Last week one my readers commented on my post How deep is your love? with the comment “if love for God doesn’t naturally flow to love for your neighbor, your so called love lacks authenticity before God.” Well that got me thinking about the nature of love. It is very easy to say we ought to love God and love one another but how do we go about it? What is the impetus of love and how is it really manifest?
C. S. Lewis describes 4 types of love: Agape (the unconditional love that God demonstrates); Storge (familial love- love between parent and child and vice versa); Philia (love between friends, brotherly love); and Eros (romantic love). According to Ravi Zacharias, the last three hinge on and have no point of reference without the first. Dare I say that in the world today, the point of reference for love has been lost. We love our houses, our jobs, our cars, our pets etc. Love is this word that is used so carelessly that it almost means nothing. But the truth is you cannot define love until you understand its point of reference, the Agape love and you cannot understand Agape love without an understanding of the one who has loved us so unconditionally that he gave Himself as a ransom for us.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that who so ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 KJV
So here are some truths about the nature of love: God is love. And all forms of love flows from Him. We love because we are loved. I tried a simple exercise to hinge everything I hold dear on the unconditional love of God and this is what it looked like: I love my kids because God loved me enough to entrust them to me… I love my husband because God loved me enough to give him to me… I love my job and house and car because God loved me enough to bless me with them…I love God because He first loved me… It really is something! When I hang everything I hold dear on the peg of the eternal and unconditional love of God Himself it really changes my view of love. It gives my love for these more weight than just flimsily saying I love XYZ.
So based on this, I will like to take my question from last week “how deep is your love?” a step further and ask, “how deep is your knowledge of the God who Himself is love?”
This week the sermon in church was from Revelations 2: the message to the church in Ephesus. The take home message was that if we have no love for God and for each other then we are no better than those who do not know God. In the simplicity of that statement, I was reminded of my posts on our covenant relationship and our responsibilities to the covenant. I am referencing these two short posts: We are Covenant People and Our Covenant Relationship (I encourage you to go back and read these and so I will keep this post short and sweet).
As part of the terms of the covenant, we are to love God and as Jesus clarified, this love is demonstrated in love for God and for each other as those two are not mutually exclusive.
What does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God by walking in [obedience to] all His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am giving you this day for your own good? Deuteronomy 10: 12-13 BSB
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And we have this commandment from Him: Whoever loves God must love his brother as well. 1 John 4:20-21 BSB
Jesus sang the praises of the church in Ephesus in Revelations chapter 2 and if you never read verse 4 you’d think they were the model church. All that good however was negated by a lack of love for God and each other. Love for God and for each other is paramount. It is not optional. If we are to continue to enjoy the benefits of being in a covenant relationship then we have to adhere fully to the terms of the covenant, otherwise the consequences are dire (i.e. the removal of your lampstand from its place vs 5- If any of you have any thoughts about what this means feel free to leave a comment or send me a message). But there is hope. Thank God in Jesus there is always hope. And here is the hope we have:
Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Rev 2:5a NIV
So my question for you is “how are you doing with loving God and loving others?”
So this week I concluded the book of Acts and as I was going through the book, I got a glimpse of Paul’s character. I gathered Paul was very disciplined, very opinionated and outspoken, and a little hotheaded “I know my rights” kind of guy. Paul was being brought before the courts for his belief and faith in God and during his trial, Paul the hothead got short with one of his accusers only to realize that that was the high priest he had insulted and that did not help his case at all! In fact, I was a little disappointed when in the midst of the trial Paul announced that he wanted his case tried by Caesar the Roman Emperor. I imagined Paul in a matter-of-fact-i-know-my-rights kind of way declaring, “I appeal to Caesar” (finger pointed to the sky). The reason I was disappointed was that we know from reading the Book of Acts that Festus stated he would have released Paul from jail and dismissed the case if he had not made that statement.
Although Paul ended up in prison for such a long time because of that one statement, I realized that the journey to get to Rome to appear before Caesar allowed him to have some incredible experiences preaching the gospel in remote islands. God had called Paul to minister to the gentiles and if it took one comment or even a character flaw to get him to the gentiles then God was going to use everything! Another thing I know about Paul’s character is that he was completely surrendered to God. He brought every part of him into ministry partnership with Jesus Christ: his disciplined nature, his opinionated and outspoken self, his passion and even his hotheadedness. AND GOD USED ALL OF IT!!!
There are many things about who I am as a person that I am very proud of and I do not hesitate to use those traits in service of God. For example, I am a planner and very strategic in my thinking and so I find myself in many roles in and out of church that lean in on my ability to effectively lead teams or effect change. However, there are also traits in my character that need work. Those are the things about me that perhaps frustrate the people who know me very well and have to live or deal with me on a regular basis (…sorry husband dear…). I do not necessarily present those as an offering to God when he asks for all of me. I leave those flaws at the door but unfortunately, those character flaws keep getting in the way of God’s plans for me.
Today, I learn from Paul that if I make all of me (the good, the bad, and the ugly) available for God to use, He will use all of me to bring about His purpose for my life and His kingdom. Even the not so desirable parts of me will not get in God’s way. He will use everything that is surrendered and what He does not find useful, He will conform to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8: 29, Philippians 3:10). That is great news. I do not have to be perfect. I can come just as I am.
Can you imagine living in a time where you had to follow a set of rules with not so stellar leaders as role models? Well those were the times that the Israelites lived in as recorded in the book of 2nd Kings. They had leaders that led them astray with idolatry and perversion and even though the rulers of those times got what they deserved, the Israelites shared in the consequences of the sins of their leaders. Back in those days, many sins and transgressions were not forgiven by God. Notable among them were idolatry, burning children as sacrifices to gods, and of course disobedience… don’t get me started on disobedience. In those days there was a swiftness with which God exacted punishment on rule breakers, a swiftness that we may not necessarily experience today because of the grace of God. I think this week I discovered one of the scariest phrases ever written in scripture:
…and the LORD was not willing to forgive. 2 Kings 24: 4 NIV
As I ponder the stories I encountered in the book of 2nd Kings, I wonder if most of those people who met a sad fate had never heard of the word repentance. Most of these people received warnings from God through his prophets about what fate they would meet because of their disobedience or wickedness or whatever atrocities they had committed and I wonder if they were that ignorant about the fact that they could turn back to God, or were they just resigned to their fate? Was repentance even an option then?
It is very interesting that our fate (outside of Christ) is not very different from those of old… Unlike them though, the option of repentance has been made so readily available for the same transgressions that God was previously unwilling to forgive. It costs us nothing (except maybe our pride) and as an added bonus, the grace of God affords us the gift of time to “bypass” swift justice and yet many of us do not seem to value the fact that we have been afforded such a precious gift!
As I ponder all of this, I have come to value the ability to go before God and confess and repent of my wrong doings. What a blessed state and dispensation to live in… How precious it is that I can go before God and say I am sorry and instead of an “I am unwilling to forgive” response, I can leave with an assurance of being forgiven as well as being refreshed (Acts 3: 19-20)…WHAAAAT!!!!! That is amazing.
Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Acts 3:19 NLT