love is not piecemeal

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:9-15

Genuine love does not pick winners and losers. We in Jesus love all, period. That is part of who we are in Jesus. But it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Sometimes people can say or do things we find quite offensive, maybe even on a personal level, so that they might, so to speak “get under our skin” a little. And then there’s the case of simple blatant out and out hatred toward Christians, which while rare where we live, does happen, and certainly is known all too well in certain parts of the world.

Our mindset, the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) involves aligning ourselves with the new heart and spirit God gives us in the new covenant in and through Jesus. Put more simply, we need to put into practice who we are in Jesus, and leave the old person we used to be behind. Which means we’ll have to go against the grain of what we’re used to at times. We may be new in Jesus, but we have to act on that, which involves getting rid of old habits and ways of thinking, and putting on the new ways in Jesus. Ephesians and Colossians both have some important things to say about that.

And so our professed love of the Lord is real insofar as we love others with that same love. We may say we love the Lord, and think we do, but if we withhold love from others, that puts our love for God in doubt, and certainly contradicts that, as we’re reminded in 1 John 5.

And so we want to love, period. A love which isn’t mushy, and may challenge others along the way, but which is genuine and true, marked by gentleness along with the rest of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). In and through Jesus.

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the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

being a child of the Father in the family of our Lord

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5

Jesus’s words on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; see also the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6) are even now, after reading or hearing them many times still radical to our ears. And he says that we’re to build our lives on those words. They are understood essentially through where he was heading, the cross. And we in him are to live cross-shaped lives. We’re crucified with Christ already, so that his life might be lived out in and through us.

I think it’s rather hard for us where I live to readily identify with Jesus’s words here. After all, when are we really persecuted? Who are our persecutors? It seems by and large in the society in which we live, the worst we face is too often from each other. As we see in the New Testament, it’s not like believers always get along. There are family squabbles along the way, to be sure. And that’s another subject entirely, though an important one.

As we identify with Christ in this world, we may in more subtle ways where I live suffer persecution by being marginalized and ridiculed, not included, maybe sometimes not getting the promotion we thought we deserved. At any rate, Jesus by the Spirit will teach us along the way. As we continue in him to seek to love all in the way of the cross. And so be made more and more into the family likeness of our Father in and through our Lord.

what if God never commanded the extermination of the Canaanites?

At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.

Deuteronomy 2-3

In Greg Boyd’s new book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence, Boyd makes some biblical theological assertions which have hardly been thought, much less spoken since the time of Augustine. Though a number of early church fathers prior to that time did. There is no doubt the Israelites thought they were commanded to kill all the Canaanites. Boyd’s contention does seems curious to me. Couldn’t have God made it clear to them that no, they were not to do such a thing?

Central to what makes this work for Boyd is the idea that the Israelites were so conditioned that when they heard the actual words of God, they acted on their understanding as well of what God meant in line with how all the people of the Ancient Near East saw their gods, even using some of the words of such peoples to express God’s intention. And the idea of accommodation, that God met them where they were at, to bring them along to the kingdom which would be fully realized in its grace and truth only in Jesus, something called progressive revelation.

What is central to Boyd’s thesis alone is easily worth the price of the book, though many will not want to deal with the odd parts, or will not take the book seriously because of them. The heart of Boyd’s proposal is that God is known only in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus crucified. That if we want to know what God is like, always like, and was always like, then we have to go to the cross.

A little hint of where this book goes: Elijah called down fire from heaven, and two of Jesus’s disciples thought they should do the same when a Samaritan town refused to welcome him to their town. Jesus rebuked those disciples, and told them they didn’t know what spirit they were of since the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives, but to save them. And many other examples.

For those who have the inclination, time and extra money, his massive volume preceding this more popular version, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 would be in order. I might refer to it out of the library, but don’t intend to buy it myself.

A big question for many of us is Boyd’s view of scripture. Boyd claims to hold to a high view, that it is the written word of God, and infallible. And that God stoops down in the spirit of taking sin on himself at the cross, to take the sin of the Israelites on himself in their supposing that God wanted them to do what today we would call genocide. And actually by and large in Joshua, they didn’t do so. It is a rough story in the Old/First Testament, to be sure. Separation and purity were central to Israel. Jesus comes and essentially obliterates that, contradicting Moses in a number of places, bringing a new way and kind of holiness, we might say. But hints of what Jesus would bring seem to have come across during Moses’s time, as well as before and after. Boyd thinks that God’s ideal would have been for them not to kill with the sword at all, but let God fight their battles. There are instances of that kind of thought. And indeed the heavenly warriors were a part of what was going on during that time, not divided in their minds from the physical component, as we do today.*

I would say here, that there are a number of instances in the Old/First Testament which seem contradictory to what Jesus taught, and what culminated from that teaching, indeed where the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all seem to be pointed to: the cross. A couple examples, in Psalm 139 when the psalmist says he hates the enemies of God with all his heart, he has nothing but hatred for them. And in Psalm 137 where it says that happy are those who dash the babies of the Babylonians against the rocks. Of course that is understood by Christians (and Jews) to not sanction such action.

A quick word on theology. Jesus is the truth. Scripture is the truth about the truth. Theology is the truth about the truth about the truth. That’s imprecise, because actually theology is not on the same level as either Jesus or scripture, but it’s a necessary component which follows. We have to wrestle with God, with scripture, as to its meaning. And theology is open ended and never done. While it does shape our reflections on scripture, it isn’t the word of God, so we need to be humble and not act as if it is.

It’s the way of Jesus which marks us as Christians, and that way is the way of the cross, which includes the way of love even to our enemies. We pray for them, bless and do good to them. And we believe God loves all, and is grieved when in his “wrath” he has to withdraw, and let them suffer the consequences of their sin (Romans 1) in the hope that afterward they will repent. That too, is part of Boyd’s contention. Read on with me, if you’re interested.

*That thought in no way to Boyd, nor to myself legitimizes their use of the sword in physical violence, akin to Paul’s thought that our warfare is not physical, but spiritual.

God is love

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4

I suppose and hope that if there’s one note I would like to end my life on, and hopefully begin to live out much better, it would be the reality of God’s love in Jesus from the God who is love. This special incarnate, atoning love would mark every step of my way, not by myself, but with others. And it would mark our witness to the world. Of loving each other and loving everyone, even including our enemies.

It is the way of the cross. Not without struggle. But a faith and love which overcomes everything, along with the hope which accompanies that. An inseparable triad in scripture, the greatest of the three being love (1 Corinthians 13).

God is love, period. Everything else comes out of that love. And it’s the love we find in scripture, demonstrated in the cross. For us, and then even through us in Jesus. And for the world. In no other terms than in and through the gospel. But a gospel in Jesus which ends up as big as all of life. As we await the completion and climax of this reality, when Jesus returns. All of this from the God who is love, in and through Jesus.

love’s priority over knowledge

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

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.