John’s word to us: 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 4:7-12

We live in a day of deepening divisions, true to some extent even among God’s people. And there’s no question that out in the world there seems to be plenty of hate to go around. It may or may not be personal in nature, but the vexation level is high today; in other words, people are upset.

What do we Christians bring into this, or need to bring? Love for one another would be the Apostle John’s answer. We love each other in the midst and in spite of all our differences. Love overcomes and overrides all.

And it’s a certain kind of love: the same love by which Christ went to the cross for us, a sacrificial love from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a love that is to mark our lives as followers of Christ. No matter what else is true, we love one another.

When we do so we’ll find God present in a way we wouldn’t otherwise. His love at work in and through our lives in and through Jesus.

during difficult times

ע Ayin

I have done what is righteous and just;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
Ensure your servant’s well-being;
do not let the arrogant oppress me.
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
Deal with your servant according to your love
and teach me your decrees.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may understand your statutes.
It is time for you to act, LORD;
your law is being broken.
Because I love your commands
more than gold, more than pure gold,
and because I consider all your precepts right,
I hate every wrong path.

Psalm 119:121-128

I sometimes hear/read something like all we need to know is that God is love, that love is what it’s all about, and we need nothing more. This passage is one example among many of why we need all of Scripture. I too would like to live in the sense of God’s love for me and for everyone else. But life hits me along the way from many different angles, and there’s no escape from spiritual warfare for us Christians, as much as we would like to avoid it.

The psalmist here certainly doesn’t have it altogether. He/she is at a loss, and feels lost. We’ve all been there when we feel threatened or for some reason or another ill at ease. When we’re simply not resting in God’s unchangeable love for us, or we’re not able to experience that love at the moment.

How the psalmist engages God during such a time for them is helpful for us. We look to God, and we are set on obedience to God come what may. Our faith and commitment is not dependent on our circumstances. At the same time we also realize our complete dependence on God. To give us discernment and yes, to bring deliverance from our struggle. The only path for us. In and through Jesus.

God’s transcending care

ל Lamedh

Your word, LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

Psalm 119:89-96

When I think of how God looks at us, I am reminded of our kitty cat, Cloe who we rescued a year ago, and our cat, Ashton, as well. They might be distressed and so be out of sorts in their cat experience, but our love for them continues as full and unabated as ever. So it is with God toward us. We often are lost in our experience, not feeling God’s love in the least, perhaps overcome with fear or something else. But God’s love remains: pure, unabated, infinite, far beyond what we could possibly take in or understand.

The psalmist has a sense of this. In pondering God’s directions, the psalmist finds hope and delight. And it’s through the real, sometimes seemingly soul crushing experiences of life. It’s with an eye toward God, completely dependent on him, believing in his mercy, entrusting one’s self entirely to him, and bringing one’s problems and difficulties before God in prayer. Knowing by faith that God and God’s love is actually present, even when we aren’t enjoying any of that at the moment. That God has everything well in hand in his transcending care. In and through Jesus.

the difference God makes through his word

י Yodh

Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.
May those who fear you rejoice when they see me,
for I have put my hope in your word.
I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
May your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to your promise to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight.
May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause;
but I will meditate on your precepts.
May those who fear you turn to me,
those who understand your statutes.
May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees,
that I may not be put to shame.

Psalm 119:73-80

God is at work in the psalmist’s life having formed them in the first place, giving understanding, afflicting and comforting them. The difference God makes through God’s word in our lives is what people need from us. It can be a rocky road. We’re not going to walk it perfectly. But God’s hand and heart in our lives is what we need, and what others need to see in us. In and through Jesus.

 

God and God’s love is behind his word

ח Heth

You are my portion, LORD;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, LORD;
teach me your decrees.

Psalm 119:57-64

When we hear a person speak, it all depends on what we know about them, and especially our own relationship with them to understand just how we should take in their words. Words by themselves strain to be understood apart from their underlying tone and the heart behind them.

We can be assured that with God’s word there’s all of love behind each one. Even God’s words of wrath and judgment come full brim out of a heart of love which at some point must see justice done. We know of the full demonstration and depth of that love in Jesus and the cross.

So when we turn to God’s word, we can be assured that behind it is God and God’s love. Greater than can be imagined by us. But poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And so we turn to the word again and again to find the face of God. The face of love through and through forever. And to live according to that. In and through Jesus.

 

 

to the undeserving: all of us

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:1-7

How we translate Ephesians 2:3b is debated. It is literally “we were by nature, children of wrath” (see link above for different translations and here for all of them on Bible Gateway).

Children of wrath is a Semitic idiom which may mean either “people characterized by wrath” or “people destined for wrath.”

NET Bible note

Even though it could mean that we’re by nature, wrathful, I think both the immediate context, and the biblical context as a whole warrants the NIV‘s translation above. We’re indeed by nature deserving of God’s wrath because of our sin and wickedness. Wrath one might say is shorthand for God’s judgment. God’s anger can be involved, but oftentimes wrath in Scripture is in the context of God’s judgment. This meaning is brought out in at least many English Bible translations which try to provide clarity on what would be ambiguous to the reader, probably particularly where it seems there is sufficient clarity. Of course that can be swayed by theological understanding. The Bible translation sponsored by Mainline Protestantism which attempts to do this, the Common English Bible (CEB) translates this similarly:

All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

But thankfully it doesn’t stop there. To see how well that thought follows, click the (CEB) link just above, which is especially clear.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:4-7

God’s love we can say cancels out God’s judgment or more accurately taking it on God’s self (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) through Christ and the cross. There’s no other way according to Scripture’s consistent testimony throughout, completed in the gospel.

So yes, to the undeserving, all of us: God’s gift of love in forgiveness of sins and eternal life is made available as a gift to receive by faith. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cleansing from idols

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

We read as the first of the Ten Words, which we call the Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:3-6

Idolatry is endemic to humanity. Simply put, it’s putting anything above God. We were created to be in relationship with God and with each other. And God is not only alone deserving of our entire devotion, but we find our true value and the value of everyone and everything in light of the revelation of God. And when we give God our complete love in response to God’s love, we actually find that our love for others is more pure and indeed sacrificial.

“Love” in the world is often more about what I want than what I can give. It often is essentially self-centered. Not to say that there aren’t people who love others self-sacrificially apart from worshiping, indeed even knowing God. That is part of the image of God in humanity. But sin has come into the picture, so that human beings are inherently self-seeking, turned in on themselves, their own interests, and not God’s interests. And ironically to put oneself first ends up resulting in loss, including the loss of one’s very self, according to Jesus. But acknowledging God as the one who is worthy of full devotion is to find one’s own self, and the true value of others, seeing the blessing of others through who they are, and not by what we can get out of them for ourselves.

But what we need is nothing less than a cleansing of the impurity of our hearts from idolatry. Only God can do that, and it occurs in what in theology is called “regeneration.” In the context quoted above in Ezekiel, it is a promise for Israel and involves the promised land as well. In Christ it’s fulfilled within the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of all nations, and thus inherit the world. So what is needed is nothing less than a change of heart. And ultimately, as the passage indicates, and as we read elsewhere in Scripture, only God can do that.

That is our need. It’s not easy, because ironically when we’re tuned into God and God’s love, we’ll love others all the more. It will be a love, not about us, or our wants and needs, but for the good of others, to serve them in God’s love. We genuinely love and care about others in God’s love. And we experience God’s love for us and others. It’s important to remember that we’re included, loved by God, who loves in a way that’s beyond our wildest imagination, with no end. But we know and experience that love only through the cleansing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Something we should ask for and value, basic to our lives. In and through Jesus.