(“shepherds” who guide and lead)- Ephesians 4
  • Evangelist/Missionary(boldness in sharing the gospel)Acts 1:8; 5:32; 26:22; 1 John 5:6; Ephesians 4
  • Helps(helping/serving the poor and downtrodden) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-4; 12
  • Administration(the ability to give oversight)1 Corinthians 12; 1 Samuel 11 and 16
  • Celibacy(living in abstinent sexual purity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Marriage(committing to a covenant with integrity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Hospitality(openness and friendliness) 1 Peter 4:9-10
  • Craftsmanship(building, construction)Exodus 31:3; 35:30-35
  • The Arts(music, poetry, prose, painting...) - Exodus 31:2-6; Exodus 35:25-26; Psalm 150:3-5 Luke 1:1-3
  • Voluntary Poverty (forgoing wealth without envy or jealousy)1 Corinthians 13:1-3
  • Business Sense (reward from hard work and investment) Ecclesiastes 3,5
  • Courage(as seen in Gideon) Judges 6
  • Strength(as seen in Samson) Judges 13
  • Architectural Engineering (planning; constructing; building)1 Chronicles 28

Whatever your gift, it is significant. The body of Christ needs you. You are to use your gift not to glorify yourself or other people, but to glorify -God. If you want to be ready for the end times, learn how to use your gifts toward the service of one another in the harmony of the Spirit of God.

Steven Cole recounts a story that I think offers a picture that captures the purpose of this passage well.

“In 1959, the Queen of England visited Chicago. Elaborate preparations were made for her visit. The waterfront was readied for docking her yacht. Litter baskets were painted. A red carpet was rolled out. Many hotels were alerted. But when they contacted the Drake, the manager explained, “We are making no plans for the Queen; our rooms are always ready for royalty.”

I like that goal.

“We are making no new plans for the arrival of the King; His house is always ready for Him.”

_______________________________________________________________________

[1]See this article from Focus On The Family, “A Biblical View Of Survivalists And Preppers.” https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/a-biblical-view-of-survivalists-and-preppers

[2]When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:12-14).

[3]"without complaint".  Paul wrote, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world . . ." (Phil. 2:14-15).

[i]These are all gifts to help you serve the church and the world.

 

To This You Were Called (1 Peter 3:8–3:16)

FAITH-HOPE-LOVE-FOREVER.jpg

I have often heard people ask, “What has God called me to do?” It’s a great question. We want to know if we were made for something; if there is something we can do that really, really matters to God and can have an impact on the world. When I was teaching high school, this was a common dilemma of seniors, but it can apply to any of us who wonder if we are really being the person God intends for us to be. So, I have good news: I am going to tell you this morning what your calling is. But let’s back up first.

The latest section we have been covering began this way:

“Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment.”(1 Peter 2:12)

Then Peter highlighted three groups of people to honor:

  1. Rulers
  2. Masters
  3. Spouse

 

In 1 Peter 3:8, we get to the “finally” - the last admonition in this section on how to live honorably so that our good works will glorify God in the midst of a hostile world. This “finally” is now addressed to “all of you.”[1]

Finally, all of you, be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing. It was this you were called to do, so that you might inherit a blessing. It is written in the psalms: “If you love life and want to live a good, long time, then be careful what you say. Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things. Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. For the Lord watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers. But His face is set against His enemies; He will punish evildoers.”

Maybe not what you were expecting, but there is your calling:

“Be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing.

This letter has been relentlessly reminding us that God’s transformation of our hearts must result in a transformation of our lives. Specifically, it is molding us into the kind of people who will (or at least should) model righteous relationships: honest, faithful, loving, and sacrificial.

Sometimes when I am prepping I think, “We are going to talk about how to move deeper into the holiness which God gave us yet again? And we are going to focus on how this impacts how crucial our relationships are as an expression of this?” Yep. And we are going to keep covering it until Peter moves on.

[2]Be ye all of one mind (divinely inspired harmony) -  It’s about inner outlook that manifests in outward behavior. Having the heart and mind of Christ changes how we live with each other. It coordinates us. We are in sync with Christ and each other for our good and God’s glory. This does not mean we agree on every secondary issue. This means we unite around the nature of Jesus and the salvation He brings, and then lock arms and work together as a testimony to how the Holy Spirit’s divine inspiration unites in a way that defies human explanation. We can argue, disagree, even wound each other – and then we kneel together at the foot of the cross, repent to God and each other, and extend the forgiveness to others that Jesus gave to us.

  • Politics does not separate us. Even obnoxious people who talk obnoxiously about politics do not separate us, because Jesus is bigger than politics.
  • Social class or IQ or Personality Types don’t separate us, because Jesus is stronger than these differences. We should be able to say, “Wow, we are so different - but Christ is enough.”
  • There are good social issues that we think ought to be prioritized in a Christian’s life – abortion, immigrants and refugees, sex trafficking. There are good ‘in house’ issues that we think are important: singing vs. preaching on a Sunday, where and how and how often to do missions, prioritizing evangelism vs. discipleship. How we prioritize these issues ought not destroy our unity, because if we have the heart and mind of Christ, we are already united in the idea that these issues are important, even if the where we place them on a scale of importance differs.
  • Anger at those who let us down in some way or wound us should not separate us. Now, if it’s actual physical, emotional or spiritual abuse, safe boundaries are necessary, and that includes physical, emotional and spiritual space. But in relationships that have unavoidable and appropriate conflict, anger or frustration at someone else should unite us even more because we walk into it, which means we walk toward the people who are part of the problem and not away from them. (Ideally, there is reconciliation and healing in ALL the scenarios).

Have compassion -  This is being tender-hearted; the biblical language carries the idea of letting our bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.

I spent a while being really annoyed at people saying I had “white privilege.” I have never thought of myself as living with privilege. My parents lived below the poverty line from the time I was 10. But I must “let my bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.” So I spent time reading and listening to what people who are not white had to say.

It took a while, but eventually the frustration and pain that I had not previously understood began to make sense to me. As a result, a more tender heart formed. I might not have fully understood, but I was certainly better equipped to understand, to feel compassion, to want to draw close rather than distance myself and offer dismissal and judgment.

My calling, as a Christian, is to be tender-hearted in these moments. If people around me are distressed, if they are afflicted, if they are being harmed or dishonored or dismissed – my calling is to have the heart and mind of Christ for them. Purposeful investment (listening, reading) can builc compassion – a tenderness that helped me long for wrongs to be made right.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean I will agree with the validity of everything someone else says or feels. But even if I don’t, I have still taken the time to honor them by investing in their lives.

People in pain don’t have to be right or justified in order for me to care.

My calling is to know and seek to understand them, because they are people created in the image of God, and whatever I do to anyone, it’s as if I did it unto Jesus. So I genuinely enter into their world to honor them and bring the transformative truth and grace of Jesus.

Love -  this is philadelphos; brotherly love. Agape love has to do with purposeful sacrifice for the good of the other. It’s a term of commitment and priority. This word is more emotional. Be ‘affectionate friends’ of your brothers and sisters in Christ as if they were beloved family members. If you have been in a family where you have had a good relationship with at least one family member, you know it’s simultaneously beautiful and really difficult. Not every day (or week or month) is a good one, but they are family. You know at the end of the day you are not letting go of each other, and so you figure it out. And on the other side of ‘figuring it out’ you (ideally) know and understand each other better. There is unity.

Humble-minded -   acquire and cultivate a friendly disposition. It’s from a word that means God-reliant rather than self-reliant, and so it never self-exalts. I use to go to a gym with a guy who would say, “Did the room just get smaller?” every time he would walk in (he was joking, btw).

This is so important. If the room gets relationally smaller when we walk in, if we go into conversations or relationships thinking we are all that, it’s not going to go well. If we constantly think, “I’ve got this. I am the smartest person in the room right now,” odds are really good we don’t got this, and we are not.

And in situations like this, walls go up in the people around us. They know when we are so full of ourselves there is no room for anyone else. Even God resists the proud – but He gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

Not paying back evil for evil/insult for insult - Purposing, saying, doing nothing but good; and invariably returning good for evil. There’s a movie with a scene where a bouncer is training a group of other bouncers how to de-escalate and resolve tense situations. His advice: “Be nice.” If someone calls you an idiot? Be nice. If someone suggests your mom participates in the world’s oldest profession? Be nice. “When can we stop being nice?” I’ll tell you, he says.

Now, nice isn’t really a biblical word, but kindness - “actions which are eternally and ultimately beneficial for others - is. Here’s what the Bible tells us: be kind. Do not pay back evil and insults with evil and insults. Never stop doing that which is eternally and ultimately beneficial for others, and this can include a boldness and bluntness that we don't think of as ‘nice’.

But it will always be done out of and with love, humility and compassion, and never out of anger, frustration, pride or revenge. It will never overcome evil with evil, but with good.

It was this you were called to do

“This is your calling - your business in life, to do good, and to do good for evil, and to implore God's blessing even on your worst enemies. And this is not only your duty, but your interest; for in so doing you shall obtain God's blessing, even life for evermore.” Adam Clarke

Peter wraps up this section with the following conclusion:

13 Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? 14 Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing.[3] Don’t let them frighten you.[4] Don’t be intimidated, 15-16 but exalt Him as Lord in your heart.[5] Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed and say bad things about you will be put to shame.”

“When someone asks you why you live in hope.” In context, this question apparently comes from people who are astonished at our behavior.

  • Why don’t you take the bait?
  • They started it, why don’t you give them what they’ve got coming?
  • Why didn’t you move in for the sarcastic ‘kill’?
  • How do you absorb all those verbal and emotional punches without lashing out?
  • How is it that you stay so calm when people come at you?
  • How do you stay so gentle with such obnoxious people?
  • I’m pretty sure you love everyone. How is that possible?
  • How is it that you live with such honor for everyone? How is it possible that you do not repay evil for evil?

 

Be ready to talk about Jesus :)

_______________________________________________________________________

 

[1] As you read, note what Paul wrote in Romans 12:9-21:“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

[2] My definitions and explanations for these are heavily indebted to Adam Clarke’s commentary and the definitions at biblehub.com.

[3] “This seems to refer to  Matthew 5:10, etc. Blessed or happy, are ye when men persecute you, etc. It is a happiness to suffer for Christ; and it is a happiness, because if a man were not holy and righteous the world would not persecute him, so he is happy in the very cause of his sufferings.” - Adam Clarke

[4] “The exhortation may mean, ‘Fear not their gods, they can do you no hurt; and supposing that they curse you by them, yet be not troubled; "He who fears God need have no other fear.’" – Adam Clarke

[5] But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts -  “Entertain just notions of God; of his nature, power, will, justice, goodness, and truth… separate him in your hearts from every thing earthly, human, fickle, rigidly severe, or capriciously merciful… Do not confine him in your conceptions to place, space… heaven, or earth; endeavor to think worthily of the immensity and eternity of his nature, of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence… conceive of him as infinitely free to act or not act, as he pleases. Consider the goodness of his nature; for goodness, in every possible state of perfection and infinitude, belongs to him. Ascribe no malevolence to him; nor any work, purpose, or decree that implies it… Do not suppose that he can do evil, or that he can destroy when he might save; that he ever did… pass them by without affording them the means of salvation. Thus endeavor to conceive of him; and, by so doing, you separate him from all that is imperfect, human, evil, capricious, changeable, and unkind. Ever remember that he has wisdom without error, power without limits, truth without falsity, love without hatred, holiness without evil, and justice without severity on the one hand or capricious tenderness on the other. In a word, that he neither can be, say, purpose, or do, any thing that is not infinitely just, holy, wise, true, and gracious; that he… has so loved the world, the whole human race, as to give his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and you will ever be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in you to every serious and candid inquirer after truth.” – Adam Clarke’s Commentary

 

Love From A Pure Heart (1 Peter 1:22-25)

FAITH-HOPE-LOVE-FOREVER.jpg

YOU CAN LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE  

God declared Israel ‘holy’ to reveal Himself to the world through them.

  • Jeremiah 2:3 "Israel was holy to the LORD.…’
  • Exodus 22:31 "You shall be holy men to Me…”
  • Deuteronomy 7:6 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
  • Exodus 19:6 “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

To use last week’s language, He set them apart for His divine purpose so the nations would know what Yahweh was like. The prophet Isaiah said that the nations would flock to Israel if they lived in God’s design for their holiness:

  • "…I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth' Isaiah 49:6.
  • "I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations." Isaiah 42:6.
  • "And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising" Isaiah 60:3.

Paul, in Galatians 6:16, refers to followers of Jesus as the “Israel of God.” The idea is that you don’t have to be born Jewish to be one of God’s holy, chosen people. You can be “grafted in” through the acceptance of the divinity and lordship of Christ and your surrender to Him and His will.

Followers of Jesus are ‘peculiar people’ (1 Peter 2:9) who are set apart to be the way in which God reveals Himself to the world. We are called to live in God’s design for our holiness to reveal His holiness.

After last week’s message about being set apart, I was thinking there needed to be a follow-up sermon on what characterizes this holiness. It’s one thing to say, “As a child of God, you are holy and set apart; now live as those holy and set apart.” It’s another thing to put skin on those bones. What does that even mean?

  • Do I dress like the Amish?
  • Do I live in a monastery?
  • Does that mean if the culture does it, I can’t do it?
  • Does this mean we create a Christian sub-culture in everything?
  • Should there be a holy glow about me that convicts or shames everyone around me?

I started jotting down some notes, and I quickly realized it was all leading me back to one thing: love. And it turns out that’s the next thing Peter wrote, so that worked out pretty well.

 22 Now that you have taken care to purify your souls through your submission to the truth (“obedience to God, which the knowledge of the truth demands”), you can experience real love for each other. So love each other deeply[1] (earnestly – at full stretch)[2] from a pure heart. 23 You have been reborn—not from seed that eventually dies but from seed that is eternal—through the word of God that lives and endures forever. 24For as Isaiah said, ‘All life is like the grass, and its glory like a flower; The grass will wither and die and the flower falls, 25 But the word of the Lord will endure forever.’  This is the word that has been preached to you.[3] (1 Peter 1:22-25)

So if we are going to talk about living holy lives that fulfill God’s purpose of revealing himself to the world through us, we are going to need to talk about living loving lives. Specifically, how do we get this kind of holy love, and what does it look like when it is displayed in our lives?

* * * * *

The first one is easy. A holy love – a love set apart from any other kind of love – has to come from a holy God.

This love happens after God purifies our hearts, and He does it through our surrender, our obedience to His Word. Peter says that’s the process God uses, and on the other side of it we emerge as holy lovers of truth and of others.[4]

We often talk about how the world needs more love. I agree. But in order for that to happen, we must first surrender ourselves so that our hearts are pure. If our hearts were pure through our surrender to the truth of God’s Word and resulting work God does in our life, we could love each other deeply from a pure heart.

This is a daunting conclusion for me, but I can’t get away from it. I want it to be the other person’s fault that I can’t love them well. That lets me off the hook. But it’s when we surrender to God - we repent, we pray for his mercy and forgiveness and heart transformation – then we love like more and more like God loves. And God’s love does not waver based on the likableness or the worthiness of the person He loves. Think of how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love:

“Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong. It does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always, trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Can you image what it would look like if we did this from hearts that were pure? There is nothing that would stop us from loving.

Later Peter writes that we are to love each other fervently, because “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). All but one commentary I read noted that the primary message is about the ability of the fervent lover to let love cover or forgive the sinfulness in others.

  • This is not the same as ‘like.’
  • It’s doesn’t mean we have to ignore the ripple effect of consequences that sin has on us.
  • It doesn’t mean we must pretend like nothing happened.
  • It doesn’t mean we ignore safe boundaries and ongoing care as God turns our wounds to scars. I don’t mean to ignore the fact that other people can do things that make them really hard to love. I think we all know the reality of that.

But today’s passage isn’t about them. It’s about us. Our heart is the heart of the issue. If we enter into the purification process by surrendering ourselves to God and the truth of His word, God works in that process to change our hearts so that we can love with His love and display the glory of his love to the world.

Parents, do you know why it’s hard to love our kids well? Yes, they are hard to love at times, but our hearts are not pure, not surrendered in obedience to the Word of God. Better love starts with our personal surrender to Christ.

Do you know why it’s hard to love our spouses? Our parents? Some of our Extra Grace Required friends? That obnoxious person online who always says stupid stuff? That Buckeye fan? That politial enemy you have? Your neighbor or co-worker whose lifestyle choices make you cringe?

They may be dauntingly hard to love – and they may have earned that feeling honestly - but the solution to our mutual spiritual and relational health is Christ in both of us, purifying us, and the solution to my problem of loving them in spite of them is Christ in me purifying my heart.

It would be nice if others people were easier to love, but I can’t make them that way. I can pray for God to do work in them because that’s never a bad thing for them, but my primary prayer is for God to do work in me.

God works in our surrendered lives to purify our hearts so that we can love even the most unlovable around us, because now it is God’s love pouring from us. And God is really, really good at loving the unlovable. We should know.

So how does this make us light in the midst of a dark world?

I’m going to take us back to the first followers of Christ. One thing that stands out in the historical record is their reputation for love. Some people hated them, but even they noted how the love of those following Jesus was unparalleled – and costly. [5]

Clement, Bishop of Rome from 88 to 99:

“He [the Christian] impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”

http://earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php

The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130

“They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all... They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

From the Apology of Tertullian, AD 197

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope….We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of [Christ’s return]. We assemble to read our sacred writings . . . and with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast... On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their [faithfulness] to the cause of God's Church… But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill."

A General Historical Observation

In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for 1,500 poor on a daily basis. In Antioch in Syria, the number… reached 3,000. Church funds were used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.

During the Plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. It failed, however, because for the Christians it was love, not duty, that motivated them.

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/discipleship/pandemic-love

* * *

This is what I’ve pondering this week: In the early church, the surrounding pagan culture, no matter how hostile, could not help but note, “See how they love one another.” Christians were radically different because Christ’s love in them was of a radically different nature.

When is the last time we have heard anyone from our culture say this about the American church? What are we known for? One thing that is supposed to set apart a holy people is the ability to love as Jesus loves, because the love of Jesus transforms us and flows out of us. Our love bears witness to our Savior. Do we love well?

  • Do we embrace ‘the other’? Put Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans together with rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, educated and uneducated, soldiers and civilians, in the same church and there is going to be issues. Race, class, politics, religious background: it was a perfect storm. How committed are we to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our emotional or personal comfort?
  • Do we sacrifice for the needs of the church? You didn’t go to the early church to look good. You got broken and poured out for the church and the city. There was no room for pride, greed, or jealousy. Literally, you put your life on the line because that’s what Jesus did for you. How deep and radical is out commitment to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our financial or physical comfort?
  • Do we live in Traverse City like a people set apart: caring, sacrificing, building up, nurturing, loving in ways that can only come from a purified heart surrendered to Jesus? If a local were asked what group of people do they think of as loving everyone even at great cost, would they say, “Oh, the church!” Would it even come to mind?
  • Even closer to home: What am I known for? If someone asks anyone who knows me, “Who do you think of when you hear the phrase, ‘See how they love one another?” would I make that list? Would my kids name me? My wife? My friends? You?

This has been unsettling me all week, and it’s bringing me to my knees. I know myself; I know I don’t have it in me to love like this. No matter how hard I try, no matter what list I make of things to do. I’m just not good at that kind of love.

But God is. He will equip us for the things to which He calls us. May this call to love as a witness draw us in prayer to the foot of the cross where we kneel with others, surrender our hearts and lives in repentance for his purification, and pray for a loving, merciful, powerful God to help us love well for our good and His glory.

______________________________________________________________________________________

[1] The comparative form of the closely related adjective  ektenes (ektenesteron) is used to describe the intensity of our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane. And being in agony He was praying very fervently (ektenesteron); and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Eerdmans)

[2] Fervently (1619) (ektenos [word study] from ek = out + teíno = to stretch; English = tension, etc) literally pictures one "stretching out" to love others! It pictures "an intense strain" and unceasing activity which normally involving a degree of intensity and/or perseverance. Stretched out and extended to the limit is the idea. Jowett suggests the picture of the tension and energy of a stringed instrument, "as when the string of a violin has been stretched to a tighter pitch that it might yield a little higher note." Cranfield suggests the figure of "the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort, as of an athlete." (Lange’s Commentary)

[3] “God does not tell us anything that we may [simply] know. He tells us in order that, knowing, we may be and do. And right actions, or rather a character which produces such, is the aim of all… moral and religious truth… And if[people] think that they have done enough when… they can say, ‘All this I steadfastly believe,’ they need to remember that religious truth which does not mould and transform character and conduct is a king dethroned; and for dethroned kings there is a short step between the throne from which they have descended and the scaffold on which they die.” (MacLaren’s Expositions

[4] “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

"The whole law comes down to this one instruction: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14)

[5] Sociologist Rodney Stark: ". . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/what-were-early-christians-like-11629560.html

 

Love (Freedom Series)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5: 1-6)

We live in a consumer culture. We basically say, “If you please me, I will reward you.” If my garbage doesn’t get picked up, I’m getting a new collector. If another phone company is cheaper and better, I’m switching. It's just business. It’s entirely conditional. If I don't like the product, I move on. This is what we know – and in America we are very good at it.

This is not necessarily bad, but it becomes bad when we begin to treat people from a consumer perspective. We say to our friends, family or spouses: “If you please me, I will reward you. I’ll be good only if you provide something good. I will stick around only if you make it worth my time.” It’s a CONSUMER approach to relationships. It’s entirely conditional. If people don’t give us what we want, we dump them and move on. This leads to disaster.

• If you think you are being consumed you will never be free to openly admit failures and flaws. • If you think you are being consumed, you will feel a desperate need to impress. • If you are being consumed, you will never be sufficient. • If you are a consumer, you will never be satisfied. You will always demand more than others can give. • If you are a consumer, you will always want to be the one who has less invested in the other person. You were never here for them anyway; they were always here for you.

Part of the good news of the gospel is that we are being transformed into the image of a COVENANT GOD. Covenant brings the stabilization of commitment. Someone in covenant love does not say, “If you please me, I will stay with you.” Someone in COVENANT love says: “No matter what, I will be faithful.”

Because of this kind of love from Jesus – seen primarily in the Cross and in the Bible’s ongoing assurance that He will be faithful to us - we become a new kind of people when it comes to our ability to love. I want to talk today about how there is freedom in this kind of covenant love. Here’s the morning’s premise:

When we live in and for Christ, He frees us to live in covenantal love with others.

As we become more like Christ – as we are being transformed into the image of Jesus - we will increasingly love like He loves. In the New Testament, agape, a word which describes how Jesus loves us , is used 320 times.

Agápē is "unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take or be a taker. It devotes total commitment… no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not."

This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5; cf. Galatians 5:22). Once we experience this, we pass it on.

We will grow in our ability to become a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of person: patient, kind, not self-seeking, keeping no record of wrong, protecting, trusting. I like this quote (I don't know who said it):

“The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you will see their flaws. That’s just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don’t last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they are out of money or under pressure of hungry, for goodness’ sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and denying the impulse to jump ship.”

This kind of love is not an option for Christians.

- “This is my command: love (agape) each other.” (John 15:17) - I am to love (agape) my wife like Christ loved (agape) the church (Ephesians 5:25) - “Anyone who does not love (agape) does not know God, because God is love (agape).” (1 John 4:8)

So what does this look like?

We are free to love unconditionally. When the love of Christ flows into me and through me, I’m not waiting expectantly for my wife to reciprocate when I do something really loving. She can totally overlook it and that’s fine, because I didn’t do it to be noticed. She can see it and just not think about responding, and that’s okay because I didn’t do it to get a reward. I am free from getting angry or depressed when my offering of love is misunderstood or rejected.

Living this way frees me from keeping score. There’s no more charts of how much I invested in a friend’s life. “I ask them all the time about how they are doing, and they never ask me. I always instigate getting together and they never call me first.”

Don't get me wrong: you need some people in your life who give to you, because we all need to be filled up at times or we will run out of relational fuel. But I Corinthians is clear that ‘love keeps no record of wrongs.” We are free, when we truly love with the love of Christ, to stop keeping track of the balance we have with others. Thank God that Jesus does not do that for us. We just love.

We are free from the haunting emptiness of being a consumer lover. A consumer never has enough. Nothing is good enough. There is always something better somewhere that will fill me better. It takes me forever to choose a movie to watch on Netflix. What if there is a better one? I find myself impatient for a movie to end so I can get on to something that is surely better that I have not yet found. We can do this with people if we are consumers. We are haunted by the idea that there is always better conversation, better sex, better personalities, better vacations, better humor, better listeners… There is always someone better somewhere who will complete me!!!

Covenant, agape love frees us from this restlessness. It says, “I am committed to you. You don't need to complete me because this is not based on what you can do for me. This is based on how I want to serve and love you.” An obvious example is marriage, but I think this applies in other relationships as well.

Now, the book of Proverbs is clear that we must choose our close friends wisely lest they draw us into sin. But barring the toxic people (what Proverbs might call ’perverse people” or ‘fools’) we are called to stay close:

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:7)

Speaking of adversity, here is an inescapable reality of covenantal, agape love: If you are going to serve in love, it will be demanding and intrusive and inconvenient at times. It will cost you something.

Love will be costly because it will break our hearts. It will force us to walk into the hard work of life when all we want to do is wrap ourselves carefully with hobbies and luxuries and silence and entertainment and selfishness. We are willing to be the more invested in a relationship, to offer love even when those receiving it don’t understand or appreciate it like they should. Did Jesus not model this as the ultimate example?

When we set out to love people with the love Christ showed to us, it will cost us something. Like Paul said, there will be times we are poured out like an offering (Philippians 2:17).

- I cannot love my wife without a cost to myself: conversations about hard things; household chores I don’t want to do; juggling responsibilities; talking about budgets and schedules without getting really irritable; learning how my words and my attitudes can build her up or tear her down.

- We cannot love our friends without a cost to ourselves. Sometimes it’s messy when hurtful things are said or done.

- We cannot love our neighbors without a cost to ourselves. Love – real love – will be costly as we get to know and understand, as we listen and love, as we seek to speak truth with love and grace, and we seek to represent Christ and speak the gospel with humility and boldness. Do you know how hard it is to do this with our online neighbors? The one who posts something mean or cutting about us? The one we just want to posterize for all of facebook world to see? If you want to love them with the love of Jesus, it will cost you. You will have to pray…think…retype…maybe submit your response to others to proof…search your heart to surrender your pride and anger to Christ…

- We cannot love the church, the body of Christ, without a cost. We are not perfect people. We will have to “bear each other’s burdens,” because we all bring burdens that other people will have to bear. It is not a question of if. It is a question of when. Showing the kind of love to others that God showed to me demands something of my life. Love is costly.

As our understanding of love changes - as our worldview changes - we freely become broken and spilled out for others in the same way Jesus was broken and spilled out for us.

But the cost is only part of the story. What Christ offers in exchange for that cost is transformation.

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24) When Jesus came, he offered LOVE, and in this love was the hope of transformation of the world that is also played out in individual lives all the time. It wasn’t some generic “Heal the World” campaign; it was a deeply personal offer to transform you into something new, and keep transforming you until, in eternity, all that is bad in you will be undone.

I would argue that just as we are transformed when we receive Christ’s love, we are transformed when we give Christ’s love.

• I can’t remain as proud as I once was and give agape, covenantal love, because that kind of love is not about me. • I can’t remain as self-centered as I once was and give agape, covenantal love, because that kind of love is not about me. • I can’t settle for being resentful, as short-tempered, as mean, as lustful, as calloused as I once was and give agape, covenantal love, because none of those things are about the well-being of others.

I am convinced – and I couldn’t find a specific verse for this, so you can challenge me if you think I’m off base here – that it’s in the process of showing Christ’s love that some of our greatest transformation takes place.

We weren’t meant to sit back while God waves a magic wand over our character and personality. If you ask God to make you more loving, He’s probably going to put people around you who are hard to love – just like he answered the prayer of others by sending them you.

Once again, we find freedom.

• Freedom from being trapped in the bondage of our selfishness. • Freedom from pride as we realize we are the hard-to-love person in somebody’s life. • Freedom from shame as it sinks in that letting others know we are imperfect is okay. We are all in this together, with Christ at the center, faithfully completing the good work He has already started. • Freedom from loving others on our own power. God is working in us, pouring His Holy Spirit into us, building us up with His word and His people. We are not alone.

“This is my command: love (agape) each other.” (John 15:17)

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 3)

Here is today’s leading question: how do we reorder our loves and experience what David called ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ (Psalm 27:13)? I would like to offer general principles about what I think is the God-ordained path by which our hearts flourish in their new life – and by flourish I mean our hearts increasingly begin to resemble that heart of Jesus.

First, pray for God to do the work only God can do.

He must create a new heart in you (salvation and regeneration), and he must be the foundation of our ongoing heart health (sanctification). I hope my list last week didn’t drive you to despair. It was meant to drive you toward Jesus. Even if we have a sliding scale that showed us how close we were to the right side, it would always remind us of the need for Jesus. No matter how close we get, we will fail. This reality is not meant discourage us. Godly sorrow is intended to bring repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).

I am reminded of the times when it is clear to me that I fail my wife or friends. I have two choices: I can retreat in frustration and depression (maybe even anger), or I can appreciate how much they must love me to continue to do life with me. So my failure, properly processed, increases my awe at their faithful love. It is often when I am most aware of my sin that I am in awe of God’s love. When I am most aware of my weakness, I marvel at His power. When I am asking others and God to forgive me, I see the cost and beauty of their love as they forgive and remain faithful.

Let your failures increase your awe of God’s love and inspire you even more to press toward the kind of heart that loves like that.

Second, repent of your disordered loves and commit your ways to Jesus.  

To understand this, we need to talk about the biblical definitions of “love” and “repent”.

LOVE

I talked last week about loving the world or loving God. Love, in the Bible, is not usually used in the sense that we use it in 21st century America.[i] We think of falling in and out of love, of passionate feelings, of overwhelming emotions. We use love to mean like, lust, enjoy, approve…we use it far more widely than the Bible does. The Bible is far more pointed.

We often talk about agape, phileo and eros, three Greek words that show up a lot to define different kinds of loves.[1] Agape is the word most often used for how God loves us; it’s also used a LOT to tell us how to love God and others. It has to do with a commitment to self-sacrifice for the sake of the other. We almost always use it to talk about our relationship to God or other people, but it is used in other ways in the Bible as well.

  • I John 2:15 “Do not love (agapao) the world.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:10 “Demas has deserted me, because he loved (agapao) this present world…”
  • Matthew 6:24 “No man can serve two masters…he will love (agapao) the one…”
  • "…men loved (agapao) darkness rather than light." — John 3:19 
  • "For they loved (agapao) the praise of men more than the praise of God." — John 12:43

This is a usage of agape (the verb form is agapao) that is often overlooked. In this kind of context, there is a different emphasis that emerges (which is true of many Greek words).

  • “Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.” – William Barclay
  • “Agape is called out of one’s heart by the preciousness of the object loved. It is a love of esteem, of evaluation. It has the idea of prizing.” https://www.mcleanbible.org/sites/default/files/Multiply-Resources/Chap3/GreekWordsforLoveWS_Chapter3.pdf]
  •  Agapao is a "discriminating affection which involves choice and selection." (biblehub.com)

So when I talk about love in this context, I’m talking about deliberately living in a way that shows esteem or value of something or someone as a precious, beloved prize. Here are some (admittedly weak) analogies:

  • I have some Michael Jordan cards that I value. I take good care of them; I protect them. I also have cards of no name journeyman and I don’t care a bit about them.
  • I have a puzzle in my office – a picture of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling - that I shellacked and framed and have it sitting where I can see it every time I walk in to the office.
  • I have family photo albums at home. If there is a fire, I want those first.

I deliberately live in a way that shows esteem or value of a precious, beloved prize. In terms of my lifestyle, there are things I love in this sense as well.

  • I value my health, so I go to the gym regularly. I spend money for a membership. I buy clothes and accessories that help me. I study. I get advice from other lifters (#AJ).
  • I value this job, so I study the Bible, I prepare, I pray, I live submitted to others for accountability, I rest, I listen to podcasts, I buy books, I ask for wisdom from others when I’m in over my head.
  • I value my marriage, so I invest time, energy, and money in my marriage constantly. We spend money on dates nights, on counseling, on vacation together. We listen to sermons and podcasts. We've been to conferences. We seek counsel from others.

In all these things, I am deliberately living in a way that shows esteem or value for something I prize. And the Bible is clear: We can do this for the things of God or the world. We can deliberately make choices to value pornography over purity; wrath over gentleness; gossip over self-control; greed over generosity; hatred over love; resentment over forgiveness.

I’m sure we don’t think of these things as a something we prize, but when we choose them - or when we choose to stay in them - we deliberately live in a way that shows that we esteem or values that over something else.

You might say, “But I don’t like that I use pornography; I don’t like that I keep giving in to gossip; I don’t like that I nourish resentment.” I hear you. We do things we don’t like or that makes us dislike ourselves all the time. That’s because this isn’t about what we like (an emotional response). It’s about what we love (a purposeful choice to value one thing over another).

What we habitually do reveals who or what we consistently love. Our habits reveal our hearts.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not a slave to sin (Galatians 4:7; Romans 6:18). In other words, God is stronger than habitual, ongoing sins. The process of living in God-given freedom may be a long and arduous journey as you deal with influences that have formed you (and sometimes formed you deeply), but you don’t have to be stuck in repeated, habitual patterns of sin.

God did not make you a puppet; He has given you the agency to decide what you value more: the freedom that comes from serving Christ, or the continued bondage to habitual patterns of sin. And you will choose a path, and that path will show what you value. It will show what you love. Joshua told the children of Israel:

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”(Joshua 24:14-15)

You will choose a path for your life, and that path will show what you value. Elisabeth Elliot, whose husband was killed while on mission work (read Through Gates Of Splendor) once wrote:“When obedience to God contradicts what I think will bring me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love him.”

This isn’t a word about perfection. It can’t be. Look in the Bible: David was “after God’s heart” and he was at times a hot mess. Peter denied his faith at one point. Abraham was willing to let Abimelech add Sarah to his harem to save his skin. But they repented, and re-committed themselves to esteeming and valuing God as their precious, beloved prize. So this is not about the perfection of every moment. It’s about a direction, a trajectory, a commitment of your life in spite of times of failure. 

Agape love describes a chosen commitment and focus. It’s about habits and patterns. It’s about taking up our cross, dying daily, and presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice because we believe in Jesus and we want to give our life to him as an act of honor in worship.[ii] And if we are who we love (or we become like that which we love), we are in the midst of the life-long process of being transformed into the image of Jesus.

REPENTANCE

Loving God is deliberately living in a way that shows that we esteem or value Jesus and righteousness as a precious, beloved prize. It means we orient our life around Jesus (“What did Jesus do? What would he have me do?”)

Repentance is a call to transfer our agape love to God from anything else and keep it there. It’s turning from sin, shifting our gaze, focusing on Jesus. It means we value and prize not just the person of Jesus but also the path of Jesus. In the Bible, obedience to God and love of God are very tightly connected.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you…

He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me does not keep my words…” (John 14:15-24, excerpted)

I don’t know how many times I went up to the altar to rededicate my life to Jesus when I was in my teens and 20’s. I think the reason I kept going back was that I never really repented. I felt sorry in an emotional moment, which is a different thing. I never turned around from following my own law and kept God’s commandments – or I did for a couple weeks, and then slipped right back into those old habits. My life was changed when I realized how closely intertwined repentance was with obedience, that love could not be separated from the orientation of the habits of my life. 

We say “I’m sorry” pretty casually at times. If we really mean it, we stop doing the thing that we said we were sorry for. Or at least – imperfect people that we are – we commit our lives to turning the ship. We pray, we get counseling, we put ourselves in accountability, we study, we do the hard work of repentance. It doesn’t mean we will be perfect, but we demonstrate the reality of our repentance by our re-commitment to obedience to God. We can’t do it alone; we will stumble along the way. Be at peace. God, who is rich in mercy and full of grace, will be faithful to keep doing the things only God can do in our hearts and minds.

Third, focus on Jesus. Read the gospels. Study the person and work of Jesus. Sing about Jesus. Pray in worship of Jesus. Commit yourself to living in the path of life that Jesus has laid out for us. That must include filling yourself with truth, which is can be found not just in Scripture but in teachings, books, podcasts, counseling, and mentoring. [iii] I hope this is something you see happening at CLG consistently, but we can’t do it enough. You are going to need to “feed yourselves” too.

One thing that stands out to me: a life characterized by love of God looks very, very compelling: responsible, open, forgiving, humble, self-controlled, loving, generous, content. That’s why Jesus said his yoke of obedience is easy, and his burden of sacrifice is light (Matthew 11:30). It brings abundant goodness and life (John 10:10).

God’s desire is that we flourish as His children in His Kingdom for His glory. His path is for us; it is the ‘after care’ plan that leads us ever more deeply into the spiritual healing and transformed life that only Jesus can bring. I will close with David’s encouragement: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good (really dive in and experience it!); blessed are those who trust in him.” (Psalm 34:8)

________________________________________________________________

[1] There’s more but these are the big three!

[i] Read a book called Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes for more examples.

[ii] Obedience is ideally meant to point us toward the goodness of the one to whom we are obedient.

  • My Crossfit training pointed me toward my instructor’s wisdom.
  • Following a coach’s instruction reveals a coach’s good plan. ‘Buying in’ to the coach’s system is the same as ‘buying in’ to the coach.
  • Following the directions and creating a tasty dish – especially when I am skeptical about the combination of ingredients - points me toward the creative wonder of a good chef.

There is something about the process of obedience that points us to the one who gave the commands. Walking in the path of Jesus helps us to appreciate the person of Jesus. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) carries with it the idea of experiencing God, and in the context of the Psalms it so often has to do with obedience.

[iii] I really recommend starting with Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew.

Love (Advent)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vwu-t7QRaE[/embed]

During Advent, we talk this ‘story of amazing love’: a God who so loved the world that he ‘put on flesh’ (incarnated), became human, and took our death penalty upon himself (John 3:16-17). In many different places, the Bible is clear about why that happened: Jesus loves us (1 John 4:19; Romans 8:35-39). This past year we talked for a couple weeks about how Jesus’ love empowers and changes how we love others: “Love others as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

As plain as that command is, it goes through a filter.  Many of us think we know what it means that God loves; we think that the love we pass on to others is reflective of that, yet at times we recognize that we don’t understand what it means that God loves us, and we see that we have a terrible time loving God and others well.

So let’s talk this morning about how we get past our filters and misunderstandings and learning to understand the love of God.

First, God’s love will never be seen perfectly in people. None of us are Jesus. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in surrendered lives, we are being transformed into his image, and we are becoming more and more like Christ. But we won’t nail it until we are in Heaven, so on this side of eternity we will fail to adequately represent what the love of Jesus looks like.

We have to be ready for this. We will inevitably distort the genuine nature of godly love and so will others. I don’t mean to be depressing; I’m just trying to be honest. With God’s help, we will often represent God’s love well, but we will never be perfect.

One thing I’ve been learning is that, as meaningful as it when I see God’s people loving well, they can never fully represent to me what God’s love looks like. I have to take people off a love pedestal.

That doesn’t bring me despair; that actually brings me hope. God’s love is better than even the best love that I have experienced when it comes to human love. God’s love is deeper, more faithful, more present, more life-changing, more holy and pure. Awesome. I love the glimpses I get from others, but I’m never going to mistake them for the fullness of the kind of love God has for me.

That gives me the freedom to see failure in others and not be disillusioned. It gives me the freedom to take people off a pedestal and let them be people instead of wishing they were perfect like God. And it gives me hope that people who do it so badly still bring such tremendous love into the world.  If there is this much good in a fallen Earth, I can’t imagine the goodness in the New Heaven and Earth.

Second, God’s love is supernatural.

In the Bible, the word for the love God has for us – the word for the highest love – is agape.[1] The Greeks used a number a words for love:[i] there is one for erotic love (eros), one for friendship love (philia), one for family affection (storge) and one for self-sacrificial love (agape). In the Greek literature we have recovered, there is very little use of agape. In the New Testament, it is used 320 times.[2]  The church took a seldom used Greed word, redefined it, and introduced a radical new way of understanding love.

Agape love is not like a brotherly love or a love between a husband and a wife. It is the most self-sacrificing love that there is.  This type of love is the love that God has for His own children. This type of love is what was displayed on the cross by Jesus Christ.  In John 3:16 it is written that “God so loved (agapao) the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”[3]

Through common grace, all other forms of love are accessible to everyone. Not this one. If I am reading Scripture correctly, no one can experience or give agape love apart from the supernatural work of God. Agape love is God love. “Anyone who does not love (agape) does not know God, because God is love (agape).” (1 John 4:8).[4] So what does this look like?

“Jesus gave himself up for us. Jesus the Son, though equal with the Father, gave up his glory and took on our human nature (Phil 2:5ff). But further, he willingly went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, removing our guilt and condemnation, so that we could be united with him (Rom 6:5) and take on his nature (2 Pt 1:4). He gave up his glory and power and became a servant. He died to his own interests and looked to our needs and interests instead (Rom 15:1-3). Jesus’ sacrificial service to us has brought us into a deep union with him and he with us.“ (Timothy Keller)

John Piper has noted that there are several ways we can see the depth of love. [5] Three stood out to me: the costliness of the deed, the undeservedness of the recipient, and the greatness of the benefit.

If I get my wife a sucker after a day when she has catered to my every whim and say “I love you,” that’s easy to say and easy to show to someone to whom I kind of owe a loving response. But if I plan an elaborate date night at Stellas after a week full of tension and anger that was all Sheila’s fault and I say “I love you,” that’s hard to say and costly to show to someone to whom I had every reasons not to give a loving response.

Jesus gave his life for people still at war with God, and in so doing he ensured forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. It is the greatest love story of all time, and it’s the only one of its kind. The cost was a crucifixion for people who deserved death, and the benefit was fullness of life now and eternal life to come. There is no other name under heaven that offers that kind of love (Acts 4:12).

Third, having and showing God’s love is not something we do on our own.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (I John 4:16)

“We love him because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)[6]

We don’t love him because we study the Bible. We don’t love him because we pray, or sing.  We don’t love him because of we are in awe of his character, or because we study his world and admire his handiwork. Those can all build our faith and love as we learn about God, experience God’s presence, and surrender ourselves, but that’s not why we love Him. We love Him because He first loved us.[7]

God loves people. Not because he needs us. Not because we complete him. Not because we are worthy, or lovable, or pure, or spiritually impressive. Not because we please God or represent Him well. Not even because we are His children. He offers to make us His children because He loves us, but He doesn’t love us for that reason. “While we were yet sinners” – that is, before we were His children – “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As one pastor noted,

While eros and philia thirst, agape simply overflows. This means – please stay with me here – that God’s love for us, in the end, has absolutely nothing to do with us. In other words, God does not love us because of who we are. Or because of what we do, or can do for God. Or because of what we say, or build, or accomplish, or change, or pray, or give, or profess, or believe… God simply loves us...[8]

God loves because God is God. If He is love, He must love in same way that if God is truth, God must be truthful. We earned nothing. We deserved nothing. We were spiritually dead; our rebellion against God was killing us and ruining the world. And God loved us, because God is love.

  • When I pray regularly and passionately, God’s love does not fail. When I don’t, God’s love does not fail.
  • When I was chained in sin and when I was freed…
  • When I ignore Him and when I am enamored with Him…
  • When I am depressed or happy, anxious or at peace, self-loathing of self-loving…
  • When I pastor well and when I do it terribly...
  • When I am loved by others and despised by others…

God’s love does not fail, because God’s love has nothing to do with how good or deserving I am, and it has everything to do with God.  If you ever think, “How can God possibly love me? I’m a disaster,” take heart: God has never waited to love people until they were good enough to be loved. He loves people because He is God. And that gives me great hope indeed.

Fourth, God’s love helps us love others well.

When we have trouble loving God or others well, we often focus on how to love better. That’s a good and necessary focus, but it’s the wrong starting point. We need to first refocus on the one who loves us. We need to experience and understand God’s love.

If a person is not loving, John says, he or she does not know God (1 John 4:8). How will that individual become more loving, then? Can we grow in love by trying to love more? No, our attempts to love will only end in more frustration and less love. The solution, John implies, is to know God better. This is so simple that we miss it all the time: our means for becoming more loving is to know God better. (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community: Romans 12)

The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans. Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. (Francis Chan, Crazy Love)

Other theologians such as C.S. Lewis talk about the importance of acting loving even if we don’t feel it.[9] I agree with them in the sense that we ought to be committed to doing the right thing even if we don’t feel like it, and in so doing we often find that the proper emotions follow. But that’s not the ultimate solution.

We are thirsty, thirsty people. We long to know that we have worth, and value, and beauty. We ache to belong, to be included. But we run around our whole lives going after the sorts of love which will never completely satisfy this thirst. But in Christ, in the agape love of God, we find a love, the only love, which can fill us, and satisfy us so that we find ourselves, now overflowing, finally able to also love in a way that no longer seeks to take, but only to give.

Yes, Jesus wants you to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. Jesus wants you to love your neighbors as you love yourself. He wants us to love with agape love. But if we try to love others, even God, like this without first realizing that we are already loved like this, all our efforts will only lead to despair. You see, agape love never flows from us. It only flows through us from the one who loves like we, on our own, never could.[10]

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWnvmKoLWUU[/embed]

[1] http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/is%20hesed%20the%20same%20as%20agape.htm

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/05/02/what-is-agape-love-a-bible-study/

[3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/05/02/what-is-agape-love-a-bible-study/

[4] See also Romans 5:5; 8:35-39; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Gal 5:22-23; Ephesians 3:17-19; Philippians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 3:5; 1 John 4:7-21)

[5] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-depth-of-christs-love-its-undeserving-objects

[6] I John 4 and 5 are also excellent chapters to read concerning how God’s love changes us into the image of Christ.

[7] There is discussion in Christian circles about whether or not God loves every individual the same. What you conclude is probably connected with your view on election (some Calvinists argue that God only loves the elect; Arminians argue God loves everyone). This article offers a helpful discussion on this issue. http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA193/does-god-love-whom-he-does-not-save

[8] http://faithpresby.org/archives/sermons/written/files_4d2a59265361b.pdf

[9] This is a good article talking about this famous quote. http://www.bradhambrick.com/lewisonfakeit/

[10] http://faithpresby.org/archives/sermons/written/files_4d2a59265361b.pdf

[i] https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-greek-language-for-love/

Jesus' New Command (John 13,15)

After the Lord’s Supper in John 13, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples that goes on for several chapters (13-17). He revisits multiple themes which will build on life in the Kingdom of God. This is John's last lengthy recorded conversation of Jesus talkining to his disciples. Judas has left to betray him; time is short. These chapters give us a condensed focus: “Remember this.” Jesus highlight a number of different themes from these chapters; my focus here is on what he had to say about loving other people in a way that does justice to the Kingdom of God and brings honor and glory to Jesus.

One of Jesus’ most famous teachings is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This was a brilliant distillation of all 600+ Old Testament laws. If you do the first properly, the second should follow naturally. If you don’t do the second, it’s a pretty good indication that you aren’t doing the first well either.[1] This summary of the law raises two immediate questions.

  • “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everybody is your neighbor, even those you most dislike for religious and cultural reasons.[2]
  • What does it mean to love your neighbor “as yourself”?  Didn’t Jesus just say we have to die to ourselves? How does this work? And there may be an even more haunting question that comes with this: “What if I don’t love myself? Does this mean I can’t love other people?”

So let’s talk about what it means to love ourselves. We all love ourselves in the sense that we consistently desire and strive for our own self-interested fulfillment or goals. It is the conscious or unconscious motive of all of us. We are the primary focus in our lives. We are the one to whom we are most committed. In people with an inordinate amount of pride, this is obvious. In people who lack a sense of self-esteem or self-worth, this is not so obvious even though it is still present. The one wallowing in self-debasement and self-rejection still has the self as the focus of their attention, time and emotion as much as those who glories in themself. For both the self-satisfied and the self-loathing, their focus on themselves betrays their deepest level of commitment. In this sense all people love themselves.

With that very brief introduction the love of self in mind (and I know it's a complex topic), it's worth noting that the ‘love of self’ is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • God created us in Him image, and there is a value, worth and dignity to all of us. If we don't have some measure of appreciation or recognition of this, and we don't think and act in ways that promote our flourisning and that honor this reality, then we are not seeing ourselves biblically.
  • We see the love of self assumed and accepted in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19, God gives a list of actions that his people should and should not do: don’t lie, steal or cheat; take care of the poor; don’t show favoritism; pay good wages; don’t mock the deaf and blind; take care of immigrants, etc). Twice God summarizes: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (verses 18 and 34). In other words, you would want others to do this for you. Why? You think you are important, and that you matter, and that you deserve justice and mercy.You love yourself. As you would have done to you (because you think you matter), do to others - they matter too.
  • We see this in the New Testament as well. Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself" assumes that we clearly already love ourselves, and he doesn't say to stop. Paul argued in Ephesians 5 that each husband should love his wife as himself (5:33), "for no man ever hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it" (5:29).

So, biblically speaking, a love of self is assumed and not condemned. Emotional and spiritual health will include a proper understanding of our value, worth and dignity as image bearers of God; how we view ourselves is important, because how we love others is intertwined with how we love ourselves.

The problem is the degree and the manner in which we love ourselves. Paul warned in 2 Timothy 3:1-2 that "...in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves" (“someone preoccupied with their own selfish desires”[3]).  He was not giving new biblical insight into human psyche. He was warning about an inordinate love of self that sacrifices everyone else. [4]

In his condensed version of the Law, Jesus was not commanding us to learn how to love ourselves so we could better love others. Achieving self-love was not the point in God’s Law or in Jesus’ command: it was the assumed default. He was commanding that people who obviously are self-centered and self-interested act in a way that promotes and supports the interests and good of those around them. Greg Laurie provides a great summary:

“When Scripture says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ it is not saying, ‘First learn to love yourself, and then love your neighbor.’ Rather, it is saying, ‘It is obvious you already love yourself. Love your neighbor in the same way.’”[5]

This raises a new dilemma. Perhaps our idea of what it means to love ourselves is terribly flawed. Matt Chandler likes to say that we don’t lie to anyone more than we lie to ourselves. Similarly, it may well be true that of all the people who love us, we are the worst - not because we hate ourselves but because we don’t actually know how to love ourselves well.

  • Have you ever pampered yourself when you should have been more disciplined, and as a result what felt good and rewarding in the moment bogged you down in the long run?
  • Have you ever followed your heart when you should have followed your head, and what you thought would make you happy blew up and hurt you?
  • Have you ever ignored good advice because it was hard and the boundaries would rob you of freedom – only to find out later that those boundaries were exactly what you needed to keep you from becoming enslaved to sinful habits?
  • Have you ever surround yourself with friends who only told you what you wanted to hear about how to live your life, and that echo chamber was so nice - until the shame and guilt of what they encouraged caught up with you?

In all these cases, we were convinced that we knew the best way to love ourselves and our lives, but our understanding of what it meant to love was terribly flawed. Is it any wonder we have a hard time loving others well if the standard is “as you love yourself”?    

Lest you think Jesus messed something up here by giving a bad teaching, see the context. When Jesus condensed the Law into “Love God and love others as you love yourself,” he was honoring the Law as the Law : “This is how you can understand what God has revealed to you so far”.  And as I pointed out, Jesus is calling them out of self-centeredness.

But Jesus was constantly making statements of contrast: “You have heard the Law say this…but I say.”  The Law was good but incomplete; Jesus showed the fulfillment. There was a greater, deeper way of understanding almost everything in the law – and that included love.  In his final teaching to his disciples, Jesus completes His revelation by giving them what he calls a “new law” of what it means to fully love well in the Kingdom of God.

John 13:33-35. “33 My children, My time here is brief. You will be searching for Me; and as I told the Jews, “You cannot go where I am going.” 34 So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. 35 Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others…”

John 15:12-13. “12 My commandment to you is this: love others as I have loved you. 13 There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends.”

________________________________________________

So the Law insisted that you can’t just love yourself; you have to love others. That was step one. Jesus fulfills or completes this teaching by revealing that it is the way Jesus loved us, not the way we love ourselves, that is meant to guide us. So, what does that look like? I am going to highlight four ways this happens; this is not a complete list, but I believe these are foundational principles.

1. Christ-like love is sacrificial.

This is, I believe, the most profound aspect of the love of Jesus. After writing this gospel, John wrote several letters to the early church. We read in 1 John:

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him." (1 John 4:7-9 NIV)

In Jesus we see the ultimate (and unique) expression of the reality that the one who loves must die either physically or metaphorically.  Jesus did what no one else could in dying to atone for our sin and offer eternal salvation, but if we want to live with others in genuine, loving relationship, we are going to have to lay down our lives for them in some fashion. No one truly loves if they refuse to sacrifice for the one they love. We may not lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel or for others, but we are called to do it all the time in smaller ways. That’s hard enough, but it gets harder:

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. " (Luke 6:27- 36 NIV)

Do you want to live as children of God? You must love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you, give of yourself without an expectation of a return, and be merciful and kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

You may have heard that there is a heated presidential race taking place this year in a nation where religious liberties are eroding and many of our cities are on the boiling point of civil unrest. Perhaps more than ever there is a sense of “us vs. them” permeating our culture, and Christians are increasingly perceived or portrayed – fairly or unfairly - as being on the side of anger, injustice and meanness.

Can you imagine how the national conversation might be going right now if Christians were known for their love? If we held each other accountable and said, “Brother/sister, are you loving the ones who you believe are your enemies?  Are you doing good to those who hate you? Are you offering prayers of blessing for those who curse you?”

The early church upended Roman culture by living radically self-sacrificial lives of love and service to each other and to the Romans. [6] They preached the gospel (at great cost), but they cared for the poor, the sick, the slaves, and the outcasts to such a degree that the Roman anger and contempt shows up in their historian’s writing. And they first permeated and then transformed the Roman world with a love that embodied the love of Christ.

Christians have never brought about positive and lasting cultural change through anger and despair. It’s always been through hope, grace and love.[7] When we love others as God loves us, His name is glorified; His reputation is made great; the true beauty of His spiritual Kingdom is shown to a world in need of hope and redemption.

2. Christ-like love is not conditional.

No one had to be good enough to come to Jesus. While they were dead in our sins, Christ died for them as he does for us (Ephesians 2). He took tax collectors who were pawns of the Romans, soldiers who were part of the oppressors, prostitutes, Samaritans who were of Jewish heritage but worshipped idols, fishermen, carpenters, the religiously arrogant, the humble and sincere… he offered the Kingdom of Heaven to them all.

If we are to love others like Christ loves us, we must offer the kind of love that does not require someone to be good enough before we love them.  This is not a naïve love that overlooks the reality of people’s lives. We all have baggage, and wisdom requires that the love we offer is guided by boundaries for their sake and ours. This is not a love that compromises on truth and holiness; love doesn’t enable sin.

When we offer unconditional love, we cannot merely commit to the good of other people only when they reach a condition we deem acceptable.  It must be offered while they are, in some sense, still deeply unacceptable.  If you have ever been the recipient of this kind of love, you know how beautiful it is.  There is a freedom in being able to say, “I’m not good enough,” and having someone say in return, “I know. And yet I love you.“ There is peace; there is safety; there is hope.

3. Christ-like love is tangible.

I like this quote from Teresa of Avila that captures a biblical principle of the role of Christians as “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12)

“Christ has no body on earth but yours. no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”

Words of love are often necessary, but they are not sufficient. Love must be shown.  Jesus did not spend his time talking about how compassionate he was. Jesus embodied it.  You can post articles and change your Facebook profile picture or march in solidarity for a cause, but if that’s all you do, what’s the point? Nobody benefits. Nobody’s life is changed. I’m not saying you should stop doing that, but it’s what you do in the ordinary moments of every day life that matter the most.

I can tell my son Vincent that I care about him until I’m blue in the face, but if I don’t play Munchkins with him or take him the Boardman or watch a movie with him, my words will be hollow. It’ s that tangible investment in his life that lights him up. That’s a reality that translates everywhere. We must be faithfully present, living out the principles to which we claim to adhere. It will be costly; it will be hard. It is also a crucial way in which God brings about transformation in and through you. 

4. Christ-like love desires both justice and mercy.

Recently there has been a lot of coverage of shooting by and of police, as well as the shootings at the nightclub in Orlando and now Munich this past week. Those who love rightly desire that justice be done. If there is evil embedded in individual hearts, groups or systems, those who love cannot be silent or complacent.

And those who love are full of a hope that the presence and power of Jesus is strong enough to root out evil and injustice from the hearts and minds of everybody. The hope of the transformative power of the gospel includes the belief that victims can find justice, healing and peace - and that the perpetrators can be brought to repentance, forgiveness and holiness.

As Jesus was dying on a cross, he prayed for his killers: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34) Jesus didn’t mean they were unintelligent. He said they didn’t understand. And this did not make Jesus rage – it made him grieve.

When is the last time you watched the news and prayed, “Oh, dear God, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing”? When is the last time the news made us grieve instead of rage?

We cannot isolate justice and mercy. If the only thing for which we pray and fight is justice, we will become heartless and vindictive. If the only thing for which we pray and strive is mercy, we will enable the very thing that breaks this world and our hearts.  We must pray for God’s righteous justice to roll down lest the world be overtaken by evil; we must simultaneously pray for Christ’s sweet mercy to rise in and through us for the same reason.[8]

And as we love like Christ, we begin to see the answer to the prayer Jesus told us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There is hope that even on this side of heaven the reality of the Kingdom of God can impact the world. The more we appreciate and understand the love Jesus has for us, the more our ability to love is transformed, and the more we love other like Christ loved us. And in all this we will see how God has ordered His Kingdom for our good and His glory.

__________________________________________________________________________

[1] “If you say you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

[2] See Karl’s sermon for more info on why the Jews and Samaritans hated each other (“Faith, Like Water, Flows Downhill”. https://clgonline.org/grace-like-water-flows-downhill/

[3] http://biblehub.com/greek/5367.htm

[4] Remember: when we love, somebody dies. (“Dying To Live.” https://clgonline.org/dying-live-john-12/

[5] http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-problem-with-self-esteem-130595/

[6] Read “A Love Without Condition,” http://www.earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php

[7] “Lessons for Today’s Church from the Life of the Early Church,” http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/lessons-for-todays-church-from-the-life-of-the-early-church/

[8] Check out a two-part series from Matt Chandler, “Justice and Racial Reconciliation” and “Justice and Law Enforcement.” You can read them at http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/.

Inheriting the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:13-21)

Maps do several important things.

First, they show you where you are at the moment.  Being in the center of the Sahara Desert is different than being in the center of New York City. Knowing where you are affects your planning and decision-making.

Second, they will help you accomplish a goal.  If, for example, you are in New York City and you need to be in Charleston, South Carolina, the map will help by showing you that you must travel in a southwesterly direction.

Third, they will help you to identify obstacles such as mountain ranges and major congested cities.  A good map will also help you maximize advantages such as timesaving freeways and bypasses around bottleneck areas. In both cases, knowing these things will impact your travel. 

Paul writes in Galatians in 5:17, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.”  There are only two natures descriptive of mankind – the first is our fallen, sinful nature and the second is a regenerated, Spirit-led nature. We are all born into the first category and remain there unless we humbly repent of our sinfulness, accept the forgiveness provided by Christ’s death on the cross, are reconciled to God, and receive His Holy Spirit within in us as a guiding influence.  

 Now, it would be nice if, at the moment that this happens, our old nature would just curl up and die.  But that does not happen. What happens, scripturally speaking, is that we now have options.  Now we need a map, because (as Yogi Berra noted),  if we don't know where we're going, we might end up somewhere else. 

 Prior to salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our old nature was ruling our lives unopposed. This is what Paul says is true of all of us until we are 'born again' and the given the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the freedom for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). This is good news, but we’d better understand what freedom means before we go too far. 

Freedom does not mean permission to be a jerk!  It does not mean I get to live my life any way I want, destroying myself and the lives of those around me with my selfish actions.  Freedom doesn’t mean that I get a free pass on sin with a promise that “it’ll all work out in the end.”

No, freedom means that we are no longer imprisoned by our old sinful nature. “Freedom” means that once we place our trust in the person and work of Christ we now have options. God’s Holy Spirit indwells us and will offer to lead us in the way that we should go. 

How do we get to the goal of experiencing true Christian freedom?  What does that freedom look like?  And how does God lead and guide us?

Like a navigation system in a car, the Holy Spirit is able to lead, guide, and empower, but He will not overpower!  He won’t force us to live righteously.  He will however, make righteous living a genuine possibility in our life. We were stuck in sinful self-direction. Now we can travel in the direction God has in mind.  

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:13, 14)

The goal of God’s restoration process in each and every one of us is that we set aside our self-serving lives and live in love and service of our fellow man. The Law is meant to show us what true righteousness looks like in practical, day-to-day life.

But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 

The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:15-21)

So, what are we to do with a list like this?  It’s pretty intimidating, especially given the fact that we all fit on this list somewhere! In the last part of verse 21, Paul says, “… anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”  That’s pretty strong language.

These “deeds” are the unavoidable traits or manifestations of the core problem: living a self-directed life that neither acknowledges the Lordship of Jesus Christ nor allows the guidance of His Holy Spirit in our life. If these deeds are a fair description of your ongoing acceptance of a life characterized by habitual sin, then you have cause to question if you are following Christ at all.

Please note: If you are following Christ, temptation, and even momentary failure enters our lives.  This is the residue of our sinful nature that still wages war within us.  But as that temptation presents itself, there ought to be an ongoing struggle in your inner being when it comes to these “deeds of the flesh.”Paul is not saying that anyone who has been guilty or at a future time will be guilty of one or more of these deeds is outside of the kingdom! The Christian life does not demand perfection, but it does call for an unwavering devotion to the person of Jesus Christ.  

We’re told over and over in the New Testament that we are to be changed into His image. The distinguishing feature of this image change throughout the entire New Testament is love - an undeserved, unconditional, and almost unbelievable love.  

It is because of our new spiritual freedom that we are able to love and serve in a way that reflects the character and love of Christ. Conversely, it’s in the midst of loving and serving in this way that we find our freedom.  

Of Food and Freedom

temple_bw_fade.jpg

The Apostle Paul often used real-life situations to highlight the unchanging truths hidden beneath the surface.  In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses an issue that, while not sinful on the surface, was still causing harm to members of this fledgling church.

“Now let’s talk about food that has been sacrificed to idols. You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.  But the person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (NLT) 

Corinth was filled with pagan temples. It was common for worshipers to offer animals to the god as a sacrifice. After a tiny part was burned on the altar, the remainder would be given to the temple priest, servants or local magistrates who then sold the surplus to the town butchers. If you lived in Corinth, there were several ways that you might come in contact with meat that had been sacrificed to idols: 

  • Buying meat in the marketplace. At the end of the day, a lot of meat was taken from the temples and sold.  Christians who was shopping always encountered the possibility that they were purchasing meat previously offered to an idol. (1 Corinthians 10:25).
  • Eating dinner at the home of friends and neighbors. If your neighbors invited you to dinner, there was no good way to know if the meat they served had been sacrificed to an idol (1 Corinthians 10:27).
  • Eating in the pagan temples themselves. Some of the pagan temples could accommodate huge crowds for public affairs or community social functions.  The subject had nothing to do with the idol worship, but often the meeting would include a meal. If you were a Christian attending one of these public meetings, the meat served at this banquet had probably been offered to the temple god earlier that day.

 Two different views arose in the church at Corinth about how a believer should handle this. One group considered the food to be defiled by its association with the pagan idol. This group refused to eat the food, and they were offended by other believers who did eat.

The other group claimed that the food itself was not defiled in any way.  Since these idols were not gods at all, the meat was not really defiled. It could be eaten guilt-free. Paul goes into great detail as to why this belief is better than the other – but he doesn’t stop there.

This second group of believers looked down on other believers who abstained from eating the meat sacrificed to idols. The first group thought those eating were traitors to their faith. Predictably, the church was full of confusion, tension, arrogance, and probably a lot of gossip.

 This tension is bigger than just meat offered to idols, though. It’s really about relationships in the community --- and that community is the church of Jesus Christ.  

 “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1)

Paul isn’t saying that knowledge is unimportant.  Having correct knowledge is crucial!  Rather, he’s saying that knowledge alone tends to create pride. But when knowledge is joined with love, it becomes a much better guide to righteous behavior.

"If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know" …" (1 Corinthians 8:2) 

We use factual knowledge in much the same way a building uses a foundation. I’ve been watching the construction of a drugstore here in Traverse City.  It is a very well built structure – cement blocks covered with a brick veneer.  There is nothing flimsy about that building!  But before any of that construction began, they spent over a week digging and pouring massive foundations, wide and deep. The building will be secure for a long, long time.

I think we use knowledge is a similar way – to substantiate our worth and position in a world where we are often timid and uncertain of ourselves. Sometimes it’s a tool to establish ourselves as worthwhile individuals among others who are obviously less well-informed.  Remember, the foundation isn’t wrong or unimportant to that drugstore that is being built.  Nor is knowledge bad or unimportant in the relationships we’re building.  It is a tool - and like any tool, must be used properly.

So, the first step in making knowledge useful is to know its limitations. Christians are fallen creatures with limited knowledge – being saved doesn’t miraculously turn us into all-knowing beings.  God alone has unlimited or complete knowledge!  Humility is precious, and nothing tempers our knowledge like humility. The true purpose of knowledge is to promote the welfare of others. Knowledge must be accompanied by and delivered in love.

 Those who have the greater knowledge and spiritual maturity are the ones who should accommodate the less mature. They should abstain from activities that might harm the faith and life of those who are weaker.  Paul already said in verse one that the whole “eating thing” doesn’t make believers better or worse in God's eyes, but that this sense of superiority can cause harm to others. It’s a stumbling block to the weaker brother or sister and it can lead them into confusion…and possibly even lead to sinful behavior in the young believer’s walk. So, rather than causing a brother to sin, it was better for them to forgo their Christian liberty (change their behavior) in these cases.

Our choices and our behaviors should be motivated and characterized by self-sacrificing love for those around us, rather than by knowledge (or freedom) alone. 

Faith, Hope, and Love

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. .. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10
"…remembering without ceasing your work of faith, your labor of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3 
 “ Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…. we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit...” Romans 5:1-5
“ let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…" Hebrews 10:22-24  
”“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.   1 Corinthians 13:13
     If the Apostle Paul thought these three theological virtues were worth discussing together, it's probably worth looking at how God intertwines the three of them in our lives today.
   A Greek mathematician who wrote during Paul's time gave this explanation for Paul's chosen word for faith: “"A demonstration of the certainly of a thing by sure arguments and indubitable reasons." In other words, faith is what we get when God has so convinced us He is right that we reorder our lives to follow him.  Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
     Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Faith is a response to truth that we absorb and embrace. I  hear language about faith as if it is a process in which we bring our emotions together and really focus ourselves so we feel strongly that we believe something.  If we feel strongly enough we will be people of faith. Faith and feelings will intersect, but faith – the foundation of truth that we absorbed and embraced - should inform and steady our feelings, not be driven by our feelings.
    The Bible does not present faith as a feeling.  Faith is obedience in response to God’s persuasion. “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” - Elton Trueblood
______________________________________________________________________
    The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it this way: “the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future.”
  • (Romans 15:4)
 - “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
  • (Colossians 1:5) - 
”For the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard in the word of the truth of the gospel.”
  • (Galatians 5:5)
 - For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

    So hopes builds on the firm foundation of faith. Hebrews 6:18-19 says,  “The hope set before us…as the anchor of the soul.”  It is meant to keep us stable through the storms of life. As Billy Graham said, "I've read the last page of the Bible.  It's all going to turn out all right."

________________________________________________________________________

  • Romans 5:5
 “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” 
  • Ephesians 5:2
”…and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.” 
  • Galatians 5:14
 - "For all the law is fulfilled in one command: "You should love your neighbor as yourself."

     While agapao has multiple meanings, in the plainest sense, it involves choosing, embracing, and doing the will of God.  In other words, it is “doing what the Lord prefers.” Sir Charles Villiers Stanford once noted, "To love as Christ loves is to let our love be a practical thing and not a sentimental thing." The grounding of this kind of love is not the emotion; the grounding of agapao love is commitment and action.
________________________________________________________________________
    If you have trust and obedience in response to God's persuasion, you have faith; if you have true faith, you will have a confident expectation based on your foundation of truth (hope). If you have true faith and hope, you cannot resist doing what God prefers (love).