love is about helping others

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister for whom Christ died is destroyed. But when you thus sin against brothers and sisters and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never again eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13; NRSVue

In the Hebrew Bible God is superior to all other gods. But we learn in the New Testament that in actuality that there is no other god but God. However not everyone readily understood or received that. Those who did could easily look down on those who didn’t. Paul makes it clear that while love does not mean setting aside knowledge, to love means that we temper what we do with that knowledge.

Knowledge can be weaponized to put people in order. That can result in the loss of faith by those who are not ready for the change and perhaps never will be. Paul in his writings seems to try to point out that those who are weak in their faith in that they don’t accept the changes that have come in Christ, but remain scrupulous to Jewish laws and tradition, should accept the fact that others who have faith in Christ but abide by none of that are completely accepted by God. With the obvious implication that they too no longer have to abide by such customs.

Love is central in how we navigate everything. We don’t set aside knowledge for the sake of love. But we act with that knowledge only in accordance with love. Our goal is to help others and if that means we curtail both what we do and say, then sobeit. At the same time the weak are told not to judge the strong, not to look down on them. Which is another important theme in Paul’s letters. Recent work on Romans sees that as major in that letter.

We may think we know better on this and that. But how will that help others who think differently? While we won’t agree with them, the goal must always be kept in view. It is to love in a way that will help others come to see and understand all the truth of the good news in Jesus.

the needed love described

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7; NRSVue

The life of Christ in us who are his followers certainly exudes love. We humans know by instinct and much more so by the Spirit that love is to characterize us, who we are and all we do and say. And yet in this life it’s a challenge to always live it out.

And that’s true even in the church, Christ’s body in whom (not just among whom) Christ is present. Such was markedly the case with the church in Corinth to whom Paul wrote in the two letters we have, with the quote above. They and with them, we ourselves as well, not only need reminded, but it helps to have this love described, just what it is to be like in our relationships.

I tend to want to get it down to things I should and shouldn’t do, and while that might be helpful in some rudimentary way, especially toward the beginning of one’s life in Christ, it has to basically fall by the wayside as we go on. What is much more helpful are the above descriptors.

I think from this description of love, we can safely say that we need to err on the side of mercy, overlooking faults, even if at specific times it may not hurt to try to correct people. But never remaining there long, not letting it hang over their head. Realizing that we need the same deference paid to us as well, even if we’re blind to that need, which surely often is indeed the case.

Something to think on and pray about, as we end the year and enter a new one. In and through Jesus.

do *everything* in love

Keep alert; stand firm in your faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; NRSVue

One might think that these directions must have been given to a church that was ready to receive it. Or maybe given to a church because they were deficient in these things. Or just because we all need directions and reminders along the way.

This letter was certainly not written to a church which had it together. There were divisions among them which displayed their immaturity, failure to lovingly discipline those in serious sin, and what appears to me to be a rather childish display of spiritual gifts in pride and somewhat at least at the expense of love (1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter tucked in between the chapters on spiritual gifts). And more problems actually, if you kind of imagine beneath the surface of the rest of the letter. And some of that coming out in spades in Paul’s second letter to them (2 Corinthians).

That can be an encouragement to us. After all, who of us has it all together? Hopefully we’ve gotten past the most immature part of our lives, though we’re all certainly on a journey and in different stages of it. And churches the same. This is actually addressed not strictly to individuals, but to the church as a whole of course made up of individuals. They’re all in this together.

But love is what is to be behind all they do. Love, love, and more love. And that’s it. Nothing else but love. Even in the midst of weakness, and unlove along the way, which then needs to be repented of. And to people, to a church which definitely had some serious repenting to do along the way, not unlike us.

Everything, all, we’re to do in love. No matter what we have to do. All in love. Even as we have been loved and are loved and will always be loved in and through Jesus.

light breaking through

The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

Access to your words gives light,
giving simple folk understanding.

Psalm 119:130; CEB

Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines.
They give insight to the untrained.

Psalm 119:130; NET

“The better angels of our nature” is something akin to what I’m referring to here, that is, in our experience. We’re often frankly mired in what might be acceptable mindsets, attitudes and even addictions, all more or less acceptable as far as the world is concerned, acceptable to and often celebrated by most people. But we know better most of the time, at least deep down inside.

If we step out in faith, God’s words to us can help us, God giving God’s thoughts to us through Scripture and especially God’s revelation in Jesus. We have to purposefully commit ourselves to hearing a different word and adopting a different understanding to move us away from conformity to the world, to the spirit of the age which is antithetical to God, toward a formation more and more into the likeness of Jesus.

We need to pay attention, to be sensitive to where that light might be breaking through. To see all in a better, more full light. With grace toward all. A light as we seek to see everything, which can help not only us, but others through our embrace of what we get a good glimpse of and act in accordance to. A light which pours out God’s life and love to us. The light in which we’re to live more and more, even in the midst of this present darkness. In and through Jesus.

willing to be disliked out of love (Jesus, the exemplar)

 

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

John 1:11

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Isaiah 53:3

Out of love Jesus did not shun being disliked. In fact the love Jesus had for others made it necessary for him to be disliked, given our proneness to not only resist, but rebel. You hear echoes of this in Paul when he makes it clear that he is not a people pleaser when it comes to telling others the truth of the gospel (Galatians 1:6-10). When it comes to helping others see that truth, yes, then Paul will go out of his way to please others (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Jesus is the pattern for us. He was willing to be entirely disliked, even hated, out of love.

It probably often seems strange to us to experience dislike for what we think are no good if any real reason at all. We can’t see beyond our own limited thoughts and understanding. Maybe the person reacts to us because they are reminded of abuse they went through, perhaps misunderstanding facial expressions or something else about us. Or maybe our actions and words, even though well meaning hit them in a way that is more than uncomfortable to them. And no doubt, unlike our Lord, we do have blind spots and faults along the way, which we should want to see uncovered so that we can confess such as sin, or understand our weakness, and find help from God and others to see necessary change.

But the bottom line here is that we as followers of Jesus, like him, need to be willing to be disliked out of love for others. We ought by God’s grace and Spirit to feel a love in our hearts for others, for all. But at the same time we need to be willing for the good of those people to endure their disliking of us. 

Jesus as a human did feel pain over being disliked, maybe at specific times even by his friends. Surely at least for the moment Peter intensely disliked what Jesus said in either calling him Satan, or addressing Satan behind Peter’s insistence that Jesus should never suffer the death of the cross. True love is not about making one’s self likable because true love wants the best for others. Though we must never try to make ourselves offensive to others. To be liked is nice, but our goal is to find God’s love in Jesus. And to help others find the same. And in doing so we can’t flinch from being disliked along the way.

As we know that all the like in the world will accompany the perfect love of God that all will eventually perfectly experience. In and through Jesus.

no, it’s not wrong to have a broken and contrite heart. quite the contrary

The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

After we’ve sinned, and I refer not just to “great transgression” (Psalm 19:13), but to all sin, when we confess and repent we’re often told to forget about it. That our sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) which is true upon genuine confession and repentance. But if we’re to take seriously the great penitent Psalm, 51, then we need to accept the fact that what pleases God is not only acceptance of God’s forgiveness to us in Christ, but also God’s acceptance and I would even say pleasure in a broken and contrite heart over our sin.

That doesn’t mean we should wallow in our sin, or hate ourselves. We hate what we’ve done, and not merely the consequences. If we hate only the consequences, then we certainly don’t have a broken and contrite spirit. For most sins the consequences are only a reminder that we haven’t arrived in this life, and that we do well to be more and more humble. For some sins the consequences may be greater along with the realization that there’s work for us to do to be rid of our tendencies without ever thinking we’ll come to the place in this life when we’re actually above the possibility of falling again.

No, with thanksgiving and praise to God we accept God’s forgiveness upon our confession of sin. But we also take our sins seriously, out of love for God and others allowing our hearts to be broken. So that our lives following will become different. Hating what we’ve done, and making amends as best we can with an entirely different life. Letting God, as the psalmist, probably David in Psalm 51 aspires, to do God’s work of thoroughly cleansing us on the inside, so that our hearts might be inclined in love toward righteousness and justice, wanting to avoid all wrong.

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.

in praise of “fair” over “beautiful”

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away…

Song of Solomon 2:10

This is probably a well intended yet rather erroneous post as far as the Hebrew word goes, but just the same I proceed, and I think and hope for good reasons based on Scripture and life. Both the NRSV (we’ll see whether this remains in the soon to be released NRSV-UE) and the CEB translate the Hebrew word יָפָתִ֖י “fair” whereas at least most all other translations render it “beautiful.” It does mean beautiful, and form is not excluded in some biblical passages. That is all well and good.

But conception of beauty in our age and in ages past has differed. Add to that the Biblical emphasis on inward beauty (see this helpful article). Today’s idea of beauty in women is not far removed from some image of Playboy: sexy, a knock out, one whom others can’t help but notice with wows. Diminishing women to nothing more than objects of pleasure.

Fair might mean beautiful in Biblical times, but depending on culture, while there surely was overlap, I think at least for us, “fair” is a better way of putting it, since really all women should be seen as having this inherent quality about them. A woman is a woman is a woman, none of them to be taken for granted, all gifts from God (and we could add a man is a man is a man, and make some corresponding connections related to what we call handsomeness). Sadly some do in the mystery of life seem lacking in beauty as we see it, outwardly, in whatever way. But that’s where inward beauty can make the woman an honestly beautiful person, so that the outward appearance does not in the least cancel that out. Whereas sadly, women who can be quite attractive in outward appearance might be overall simply ugly people because of character deficit, in need of help so that their God-given beauty inside and out can be experienced.

There is nothing at all wrong with women being beautiful in face and form, nothing at all. Though difficulties come with that. But it is most important that we come to realize that beauty is most important inwardly, outwardly having its limits due to aging and other problems that can arise. Every single woman on earth has a fairness about them, so that this book, Song of Solomon can be applied in every marriage. I can celebrate my wife’s beauty, and never compare her with any other woman that way, thanking God for the fairness, indeed beauty God has given her inside and out.

giftedness versus fruit

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

I am at the age and place in my life where I’m nearly, not quite, but almost allergic to something coming across so wonderfully, so smoothly from a person. Yes, those can be and probably are gifts of God to us humans. But none of it matters one iota if the fruit of righteousness in Christ by the Spirit expressed in love is not present and growing. And all too often, as we’ve seen in recent times, these two don’t necessarily go together.

This was true in Paul’s time as well. The Corinthian believers were oohing and aahing over gifted teachers, and not a few saw whatever weakness was evident in Paul (2 Corinthians 12) as a disqualifier. This is not a sign of maturity, but of immaturity, indicating the need to see what is supposed to be the heart of it all. That is found in the love which comes from the God who is love, worked out into every part of our lives.

I care less and less how I might come across when teaching, leading a discussion, or giving a message. I would much rather come across as weak, and have God’s Spirit working on me and on all of us there, rather than come across as a gifted whatever. None of the latter in itself matters. It’s only a means to the end of conforming us to the image of Christ who is the express image of the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

a true friend tells the truth to help

Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:6; NIV

On the surface, there’s probably nothing worse than wounds from a friend. But if we can get past that, there’s probably actually nothing better.

Sometimes the only way truth and needed correction can get through to us is through a wounding. How that’s inflicted requires wisdom that is beyond us, or we could say also comes through long experience with God’s help. And it depends on each situation. And it’s not like we get it completely right in doing so. Maybe there’s wrong along with right in what is said, how it’s said. We need to be doing so always with the attempt to love. But love is not about making people feel good or in affirming their every thought and action. Not at all. If we do that, we’re not a good friend, in the true sense not a friend at all. But oftentimes it ends up being that we’re just not the friend they need. We may even be well meaning, but amiss. Love includes truth, what is right and just as well as good. So we need friends who hold us to that standard, and in turn we need to hold each other to the same.

But if we’re not regularly praying for someone, or not in prayer for them, then we should never attempt to correct them. And if we try to correct another, it should be done gently. Though maybe there’s a time for rebuke. We have to be careful not to see ourselves as more than we are, just another human in need of God’s grace, or to think we’re God’s spokes person. If we’re ever on the giving end of this, we should do so with much concern, in prayer, ready for God’s correction of us. And seeking to love.

If we’re on the receiving end of it, of course that’s harder. But if we’re maturing in Christ, than we’ll seek to hear what good is there, what actually might be helpful for us. Ever mindful of our need to grow, of the reality that we have our blind spots as well. And that God intends for us to progress in the faith significantly through the give and take of each other.

All of this not easy, but the help we need. In and through Jesus.