Sunday, November 28, 2010

Love: Part Six

This is the sixth installment in our series on love.

When Jesus was asked, in an attempt to ensnare Him, which was the greatest of the commandments, He replied with two basic commandments upon which all the other commandments rested. He stated that these precepts were the foundation of the commandments. He tells us that if we can master these two seemingly simple concepts, we will have no trouble following the commandments or guidelines set forth for us as Children of God.

The first concept was thus: You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your entire mind.

The second concept was thus: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Have you ever noticed how simple some things are to say and yet so hard to complete?

Following Jesus, being a Christian is predicated on love. It all boils down to love. I remember dad telling me that if we could just get people to really love God, then all the sermons about ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ would be nearly obsolete. If we love God, we will do the things that please Him.

Children grasp this concept quickly, in reverse. When they want something, good for them or otherwise, and are denied, they will play the ‘love’ card. “If you love me, you will give it to me.” I understand that sometimes love constrains us and keeps us from giving children everything they want. A child’s meal planner is not always filled with healthy choices. We try that, at times, as adults even.

Let’s turn that around. If we love God, wouldn’t we be doing the things that please Him?

Then, if we in turn, love our neighbors as we love ourselves, wouldn’t the world be a place of peace. We all want people to be considerate of our feelings and desires; then shouldn’t we be considerate of the feelings and desires of others?

The Golden rule is that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I heard it said like this once; do unto others as if you were the others. My son told me once that that golden rule was “do unto others as they do unto you.” He was seeking to justify some action he had taken. This is not what the rule states.

This installment speaks about the way we are to behave. There is much said in the Word about how we are to treat others. If you search it closely, the Bible has something to say about everything we do. It speaks about how we eat, how we dress, how we work, how we worship, how we live; it talks about how we treat our family, and how we treat strangers. It talks about how we treat our employers, or employees, which ever the case may be. It talks about how we are to treat brothers and sisters of like faith, and how we are to treat strangers to the truth. It talks about how we are to treat our enemies and how we are to treat our neighbors. In this study, we will look at who these folks are and how we must be indentified to them by our actions, which display our love. When defining what love was and was not, Paul put rudeness on the ‘is not’ list.

  • Does not behave itself unseemly

Love is well behaved

Love never acts out of its place, or character. What is it that identifies us as Christians? Is it the church bumper sticker on our car? Is it cross lapel pin we may wear on our jacket? Is it a cross on a chain around our necks; or cross bangles on a charm bracelet? Is it because we talk about church on facebook® or whatever other social networking site to which we belong? How do our friends know we are Christians? How do our loved ones know it? What about our neighbors?

I recall the story of a Christian mother whose son, between semesters at college, took a job as a lumberjack one summer. He was going to be living in the base camp of the lumber company for several months. His mother worried, as mothers do, that the other men might pick on her son because he was a Christian. She did what mothers do in these situations. She prayed and put it into God’s hands. Still, at times during the seeming long summer, she worried.

Summer ended and her son was returning. She waited impatiently at the bus station for his return. She was greeted by a stronger, firmer, more tanned son that the one that left at the start of the summer. Pleasantries were exchanged. Hugs were given all around. Everyone was excited to greet the young man home. Later, in the quiet of home, away from the fanfare of excited relatives, she finally had a moment to ask the question that had plagued her all summer. “Son,” she asked, “How did those men treat you, knowing that you were a Christian?” He grinned as if he had gotten away with something and said, “Mom, they never knew.”

Love acts like love no matter where it is. Love does not mold itself to fit in at a hate rally. Love does not laugh at racially demeaning jokes when no one is looking. Love does not judge a man by the color of his skin, or the country of his origin, or the religion he professes. Love observes decorum and good manners. Love is not rude, or bearish, or brutish. Love is willing to become all things to all men that Christ may gain as Paul spoke of in his letter to the church at Corinth.

A Christian is not rude or unmannerly. Christians were first called Christians at Antioch. The term means, ‘to be like Christ.’ They did not label themselves. They did not all get “I am a Christian” tattoos. The men at Antioch saw something in them that reminded them of Christ. They saw the same compassion and love. They saw the same actions.

As the lead scripture in this Bible Study points out, this is how others will recognize us as Children of God. We will not be known by our standard of holiness. We will not be recognized because we speak in tongues or dance in the spirit. We may be recognized by our testimony, but the defining characteristic is our love.

I heard a story, reportedly true but I can’t say for sure it is, so I will leave it at a story. A woman was in traffic and obviously in a hurry. The driver in front of her at the light was taking too much time, in her estimation, to complete a turn to get out of her way. She laid on the horn and began yelling out the window for the driver to ‘learn to drive’ and ‘get on out of her way.’ She heard a siren and looked in her mirror. The police officer was motioning for her to pull to the side. She did and gave him the requested license and registration. She had no idea what she may have done that was illegal. After a few minutes the officer returned her license and registration and told her she could go. She was confused and asked the officer why he had pulled her over.

“Ma’am,” came the reply, “When I saw the bumper stickers on your car saying “God is love” and “Follow me to Sunday School” and then heard the horn blowing and screaming out the window, I was sure the car was stolen.”

What identity are you showing to your friends; to your neighbors; to your co-workers; to strangers on the street?

A person may have a natural bluntness or even be clownish in personality, but will not be hoggish or ill-mannered in their behavior.

Charity covers a multitude of sin. Whose sin does love cover? Does it cover your sins in the sight of God? Or, does it cover the sins, wrong actions, hurtful words, spiteful deeds, of those interacting with you?

Love behaves.

Love is not rude. Remember the introduction about treating others as if you were the other? If it is rude to do it to you, it is rude for you to do it to others. My father used to say that his rights ended where mine began and vice versa.

God expects that we be examples of his courtesy. Jesus was courteous. If you look at the first five letters of the word you will see that they spell court. In old England, to be courteous was to act in the way of the court. The family and court of the king were held to a higher standard. Are we not the children of the King of Kings? Are we not called to a higher standard than unrepentant man? “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.16)

What example are we showing?

The word ‘unseemly’ is ‘aschemoneo’ which means ‘unbecoming’. This relates to shameful or disgraceful behavior. To disgrace means to cause to lose favorable standing. Simply put, love will do nothing which will harm your standing as a child of God. love will not lead you to do anything which will bring a reproach to the name of Christ.

I am in no wise perfect. The point of the following event is not to bring glory to me or to imply there was anything in me except the grace of God.

I was working about 75 miles from home on a power plant on the Ohio River. I was carpooling with three other electricians. It was more than an hour drive each way, each day. We each took turns about driving. One of the carpoolers, a guy named Jim, told me one day he was going to test my Christianity. He, matter of factly, told me he was going to make me so mad that I would hit him. Then he told me about another mutual acquaintance that claimed to be a Christian, which he had gotten to act in a very unchristian like manner. I saw right then that he did not want me to fail this test. He wanted to know if what I possessed was genuine.

For the next month, he poked and prodded; he pushed and pushed; he tried to make me as angry as he could. He told me, “just hit me. I won’t hit you back. I just want you to get so mad you hit me.”

After a month of this, he told me he had decided that he could not make me mad enough to hit him. I didn’t bother to tell him that he had made me mad enough several times. More than a couple times in that month, my anger rose, and I wanted to take him up on his offer to hit him. However, there was something inside me, the Spirit of God, which buffered his abuse; which cooled my wrath; which tempered my temper. What I had stood the test.

Love will not do anything which will bring a disgrace to the name and reputation of Christianity.

Let’s talk for a bit about the Grace of God. Sin cannot stand in the presence of the holiness of God. The purity of God’s holiness will eradicate sin in its presence. The priest could not enter the Holy of Holies until he had completed the purification ritual that he could stand blameless before the Glory of God. The garment of the priest had small bells sewn into the hem. As the priest ministered in the Holy of Holies, the sound of the bells could be heard by the other priests ministering in the tabernacle. If the priest had not completed the purification ritual completely, his uncleanness would cause the Glory of God to strike him dead. The other priests would no longer hear the ringing of the bells. They would not enter into the Holy of Holies, but rather, would reach in with a long pole with a hook on the end and retrieve the slain priest. Sin could not stand in the presence of God.

When Jesus came through the virgin birth, became a near kinsman of mankind, and redeemed us, the rightful captive of Satan, with His death on Calvary, he brought grace into the picture. When He cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost, the veil in the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The wall of partition between God and His creation was destroyed.

When we stand before our Holy Creator, grace stands between our sin and His holiness.

Love will do nothing that will damage the state of grace (disgrace) between God and man. When we act unbecomingly (rudely,) we are marring the grace of God in our lives.

The Bible tells us not to judge, for with the same mercy we judge, we will be judged. What this is telling us, when we judge others, we erase the mercy (judgment withheld) of God and substitute our mercy. It further tells us through the story of the unforgiving steward that when we refuse to forgive others, we erase God’s forgiveness (judgment averted) and replace it with our own.

The Bible tells us we are the letters of God read by everyone. When people see us, they see our representation of what we believe God to be. Do they see that we serve a rude God? Do we represent a petty God? Are we expressing the characteristics of an uncaring God? What will our neighbors believe God to be?

Love does not behave unseemly.

How does love behave?

Love reaches past the wrong to embrace the broken heart.

God created mankind, including his heart. For the sake of mans eternal soul, God came and died to purchase us from the bondage of sin. Yet, He stands at the door and knocks. He does not barge in. He does not invade the heart of the unbeliever. Patiently, He waits until the heart is tender and ready to receive.

He did not come to be served, but rather came to serve. His Spirit is that of a servant. He holds all power in the heavens and the earth, and yet, he waits until he is invited to manifest it, even though the scripture tells us he desire to show Himself strong on behalf of His people.

Take a moment and look at your actions. I do not ask you to do this alone. I do this as I write this study. Are my actions self-serving? (Love seeks not its own.) Are we serving or seeking to be served?

Do our actions represent the love that God has shed abroad in our hearts by the gift of the Holy Ghost?

The Word tells us that no man can serve two masters. He will love the one and hate the other. He will cleave to the one and despise the other. No man can serve God and Mammon (avarice, greed.)

We are looking at opposites here. The Word says you will either gather or scatter.

Therefore, you will either represent God or the flesh in your actions (based on love.)

We have already established that love is long suffering, kind, does not envy, is not rash, and is not boastful. Here we find that love behaves itself properly.

Love does not behave unseemly.

Next: Love does not seek its own.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Love: Part Five

This is the fifth installment in our series on Love.

There is so much that can be said about love that it would fill a library. Everyone wants to know about love. We want to know if what we feel is the real thing. There is little in the volumes of books that can tell us how love is supposed to feel to us. We can read about the way love should operate, according to the particular author we are reading. We can decipher the actions of others in their relationships to see how love should or should not act. We can interpret acts based on love (or so claimed) to try to understand what is and is not healthy in a relationship. We cannot, however, find something that is going to tell us whether the feeling someone has for us is love or not. More importantly, we cannot tell if what we feel in our hearts is genuine love or not.

The best that any book on love can do is get you to ask the right questions about your own feelings and get you to recognize the feelings in others that are harmful or detrimental to your heart. The purpose of this study is to cause us to examine our actions and interpret our feelings. We have an example of love in Christ. He tells us in His word that His love is shed abroad in our hearts. We are to have and exhibit the same type of love that He has and exhibits.

It is more than just knowing God and knowing His love. It is an infilling of God’s Spirit and thereby, an infilling of his love as well. When we are filled with God’s Spirit, we are filled with the all the fullness of God’s love. Romans 5:5 “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” This is part of the litany of experiences building up the life of the Child of God. Paul tells us that we glory in tribulations, because tribulations make us patient. Patience gives us experience. Experience gives us hope. Then, as sited in the reference above, hope does not make us ashamed because of the love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.

Then Paul tells us, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” This is the highest example of the love that we are to manifest through the Spirit of God, freely given and dwelling within us. This is the love that prefers the needs of others above the wants and needs of oneself. In this study, we will address the humility of love. It is part of the continuing list of characteristics of the love that we, as Children of The Most High are to express to those near to and far from us.

As stated in previous installments, the phrase ‘ye have love’ in John is ‘echeete agapeen’. The bases of these words are ‘echo’ and ‘agape’.

‘Agape’ should be familiar to anyone that reads my studies. It was in the intro to the last installment. It conveys a sacrificial love. It is a love that asks nothing in return. It is a love that is based on no action of the recipient. It is the ‘give/give’ love of God.

‘Echo’ is a word in English we are familiar with. It means, ‘the repetition of a sound caused by the reflection of sound waves.’ In simple terms, it is a sound bounced off of some solid barrier. We can remember as kids yelling into a canyon or enclosed area and hearing the sound of our own voice coming back to us. It also means, ‘to closely imitate or repeat another's words, ideas, or acts’.

By this, the echoing of the sacrificial love of Christ, expressed in humility, preferring others above yourself, will all men know that you are my Child. Your Discipleship will be made manifest by the giving love you express and exhibit in word and deed.

Is not puffed up

Love is humble.

Luke 14:7-11

7. And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them,

8. When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;

9. And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.

10. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.

11. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Jesus is recounting the advice of Solomon, at this time. In the form of this parable, He relates the words of Proverbs, which says, Stand not in the place of great men, for better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither, than that thou shouldest be put lower.

It is in the nature of mankind to want to be exalted. We all want to feel like we are important in some way, to someone. There is nothing wrong with occupying a position of honor or respect. I don’t want to imply that being in a high office or place of authority is inherently wrong. There are many people in such places that still maintain their humility. The problem occurs generally when the position becomes more important than the help the position can afford others.

Jesus noted the actions of the lawyers and the Pharisees in taking the most prestigious seats near the head of the table. It was their efforts to seem important to others. Jesus stated that the greater honor was found in taking the lower seats. In the act of taking the lower seats, you acknowledge that there are those which may be attending which have greater honor.

1Peter 5:5Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

We are to put on humility like we would put on a coat to protect us against the cold. The Word tells us that we are given the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. When we are depressed (heaviness) we are to put on the garment of praise. Jesus tells us that we are to put on the garment of humility. As stated before, it is not part of our human nature to be humble, but we can put on the garment of humility.

If the active verb, for a person being humbled, is “humble yourself,” the passive verb is “God humbles you.” If we chose to be humble (active) we will be exalted (passive.)

I have met great men of God that were clothed in humility. A person can be confident in their ability and still be humble. These men know they are carrying the Word of God, but they also know that God has an unnumbered multitude that is carrying it as well. They realize the power is in the word and not in their ability.

There are exceptions. There are false apostles, flaky prophets, greedy evangelists, deceitful pastors, and self serving teachers.

If you chose to exalt yourself (active,) then, sooner or later, you will be humbled (passive.)

Colossians 2:18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

There is such emptiness in this pretension. Proverbs warns us that this precedes the fall. The mind was full of vain conceit, and self-confident, carnal wisdom. Is it any wonder that Paul, in his letter to the church at Rome, told them to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. For every action in the spiritual realm that involves the heart, this one involves the mind. He goes on to tell them to think soberly of themselves. We are to be very clear in our own self perception as to exactly who God created us to be.

We are a new creature in Christ. Old things are passed away. All things become new. It is inherent in our old nature to prefer ourselves above the needs of others. However, Paul tells us that we are to “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;” (Romans 12.20)

How are we, in our humanity, going to pull this off? How are we going to do something that is not in our nature? We can pull off an act for a time, but eventually, who we are will shine through. There must be a change, not in deed only, but in our hearts. One writer tells people to ‘rend their hearts, and not their garments only’. In that day, when a person was grieved by something, they would tear their garments to express the anguish of their hearts. There were those that knew this was the feeling they should have when the priest would preach the conviction of God to the people for their apostasy. They knew it was the reaction the priest expected to see as the expression of the grieving of their hearts by the sins of the people against God. However, they were not convicted in their hearts. They only expressed the outward show. There was no inward change. Joel told the people that there needed to be an inward change.

We can know the right thing to do. We can express it for a time. Until there is an inward change, it is merely a show for the public. God looks upon and sees the heart. How will we, humanity, do this?

It comes by the change brought about by the infilling of God’s Spirit and the echoing of His love through us. It is only in this can we sustain humility. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2.20)

There can be much debate on just what it means to be humble. Some people think that humility is a sign of weakness. When I was a young boy, following a scrape I had with another boy, a wise person told me the stronger person walks away from the fight. As a child, I never really understood that. I considered it a weakness to back down. Now, I know the truth. Whether a person could or would win that fight is irrelevant. What is relevant is the strength it takes to turn your back on your anger. Anger is a powerful tool. It is a devastating emotion if un-channeled. The strength is in the humility.

2nd Corinthians 10:5 “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”

Love brings every thought to the obedience of Christ. Love conquers anger. Love does not suppress anger. To suppress something is simply to hold it down. Love does not hold down anger. Love conquers it. Love destroys it. Anger seeks to puff up. Love tears that down. Pride seeks to puff up. Vanity seeks to puff up.

Love is not inflated with a sense of its own self importance. Love prefers another. The scripture tells us that we are to prefer our brother over ourselves

Pride is the enemy of the soul. Pride says it is of our own devices that we can be delivered. There is a religion that has its members do works to become worthy of baptism. This defeats the entire purpose of the baptism. If I can make myself worthy of this cleansing of my soul by some action or deed of my own, then Christ died on the cross for nothing. It is the very fact that I could do nothing to redeem myself from sin that caused God to come in the form of a man, to live certain days, to preach and go about doing good, to be unjustly crucified, to die and to rise again the third day. It is nothing in me that will bring about my redemption. It is when I can put away my pride and cry out in repentance to a Holy God, that I have hope.

True humility comes when I have poured out the all of me and allowed His Spirit to come fully in. There is no man as humble as the man whose heart has been cleansed of sin. Once that Spirit fills my life, I am overwhelmed by the love that brought about the sacrifice. That love covers my once proud heart. That love conquers anger and vanity. That love destroys my sense of self worth.

I have heard people talk about the attack of Satan on their lives. They say, “He says I am not worthy.” Well, bless God, you are not worthy. Jesus did not die because you were worthy; He died because you were not worthy. For this cause, love is humble.

All that I have is because of God. All that I am; all that I may enjoy; all that I may possess; and all that I might obtain, is through and by the mercies of God. For this cause, love is humble.

Love is not puffed up.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3.30)

There must be less of me and more of him shining through me.

Pride is the opposite of humility. We stated earlier that we are to be clothed in humility. The same verse goes on to tell us the God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. The last thing we would want would be for God to stand against us.

Pride is defined as ‘having a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc. (Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary)

Some words we use to describe facets of pride are: arrogance, haughtiness, vainglory, conceit, stuck-up, vanity, and self-admiration.

There are numerous signs along the road to pride. We can call the warning signs. They are:

· Yearning for praise or human accolades.

When you let yourself get an emotional high from praise, it can be addictive. It can lead to you believing you deserve the praise. It can create an appetite for more. It will lead you to doing things, not for God’s glory, but for more praise. Love’s motive is never praise.

· Keeping score

When we begin keeping score of how many prestige point we amass against the amount others do not amass, we are travelling on the road of pride, to an undesirable destination. Love doesn’t keep score.

· Cultivating a creator complex

We have developed the creator complex when we begin to look at the lives of other in comparison to who we are and what we do. Love doesn’t compare.

· Rejoicing in others’ failures and resenting others’ successes

We live in a competitive society. Everything is a competition. While competition has its place on the field or on the court, it does not have a place in the lives of Children of God. The scripture tells us that the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.” We will discuss in more detail in a later study, but one of the characteristics of love is that it does not rejoice in iniquity. Love does not glory in the failings of others.

· Compulsively defending yourself against criticism

Criticism is hurtful. Our natural (fleshly) inclination is to strike back. The more they say we are wrong, the more we feel the need to prove we are right. Love does not strike back.

There are also signs along the road to humility. They include:

· Adhering to the biblical rules for submission

By the Word, we know we must submit to our government. “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” Employees must submit to their supervisors. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear.” Wives must submit to their husbands.”Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands.” Young people must submit to older people. “Likewise, ye younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.” Believers must submit to their pastors. “Obey those who rule over you and be submissive.”

· Understanding the role of the Holy Ghost in our lives day to day

He seeks to guide us daily. He seeks to take us to the places where our souls will be best nourished. As the shepherds led their flocks to the greenest pastures and to the sheepfold for protection; so does God’s Spirit seek to lead and guide us today.

· Discovering our Spiritual gifts

God has distributed gifts in the church severally as deemed necessary for the profit of the body. You may not be called to pastor. You may not be called to the mission fields. You may not be called to be an evangelist. Your gifts may lie in another place. The Word tells us all to covet earnestly the best gifts. Find you gift. It will make a place for itself.

· Knowing your place in the Body

Disharmony occurs when someone tries to do the work another is called to do. God places us into the body as He sees fit. We must seek out our place and operate therein.

· Recognizing the difference between your strengths and weaknesses

John Stott said, “Humility is not another word for hypocrisy; it is another word for honesty. Humility is not pretending to be other than what we are, but acknowledging the truth about what we are.”We must recognize and face our weaknesses and utilize our strengths.

· Being realistic about your successes and failures

I told someone recently, in response to their claiming to be a failure, “Failure is an event, not a person.” We all possess the potential to fail. We all possess the chance to fall. Humility sees these realistically. Humility credits success to the God that allowed it and created it. That same humility recognizes failures as stepping stones. Do not be tied down by your failures. Let them teach you. It is said that Thomas Edison said of his 2000 failed attempts before creating the light bulb, “I did not fail; I just discovered 2000 way not to make a light bulb.”

· Taking risks

Let me talk about walking. Walking is falling. Walking is taking a risk. In order to walk, one must lift one leg and lean forward, falling, and catching oneself before you actually fall. Then, you do it all over again. Life is about risks. Sometimes, serving god is about stepping out of the boat, in the midst of a boisterous storm, simply because Jesus says, “Come.”

· Accepting praise but rejecting flattery

If you do something that is truly worthy of praise, accept it with dignity. If someone is trying to woo your favor with insincere flattery, humility will shy away from it.

· Avoiding living in past achievements

The present is just a stepping stone to the future. There is no future living in the past. The Word tell us to take no thought (worry) for the morrow, for sufficient for today is the evil thereof. It should warn us also about living in the past. Humility does not stand on the mountain tops of past achievements.

· Being able to pass your glory on to others

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Philippians 2.3

(Partially compiled from Humility by C. Peter Wagner ISBN 0-8307-2935-6)

Whosever humbles themselves will be exalted

Whosoever exalts themselves will be humbled.

Love is not puffed up.

Next: Love does not behave itself unseemly.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Love: Part Four

This is the fourth installment in our series on love.

The Bible indicates that love is from God. In fact, the Bible says "God is love." Love is one of the primary characteristics of God. Likewise, God has endowed us with the capacity for love. This capacity for love is one of the ways in which we are "created in the image of God.”

There are three primary words in the Greek language that are interpreted as ‘love’ in Greek literature. These three words are the ends and the middle of the spectrum of love. They are:

· Eros

· Phileo

· Agape

There are two words which can be used to briefly describe each of these. Those two words are ‘give’ and ‘take’. While there are much more detailed definitions and explanations of these three words, these are my simplistic explanations.

· Eros – this is a take/take relationship. It is the most destructive of the love relationships. It gives nothing. It takes everything. It is the basis of the English word ‘erotic’. This is a self destroying love.

· Phileo – this is a give/take relationship. This is the type most of humanity is familiar with. It is the beginning love a child has. It is based on performance. If you love me, I will love you. How many of us as children didn’t write and pass that note in grade school that professed our feelings for another with the ‘do you love me, check yes or no’ scribbled on the page. It is also called ‘brotherly’ love. It is the foundation of the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.

· Agape – this is a give/give relationship. This is the love that God has for us. It is the love that continues to give even as we take and abuse that love. It is the love that does not consider a past offence. This is the unearned sacrificial love that held Christ to the cross.

This continues the series based on 1st Corinthians 13. We most often hear these scriptures at weddings, however, when Paul wrote them in his letter, he was not addressing a couple about to be married, but he was addressing the body of Christ.

We talked about, and will likely refer back to the long suffering, kind, un-envying characteristics of love in this study, as we talk about the non-hasty aspect of God’s love.

Does not vaunt itself

Love is not rash.

Ecclesiastes 7:8-9 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.”

Let us look at the puffer fish. The puffer fish is known scientifically as the Tetraodontidae. Interestingly enough, it is considered to be the second-most poisonous vertebrae in the world. Also, the puffer fish are covered with spines, which are only visible when the fish is puffed up. While the puffer fish is highly maneuverable, it is very slow. This makes it seeming easy prey. Their excellent eyesight and great maneuverability generally keep them safe. Their back up defense mechanism, used of they are successfully pursued, is to fill their extremely elastic stomachs with water (or air when outside the water) until they are much larger and almost spherical in shape. Even if they are not visible when the puffer is not inflated, all puffers have pointed spines, so a hungry predator may suddenly find itself facing an unpalatable pointy ball rather than a slow, tasty fish. Predators which don't heed this warning (or who are "lucky" enough to catch the puffer suddenly, before or during inflation) may die from choking, and predators that do manage to swallow the puffer may find their stomachs full of tetrodotoxin, making puffers an unpleasant, possibly lethal, choice of prey. This neurotoxin is found primarily in the ovaries and liver, although smaller amounts exist in the intestines and skin, as well as trace amounts in muscle.

Love keeps us from acting in a hasty rash manner. Love is an action. Anger is a reaction. Anger exposes our sharp pointy spines and lethal toxins. Love waits. There are several overlapping qualities and quantities of love. We are talking about love not behaving rashly or quickly, but we could also add this to the quality of not being puffed up, or the quality of bearing all things, or even the quality of not being easily provoked.

The puffer fish blows itself up as a reaction. Flesh seeks to react at times. Our human carnal nature seeks to assert itself in what it perceives as an act of defense. It reacts as a method of self preservation. However, we have a savior who acts in our defense, if we allow Him to do so.

Love gives the benefit of the doubt. Love does not jump to hasty conclusions. Love is patient with those in contact with it. If you have seen those that are hasty in judgment, it is a love problem. If a person is quick to blame, it is a love problem. If a friend or loved one is hasty or rash in reaction to the actions of others, it is a love problem.

This is not to say that love is slow to act. Love moves quickly in a need. Love moves hurriedly to heal a hurt or right a wrong. The Children of God move hastily in love to apply the balm and soothe the hurt. It is the negative connotation we speak of when we think of rash actions or decisions. We have to guard against making rash decisions. Rash decisions are not actions, they are reactions.

Wave your hand suddenly in the face of a newborn and they will not blink their eyes. They have no conditioned response to do so as they have never been hit in the eye. Once they have been hit in the eye, they will blink or close the eye to protect it. We think it is instinctual. It is not. It is a learned response.

That being said, most of our reactions are not instinctual. They are learned responses. They are actions based on previous similar situations that have occurred in our lives. We react according to our experiences. We respond to every day events based on past experiences.

There are numerous of the characteristics of love which complement each other. Part of the kindness of love is in the patience in judgment. You will also find the quality of thinking no evil here. Herein is also contained the hoping all things, the bearing all things, and the believing all things. We will cover these in greater detail later in this study, but they do bear mentioning here as well.

As much as we can say what love is through these scriptures, it is also as important to see what love isn’t. If we say that love is not hasty in judgment, we can see then that love is slow to anger and swift to forgive. We can see the lack of rash or racing judgment in God’s coming to man in the Garden of Eden following man’s fall. He did not rush to the spot of man’s sin. He did not hasten to throw man out of paradise. He came, in the cool of the day, in the calm, quiet and composed. He had judgment with Him, but His love did not allow Him to come in haste.

When we have the love of God leading us, we will not react in haste.

Love stands between the situation and the reaction. We talked about love being patient (long suffering.) The key to that phraseology is in two parts.

The first part is the suffering aspect. This plainly states that there is suffering involved. The incentive is not a desired stimulus. By the very word, we can understand that the condition is causing pain. Whether it is a long dull ache or a sudden sharp pain, it is still pain, nonetheless. Who among us, even for the sake of love, wants to endure continuous or even occasional pain? The natural human reaction is to move quickly away from the source of pain. This is a reaction. (Touch something hot and see how quickly your body reacts to the pain of the heat.) This is the nature of flesh when it comes in contact with a painful stimulus. We do not want to endure physical pain.

Now, we come to the heart. I am not talking about the physical beating muscle in your chest, but the emotional seat of your being. We talk about heartache in our lives. We talk about the quick moving sharp tongue of a friend or a stranger that lacerates our emotional core. We talk about the heart pain of constant emotional abuse. We hear people speak of years of abuse and how they reacted to it. We think the only reaction is the one we see when they finally break free of the abuse or silence the abuser, but their entire life is a reaction. It is a conditioned reaction where they often shut down parts of their emotion. (Please understand that I am in no way endorsing enduring emotional and physical abuse in a relationship.) I am talking about a reaction to suffering. We all react.

We have to understand this fact about the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing He did was a reaction to His environment. His whole life was a plan. Nothing that happened to him was unexpected by Him. The Word tells us that He knows the end from the beginning. (Isaiah 46.10) from the foundation of the world, He knew the order of the days. The Word tells us that He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth. (Revelation 13.8) Can you even fathom this? As He created this world and formed the mountains and the hills, He knew He would robe Himself in flesh and die on one of those hills.

His life was ordered. When we look at His existence, we must realize this was the path He chose. He did not have to die. He did not have to save His creation. It has been said numerous times in a variety of ways that it was not the nails that held Him to the cross of Calvary. It was His love for us. It was His love for me. It was His love for you.

That love, compelled Him to give His life for his creation. The omniscience of God meant He was not taken by surprise by Calvary. It was His goal. Calvary was not the unexpected reaction of humanity on the life of Jesus. It was ordained by His love.

When we, the body of Christ, possess that love, we will not react in haste. Reaction is based on past experiences and present circumstances. That is not to say that it isn’t expected in us. It is not a judgment, per say. It is an observation. We know yesterday. We know today. It is all we have in the realm of our knowledge upon which to base a decision about what to do.

Within our brains are the Amygdalae. They perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions. The amygdala is associated with or controls:

· Arousal

· Controls Autonomic Responses Associated with Fear

· Emotional Responses

· Hormonal Secretions

I am primarily concerned in this study with only one of those aspects of its function. I am looking at the emotional responses. I want to put this in terms that ate readily understandable. Our brains are like a giant super computer. They store vast amounts of information. If we see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, or taste it, it is stored in our brain in the form of memory. When we are confronted with a circumstance, our brain goes through our memory to decide how to respond to that circumstance. The amygdala determines our emotional response based on previous responses and effect of said responses. Then, the amygdala sends responses in the form of neurons to the Hypothalamus. The Hypothalamus:

· Controls Autonomic Functions

· Emotions

· Endocrine Functions

· Homeostasis

· Motor Functions

· Regulates Food and Water Intake

· Regulates Sleep Wake Cycle

Based on the stimulus received the body reacts. This is where our fight or flight response is determined. This increases our heart rate, increases our sweat production, and alters our breathing, depending on the amygdale and hypothalamus.

The point to see here is that these responses or reactions are based primarily on past experiences (memory) and present circumstances (stimulus.) It is human nature to react in haste. It is a flooding of endorphins or testosterone predicated on the functions of our brains.

Paul tells us in Corinthians that the love we receive from God does not react in haste.

Isaiah tells us that God’s thought are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My thoughts higher than your thoughts,” God says.

Why is this?

Let’s look at the origin of our thoughts and our ways. As we explained earlier, everything we do is based on our experiences and our circumstance. This is all we know. We do not know tomorrow. We have dreams for tomorrow. We have hopes for tomorrow. What we do not have is knowledge of tomorrow. Therefore, all of our thinking and ways are based on this two dimensional type of thinking.

Let’s look at Gods thoughts and God’s ways. As explained earlier also, nothing that happened in the life of Christ was unexpected. God knows the past. God knows the present. God knows the future. God knows yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His ways are not based on a reaction. His ways are not based in hasty or rash decisions. God moves by virtue of His complete knowing of past, present, and future events.

When we have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, we will have the trust of that knowledge as well. When we know that our lives are directed by a God that loves us and knows tomorrow, we can trust in His plan and not react in haste.

We think so often that when we talk about reacting in haste, we are concerned only with a word spoken in anger, or a lashing out in anger. This is far from the only problem with operating in haste. Every day we are called on to make decisions that will affect the rest of our lives. God implores us to give due diligence and Godly consideration to these decisions.

Yes, Godly love can hold an angry tongue (the last member to yield.)

Yes, Godly love can still a violent outburst.

However, there is so much more to the calm serenity that the love of God gives us than just controlling our temper. While, controlling our temper is vital and losing it is detrimental to our Godly profession, the calmness of God’s love goes far beyond only it.

Have you ever been cut off in traffic by a bad driver? Sure, you have. How did you react? If you are like many drivers, you reacted in anger and sped up and rode the bumper of the offender. You might have even cut into the other lane and passed that driver and cut back into the lane. What have you done? You have become that which offended you. You have allowed an offence to make you an offence. Your amygdala and your hypothalamus are in concert. They are flooding your body with testosterone (yes, even if you are a woman,) and you are overriding the love of God that should be governing your life.

Now, just suppose, in your effort to even the score, you cause the other driver to lose control and wreck. There is a loss of property and possibly life. Does this put into perspective the cost of rash and hasty decisions? Does the fact that no-one lost control and there was no property or life loss change the damage of such actions?

Love does not react in haste.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the soldiers and the servants of the priests came to arrest Jesus, Peter reacted and cut off the ear of one of the servants, Malchus. Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword. He says, “This is the cup my Father has given me. Shall I not drink it?” Jesus touched the ear of the servant and restored it.

At this crucial part on His path toward Calvary, Jesus was still governed by His love for lost humanity.

Love, prayerfully considers while humanity reacts in haste.

Love does not vaunt itself.

Next: Love is not puffed up.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Love: Part Three

This is the third installment in this series on love.

When Peter stood with the rest of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost and preached the first sermon of the newly opened dispensation of grace, he spoke about Jesus and who He was, why He came, and what was to happen next. In his entire short sermon, Peter never once used the word ‘love’. However, love was all over his words. It was God’s love for His creation that brought about the events on the hill called Golgotha. It was love for mankind that held Him to the cross. It was love that restrained His lips from calling out to twelve legions of angels to rescue Him. It was love that called Judas a ‘friend’ after his kiss of identification betrayed Jesus.

We cannot be the Children of God and not have love. The Word asks how we can love God whom we have not seen if we do not love our brothers whom we have seen. Love is a foundational part of serving God. Love floods the life of the new convert as, for the first time in their lives; they feel pure and unadulterated love. It is a love without any ulterior motive. It is a completely giving love.

It is only once we understand and experience this type of love that we can truly love as we were intended to love. I do not seek to undervalue anyone’s love for their spouse or children. However, human love is tainted by humanity. The very nature within us that yearns to be loved, corrupts the love we covet and express. It is not a criticism of human love, but merely an observation. This is not a jaded observation. It is an observation having felt and experienced that ‘agape’ love of God, firsthand.

John said it in simplicity. “For God so loved ..”

Paul said in his first letter to the church at Corinth, “Though I speak with tongues; though I prophesy; though I understand mysteries and all knowledge; though I have faith to move mountains; though I give all my goods to the poor; though I give my body to be burned; if I don’t have love, it profits me nothing.”

To this end, to understand God’s love that we must manifest, he tells us that love suffers long. Love is kind.

  • Does not envy

By definition, Envy (also called invidiousness) is best defined as an emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)

"Envy" and "jealousy" are often used interchangeably, but in correct usage, they stand for two different distinct emotions. In proper usage, jealousy is the fear of losing something that one possesses to another person (a loved one in the prototypical form), while envy is the pain or frustration caused by another person having something that one does not have oneself. Usually envy involves wanting the beauty, wealth, or socioeconomic status of another individual. Envy and jealousy result from different situations and are distinct emotional experiences.(1) Both envy and jealousy are etymologically related to schadenfreude, the rejoicing at, or taking joy in, or getting pleasure from the misfortunes of others. (2)(3)

(1)Smith, Richard H. and Kim, Sung Hee. Psychological Bulletin, 2007, Vol. 133, No. 1, 46-64.)

(2)Bailey, Nathan (1737). Universal Etymological English Dictionary. London,

(3) Bailey, Nathan (1751). Dictionarium Britannicum. London.)

Love does not envy. How is it that love does not envy?

Love rejoices in the blessings of others without feeling pangs of coveting. Allow me to explain the difference between wanting and coveting. It is fine for you to want the blessings that others have. Coveting is when you want not the same blessings, but the actually blessing. You want it at their expense. You want it to be taken from them and given to you. This is coveting. Coveting is the cousin of envy. Envy is the desire to have something even at the expense of others not having it. It is a fine line. It is a line that love keeps us from crossing.

Paul said, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

He was telling the church at Galatia that there were carnal things about him that had to be crucified. He had to keep under his body and bring it into subjection. In his letter to the church at Corinth, which we have been reading from, he tells them that there is carnality among them and this carnality is leading to envying and strife. I can tell you, where there is envying, there will be strife. There will be a contentious spirit. There will be a spirit which works against the spirit of love. God’s love does not allow for envying.

James 4:5Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

James clearly tells us that being human is to be envious. It is a part of our natures that must be brought into subjection by the Spirit of God.

Countless philosophers and poets have spent time and words trying to surmise the meaning or definition of love. Untold numbers of young and old hearts alike have tried in vain to express the depths of their love to their lifelong mate or their flame of the week, but to no avail. I will not pretend to understand the depths and heights of love. I will tell you that the Word is clear. God is love.

Paul stated in the earlier quoted scripture, that he, his humanity which seeks to know love and fails, must be crucified with Christ. The life he now lives, at the time of the writing, he lives through Christ, and it is this living, that allows him to know love, and to live above envy.

  • There is much said in the Bible about envy.

"We are jealous of our own; we are envious of another man's possessions. Jealousy fears to lose what it has; envy is pained at seeing another have" (Crabb's English Synonyms)

The power of envy is stated in Proverbs 27.4: "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?

It is one thing to play with fire when you reasonably think you can harness the power and control the destructive nature of it. We do it all the time in the natural. We have harnessed the power of fire and use it to heat our homes. We use it to create electrical power by producing steam to turn large turbines at power plants. It is another thing all together to try to play with something over which one has no control. Someone wisely stated in a song many years ago that sin will take you father than you want to go. The same is true of envy. Solomon warns us that it is a hard thing to stand before envy.

Its evil effects are depicted in Job 5.2For wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one.” Proverbs 14.30 tells us “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.

Do you see the attempt of Solomon again as he tells us that envy is the rottenness of the bones? He wants us to know that envy attacks the core of our being. It is not a light scratch to be treated with Neosporin and a Band-Aid. It is not something that will heal itself in time. It is a deep penetrating wound that will destroy the vessel which foolishly seeks to contain it. It requires a radical operation of the Spirit of God. It requires the Sword of the Spirit, the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Envy is simply one of the things that love is not. It is everything that love is not. Envy, unchecked will lead to hatred and the death of a soul.

Envy and jealousy led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 27.18 For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.

Mark 15.10 For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.

It is one of "the works of the flesh"

Galatians 5:19-21

19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20. Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21. Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul states in his letter to the church at Rome that in his flesh is no good thing. Whatever goodness is in him is by and through the Spirit of God that dwells within him. He says that he sees a law in that his flesh wars against his spirit. He further states as quoted above, that he keep under his body and brings it into subjection, lest when he has preached to other, he might become a castaway. These works of the flesh, he warns us against. One of the works he warns us about is envying.

Romans 1:28-32

28. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

29. Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

30. Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

31. Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

32. Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Telling the church at Rome about those that don’t like to keep God in their knowledge Paul declared they will be given over to a reprobate mind. Paul is stating that those whom God dealt with continually, but just a continually rejected the knowledge of God, He turned away from their mind and no long sent His conviction to rend their hearts. They would no longer be convicted in their heart for the wrong doing that would damn their souls. He declared they would be filled with unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, and maliciousness. They would be full of envy, which would lead to murders, debates, deceit, malignity and whisperings. The love that comes from above does not envy. It is the work of the flesh. It is the ingredient and product of the reprobate mind.

Christian believers are earnestly warned against envying.

Romans 13.13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.”

1 Corinthians 3.3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

1st Peter 2:1Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings,”

In Kings, Ahab the king envied the vineyard of Naboth. He sought to buy it, but Naboth, being bound by the Word of God to never sell that which was given to him by God, refused. Ahab pouted and his wife, Jezebel conceived a plan to gain the vineyard of Ahab’s envy. She set in motion plans and hired liars to bring about the stoning death of Naboth. Once he was dead, Ahab laid claim to the vineyard of his desire.

God spoke to Elijah to go to Ahab and to tell him that his and his wife’s evil did not go unseen. He accused him of the murder of Naboth. God spoke through Elijah to tell Ahab that the dogs would lick up his blood in the same spot where that licked up the blood of Naboth. He further said that the dogs would also eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.

These actions and judgments were the consequences of envy. Envy led Ahab down a path that led to his own destruction. When we are envious, we are aiding Satan in the destruction of our own soul. Envy is a poison that is as dangerous or more so to the vessel that contains it than the object of the envy.

Love does not envy.

It would be easy to stop here and state emphatically that the Bible clearly tells us that ‘envy’ is part of the works of the flesh and must be abandoned by the believers. No good thing comes from envy. It is commonly associated with strife in the Word of God. Where you read that there is envy, there is also strife.

The questions are: How do we recognize envy in its early stages? And how do we stop it?

As stated in the beginning of this Study, envy is the desire to have at the expense of others. It is the emotion we feel when we perceive that someone has something, physical or otherwise, that we desire or wish they lacked. Aristotle defined envy as ‘the pain caused by the good fortune of others’. Envy is the improper equalizer.

As I have spoken in times past about the phrase ‘Whosoever Will” in how ‘whosoever’ is the great equalizer. When God spoke and said, “Whosever will, let him come,” He made us all equal. One’s health has no bearing on the call of God; nor does one’s wealth or social standing. We are all equal at the foot of the cross. Envy seeks to equalize by tearing down the good fortune or just rewards of others.

Love rejoices in the good fortune of others whether we enjoy the sane fortune or not. Love rejoices in the blessings of others. Envy recognizes that the blessing may not be legally wrought by the person envying and therefore begrudges the blessings of others.

When you hear of the blessings of others, and there is that tinge of anger because it didn’t happen to you, you are in the primary stage of envy.

Paul said that he was content in whatever state he found himself. There is nothing wrong with wanting more out of life. There is nothing wrong with a work ethic born of wanting more in life. Earning a day’s wage for a day’s work is one of the foundations of a healthy self esteem. I do not want to infer that envy only happens to those of low self esteem. It can happen to anyone that is not safeguarding against it. We must be ever vigilant against the works of the flesh.

How do we stop it?

Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ.” He stated, “I keep under my body. I bring it under subjection.” We have to allow the love of God to lead us to the place where we can be victorious. That is not always the place we want to be. The Bible tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He fasted for forty day and nights and was tempted by the devil.

We must be willing to be led to the place where God can minister to us and make the changes necessary. We must be willing to be on the potter’s wheel. There are times that we must be broken by the love of God. We must be remade. When we are remade in the image of Christ, we will put envy away.

Envy creates a false face and anything false is a lie. God is the truth. A lie is the opposite of truth and therefore the opposite of God and His Will. There is a word we use to express our honesty. That word is ‘sincere’. When we claim we are being sincere, we are claiming to be dealing truthfully in our emotion. The word ‘sincere’ is reported to come from two Latin words, ‘sin and ‘crescere’; ‘Sin’ meaning ‘one’ and ‘crescere’ meaning ‘to grow’. This is taken to mean ‘one growth, or not mixed. This means ‘pure’ Envy is a convoluted emotion. It presents as one thing and a completely different thing smolders beneath. Envy is like flattery. Flattery is false praise. Praise is truth. Flattery is the lie. Envy is false sincerity.

Love does not wear the face of sincerity and harbor envy in its heart. This is not the love that the Child of God possesses. If your heart is filled with envy, it cannot be filled with love. If your heart is filled with love, it cannot be filled with envy.

The Word tells us that where there is envying and strife, there is confusion and every evil work. (James 3.16) Everything is unsettled and agitated. There is no mutual confidence; there is no union of plan and effort; there is no co-operation in promoting a common object; there is no stability in any plan; for a purpose, though for good, formed by one portion, is defeated by another. Envying is the enemy of ‘one growth’.

Love does not envy.

Next: Love does not vaunt itself.