Sunday, December 26, 2010

Love: Part Ten

This is the tenth installment in our series on love.

Salvation is predicated on love. John tells us quite plainly it was love that prompted God to give us a way to reach him. (John 3.16) when we look at who may or may not be the recipient of this great love and great manifestation of that love, we need only look at the word, ‘whosoever’. As I have stated and taught in other Bible studies, this word it the great equalizer of mankind. ‘Whosoever’ places us all on the same level at the foot of the cross. Regardless of where we are in our walk with God; regardless of where we started; regardless of the depths to which sin had taken us; we were all sinners that needed the love of God. ‘Whosoever’ put me on the same plane as the richest man in the world. Every individual that has accepted Christ and taken on the name started at the same place. We all began as a sinner. We all began as a person in need of the loving redemptive act of Jesus.

The Word tells us there is but one door. There is but one way. Everyone that enters must enter through this one door. Anyone that tries to enter by any other way is the same as a thief and a liar. I may have been a thief and a liar in my past, but his love put me at the door. His love prepared a path for me. His love made the sacrifice in my stead.

The one thing we need to realize is the difference in love. I love my wife. I love a good well-done steak. Both statements use the same word, but are in no way linked by the same love. This is true about God’s love. Too often, when we think of God’s love, we tend to think of it in our terms. God’s love does not fit in our terms. God’s love cannot fit in our terms. It is my firm belief, that we will not realize fully, the depth of God’s love until we are rejoicing around the throne in New Jerusalem; When we have cut asunder the bonds of humanity; When we have abandoned mortality for immortality; When we have forsaken corruption for incorruption; then we can say we really know the love of God.

We do not have the words to express the height and depth of God’s love. It is this inexpressible love that has been shed in our hearts. It is this indescribable love that we are called upon to manifest in our words. It is this overwhelming love we are called upon to demonstrate in our deeds. Is it any wonder that there are times we struggle to understand this love we have living inside of us? There will be times that we will be urged by this love to do things that we do not understand, but He understands. We must yield ourselves to His great love.

George Matheson was only a teenager when the doctors told him that he was losing his vision. He pursued his studies and graduated from the University of Glasgow at the age of 19, in 1861. His fiancĂ© returned his engagement ring with a note: “I cannot see my way clear to go through life bound by the chains of marriage to a blind man.”

Matheson never recovered from his broken heart and never married. He led a full life as a powerful and poetic pastor. There were times when the pain of his unrequited love would resurface. One such time was the wedding of his sister. He turned to the unending love of God and penned these words:

“O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.” Ernest K. Emurain, Living Stories of Famous Hymns, (Boston, W.A. Wilde Company 1955)

· Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.

Love has a partnership with the truth.

In Corinth there were people in the church that were destitute of any sexual morality. Paul wrote to them to change their ways. They did not. There were those in the church that were family and/or friends of these people. Paul was telling them that the love that is in our hearts does not rejoice in the iniquity of these people. We can love them and still not love the things that are doing. We can love people without loving their actions.

Now, when I was a kid, that was the way around loving people, or so I thought. I could tell people that I loved them but did not love their ways. I would do this, however, in a way that made it clear that I really did not love them, but was using this as a dodge. I was professing with my lips that I loved them, but my heart was far from loving them. In my mind, I could say this and still talk bad about them, because I didn’t love their ways. How blind I was.

Herbert Bayard Swope, (1882-1958) US Editor and Journalist said, “I can't give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.”

Everyone is not going to be happy with everything you do. You will please some of the people some of the time, but you will never please all of the people all of the time.

It is a fine line.

Let’s talk about tolerance; what it really means and what it doesn’t mean. Proponents and opponents of tolerance alike have twisted the meaning to their own ends. If we preach about sin, we are accused of being intolerant. If we don’t preach about sin, we are accused of being soft on sin.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary tells me that Tolerance is: the act of allowing something, or willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own.

I am tolerant of people with beliefs different from mine. The love in my heart does not rejoice with their iniquity. The word ‘rejoice’ means ‘to celebrate’. I accept that they have the right to choose the way they live. I do not have to celebrate that choice. I do not rejoice in their sin.

Tolerance does not mean that I agree that their beliefs are right. I accept that they have the right to believe as they wish, whether I think it is right or not. I do not endorse their belief. I do not accept it as right. I simply allow that it is their right to hold such beliefs.

I can love people without loving their actions. I can accept them into my life, into my circle of friends, into my family, without accepting that their beliefs are right. I am not being unfaithful to my beliefs by allowing others to hold to their beliefs. I will not allow these disagreements to build walls between me and those that (by my belief) need greater understanding.

As Christians, we need to grasp the difference between being insulated and being isolated. We are sealed by the Spirit. In my home there is insulation in the walls and in the ceiling that holds in the heat and holds out the cold in the winter and vice versa in the summer. My house in insulated. I am insulted by the Spirit of God. Every day, we go out into the world and move amongst people that are not saved. We interact, in various places, with sinners. We work with sinners. We shop at the grocery with sinners. We eat at restaurants with sinners and are sometimes served by sinners.

We were never called to be isolated. “Go ye into all the world,” He told us. Jesus has died, was resurrected, and has spent time with His followers. He has given them instructions on what to do after He is gone. He has taken some of His disciples up on the mountain with him as He is about to ascend. He gives them final instructions and ascends into the heavens. While they were standing there staring into heaven, two men in white apparel appeared and said unto them, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye here gazing into heaven?”

Why are you standing here when God has given you instructions as to what to do?

They return to Jerusalem to the upper room. There they took care of some business and tarried, awaiting the promise that was given them by Jesus. The Word says they were all in one mind and one accord. There came a sound from heaven like a rushing mighty wind and it filled the house. Then there appeared cloven tongues like fire and sat upon each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues as the Spirit gave them ability. The church of the dispensation of grace was born.

Jesus’ instructions were to go out. This new born church hunkered down in Jerusalem. They continued in the temple daily, breaking bread from house to house having all things common. They isolated themselves somewhat.

The Roman Empire began to persecute this new church. It was like trying to stamp out a fire. When you step on it, it scatters. You do not obtain the desired effect of smothering it. You spread it. God allowed persecution to come to break the church out of its isolation.

We are insulated, but not isolated. We must interact with the world. We must carry this gospel to them. They will not come to our house (church) so we must take the Living word to them. We will not rejoice in iniquity, but we will rejoice in the truth, that has set us free; that has filled our hearts with love; that has insulated us; that has caused us to have hope in a hopeless world; that has given us unspeakable joy; that has drawn us out of darkness and given us a marvelous light; that has made us cities on a hill that cannot be hid; that will draw all men to Christ.

We rejoice not in the news that someone has fallen into iniquity, but rejoice at the news of someone coming into the truth. The Word tells us that we are to love our enemies; to pray for those the wrongfully accuse us; to turn the other cheek to those that harm us; to speak well of and to them that curse us; to do good to them that hate us; to pray for those that harass us; It is therefore, inconceivable to think it would be well in our souls and in line with the love of God in our hearts to rejoice at the evil which may befall those inside or outside the church.

Love does not celebrate the sin which so easily besets other men and women, but glories in the truth that cuts asunder the weights that drag us down. Love goes as far as to weep at either the sin or folly of even an enemy; takes no pleasure in hearing or in repeating it, but desires it may be forgotten forever. The part of our heart governed by the love of God hurts when we see or hear that, even those not of this body, have fallen to some folly. The media sensationalizes it when the mighty fall. We should weep. You never build yourself up by tearing others down.

Love rejoices in the truth - Bringing forth its proper fruit, holiness of heart and life. In the context of this scripture, truth stands as the opposite of iniquity. The grammar in the Word plots them as opposites. One talks about vices. The other speaks of virtues.

How is it that love rejoices not in iniquity? It is because love is willing to suffer long and be kind. It is because love does not seek its own and is not easily provoked. All these attributes are prompted by the same love. They are not stand alone pieces on an ala carte menu. We do not pick and choose this attribute and that one and leave the rest. Love is an all or nothing dish.

We, with whom the love is shared, share it equally. We have it all; we give it all. Each piece interrelated to the others. Jesus, speaking to a multitude, lamented over Jerusalem. He spoke about them killing the prophets and stoning them. Still, He said He would have gathered them as a hen gathers her chicks. Still, for them as well as you and I, He died. His death, rejoices not in their or our iniquities, but rather rejoices in truth. His death celebrates the victory of righteousness over unrighteousness.

His love, in us, celebrates the victory of virtue.

The Word tells us that there is rejoicing in the presences of the angels over one sinner that repents. It doesn’t say that the angels themselves are rejoicing. It says there is rejoicing in their presence. Who stands in the presence of the angels? God does. God rejoices when a sinner repents and turns from their wicked ways. God is love. Love celebrates when evil is defeated. Love rejoices in the truth.

Love does not rejoice in iniquity. Love rejoices in the truth.

Next: The Summary. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love: Part Nine

This is the ninth installment in our series on Love.

I was talking with a friend recently concerning this series of Bible studies. We talked about the placement of this chapter on love, in the book of 1st Corinthians. The chapter before it was dealing with spiritual gifts. The chapter after it was dealing with speaking with tongues, prophecy, and tongues and interpretation. The Spiritual gifts and their place in the body was a debated topic in that day as it is today. That debate I will leave for another day. Speaking in tongues and the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and interpretation were as well, also debated in the church in that day. That debate, also, will I leave for another day.

What is important to me in this study is the placement of a chapter on love in the middle of these debated topics. It is not that a chapter on love would not stand on its own merit anywhere in the Word, as it would. Love is a concept complex enough to be on its own anywhere in the Word. Paul, being fully aware of the situation at hand, and addressing the debate existing in the churches at Corinth, decided in the middle of this, to remind the Corinthians that love still had to rule the day.

It was ok to debate. It is permissible that we reason together. Paul, knowing that sometimes debates can become personal and get heated, reminded the Corinthians that we were to treat each other with love, even in the midst of a heated debate.

If we allow love to rule the day, we will not fail.

As stated previously, this chapter was not written to a couple about to be married. Even though we use it most often in the wedding ceremony, this chapter on love was written to the church. It was dealing with the love we, as children of God, should show to those within and without the faith.

Someone once told me that they didn’t think God cared about the small things in their lives. I beg to differ. If you really want to know it, you can read the Word, and you will find that God has something to say about practically everything we do. He says something about the way we eat. He says something about the way we dress. He says something about the way we work. He has something to say about the way we spend our money. He wants us to know how we are to treat our employer and our employees. He has opinions about how we treat our children and how we treat our parents. He tells us how we are to treat those of our family and how we are to treat strangers. God wants to be involved in every facet of your life. It is part of being filled with the Holy Ghost. God wants His Spirit to invade and pervade every aspect of our being.

This chapter in 1st Corinthians talks briefly about what God says about how we are to love. He does not make a difference in this chapter as to who we love, but how we love, everyone. Love is to be the same to our friends as to our enemies. The Word tells us that we are to love even those that use us spitefully. When the word talks about loving our enemies, it is still talking about that sacrificing love that we are to show our friends as well. When we return good (love) for evil, we heap coals of fire on the heads of our enemies. The Bible tells us that if we love only those that love us, we haven’t done much, because the wicked also love those that love them. We are to love, always.

  • Thinks no evil

When we think about this term, ‘thinks no evil’, we have to consider that there are several aspects involved. Firstly, we are to think no evil in the manner of revenge against a wrong encountered. Also, however, we are to impart no evil motive to the actions of others toward us.

Let me illustrate this somewhat by a story in the Old Testament. Samuel was instructed by God to go to the house of Jesse to anoint a new king for Israel. Once at the house of Jesse, Samuel told the family that he came to offer sacrifice. He called for Jesse and his sons to sanctify themselves and present themselves to him.

When the eldest, Eliab, stood before Samuel, in his heart He said, surely the Lords anointed stands before me. The Lord corrected Samuel in his spirit when he told him not to look on his countenance or the height of his stature. He told Samuel that He had not chosen him. God spoke further that He does not look as other men look. Man looks on the outward appearance. God looks on the heart.

We take into account the actions of those around us. We know people, not because we see into their hearts, but because of their actions. We judge instinctively. It is not even a conscious decision at times. When someone does something, we unconsciously assess a motive to the actions.

Isaiah tells us that Gods way are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. The reason that we cannot think like God is in part due to the fact that we cannot see the heart of the offender. Therefore, not being able to see the heart, we attach motives for the actions.

My theory, and feel free to disagree, is that most people see others through their own motives. The liar thinks that everyone is going to lie to them because it is what they would do. The thief thinks everyone is going to steal from them because it is what they would do.

When someone wrongs us, the evil in our own hearts shows us the evil that must be the motive for said actions.

But .. Love thinks no evil.

If we are governed by the love of God that is shed abroad in our heart, we will assess the motivation of love. We will see the actions through the eyes of love.

Remember, when we judge without mercy, we erase God’s mercy. When we choose to withhold forgiveness, we cause God to withhold forgiveness for our actions. There is a direct correlation to how we manifest the love of God and how the love of God is meted to us.

The Bible records the story of the two servants that were in debt.

The first servant owed a debt to his master. The amount of this debt was ten thousand talents. For the sake of understanding how insurmountable this debt was, we have figured the conversions. F we use the Roman talent as our source, it converts to approximately $3.4 million in US dollars. If we go with the Jewish silver talent, it converts to just over $7 million in today’s US Dollars. If we use the Jewish gold talent, it converts to $112.6 million in US dollars. Using these, it is easy to see that this servant owed a debt that he would never be able to repay. In as much as he could not repay this debt, his master ordered that he be sold, and his family, and all that he had, in an effort to repay the debt. The servant fell to his knees and worshipped the master and begged for patience and time to repay the debt. The master was moved with compassion and loosed him and forgave the debt. The balances were cleared.

This servant, upon leaving the hall of the master, where he had just been so graciously and magnanimously forgiven a staggering debt, encountered the second servant of this story. The second servant owed a debt to the first. The forgiven servant laid hands on the debtor and demanded payment of the one hundred pence he was owed. One hundred pence converts to about five dollars and forty cents. The second servant asked for patience in repaying this debt. The servant, of whom a vast debt was forgiven, refused to allow this. He cast the second servant into prison until he could repay the debt.

Fellow servant of these two men went to the master with the story. The master was irate. He cast the first servant into prison until he could pay all that was due of him. His unforgiving heart caused the forgiveness of the master to be withdrawn.

Jesus concluded the story by telling those following, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (Matthew 18.35)

When we think evil, by the evil in our own hearts, we open ourselves to be judged by that same standard. Paul tells us the when would go to do good, evil would be present. In the flesh is no good thing. We are all still in the flesh. Therefore, we will contend with the works of the flesh. Paul tells us that the good he would do, he did not. The evil that he would not, that he did. (Romans 7.19)

Any of us, in the moment, may acquiesce to the flesh. We must remain vigilant. We must make sure the love of God is pushed into the forefront whenever we deal with people. I assure you, if anyone can be pushed into doing the wrong thing, or saying the wrong thing, people will do that to you. Nothing will get under your skin faster than people.

A flat tire on your way to work will irritate you. It will make you angry. You will feel your ire rise within you. However, it is a tire. It is not a willful being. It did not go flat merely to upset you. It is harnessed by the laws of physics and probability. Excessive use will cause wear and erode the integrity of the tire. If you drive, you take the risk of running over any number of sharp objects that are the enemy of your inflated tire.

A blown light bulb will irritate you. It also, however, follows the laws of physics. A light bulb is a limited time use object. The more you use it, the less time is left before it will blow. That light bulb, that has served you so faithfully, every time you flipped the switch, will eventually create enough wear (heating up and cooling down stresses and wears the lighting element) that it will break. There will be an arc (flash) as it breaks and then darkness. It has not waited until the best part of the novel. It has not planned this precise moment to create the optimal irritation.

People, however, will try your love.

I recently heard a preacher say that everyone wants justice, until it comes to them. We want everyone to understand if we have a bad day and snap off a wrong or hurtful word at the worst possible moment. We want people to be patient when we are dragging in to work, tired and dirty from changing our tire, and they are there waiting with their problems. We want everyone to appreciate when we are grumpy because we haven’t had our morning coffee.

Yet, we don’t want to give that same understanding when the shoe is on the other foot. I remind you here, as I have and will, when we think the worst (think evil) of others; we invite justice in our lives.

The Word tells us that we were the just captives of the devil. David said he was conceived in sin. He was sharpened in iniquity. I was at a church service a while back and walked into a conversation. One of the conversers asked me if I thought we would ever be free of the desires of the flesh. I responded thusly; in this life, we will always contend with flesh until this corruption puts on incorruption. We will wrestle with our Adamic nature until this mortal puts on immortality.

You will war against your flesh all the days of your life. I don’t want to present our flesh as an unbeatable foe. We can have victory. We can persevere. We can be victorious. We can love and think no evil. We can allow the love of God to judge others. We can allow the love of God to buffer the actions of people. When we think in love, we are thought of in love.

A fathers love ..

The love we have for our children cause us to not only expect the best of them, but it causes us to apply the best motives to their actions. We want to believe the best of our children. I recall the story of a mother that was present at her son’s graduation from Army boot camp. As his platoon marched around the corner and past the viewing stand, she remarked, “Look at my son. He is the only one marching in the proper step.” The reality of the situation was that her son was the only one marching out of step, but her love refused to think that her son could be out of step.

Even when our children are disobedient, we still love them.

One of my daughters ran away from home when she was 16 years old. She was gone for three days. In those three days, Kaye and I only slept when exhaustion would force us to sleep. We wore ourselves out seeking her. Everything in our world stopped for those days. When she came home, she told me that she was afraid that I wouldn’t love her anymore.

I sat her down and explained this to her. “I will never ‘not love’ you. There is nothing you can do to change this. You may, and probably will make decisions in your life, of which, I will not agree. I may not always think you have made the right choice or done the right thing. However, there will never be a day when I will see you walking down the street that I will cross so that I don’t run into you. There will never be a day that I will not call you my daughter.”

This is the love that thinks no evil. Every sinner that you encounter is a disobedient creation of God. We share a common calling. We are both immersed in a common love. The love that God has for me is the same as the love He has for every sinner you will meet. They may have not made the right choices, but they are still loved by God. They may not be doing the right things, but still the love that held Him to the cross, calls for them.

Solomon wrote in the Book of Proverbs, that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. We like to think we are logical mind thinking beings, but we are far from it. We are a seething mass of emotions. We are governed by our emotions. We make decisions, not on how they look, but on how they feel. We think with our hearts more often than we think with our minds.

A preacher I heard many years ago (1984 .. I still have the cassette) talked about a time in his life when he was dealing with turmoil. His mind was pulling in one direction and his heart was tugging in another. He stated that he thought he was losing his mind. He broke down and went to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told him when the heart and the mind agree, there is harmony in our lives. However, when the heart and mind are at opposition to each other, the result is turmoil. The preacher asked the doctor, to which should he listen. This psychiatrist, this learned doctor of the mind, told him to listen to his heart.

We have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. It should be the governor of our actions. More than that, it will be the governor of our actions. We will act according to the dictates of our heart. The real man resides in the heart.

The servant, forgiven of much debt, revealed his heart when he took the owing servant by the neck and cast him into prison for the smaller debt. The evil in his heart prevailed.

David was a man after God’s own heart. Yes, he made mistakes. Yes, he failed at times. Yes, he listened to his flesh at times. However, there was a heart beating in his chest that had characteristics like God.

We must have the love of God in our hearts to purge the evil within it.

This week, I heard a preacher say, “Love is the irreducible minimum of following Christ.” What did he mean? He meant, as a child of God, as a follower of Christ, the smallest part, the one thing that cannot be reduced any farther, is love. If we are a child of God, we will have love.

As we are learning together in this series of studies, love is a complex simple word. Mankind throws it around as if it is nothing. We treat it as if it were a shiny bauble we found in the snow, but it is a treasure of incalculable value. It is the first of the fruits and the basis of all the others. It is the beginning of service and the foundation of a life in God. It is the governor of our actions. It is the ruler of our thoughts.

It is the one thing capable of purging the evil from our hearts.

Love thinks no evil.

Next: Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love: Part Eight

This is the eighth installment in our series on Love.

As stated previously, all of us were created with the capacity to love and the desire to be loved. It is within us all. Everyone loves someone or something.

The Bible says that we can tell a lot about a person by the things they love. It tells us that some men love the darkness because their deeds are evil. It speaks to us of some that love money. It proclaims that there will be those that love themselves more than others.

I was walking through the books of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John this week, and heard much about love.

1st John 4:20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.”

One of the greatest proofs of our conversion is the love of God in our hearts from the Spirit of adoption. (Romans 8.15) If a man professes to love God, and yet indulges himself in anger or revenge, or shows a selfish disposition to his fellow man, the Word tells us that he is a liar. The love of God shed abroad in our hearts will change our natural enmity into affection and gratitude. It is in this that we are different from our worldly counterparts. It is in our overwhelming expressions of love that we differ from the false prophet. I know that may seem like harsh wording, but a prophet professes and if he does not possess the object of his profession, then he is indeed a false prophet.

A Christian (Christ-like professor) does not hate his brother whom he has seen. Let us understand the usage of the word here. The Greek word used is ‘miseo’ which means ‘to detest (especially to persecute); by extension to love less’ John says if we show less love to our brother than we would to God, then we cannot claim to be a Child of God. The Word clearly tells us that God is love.

His love is the motivation, the drive, and moral cause of ours. We cannot help but love so good a God, who was first in the act and work of love; He who loved us when we were both unloving and unlovely; He who loved us at so great a rate; He who has been seeking and soliciting our love at the expense of Christ’s blood; and has condescended to beseech us to be reconciled unto him. His love is the productive cause of ours: Of his own will begat he us. To those that love him all things work together for good, to those who are the called according to his purpose. Those that love God are the called thereto according to his purpose

This was a love, for which we did not seek, nor did we earn in any way. Mankind was not out looking for a way to be reconciled to God. The sacrifice of Christ was not due to our seeking a redemptive work, but rather, His love and desire for a return to the fellowship between God and man, for which man was created.

Love teaches us to suffer for him and with him; therefore we may trust that we shall also be glorified with him. His love for us made us joint heirs of the grace of God.


  • Is not easily provoked

One of the many characteristics of love is shared in several thoughts. This is one such shared thought. Love is not easily provoked. It is seen also in the long suffering of love. This long suffering causes the heart to act, not react to stimulus. It also ties in the fact that love does not vaunt itself. It is not rash. This will also tie in some of the other qualities of love, as well. We will bring them in as we progress and touch upon them. We will explain in greater detail when we reach each one.

It is easy to see that if love suffers long that it would not be easily provoked. However, it is more than just the long suffering of love that prevents the provoking. Jesus was provoked many times and many times held His righteous indignation in check.

The Word tells us that love is not easily provoked. Does this convey than that while it is not an easy act to provoke love, that it can still be done? Can we say then that a man or woman under the influence of the love of God is not prone to violent outbursts of anger or irritation?

It is not their character to be hasty, excited, or obsessive. They are calm, serious, and patient. They look soberly at things; and though they may be injured, yet they govern their passions, restrain their temper, and subdue their feelings. The natural inclination of flesh is to retaliate. We say that we give as good as we get. We return tit for tat. This, Paul says, would be produced by love. And this is apparent. If we are under the influence of benevolence, or love to anyone, we shall not give way to sudden bursts of feeling. We shall look kindly on their actions; put the best construction on their motives; deem it possible that we have mistaken the nature or the reasons of their conduct; seek or desire explanation wait till we can look at the case in all its bearings; and suppose it possible that they may be influenced by good motives, and that their conduct will admit a satisfactory explanation.

How many times has humanity provoked the holiness of God? How many times have we, individually tried the patience of God? How often have we found ourselves at an altar crying out to a merciful God? How many times have we felt that gentle loving hand of correction as He tries to lead us back to the fold?

He left the ninety and nine to find that one that was lost. How easy it would have been to leave it out there to its own devices. How simple it would have been to become exasperated as time and time again this one wandered away. Whether by will or simply distraction, how easy it would be to walk away. Love constrains Him. Love will not allow him to leave one lamb out there. This is the love we are to exhibit. Though they try us sore, we will not abandon them to the wiles and trickery of the enemy. Although we have nursed them through it before, His love compels us.

The story in the Word about the servant that was forgiven a great debt to his master and then turned around and required a much smaller debt to him be paid or the debtor be cast into prison comes to mind. The conversion rate of money value then to now puts his debt in the millions of dollars. He stood before his master without a defense. The debt was valid. The fault was his. The master forgives the debt. Then, after leaving the house of the master, with this great weight lifted from his life, he encounter a man that owes him a paltry sum. This man begs for time to repay his debt. The fist servant refuses and orders the family of the second servant to be sold and the servant to be cast into prison.

How easily are we provoked by the sins of others when the Master has forgiven our great debt of sin?

Judge not, for with the same mercy you judge, you shall be judged. God is saying, “I have judged you with great mercy. Judge others according the example of how I have judged you.” Judgment is an act of provocation. God is saying, be provoked as I am provoked. My love stayed my judgment. If you judge without my mercy, you will replace my mercy with the same mercy you show. If you will be provoked, then I will be provoked.

Love is not easily provoked.

As stated, this quality of love is related to several of the other qualities of love already mentioned and some of the ones yet to be covered, but let’s not get lost in that fact. This is not merely the restating of other qualities, or the reemphasizing of said qualities. There is a redundancy of statements and habits of Christians in the Word. The Bible itself tells us that things are to be confirmed by the mouth of at least two and sometimes three witnesses. While this could be an example of that, I feel it is more than that.

The long suffering aspect of our love deals with many different forms of antagonism. Life, in and of itself, creates antagonism. Things do not always go our way. There are life issues that we must contend with daily that try our long to suffer long. Paul talked about his thorn in the flesh. This was not the quick flash of the dagger of antagonism. This was a long abiding, deeply residing issue that Paul dealt with on a continual basis. Paul’s thorn provoked the long suffering quality of the Love of God abiding within him.

We can also liken this aspect of the love shed abroad in our hearts to the aspect of not acting rashly. Certainly, reacting to a provocation would be to act in a rash manner; however, not every provocation produces a rash action. Sometimes the result of a provocation is a long stewed plan of attack.

I recall the story that my father used to tell the church about a man on his job (he worked construction as an electrician) that tried him daily. He provoked him as often as he could. Dad said that one morning he made up his mind that if this fellow pushed him that day, he was just going to hit him. Dad felt that he had reached his point. The day wore on and sure enough this provocateur began his daily barrage. Just as dad was about to turn and unleash, a fellow worker standing near, hit the man and told him to shut up. He told the man they were tired of his constant onslaught against dad. God fought dad’s battle that day.

While this story illustrates the proviso of God to protect His own, it also demonstrates that the reaction to provocation is not always a rash action. This was something dad had thought out many times. I do not know how long or how many times dad was provoked. I do know that the Word tells us that we will not be tempted (tried) above that we are able to stand. Therefore, while this can be related to long suffering and acting rash, it also stands on its own two feet.

Provocation can come quickly or slowly.

Casting Crowns has a song called “Love them like Jesus.” The chorus says, “So love them like Jesus, love them like Jesus, You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions, just know that He loves them and stay by their side, Love them like Jesus, Love them like Jesus.

We are to love as he loved. When we don’t love like Jesus, we replace the unconditional love of Jesus in our lives with our conditional love. Can we grasp this concept? When we are provoked by the actions of others easily, we open ourselves to be handled the same way by God.

How many times in our lives have we provoked God? How many times have we willingly and knowingly sinned after coming to the knowledge of Christ? When we stood in the place of the ungodly, His love prevented His holiness from becoming provoked and unleashing His wrath.

In his letter to the churches at Galatia, Paul spoke to those that had issues with the Gentiles not submitting to the ritual of circumcision. He reminded them that circumcision was under the law. He further told them that if they were going to hold to the law in circumcision, that they would be debtors to the whole law. Even further still, if they were to hold to this ritual under the law, and were to become a debtor to the whole law, they erased the effect of the crucifixion of Christ in their lives.

If you hold to a part of the law, you are held to all of the law.

If you judge without mercy, you will be judged without mercy.

If you withhold forgiveness, forgiveness will be withheld from you.

If the love you posses does not keep you from being provoked by the acts of others, then your acts will be subject to provoking god.

In the engine of my truck, there are pistons that move back and forth in a cylinder. Fuel is introduced into the cylinder, and compressed; then ignited creating an explosion, forcing the piston out of the cylinder. The movement of this piston in concert with 3, 5, or 7 others turns the crankshaft. This constant movement creates a great amount of friction. To minimize the effect/damage of this friction, lubricating oil is used.

Love is the lubricating oil that allows us to interact with others without being provoked. It is the oil that reduces the effect of wear and the damage of heat in our relationships.

Love is not easily provoked.

Next: Love thinks no evil ..

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Love: Part Seven

This is the seventh installment in our series on Love.

Albert Einstein said, “Only a life lived for others is worth living.”

While studying this installment of the series on love, I was also, in my daily bible time, in the books of Romans. I try to walk at least a mile each morning and many times it is two to three miles. During my walks, I am listening to the Bible; hence, I tell folks that I am walking through the Bible. In my walks this week, I finished the Book of Acts, Romans, and in well into the books of Corinthians.

As I walked and listened to the book of Romans, it struck me stronger than ever before how the book refers to the legal aspects of Christianity. My dad used to say, “You can’t legislate holiness.” This is true as holiness comes from an inward desire and not outward pressure. Now, there are those that do the acts of holiness for other motives, but I will let God sort that out. Holiness is not now, nor has it ever been intended to be a set of guidelines or rules. However, that being said, there are standards to which God expects us, as children and citizens of His kingdom, to adhere.

Just as dad used to say about legislating holiness, he also told me, “If you can just get folks to love God, they will do what is right.” This is not to say that any church does not have the right to apply a code of conduct to which its members agree. This is not legislating holiness; it is merely applying a code to become a member. Being a member or not being a member of a particular church, does not affect your place on the Lamb’s Book of Life. It does not affect the condition of your soul or your salvation. It merely aligns you with like believers in a local body, working toward, and supporting a common goal.

As you know, the book of Romans is Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, as the books of Corinthians are his letters to the church at Corinth, and so forth. Rome was the capitol of the Roman Empire. It was the place where Caesar lived and the Senate convened. It was the equivalent of our Washington, DC. It was the seat of the government. It was the place where laws were written and discussed.

The population of Rome at the time of Paul’s letter was approximately 1.2 million. It is estimated that nearly half of these were slaves. There appeared to be no middle class and no free industrial population in Rome. There were Jews, brought there in captivity, but made free man living within and around the city.

To this great city was Paul brought and stayed for several years. To the patrons of the church founded there at Rome, did he address his letter, now known as the book of Romans.

It is to this church that Paul addresses many aspects of the legalities of serving God. There are places throughout the book where one could see Paul as he addressed what had to be a church filled in part with lawyers and politicians. Yet, even here, in his legal argument about salvation, Paul addresses love.

Romans 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

In my years working in labor as a union electrician, I was bound by a contract. A contract binds both sides to an agreement of condition. Simply stated, it said, I will do this, and you will do this. In the contract, however, was what I called a ‘general purpose’ clause. It was obvious that every situation and every circumstance could not be addressed. (There is a law in Alabama that states you cannot chain your alligator to a fire hydrant. Do you know why this law exists? It exists because someone chained an alligator to a fire hydrant, and being told to cease, said, “There is no law against it.” Well, now there is.) The clause in my contract with the union covers that with a clause that states; “No one shall do anything that is detrimental to the welfare of another member.” It covers the things not covered.

Paul stated in Romans, after giving a brief recap of the commandments, that anything else that could occur was covered by the commandment that, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Even in the legal aspect of serving God, love covers it all.

  • Does not seek its own

Love takes care of others.

One need only look at a mother’s love to see this kind of love in action. A mother will deny herself for the sake of the children. We are all familiar in some capacity with this love. It is part of our foundational belief in the inherent goodness in all men, for all men had mothers.

To have the greatest example of a sacrificial love, you need look no farther than Calvary. On the cross on the hill called Golgotha, the creator of the this world and countless other worlds, gave His Spirit to reside in a human shell, to live and walk among His creation, to suffer the indignity of mocking and scourging, to bear the agony of stripes to His back, to endure the cruelest of deaths at the hands of those He came to save, to be marred above anyone ever, all for love. It is impossible for our minds to comprehend that depth and breadth of that love. We say we understand it, but we will never be able, in our flesh, to really take hold of it. We cannot, in this flesh, fathom the pureness of His love.

We were not helpless strangers. We were enemies to the cross. We were working in concert to thwart the will of God. We were blinded by the traditions of our fathers. Our every action was in opposition to the plan of God. The Word tell us the there is no great love a man can show than to lay down his life for a friend. Yet, while we were enemies of Christ, He loved us and gave His life for us.

Napoleon expressed the following thoughts while he was exiled on the rock of St. Helena. There, the conqueror of civilized Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments. He called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, "Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?" The count declined to respond. Napoleon countered:

"Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His Empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him.

I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him: Jesus Christ was more than a man. I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me. But to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ." quoting from Henry Parry Liddon, Liddon's Bampton Lectures 1866 (London: Rivingtons, 1869), 148.

What Napoleon marveled at so greatly was the love upon which the foundation of the empire of Jesus Christ was founded. It was this love, this self sacrificing love, which rallies the human heart to the savior’s side. When we consider that God knew the beginning from the end and all things in between, we must know that when He created man, He knew that Calvary loomed in His future. More than just the pain that His self clothed robe of flesh would have to endure, was the assault of His holiness taking on the sins of the world. He, who knew no sin, became sin for us. (2nd Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”) Yet, His love compelled Him. The Word tells us that “for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12.2.)

· What joy was there in Calvary?

· What joy was there in the death that Jesus faced?

· What joy did Jesus see when He looked at the cross?

I believe, and I am entitled to believe, as are you, that the joy that was set before Him was on the other side of Calvary. His love, which did not seek its own, saw the redemptive work that his death would bring. He saw the lives of sinners cleansed. He saw a lost and dying world without hope receive an infusion of hope.

What kind of love is this?

Love does not seek its own. When we are baptized in this love, we learn the truest meaning of sacrifice. We learn the height and the depth that love can take us. Love is a flowing emotion. In order for love to flow in, love must flow out. Love is not the hoarder that man is.

Love does not seek its own.

1st John 3.17but whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

Jesus spoke to one group about their lack of caring when he spoke about when he was naked and they clothed Him not, hungry and they feed Him not, and thirsty and they gave Him not to drink. They questioned Him as to when they had seen these things and not came to His aid. He replied to them that in as much as they had done it to the least of these (speaking of those around Him,) you have done it also unto Me.

The Word tell us that if we love those that love us, what thank have we, for the sinner love those that love them. This implies that we, as children of Cod, should be doing something different.

I read a story about a man who had fallen on hard times and lost everything. He was reduced to begging to get the food necessary for his survival. He knocked on the door of one particular house and the man which answered agreed to give him food, but only if he came to the back door.

Once at the back the homeowner presented the food, but told the man he could only eat it after they had prayed. He told the homeless beggar to repeat after him, “Our Father which art in heaven.” The beggar said, “Your Father, which art in heaven.” “No,” the owner corrected him, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Once more the beggar replied, “Your Father which art in heaven.”

Frustrated, the man asked the beggar why he insisted on saying “Your Father” instead of “Our Father?”

The homeless man replied, “Well, if I say ‘Our Father’ that would mean we were brothers, and I don’t much think God would take too kindly to you making your brother come to the back door for a bite to eat.”

We will show the love we possess.

I have been told that the palm tree is a taproot tree. As far into the heavens it reaches is as far into the earth it reaches. It is for this reason that, when the hurricanes come, it will bow down nearly to the ground but not be uprooted. This is unlike the mighty oak tree, whose roots run nearly on the surface of the ground, but spread out far and wide, who is uprooted in the harsh storms. Though the palm tree may sway and bend, when the winds die down, it resumes its stand, all because of its root system. I have said this before and it bears repeating here. I do not know if palm trees were the only trees planted in some areas prone to violent storms, but they are the only ones that have survived.

Knowing this, you can now judge how deeply the root runs by seeing the height of the palm tree.

Let us compare that to the love we show. The love we show is directly proportional to the love we have in our hearts. As much as we are able to show it is as much as we have. For this reason, the Bible stated that sinners were able to love those that loved them. That was the love that they had inside and found it easy to exhibit.

It is when we get the deep abiding love of God living in our hearts that our show of love will increase dramatically. In this series of studies, it is not my intent to say that sinners do not possess the ability to love. It is inherent in all of us to love and seek love in return. It is in our makeup. It is how we are put together. Before we came to God, we all still possessed the ability to love and be loved in return. We showed the love we possessed.

When we came to Christ, we experienced a new depth of love. Love went deeper. Our love sprang up in return. As we knew greater love, we were able to love greater.

I wrote a piece some years ago about the cycle of love that applies somewhat here. It was about the love between my wife and I, but it makes a point about love that fits. It said:

I give my love freely and un-obligatorily. I send it wholeheartedly to the object of my love. That which is returned to me isn't my love. My love is accepted and what is returned is the love inside her. It mingles with mine (as mine did with hers). The cycle continues until the much mingling creates a ring, a bond, between us where our loves course, indistinguishably. It is at that point, where our two uniquely individual loves become one love. It becomes a fountain of inflowing and outpouring. It replenishes as it diminishes.

Now, we can apply that to the love that is shed abroad in our hearts. God gives us His love. We, in turn, send out the love that is within us, but it is no longer our love alone. It is our love, co-mingled with the love of God. it is to come to a place where the two loves are indistinguishable from each other. Our love and God’s love become one love. It replenished as it diminishes.

The story of the Good Samaritan illustrates the unselfishness of love. It was a lawyer that asked the question, “Who is my neighbor,” in response to Jesus’ command to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’

A certain man traveling (presumed to be a Jew) from Jerusalem to Jericho, was taken upon by thieves and left beaten, robbed, and dying on the side of the road. First, a priest, and then a Levite come by but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan came along. Now, Jews and Samaritans were not on friendly terms. As the matter of fact, they despised each other. The Samaritan bound up the wounds of the Jew, sat him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him. When he left the next day, he gave the innkeeper money and told him to care for the man and if there were additional expenses, he would cover them when he came back through that way.

It is from this Bible parable that we derive at the term, “Good Samaritan” to mean someone that shows kindness to strangers. It is someone that will show love without cause other than the love within him.

This is the love that Jesus tells us that we must, not only possess, but exhibit.

This is the selfless love that Christ showed to us while we were still sinners and enemies of the cross.

This is the love that binds the wounds of broken travelers on the “Way of Blood.”

This is the love that sits the weary on our own seat of reast.

This is the love that takes in the injured and cares for them.

This is the love that takes from its own purse to meet the need of those in need.

This is the love that does not seek its own.

Next: Love is not easily provoked.