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.

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