The Love of God

Love is ..., Thoughts
At the heart of the most succinct summary of the gospel message is the love of God.  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).  "God loved" is the foundation upon which the gospel stands.  And God's love reached down and rescued you and me. In the Old Testament and other Jewish writings, God's love was reserved for the children of Israel.  We have some hints here and there that the Gentiles would eventually be included in God's redemptive plan, but His love appears to have some boundaries.  In the New Testament, God's love is shown to be boundless.  "God so loved the world."  His love was now showered upon the…
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At Home with a Life of Love

Colossians, Family, Love is ..., Thoughts
Continuing our Colossians chapter 3 theme of a life of love, we come now to what love looks like in family relationships.  "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperated your children, that they may not lose heart" (Col 3:18-21). These instructions are not a random list of one-off ideas assigned to four groups of people.  They are designed to work together, to work in unison to provide balance in a healthy family.  For example, a focus on "wives be subject to..." without the balance of "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church"…
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A Life of Love

Colossians, Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Paul continues in Colossians chapter 3 to explain what a life of love looks like.  Remember, Paul has already identified the key to overcoming the flesh.  It is living into all that became new at our salvation.  It is laying aside the old self with its evil practices and putting on the new self with its holy attributes.  And the greatest of these is love. "And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Col 3:14-15).  Two times in these two verses, Paul writes about the unity of the body.  One of the signs of a life of love is the peace…
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The Law of Love

Colossians, Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Let's dive back into our recent topic:  empty religion.  We were working our way through the book of Colossians, when we stopped at Paul's warning regarding the "empty deception of empty religion."  The apostle reminds us that setting up a self-abasing, overbearing, tedious, rule-keeping system for living the Christian life is not only inappropriate, but is "of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Col 2:23).  The very thing we are trying to defeat is not the least bit hindered by a law-keeping system.  Why?  Because in its empty deception, it lacks true power. The power to live the Christian life lies instead in our connection to our new nature.  Paul goes on in Colossians chapter 3 to explain that we defeat the flesh when we live into all that became new at…
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Love in the Big Circle

Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus identified the two great commandments - love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself - as the greatest commandments in the Old Testament.  Did I just say Old Testament?  I did, and I said it because Jesus said it.  Jesus listed these as the greatest commandments in "the Law" (understood to be the Old Testament) saying that "the whole Law and the Prophets" (again, the Old Testament) depended on them. In the New Testament, Jesus introduced a new love emphasis.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love on another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love…
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Motivated by Love

Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
When we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, one of the changes we experience, whether rapidly or gradually, is that we are no longer motivated by selfish ambition, by "what's in it for me."  We have a new motivation for our actions. In the first chapter of I Peter, the apostle goes to great length to explain our inheritance in Christ.  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (I Pet 1:3-4). Peter continues in this chapter with two actions that…
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Love is the Unifier

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3).  Love is the unifier in the bond of peace. Pastor Ray Stedman summarized theses verses well in his book, Body Life.  "The church is never told to create unity.  There is a unity that exists in the church by virtue of the simple fact that the church exists.  It can only be produced by the Spirit of God.  But once produced, Christians are responsible to maintain it.  And maintain this unity through Christlike love." All the…
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Crucifying the Flesh by Love: One More Thought

Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
When our younger children were teenagers, I asked them one evening, "Do you think we have a lot of rules in our home?"  They looked at each other and finally Bethany answered for the group, "Well, we seem to really just have one big rule:  Do whatever Mom and Dad say."  It was an interesting answer and I immediately wondered how they would always discern - following the one big rule idea - what Mom and Dad would say in any given situation. Years later, I realized what Bethany was saying.  The idea of children obeying their parents as one big rule is both biblical and practical, and on the practical side it looks like this.  One of our core values as parents was to establish a relationship with our children. …
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Crucifying the Flesh by Love Unleashed

Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Another way we "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires" is to unleash the love God has put into our new hearts.  "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (I Jn 5:3).  "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (Jn 14:15).  As children of the Heavenly Father, we keep His commandments - "crucifying the flesh" - out of a love relationship with the Godhead. I don't know what your childhood was like, but I have a distinct memory of being motivated to obey my parents out of a love relationship.  That is, I did not want to disappoint them or abuse the trust they put in me.  As we grow up, we transfer that "obedience out…
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Love Lifts the Burden

Love is ..., Thoughts
Another challenge we all face in the area of lifestyle is the high standard of Jesus' call to discipleship.  When we reduce that standard to a list of rules to keep and the burden to keep the rules becomes too great, there is a temptation to give up on the Christian life.  But under the New Covenant, rule-keeping by will power has been replaced by an unfolding of our new nature as we more and more yield to the new influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  A way to think about getting out from under the burden of rule-keeping is this. Have you ever heard someone say about their job, "It doesn't really feel like work, because I am doing what I love?"  It does happen.  And it happens in…
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Love: One Strategy, One Message

Apologetics, Love is ..., Thoughts
I personally believe that one area where Satan has really muddied the waters in the American church is on the topic of love.  I believe Satan is quite content to see our message proclaimed basically without interference here in the States while he busies himself sowing seeds of discontent and strife among the body.  As we learned last time, this disharmony takes the power right out of our message and our witness.  I can think of at least two ways Satan delights in this current situation. First, we have taken the life out of our message because we have reduced Christianity to an adherence to a moral code (see yesterday's excellent post on this very thought by Mark Galli at Christianity Today online).  We have failed to emphasize the finished…
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Love: The Final Witness

Apologetics, Love is ..., Thoughts
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:34-35).  The world has a God-given right to judge our affiliation with Christ on the basis of our love for each other. Jesus extends the connection between our love and His mission as One sent by the Father in John, chapter 17.  Listen to Jesus' prayer for His disciples and His followers who will come after them.  "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father,…
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Love Is…

Love is ..., Thoughts
The New Testament verses about love are nearly inexhaustible and we could probably spend a year just on this topic.  But we will try to take this train of thought to the station in the next few posts.  Here are a few more pictures of what love looks like in a healthy community of believers.  It behooves us to ask ourselves if this is a description of our contribution to our church community. Love is authentic - "Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor" (Rom 12:9-10). Love communicates and cares - "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that…
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Love and the Message of First Corinthians

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
The apostle Paul often commended churches for the strength their faith and love.  The church in Corinth, however, was not worthy of such a compliment.  In fact, following Paul's introduction in his first letter to them, he starts through a laundry list of problems the church faced, offering specific instruction in church discipline (chapter 5), lawsuits (chapter 6a), immorality (chapter 6b), marriage (chapter 7), gray areas (chapters 8-10), roles in the church (chapter 11a), the Lord's Supper (chapter 11b), and the exercise of spiritual gifts (chapter 12). Then we come to I Corinthians chapter 13.  It is as if Paul is writing along saying, "Do this, don't do that, act this way" in very specific instructions.  Then he puts his pen down, closes his eyes, and says to himself, "You…
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Humility and the Message of First Corinthians

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
While we are on the topic of love and humility, let's take a quick look at the book of I Corinthians.  This letter gives us a fascinating look at healthy body life in the church by examining the negative.  That is, the church in Corinth was marked by division, selfishness, and worldliness.  "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not mere men?"…
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Love and Humility

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
Love in the body of Christ starts with humility.  "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3).  These qualities; humility, gentleness, and patient forgiveness are exactly how Jesus Christ demonstrated His love to us.  "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Mt 11:29). Look at the following passage of admonitions for healthy body life in the church.  Notice the thread of love and humility that flows through it.  "Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor…
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Love and the Body of Christ

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
Last post we introduced the idea that "love one another" is part of the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13:34).  The "new" of this commandment not only signals a radical departure from the consequence model of the Old Testament, but its practice also involves a new community; the church.  Following Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, His disciples became part of something totally new; the church, the literal expression of the body of Christ on earth.  And love is the foundation from which everything springs forth in how this body life is to be lived. "But speaking the truth in love, we are to…
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The Greatest Commandment

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
"And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us" (I Jn 3:23).  This, in my opinion, is the greatest commandment in the New Testament.  Believe in Jesus and love one another.  Accept Christ and love one another.  Embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ and love one another.  Or said another way, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love" (Gal 5:6).  Faith and love summarize the two part aspect of the greatest commandment in the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly emphasized the need for faith to enter His kingdom, to join His family.  "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him…
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The Great Commandment

Love is ..., Thoughts
If you were to ask a group of believers, "What is the greatest commandment in the New Testament?", the most likely response would be a quote of Matthew 22:35-40.  "And one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, testing Him, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?'  And Jesus said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5).  This is the great and foremost commandment.  And the second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (quoting Leviticus 19:18).  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.' " (Mt 22:35-40). Notice the fine print in the question and Jesus' response.  The lawyer requested "the…
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Imitators of God

Love is ..., Thoughts
The New Testament teaches that our family resemblance to God acquired at the new birth is what empowers us to love as God loves.  God's love toward us not only gives us the ability to love, but gives us the model for love as well.  In fact, several of the New Testament writers implore us to demonstrate our family resemblance by imitating God in how we love. "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Eph 5:1-2). "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). "We know love by this, that He…
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Controlled by Love

Love is ..., Thoughts
The apostle Paul makes the connection between our supernatural capacity to love and the New Covenant work of Christ in the book of II Corinthians.  "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (II Cor 5:14).  How in the world is part A of this verse, "The love of Christ controls us" connected to part B, "One died for all, therefore all died"?  This verse is essentially Romans chapter 6 in a nutshell. "All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death.  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we to might…
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Your Love Resemblance

Love is ..., Thoughts
Too many times our teaching and discussion regarding the love of God ends with His rescue, deliverance, and salvation or His current care and provision.  But in one of the most incredible gifts of the New Covenant, we are not only the recipients of God's love, but the possessors as well.  We are not only lavished by God's love, but actually indwelt by His love through the Holy Spirit.  You have, operating inside you, some measure of the love of God. The New Testament teaches that you have a supernatural power to love; a capacity, ability, and desire to love as God loves.  You possess this by virtue of your new relationship with God as His child.  "See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we…
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God is Love

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
Any discussion about love in the body of Christ, the church, must begin with God Himself, the author of love.  Love is not only the invention of God, but it is the very essence of God.  Love isn't something God does; it is who He is.  "God is love" is a prevalent theme (I Jn 4:7 e.g.) throughout His revelation.  And this love, at the center of who God is, is the driver in His relationship with us. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).  "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).  "Greater love has no…
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The Measure of a Healthy Church

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
One of the significant measures of a healthy church in the New Testament is love for one another.  Many times the apostle Paul commends churches for their love.  To the church at Thessalonica, he writes, "We give thanks to God always for you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess 1:2-3) and, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows even greater" (II Thess 1:3). To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, "For this reason I too, having heard of the faith…
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Where is the Love?

Church Life, Love is ..., Thoughts
In her book, Walking Away from Faith, professor Ruth Tucker identifies five broad categories of reasons for people losing faith.  They are: Scientific and philosophical issues, particularly evolution and naturalism. Biblical perplexities and higher criticism. Disappointment with God regarding personal and wide-scale suffering. Hypocrisy and lack of caring among leaders in the church. Lifestyle and perspective, including homosexuality, feminism, secularism, and pluralism. We have slowly been working our way through this list looking at biblical answers to these faith challenges.  On point one, we emphasized the unnecessary box we place our students in regarding the creation/evolution debate.  God is the author of all science and is not surprised or taken out of the picture by new discoveries, even in the field of old earth geology.  Does that mean God has…
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Faith, Love, and the Watching World

Faith is ..., Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
In II Peter chapter 1, the apostle highlights some of the qualities of the fruitful life with the bookends of faith and love.  We wrote about faith last time.  Today, we want to concentrate on love.  Some writers see the list of II Peter 1:5-7 as a progression, starting with faith and continuing step-by-step through virtue, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.  In this view, love is the ultimate goal.  Whether this list represents increasing maturity in the Christian life or not, we do know from the rest of the New Testament that love indeed is our highest goal. Jesus taught it in the two great commandments.  Paul taught it throughout his letters.  In the book of I Corinthians, Paul elevates love as the final answer to…
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To Love as God Loves

Love is ..., Thoughts
On more than one occasion in these posts, I have quoted Roberta Bondi from her book, To Love as God Loves.  This thin volume is billed as a conversation with the early church.  The conversation was a spiritual eye opener for me.  C.S. Lewis once observed that reading only modern books is like joining a conversation at eleven o'clock which began at eight, leaving us to wonder about the real bearing of what is being said.  To Love as God Loves is joining a conversation near its beginning. Prior to the fourth century, the message of Christianity was clearly at odds with the pagan Roman Empire.  The dichotomy was so severe that many careers were closed to believers because they somehow entailed supporting, teaching, or depicting pagan mythology.  The distinction…
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Love Walked Among Us

Love is ..., Thoughts
I've written before about the nebulosity of love.  Love is easy to talk about in the abstract, harder to put into practice.  We understand love is the essence of God's character, but how does that translate into love living in us?  We can extol love as the greatest of gifts, but do we lift love to that level in our relationships? As in all things under the New Covenant, our new arrangement with God, the answer goes back to Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, love exemplified took on flesh.  In Jesus, love walked among us.  In Jesus, we have the fullness of love expressed in attitude and action.  And as Jesus reminded us over and over, His life of love was a reflection of the Father. In Love Walked Among Us,…
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Love That Builds

Love is ..., Thoughts
Today we continue the theme of "love trumps knowledge" with a stop in I Corinthians chapter 8.  "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies" (I Cor 8:1).  In other words, while knowledge puffs up, love builds up. In I Corinthians chapters 8 to 10, the apostle Paul writes about the "gray areas" of life in a Christian community, areas where sincere believers disagree about participation in certain events or practices.  A particular challenge to Corinthian believers was whether or not to eat meat sold in the market that was previously used as a sacrifice to idols.  Paul summarizes the knowledge argument for eating the meat in question saying, "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we…
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Love Trumps Knowledge

Love is ..., Thoughts
As someone who enjoys studying the Bible, enjoys putting the big picture together, and enjoys connecting the dots, knowledge is important to me.  Not some gossippy knowledge of "who hit who" or a superior knowledge compared to the guy next to me.  No, my interest is in a knowledge of God, His creation, His purposes, and how He intended life to work for us; humans created in His image. God values knowledge.  God values the mind.  He instructs us to study to show ourselves approved, to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, and to love God with all our mind.  But as valuable as knowledge is, it pales in comparison to love.  The great chapter on love, I Corinthians 13, makes this point clear.  If I possess great…
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