Sunday, October 24, 2010

Love .. Part One

I started working on this study some weeks ago. It was going to be a simple study on a familiar passage of scripture. As I began working on it, it began to grow. I try to keep my posted Bible Studies in the 3000 word range. This one quickly approached that and at last count, while it is still unfinished, it contains over 10,000 words. I became obvious that it was going to have to be split into a series of Bible Studies. The problem with that was, because it was going to be a series, I concentrated less on it and more on smaller studies. I was talking via Skype to my nephew in Italy, and the conversation came to this Bible Study, which he and I had discussed previously. I told him that I was going to have to start posting the series to give myself more motivation to finish the rest of the study.

That being said, this is the first installment of this series.

This series is about Love, as a fundamental part of the Christian life. I fully realize that there are many more aspects of Christian living, and it is not my desire to de-emphasis their importance, however, love is a essential foundational part of the life of the believer.

The Word tells us that we will know a tree by the fruit it bears. We are not to be judges of men, but we are called to be fruit inspectors. In this, it is important to notice when the writer talks about the fruit of the Spirit, he first mentions love. Paul continues the list with joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. The first three speak to our character as an inward state, the second three speak of character in expression to man, and the third three speak of character in expression toward God. While there is initial and immediate evidence of the new birth, there is continuing sustainable evidence as well. This evidence is in the fruit.

In the Gospels, the Scripture records the story of Jesus at the fig tree. The story goes that Jesus, returning to the city of Jerusalem; saw a fig tree in a public place slightly off the road. It was full of leaves and therefore, the expectation was that there would be also fruit. The characteristic of the fig tree is that it bears fruit prior to or at the same time as it bears leaves. Seeing the leaves made one assume there would be fruit as well. Upon inspection, there was no fruit on the tree. Jesus cursed the tree. He caused it to bear no more fruit forever. The tree then withered away.

When we profess to be a Christian (present leaves,) we are expected to have the fruit as well.

The purpose of this Bible Study is not to answer questions, only, but to cause us to ask them as well. It is to cause us to inspect our own fruit. We have the leaves, but do we have the fruit. We call ourselves Christians, but do we really have the goods? We have a Godly imperative not to judge others, but the same Word tells us to judge ourselves.

Simply stated, this study is about LOVE.

John 13:34-35A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Jesus is telling the early church that things are going to be different than before. There is a new standard by which they are to conduct themselves. There is a new way of dealing with those within and those without. He says that we are to love with the same manner of love that He had. How does our method of love compare to the way God loved all those around Him?

While He walked on the earth, how did He treat those around him?

I see and hear WWJD all over the place. I sometimes ask myself if all of those that display the “What Would Jesus Do” in stickers and bracelets, really know what Jesus would do, or are exhibiting what Jesus would do.

Part of the problem is that, we, the members of the church, sometimes, are not showing forth the love of God properly. How do we treat our brothers of like faith? How are we treating those living around us? How are we treating those that are afar off?

Now, you may ask, how should I be treating those of like faith and those not of like faith?

Good question.

What does the Word tell us in regard to how we treat others, in the faith or not?

Jesus tells us that we are to love one another as He loves us.

We must ask ourselves, what does love do or not do?

The Word tells us about love. It is imperative that we know what the Word says about love. We learn about love as we grow by the love shown around us. Most prejudices can be traced to how we were taught to love as a child. We tend to mirror the love we knew. While this is not always the case, it is more often than not true.

I want to look at 1st Corinthians 13.4-8 for this study.

Most often, these scriptures are read, paraphrased, or quoted at weddings. However, what it says about love is true outside the wedding ceremony as well. These words were not Paul’s letter to a couple about to be married, but rather his letter to the church. Paul, through the unction of the Holy Ghost, was telling us, the body of Christ, how we were to love. If we are to be like Christ, then we must show evidence of this kind of love. We have a justice system requiring a ‘prima facie’ case. This is from the Latin for ‘at first face’. In most legal proceedings, one party has a burden of proof, which requires it to present prima facie evidence for all of the essential facts in its case. If they cannot, its claim may be dismissed without any need for a response by other parties.

I have heard it stated thusly, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? However, the prima facie evidence of our Christianity lies in our expression of God’s love within us. When the love of God echoes through us, then the world will know we are His children. John 13.35 says they will know us “if ye have (echo) love, one to another.” It is this echoing of love that Paul talks about when he tells the church at Corinth how their love is to appear, and what characteristics their love must possess. We must understand this love. It is the measure by which we will be judged by those around us.

It is to this end that this Bible Study is aimed; that we may know the love we must possess and they we may recognize when secularism comes into play in our expression of love.

· Suffers long

Proverbs tells us that hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. This is not just the love a man has for his wife and vice versa. This goes far beyond the vows between a man and a woman. We may be able to understand it looking at it in the constraints of a marriage, but the principle cannot be contained therein. We can readily see that in a marriage, there are going to be differences. There are going to be differing opinions. A marriage consists of two people coming from two different directions, with two separate ways of doing things, and two diverse ways of thinking about things, being tossed in a locked room and being told to make it work. If there is hatred there, it will stir up every manner of strife imaginable. Both sides will drag the entire lineage of the other into the fray. Friend, get a woman to hate you and she will talk about your sainted grandmother like she was a demon straight from the depths of the pit. Ladies, get a man to hate you and your father, that champion of provision in your life, will be the most shiftless slew-footed derelict that ever walked.

On the other hand, let love reign and all those things, whether they are truth or not, will be covered in that love.

Love suffers long. A husband that loves his wife will give her time to come around to the right way of thinking. A wife that loves her husband will give him time to get all those foolish notions out of his head.

Love suffers long. We will not be so quick to judge and accuse when our heart is ruled by love. A woman taken in the very act of adultery was brought to Jesus. There was no question of her guilt. There was no reasonable doubt. There was no room for variance or circumstance. She was caught. The law on the matter was clear. The punishment was obvious. Those that brought her had already chosen the stones they were going to throw. In my mind, I could see them, turning the stones in their hands as they awaited Jesus to speak.

Jesus was God, manifested in the flesh. This sin was an abomination to God. The un-holiness of this act was in direct conflict with the holiness of God. Logically, the answer was obvious. However, there was something working that the throng did not expect. For, while Jesus embodied the holiness of God, He also embodied the love of God. Without losing a speck of holiness, God spoke out in love.

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

He returned to stooping and writing on the ground. The throng, the gathered angry righteous crowd was stunned into inaction. There is much supposition as to what Jesus was writing in the sand, if He were writing anything in particular at all. The writer recording this encounter did not record anything concerning the scribbling of Jesus. However, what Jesus said was enough. The stones chosen for throwing were dropped on the ground. From the oldest to the youngest, the crowd dispersed, until only Jesus and the woman remained. “Woman, where are your accusers? Is there no one who condemned you?” “No man, Lord.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

His love did not excuse her sin. His love did not deny that it happened. His love suffered the assault to His holiness. His love corrected the sin. (Go and sin no more.)

Think for a moment about your child. Suppose they did something wrong. How would you react to those around you wanting to kill them over the wrongful action? How would you react to someone wanting to hurt someone you love, even if the hurt was a justifiable action?

Now, how would you react if they were just calling them hurtful names? How would you react if they used hateful speech against them, using inflammatory epithets to extol their point and capitalize on crowd reaction?

Would you say the accuser is exhibiting the love that God says we are to have?

How do you think God reacts when we, the claimants of His grace, hurl hurtful epithets at sinners, whom he loves?

That day, with the woman taken in the act, the crowd unwittingly brought her to the one against whom she had sinned. They were spurred by a hypocritical righteous indignation. The woman had not sinned against them. They were not without sin and therefore not in any position to adjudicate guilt or pass sentence. Her act offended their sensibilities. They were affronted by her brazenness. It was not the act of adultery that riled them, but the act of being caught. They were indignant because of the openness of her sin. We react to the openness of some sins while the hidden sins of a hating heart are ignored if they do not flaunt themselves.

This crowd, wrong in motive, wrong in action, wrong in desire, came to the only righteous one. Standing before the only one with any right to examine, judge, or punish, this woman found a long suffering love. This woman came in contact with the only thing that will change the sinner’s heart. She came to a long suffering love. Love .. suffers long.

This is the love that we must possess or that we must allow to possess us. We must allow the agape love of God to replace the phileo love of man. One of the primary differences in the two loves is in the distance each will travel. The phileo love of man will go so far. It will travel to a point. We can site great examples of man’s love for man. There is a limit to have far man’s love will go.

The love of God will travel far greater distances. The Word tells us this much and more. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul states, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

How many of us could state without a doubt that there is someone we know that would be willing to die for us? How many of us have friends that we would give our live to defend? We like to think that we would give our lives in any effort to save our children, but until we get to that exact moment, we can never be sure, beyond any doubt. I am not seeking to slap around your conviction about your love, but we won’t know. Until the moment of decision, how we will act. I would like to think that I would be able, in that hour, should it come to it, to have the grace to give myself for my children.

This goes beyond that. Paul said that God gave Himself while we were still enemies to the cross. Our sins made us enemies to the cross, and while we were going to be born in our sinful state, Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us.

Like the woman taken in adultery, we were sinners without a cause of redemption. We were not at the point of seeking help. We were taken in our sins. We were, in time, going to be brought to the judgment of God. (Judgment begins at the House of God.) We were going to be defenseless. We were going to be without a sacrifice for sin, until His love for his creation reached across time and space and He robed Himself in flesh and suffered at the hands of His creation. The long suffering love held His hands to the cross. That love reaches across eternity. That love resides is us if we are His child. That love must echo through us.

Love suffers long.

Next week: Love is kind ...

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