what does love look like?

…the fruit of the Spirit is love…

Galatians 5:22

Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:14

For the follower and followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is love. The special love of God in and through Jesus is given to us by the Spirit. That’s all good, but it has to be worked out where we live. And there’s something else key to keep in mind here.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

Maybe a good question we can ask ourselves is something like this: What does love look like in this situation? Really in anything at all. What does love look like?

It doesn’t matter what other good we’re doing. It’s actually not good if love doesn’t accompany it, yes, if it’s not motivated by love (1 Corinthians 13). Love has to be down to earth. Love in the heart will work it’s way out. But often we don’t feel that love. But the Spirit of God in us followers of Christ will help us begin to know what to do, and just as important, what not to do.

Of course we’ll stumble along the way. We’ll catch ourselves falling back into our old ways, but hopefully before we violate love.

It’s good to keep in mind what the Biblical vision of active love is: To help the poor and the stranger, to care for the widow and the orphan. And in Jesus’s teaching it includes loving even our enemies. And loving each other.

I have to ask myself, is what I’m about to do an act of love or not? If I have any doubts at all, I shouldn’t do it. And the difficult matters that we have to deal with maybe have to be dealt in entirely different ways than we’ve done it in the past right up to the present times. Maybe we’re going to have to lean on God to help us find creative ways to deal with such problems in a way that at least is a sincere attempt to do it in love.

The love we’re talking about here is not the idea of “anything goes.” It’s instead God’s love that is for the true and highest good of all. It is love through and through. Regardless, whatever else people may think, if they consider our actions or words something other than love, than for the most part we’re going to have to stop dead in our tracks, take it all back, apologize, and start over. It’s better to be still and pray.

Love is active. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Love must show up into the lives of others. Yes, in the hardest places where we don’t want to go, where our own thoughts and attitudes contradict this. Love must win there. The love that ultimately does win out for us all. In and through Jesus.

Christlikeness: turning over the tables and driving out the money changers (consider with caution)

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.

Matthew 21:12-14

There seems to be an understanding of Christ as the one who was meek and mild, and always nice. And that if we’re to be like Christ we’ll also always be nice. We should always love everyone including our enemies. But what does love look like at times?

At the very least, sometimes we need to say the hard things. This may not be true of most of us, although all of us on some scale will need to do this even if the truth spoken is only with reference to ourselves. Jesus did and said the hard things in “the cleansing of the Temple.”

We are not Jesus so that if we ever depart from the general way of Christ-like love: humility and gentleness with a deference to all, then we’d better do so with much caution. Our default should always be to have a love which accepts all just as they are, but sometimes we have to challenge the systems, authorities and powers. Even attempt to throw a wrench in them to stop the works.

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It’s my own opinion that Christ is not that much present among those gathered in his name who are really not that much about Christ’s business. Usually taking in more of a personal application of Scripture which is often good to that point but stops there. We as followers of Christ have to be willing to take the hard stand at times, to do and say the difficult thing. Although again for most of us, we simply live in a way that is counter-cultural, in contrast to all the wrong, and leave the direct confrontation to those gifted or set apart for that.

We have to think through this with the utmost caution. For some, including myself, there’s a strong inclination and temptation to see confrontation as a default. If something is broke, we want to fix it. If it’s wrong, we want to call it out in no uncertain terms. It’s better for people like myself to stop in our tracks and pray. And pray some more with others and give it time. But after that it might be good for us to gently yet firmly step in and speak the truth.

Just something to consider.

what honors God?

So… whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

This post is mainly for one reason, to get us to think about this question. The idea of bringing glory to God and honoring God, though not precisely the same in meaning are synonymous. Both are about revering and praising as well as bringing praise to God.

The context in the passage above (click above link) is quite different than a certain passage in the Pentateuch where it says certain ones brought glory to God by what they did. What honored God at one time may not do so anymore. There is what Christians call the old covenant along with the new covenant. You find difference and nuance elsewhere in human understanding of what humans ought to do, including in Jewish circles.

The point I want to remain on is just this: What honors God? Not what pleases me or makes everyone happy or makes me feel good or is entertaining or any number of other things that we often value. I’m not really thinking of how church conducts itself, though that should be thought about with this question as well. But I’m thinking primarily of how we should think and conduct ourselves. In the context of the passage above, it’s certainly about how believers live together when some are further along or more enlightened in their understanding of God’s will or when there are different understandings.

What honors God should be one of our primary questions. We factor in what loving God and loving others, even including our enemies looks like. We also factor in what is good and right. We hold ourselves accountable to that, and in certain contexts should hold others accountable as well, though our main focus must be on ourselves.

This is part of our walk in Christ Jesus. God will help us sort through what is in Scripture and elsewhere as we consider this in all of life. In and through Jesus.

should we want to be liked by everyone?

Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10; NRSVue

Paul’s words here are linked to his God-given authority as an apostle, the apostle to the gentiles, and the messenger of the gospel given to him. But what he is saying I take as connected to us since he tells us elsewhere to follow him as he follows Christ.

To dig deeper will bring up complexity, but on the face of it, the obvious answer to the question is no. We should not want to be liked by everyone. I’m not sure that all of us are to become all things to all people that we might win some which is what Paul said about himself. But in a secondary sense, yes, we do make ourselves a slave to all to win as many as possible in how we conduct ourselves in love to others in the world, including our enemies.

Jesus is Jesus and we have to be careful to thinking that there’s necessary direct application of everything he did for our practice. For example, Jesus evidently could see into people’s hearts in a way we can’t along with other examples. Jesus is God in the flesh, fully human, but even if living only as a human in his earthly existence, Jesus did so in a completely full way toward the Father, unlike us.

That said, I believe Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple precinct during Holy Week is an example for us to follow of not passive resistance to injustice, but active (helpful podcast with Jason Porterfield). Was Jesus making friends and influencing people when he did that? That was a part of the reason he was crucified. On Tuesday of Holy Week pronouncing woes of warning and sorrow to the Pharisees and not mincing words certainly wasn’t going to make those who already disliked him among the Pharisees change their minds. And possibly added a few more to that list.

We all like to like others and be liked. And someday when God’s love is the atmosphere in which all live and breathe, that will indeed be the case. But now in this darkness it’s inevitable that some will dislike us. Which could result even in death and for some does. Even though some seemingly do that dispassionately in the name of their religion or ideology.

At any rate, we as followers of Christ should work at loving everyone, even if we have to say something along the way which might be hard for them to hear or receive. We want to do everything in love, in love for God and for others. We need to learn to look past other’s faults and affronts against us and see the good, God’s image in them, and seek to love, even like them. That is an ongoing challenge in itself, but part of our calling. But for now, we can cast aside any thought that everyone is going to like us. In fact, given everything in this evil age, we really would not want that to be the case.

God will help us in this, and that together. In and through Jesus.

living at peace in an unpeaceful world

When the ways of people please the LORD,
he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them.

Proverbs 16:7; NRSVue

This is a post at risk of getting stuck in the weeds. We have terrible conflicts going on in Yemen, Ethiopia, Syria and elsewhere, and now Ukraine. And the victims are just that, victims. So the proverb quoted above really does not apply in every case, yes not in many cases on earth. Didn’t Jesus warn his disciples and by extension us, that in this world we will experience persecution and even possibly death?

Proverbs are maxims. They definitely have important, serious value. And some one can claim with absolute certainty, one famous one an example, Proverbs 3:5-6. But most of them are generally or often the case, with exceptions. And sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line between what one might take as a promise, and what is generally true. But often the proverbs in the book of Proverbs are maxims in the sense of tending to be the case in life, with exceptions.

If our ways please God, then we’ll be peacemakers, we’ll want to make peace. And radically speaking, in the way of Jesus, we won’t engage in tit for tat. We will not return violence for violence. Instead we’ll try to find a way out of conflict, not just escape, but resolution.

The maxim of Proverbs 16:7 quoted above is interestingly fulfilled in a good number of ways, but all related to peacemaking. Naturally the perpetrator, the enemy won’t want to make peace with you unless they have good reason for doing so. Those whose ways are pleasing to God will want to make peace and will refuse to fight back. That is if we’re talking about the way of Jesus.

This was part of the weeds I wanted to avoid. We have to respect those who stand up against great odds and are willing to risk life and limb in defense of their families, their city, their nation. So we don’t want to back down for a moment from giving them due respect and honor. Along with many prayers. But God wants something different from God’s people, if I read scripture and especially Jesus in scripture correctly.

We have to be quick to make right anything we’ve done which might possibly be wrong, or even possibly misunderstood. We have to go out of our way to befriend those who are our enemies since God in Christ has reconciled all people that were God’s enemies to God’s self. We may never end up being friends in the here and now, but we still can be friendly.

We do need to tell the truth at times, but we must do so gently, keeping our emotions, specifically our anger and passion in check. And again, with much prayer. By and large though if we just love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for them, we’ll need to do nothing more.

We won’t be perfect in this of course, but we have to do the best we can, saying we’re sorry, working on ourselves and our attitudes, trying to make all the necessary changes in ourselves as first priority along the way. And also caring about the good of others, including those who either want to harm us, or actually are. In all the wisdom needed for every different situation, different actions required depending.

God wants us to be peacemakers, to not quit even when the peace God wants seems impossible, and to some extent is, in this present existence. God is present in Jesus to help us lambs even in the midst of wolves. In and through Jesus.

how are we “more than victorious” (or “more than conquerors”) in this life?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39; NRSVue

ὑπερνικάω is a heightened form of being victorious, meaning “we are winning a most glorious victory” (BAGD). Although the old translation: “we are more than conquerors” might suggest more strenuous activity on our part, the more accurate rendering still indicates that we’re very much active. We are participants of God’s victory in Christ. But just how?

Romans 8 from where our passage is taken is one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. We read at its very beginning that there’s now no condemnation in Christ Jesus because of the new law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which has set us free from the law of sin and death. And what the law given on Mt. Sinai could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, Christ did by coming the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin by his death. And that because of this spiritual reality in which we “in Christ” live, we no longer have to give into the flesh, since after all, we’re no longer “in the flesh” but “in the Spirit” if Christ dwells in us. That we’re to set our minds not on the flesh, what it wants, but on the Spirit, what the Spirit wants. And that actually becomes what we want, even while in this life we sometimes think and live contrary to that.

And what precedes the above passage would be good to note here:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Romans 8:31b-34; NRSVue

The gospel is essentially given to us in the first four books of the New Testament: the gospel according to Matthew, the gospel according to Mark, the gospel according to Luke and the gospel according to John. Gospel is the English translation of εὐαγγέλιον which means “good news.” In Jesus and his coming is the good news for the world. Of course, it’s through Jesus’s incarnation in God becoming flesh, completely human. In his life, miracles, teaching: all about and within God’s kingdom present in him, then in his death for sins and his resurrection to give us new and eternal life. With the promise of his return when what has begun now, making all things new, will at long last be completed.

And with that said, it’s up to us whether or not we’re going to answer the call of Christ. I believe that call is on every human’s life: past, present and future, but that’s another topic, and really quite above my head. Though really when you’re considering anything spiritual and specifically pertaining to Christ and the gospel, it is all above us, but God wants to help us begin to understand and live in it. But first we must answer God’s call in Christ. And it’s simply, as we see in the gospel accounts, a call to follow Christ. That means following Christ as our rabbi whom we not only learn truth from in his teaching, but whom we seek to imitate and become more and more like over time, a lifetime endeavor to be sure. And of course, that’s based on his coming, not only his death and resurrection, but the whole works. He became one of us, living in the same dirt and grind and mess in which we live, and then taking the worst of humanity on himself, both the acts and the results of such acts, all the rapes and murders and everything in violation of love to God and neighbor that has ever been done, every single act of ours and all humanity past, present and future. Yes, Christ took all that on himself at the cross, but did so for the joy set before him, enduring the cross, scorning its shame. For the love of the Father, for the love of the world, all in God’s love for the world, for all of us sinners.

Now to get to the main point: How are we overwhelmingly victorious in this life? It’s simply through following Christ through thick and thin, preferably all together as church, the one body, his body. We follow him in all of life, doing what Christ has told us to do: loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, praying for and doing good to those who despise us, even turning the other cheek after we’ve been struck, never physically resisting evil, although fleeing and avoiding that is usually a good thing, and I would do what I could to prevent someone from harming another, never killing them. But we’re to seek to overcome evil with good, hate with love. Never taking up the sword, since we’re not in a struggle against humans, but against spiritual entities which do affect human rulers, and also do what they can to hinder us and our desire and endeavor to live in the reality of the good news in Jesus.

When Jesus told his disciples to get a sword if they didn’t have any, they told him, Lord look, here are two swords. And Jesus replied that two was enough. Remember when he sent the disciples out two by two previously, he told them specifically what to take, and the sword was not included. Very soon afterwards Peter takes one of those swords and slashes off one of the ears of a servant of the high priest. Jesus immediately rebukes Peter and tells him to put down the sword, that all who take the sword will perish by the sword, and that after all, he must do God’s will. Soon after that Jesus told Pilate that if his kingdom as King of the Jews were of or from this world, then his servants would fight, but no, his kingdom is from another place. So how we’re victorious has nothing to do with the world’s way of being victorious. It’s never physical, but always spiritual. Yet carried on in physical bodies in down to earth ways. Like feeding your enemies, giving them something to drink, and in so doing, heaping burning coals on their head, which I take to figuratively meaning they are ashamed.

Through the worst life and those opposed to us has to offer, as we continue on faithfully following our Lord as his faithful and called, following the Lamb wherever he goes, “we are more than victorious,” overwhelming so. That is the victory in which we live, the victory of our Lord which at the heart of it is taking the way of the cross. Becoming like Jesus in his death. But at the heart of that, coming to really know Jesus. That is after all what following Jesus is all about. It’s not merely knowing something in our heads, or thinking we know something. It is hearing the call and responding. It is heart to heart, involving a full commitment of ourselves to Christ. And that with others; we’re not to be on this journey alone. We want to help others come along, and we want to learn from each other, especially from others who have been on this journey longer. In doing so, we’re all being blessed by Christ, who has gone through it entirely, but is now ever present in our midst as well as in us individually and collectively by the Spirit.

And the last promise: nothing, nothing, nothing at all, including when we feel unloved and rejected and are tempted to despair, maybe even fall into that. Nothing at all can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is a love personal to us, but which is also meant for each other, and out of that for the world, including all of our enemies. God’s love in Jesus meant to do the same for all as for us: Making enemies friends through Christ as we respond to Christ’s call to us with repentance and faith.

Yes, we are more than victorious, more than that, through him who loved us.

the end *never* justifies the means

And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), “Let us do evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved!

Romans 3:8

This is related to yesterday’s post. But it seems that among many professing Christians today, and many of them identifying as evangelicals, that in their mind, the end justifies the means.

I think of the often used phrase, “baby killers.” Abortion is a huge subject in and of itself. But for followers of Christ, one wrong does not excuse another wrong. You don’t kill those who kill. Aside from the fact in my view that abortion like just about any other subject is complex, and while we can work toward their end through thoughtful, merciful and just policies, we have to realize that unfortunately abortion will take place. When driven underground, abortion purportedly does not decrease, but unregulated abortion increases the risk to women’s health. Again, much more can be said, and we need to listen to all sides. But this post is not about abortion.

Whatever the concerns, Christ-followers never excuse what is wrong, whatever that wrong might be. Although I am not confident frankly that all professing Christians have a good sense of right and wrong anymore, if that indeed ever was the case. To warm up to authoritarianism and be willing for democracy to be set aside seems to betray a less than sound theological understanding, not to mention what I think is a plain understanding of Christ himself, who did not advocate coercion, and of God God’s self, who respects the free will of all people.

And when it comes to the politics of this world, when God’s people saddle up to any politician or party, they’ve lost their way. Our one allegiance is to Christ and to Christ only, and God’s kingdom come and present in him. And to none other. If we do fail by giving our allegiance to this or that, “right or wrong,” then inevitably we will rationalize or brush aside that which is wrong. After all, “Isn’t the good being done worth it?” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote or participate. We can, and I personally think probably often should. That is if we value democracy. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on the national, and not enough on the local (and the state). And we may choose for a valid reason not to vote in a given election.

The only politic that we can be fully apart of, and by which we judge and evaluate all other politics is the politic or politics of Jesus. Yes, Jesus does have politics. It centers in loving God and loving our neighbor, and it even includes love for enemies. It may seem to many invalid for a nation-state, but the question becomes, Are we Christ-followers, or not? And what does following Christ really mean?

Whatever may be the case on any disputable points, there’s one thing that’s not disputable. No, the means is never ever under any circumstance justified by the end, no matter how good that end actually might be. We never bring about good through evil. We need to remember Christ’s words and example of good in the face of evil, never responding in kind. Love being central in this. Desirous for the good of all, for the redemption and reconciliation of all things. In and through Jesus.

the love that wins

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

1  John 4:7-11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

The active love of God in Christ carried on by us to each other and to the world is ultimately the love that wins. It begins and ends in Christ. It is an “in Christ” existence, but thus our real selves are found. And yet it’s in a world like where Jesus lived so that we are called to love in the same way God loves and has loved in Christ: the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek.

This all begins with the realization that we are loved, deeply loved by the God who created us and wants to remake us in Christ. Christ is the human who fulfilled this, and we enter into this fulfillment ourselves, to begin to live out and grow into this love-filled life even in the hard places, doing so together in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

what desires in us are temptations to sin?

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved.

James 1:12-16

When we read the above passage, or think of temptation in general, it seems to me that most of us, at least myself, generally think of sexual temptations. And there’s no doubt that’s a strong impulse in us as humans, ripe for deception and sin. But when you look at all of James along with the rest of the Bible, including the temptations of our Lord, we find all kinds of different harmful things we can fall into.

James 4 notes the coveting which can take place and cause disputes and dissensions. We want our own way, or we think others need to bend and conform to our wishes or expectations. And 1 John refers to “the pride in riches” along with the “desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes.” Really it is anything which violates love for God shown in love for our neighbor, even including love for our enemies. Whatever does not conform to Christ and likeness to him.

All temptations should be included in our minds when we read the above passage. So that we might see and reject all that is wrong in us, that our desires would be refined and changed. In and through Jesus.

that we might love more (and better)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more…

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; MSG

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

Rich Mullins probably in at least one song wrote how we really don’t love others well, certainly not the way we’re loved by the Lord. Life down here is not easy. There are so many demands, and when you either live with someone or work with them day after day, certain deficiencies in each other can rub the wrong way. Hopefully in the case of spouses and families, this is just a part of healthy growth together, because it’s inevitable given our incompleteness as well as actual sin as human beings.

But love is at the heart of the Christian message, the gospel, what Jesus Christ brought and brings. Yes, through his atoning sacrifice for us, we’re both taught what true love means, as well as recipients of that love from God which we enter into by simply receiving this in faith. And that gift sets us on a course of both love to God and to our neighbor, to everyone, even our enemies, and especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We need to grow in this love. A vital, even crucial part of our development as God’s children. So we need to make the effort from what’s already planted in our heart by God’s word and the Holy Spirit. And we need to pray and ask God to help us grow deeper and deeper, on and on in that love. In and through Jesus.