God’s cross-shaped love

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4

In our culture, today, we celebrate romantic love in Valentine’s Day, and surely we do well to do so (see Song of Songs). C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Four Loves, comes to mind as well.

In the very passage quoted above from 1 John 4, we read more than once that “God is love.” The God who is love shows to us and to the world a cross-shaped love, that is, the love of the Cross. In Jesus, God’s Son, is the ultimate expression of love. God took upon God’s Self all of our evil, all of our sin, and in love laid down his life for us, yes, for the world.

We receive that love so as to enjoy it, live in it, and from that actually be a manifestation of that love of God in Christ to the world. It is not us, but Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20) who enables us so to live, but mysteriously this becomes (or can and should become) a part and at the heart of who we are. As Paul said, he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and participation in his sufferings, even becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3). Christ’s love compelled him in his mission and life (2 Corinthians 5).

We want to enjoy every aspect of what love is, of course not outside of what God commands. But above all, our focus is on the Love of all loves, found in God, and on the Cross, in which love is given its supreme and final expression in this world. The love of God to bring us into no less than the life and love of the Trinity. In and through Jesus.

just because

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4

We depend on reason, yet we often really are not all that reasonable as in logical and consistent in our reasoning. When it’s all said and done, Christianity is the most reasonable of all faiths because of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (see review of a chapter written by N. T. Wright, entitled, “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?”). I don’t want to fall into a John Locke Enlightenment scheme, in which our faith is in lock step with rationalism. But the faith is not irrational, even if it is definitely suprarational, transcending it as well.

The problem for us with our rationality is in large part the confidence we tend to want to put in it. So that certainty (certitude) can become more or less an idol to us. If we can just be certain about this or that, then we can find rest, and all can be good in our world. Where is God in that equation? And if there is a God, and specifically, the God of the Bible, who knows anything in comparison with God? (See the book of Job.) God alone knows everything, and we know nothing at all like God knows it. It is easy to understand how people fall into rationalism and become inherent skeptics (see the book of Ecclesiastes) apart from faith in God. But for us who have faith in God, such a stance is ironically irrational indeed.

Scripture calls us to a faith in God, no less. Not in reason, not even in our own God-given reason, although in this call, scripture appeals to reason. The only rational choice for us who have faith is to trust the One who knows the end from the beginning, and the depths of everything in between, and knows exactly what is going on, and why, and God’s purposes in it all.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

“Just because.” We trust in God because we know that God alone knows it all, that God in and through Jesus, has our backs (and our fronts and sides), and above all, because “God is love.” Being love, God wants us to live in that love, as well as in the faith, all of this in and through Jesus.

And so that is where I land today, and hopefully everyday in whatever time I have left. Thankful that it doesn’t depend on me, and on me getting it, but in the God who is love. In and through Jesus. And somehow, “just because.”

does God love people no matter what they do? who is the God who is love?

Scripture clearly says that God hates evildoers, specifically those who victimize others such as the poor. Yet it also says that God is not willing that any should perish, that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, wanting them to repent and live. I don’t believe there’s any sinner or sin which can’t be forgiven through God’s grace in Jesus.

God’s jealousy may be with reference to God’s infinite, cascading love. When people don’t give God something of the honor due him, or worship other gods in their hearts and lives, then God’s jealousy is aroused.

God is grieved when God’s people sin against him and others in their attitudes and actions, especially when they fail to love each other as Christ has loved us. That too is an expression of God’s love.

God in his love pursues us, and wants us to experience that love and be changed by it. So as to love out of being loved. God wants us to live in the same love that marks God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The same love shown to us and to the world in Jesus in his Incarnation, life and teachings, death and resurrection. Especially prominent and made known in Jesus’s death on the cross. That is how much God loves; God died on the cross in the Person of the Son.

Yes, God’s love goes on. But what is our response to that love? By what theologians call prevenient grace, God enables us hopeless and lost sinners to open our hearts to God’s heart through the gospel, the good news in Jesus. The question becomes not whether God loves everyone or not, because even though he may hate for a time, it seems to me from scripture that eventually God’s longing love wins out, and he would woo even the worst of sinners to himself. The question turns in on us. Will we respond? And the danger is that we will grow careless and hard hearted, so that we can be in danger of sinning against the work of the Spirit in prevenient grace, and thus close the door to God’s love for us, and perhaps seal our fate by our own choice.

Yes, no matter what, God is love, and God loves. That is shown within scripture and supremely and climactically in Jesus himself. We need to learn to read scripture and see all of life in that light. And let that change us even toward enemies. Changed by the love of God in Jesus who is love, that we might begin to live and grow in that love toward each other and everyone else.

love is not enough

This post from a professor and scholar in Ireland, Patrick Mitchell, on a book entitled: Love: a History, by Simon May, along with the post’s apt title, “The idolisation of love,” looks promising. This reminds me of the Beatles song with typically great music and empty lyrics, All You Need is Love. Love per se (by itself) is not enough.

Yes, “God is love,” as seen in 1 John 4. But the context itself gives the lie to the statement that love is enough, or even that love is the gospel. Compare what is meant by that, with the picture as given in scripture:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

And this, from 2 John:

The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

Read 1, 2 and 3 John, those three letters (not long) for a more contextual and fuller picture.

And to help make sure there’s no mistake as to what’s meant here, Romans 13:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

While there is overlap in the love of God, and the love we see in creation, according to scripture that’s not enough. We need the new creation love in Jesus and the gospel, which is to heal and put together the brokenness of the old creation, which for all it’s devotion to love, fails to worship the One-in-Three, or Three-in-One, the One who is love.

The true love is a gospel love, no less, grounded in the crucified, risen Jesus, and in the truth which includes absolutes such as “Thou shalt not kill.” It is not enough to think that love is all we need, or that love is the gospel. We turn to the one God as revealed through scripture, and in actual events, in Jesus. We find the one true, lasting love there, from which all other loves come, and are judged.

 

love one another

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4

There is nothing more important, foundational, or basic to our life in Christ than to love one another, even as God in Christ has loved us.

This does take effort on our part, but that effort is out of the grace through which this new life is given to us by God through Christ. It is a gift in and through which we live.

We must not draw back and give up and give in to lesser, even base things, which come from the brokenness of sin and out of our broken humanity. And because our love will never measure up in degree to God’s love, we might lose heart.

In the gift, we end up sharing in the very love of God, so that we both receive from and give to each other something of that love. But because all too often, and by and large we don’t love that well, we can too easily be prone to throw in the towel and give up altogether. But God won’t let us stay there. One way or another, we’re brought back to this requirement, indeed imperative necessity of love, because that is the life that is ours in Christ. There is no other life in him.

And so we must be committed to God and to each other in that love. To look for growth in it in our lives with each other and with others in tangible, down to earth ways. To get rid of all that is contrary to that love, whatever it might be. And together to live out this love of God in Jesus as a witness of God’s love in and through Jesus for the world.

the love which carries us through

I am not one much for what might be called “proof texting,” by which I mean trying to come up with a Bible verse, or even passage (though a passage is much better) to prove a point. Although one sentence can surely say a lot. Context is so important in good Bible reading and study, and most certainly includes the tradition of the church as in how the Holy Spirit has helped the church in seeing the truth of the gospel in any given passage, aside from the details which are bound to bring out different perspectives, and aren’t meant necessarily to be pinned down to one sure meaning, as we often do.

And so in trying to think of one passage which might get across what I want to think on now, I can’t come up with one off the top of my head. Instead I would say, go and read the entire Bible. Over time, of course. Maybe a one year reading program would be best. I like the idea of reading it all straight through. Or reading the New Testament twice, for every time one reads the Old Testament. My current plan is a bit haphazzard, except that I keep at it every day. But I’ll spare any reader any further details on that.

What we need is the grace of God, which one might call “unmerited favor,” and which I like to call a gift, sheer gift, and this in and through Jesus. And what we find is that we’re somehow taken up into that same love which characterizes the Trinity, the Love which God is. And also that this love is brought back down to earth in the exhaustion and failure which characterize our humanity down here. But a love which isn’t only present to make us feel better, but to lift our very lives into something much better.

Now what does that look like? Again, begin to turn the pages of a Bible, as you read it. You can read online, I do a bit of that through BibleGateway. My own preference is hard copy, a regular book, and my Bible translation of choice is the New International Version, while the New Revised Standard Version is probably my second preference and good in that it also translates the Apocryphal (called Deuterocanonical) books which are good for edification, even while not binding for teaching or doctrine (and I don’t think I’ve even ever read through those books completetly, though I want to). Another good resource online is the New English Translation, with helpful notes. And actually most any Bible translation is probably just fine, a good number of them on BibleGateway (see link above) itself.

The written word of God and prayer in the communion of the church and through the saving power of God in the gospel is what can help us by faith enter into this love. The love from God by which we live; the love which will carry us through come what may. In and through Jesus.

loyalty for the sake of the gospel

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus,because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.

2 Timothy 1:15-18

The distinguishing mark of the Christian is loving one another, not being “right,” not even being holy, although a central part of true holiness is this distinctive love in Jesus. And it’s a love which embraces even enemies. But might have to expose those who are doing harm to others, especially with reference to the faith of the gospel.

In the Apostle Paul’s last letter, he noted what the NIV‘s heading calls “Examples of Disloyalty and Loyalty.” In Paul’s case, he was so closely aligned to the gospel, that loyalty to Paul meant loyalty to the gospel which for him was front and center, always, in terms of both his message and his very life. Paul became all things to all people so that by all possible means, he might save some. And that he did for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

We might define loyalty as being present for someone first of all, because like us, they are human, and made in God’s image. And then also, doing so for the sake of the gospel. And that presence being in terms of being for them. This will sometimes involve forgiving, which we all need at times, and sometimes we won’t be able to do anything more than pray for them, which after all, is the greatest thing we can do for each other.

Loyalty is important, and actually like God in that the God who is Love, pledges God’s Self to humankind, that pledge being covenantal in God actually becoming one of us in the Son, and taking upon himself the evil of humanity, to free humanity from that evil. God’s loyalty to us plays out in all kinds of ways. Like in the case of Cain before he murdered his brother Abel, God faithfully warned Cain, and tried to call him into his blessing (Genesis 4). As it ended up, God did not even prevent Cain’s murder of faithful Abel, which seems more than a bit of a mystery in our eyes, although we too easily get used to such, so that we can become jaded. But we have to look at the bigger picture, and accept the fact that God is faithful and loyal, and that we are called to that same loyalty.

I don’t believe people, including too many Christians are all that loyal in the way described above. Too often we divide along the lines of politics, which can seem to be as divisive as in the days of the American Civil War, when in some cases, brothers in the same family fought on different sides. We divide or simply become disloyal for a whole host of other reasons. When I find something of that in another, I find something that is lacking, period. If I see something like that in myself, I see something that needs confession, repentance, and prayer. We are loyal to others for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. And we are in need of that same loyalty ourselves.

I lose faith in the kind of Christianity which can cut another off, or doesn’t find room to include them. After that, I have a hard time receiving from such a source. We must always live and breathe and think and pray in terms of this loyalty derived from the God who is Love, and grounded in the gospel, the good news which is in Jesus. I believe when people do this, whoever they are, they actually need to repent and get back to the true basic, the covenantal love of God in the gospel. That is the one fellowship or communion which will last, and through which we seek to embrace everyone, even our enemies, in the same way which we ourselves have been embraced, in and through Jesus.