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“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I begin with a question today, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Or to say it another way, “Are you your brother’s keeper?” And, of course, the question refers to both brothers and sisters.

This question is a haunting one. It challenges us to think about our responsibilities to others. And whether we have kept them, or not. It comes from –

The story of Cain and Abel

This is a familiar story, from Genesis 4. Let’s remember it together:

  • They both brought an offering to the Lord
  • God had regard for Abel’s. But God did not have regard for Cain’s, who was the older brother.
  • Cain became angry and depressed.
  • God counseled Cain to do well and to beware of sin.
  • Cain, however, murdered his brother while they were in the field together
  • So God confronted Cain, “Where is your brother?” Now, of course, God already knew what had happened, but he is inviting Cain to confess and take responsibility for his actions.

And this brings us to –

The question

– which is our focus. Cain responded to God, “I do not know (where Abel is); am I my brother’s keeper?’” – Genesis 4:9.

First of all he lies. He knew where his brother was. And second his question communicates his belief that he has no responsibility for his brother and his well being. This belief shows up clearly in that he could murder Abel, and yet evidence no hint of sorrow; there is not a shred of guilt in any of his responses.

But let’s look at the question more closely, because there’s a lot going on here. The word “keeper” means “to watch over, to guard, to have charge of.”

  • It is used in Genesis 2:15 of Adam as the keeper of the garden of Eden – which was his full-time job as it were.
  • It is used in Genesis 3:24 of the angel that constantly guarded the tree of life to keep Adam and Eve away from it.

So Cain uses this word to exaggerate what God wants from him. What he is saying is that, “Hey, I can’t be expected to keep up with every detail of my brother’s life! That’s not my full-time job; I’m not his body guard.” And he asks the question in this way because he’s seeking to evade any responsibility for his brother.

But even though he asked it as a way of avoiding responsibility, the question has a way of coming back to condemn him nevertheless. That’s because even though Cain is not responsible for every aspect of his brother’s life, he does bear responsibility to care for him and help him. And in this regard he failed in the worst possible way.

So the answer to the question is actually, “yes.” Cain did have a responsibility to his brother. And we have a responsibility to help and care for our brothers and sisters, that is to say our neighbors – especially when they are weak and in need.

This point is made abundantly clear in Scripture, and I want you to see this, so we are going to look at a lot passages. We begin with –

The call to be our brother and sister’s keeper

This shows up in different ways in Scripture, but it is certainly clear in the command to love our neighbor. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to act for their good; for their well-being. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus expands this to cover all people when he teaches “love your enemies.”

We are especially to help and care for those who are weak and vulnerable. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” In Acts 20:35 Paul says, “We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” And in I Thessalonians 5:14 Paul says simply, “help the weak.”

Now let’s look at some specific –

Examples of being our sister and brother’s keeper

We are to care for the needs of widows and orphans. Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Isaiah 1:17 says, “Bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” James 1:27 tells us that we are “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction . . ..”

We are to care for immigrants, most of whom are, by definition, weak both economically and socially. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself . . ..”

We are to care for the disabled. Deuteronomy 27:18 says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” Rather we should help the one who is disabled.

We are to honor the poor. James 2:9 indicates that if you dishonor a poor person, “you are committing sin.” Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” Rather we should give honor where others give disdain.

We are to give food, clothing and shelter to the needy. Ezekiel 18:7 gives a description of a righteous person. Among other things, he “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” Isaiah 58:7 teaches that true fasting means to stop all oppression and “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him.”

In Luke 3:11 John the Baptist said, “Whoever has two tunics (or items of clothing) is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” In Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” We are to do this instead of storing up our excess wealth for ourselves.

We are to give the poor economic assistance. Leviticus 25:37 says, “You shall not . . . give him your food for profit.” That is, sell your food at cost.  Leviticus 19:10, speaking of gleaning says, “You shall leave [some of your harvest] for the poor and for the sojourner.”

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor . . . you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Exodus 22:25 says, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor . . . you shall not exact interest from him.” Jesus sais in Luke 6:35, “Lend, [even to your enemies] expecting nothing in return.”

We are to invite the needy to share in our celebrations. There are several examples of this in the Old Testament. This one has to do with the tithe feast. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 says, “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled . . ..”

In Luke 14:12-14  Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Alright we have spent quite a bit of time looking at this in the Scriptures, because I want to ground this truth in God’s word. And that truth is that we are indeed our brother and sister’s keeper. We are to care for and help others, especially when they are weak and in need.

But you might say, Pastor,

There is so much need in the world!

And it is easy to get overwhelmed. Just the crises of one week, like flooding in Pakistan and landslides in China are enough to overwhelm. And then you have things like the gulf oil spill and Katrina which continue on for years.

So, yes, it is easy to throw up your hands and say, what can I do? But we have to be careful that we don’t do something similar to what Cain did. We can’t use the vastness of the need as an excuse; as an out for not acting; for not taking responsibility.

It’s true we can’t do everything. But we can do something. We can help some people. And we can care for some needs. And that is what God asks of us.

Next week we will look at a specific example of suffering, and talk about what we can do.

William Higgins

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Let us love one another

What is on my heart this morning is Jesus’ call for us to love one another.

I’ve shared with you before that it is my deepest desire that we be a congregation that is characterized by love for one another. Of all the things we can be known for: a program, our outreach, our music, whatever – the depth of our love for one another is the most important.

And since we are partaking of the Lord’s supper today, it seems like a good time to focus this.

This is what Jesus says in John 13:34-35,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

He also says in John 15:12-13,

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

As you can see from these verses the call of Jesus is clear. We are to love one another as brother and sisters in the Lord. But this raises the question –

What is love?

Sometimes we get confused about this as Christians. So let’s look at some clues in our verses as to what Christian love means.

First, we have the word “love” in the phrase, “love one another.” When you look at the whole of the New Testament , this word means – to act for the good of another person.

And it is a choice of the will; a commitment that is made.

  • It is not based on feelings or emotion like with romance.
  • It is not based on whether you like the person, or have lots of things in common, like with friendship.
  • And it is not based on how the other person responds to you, or whether they like you or not.

It simply means doing what is best for the person, no matter what.

Second, we have the phrase “lays down his life” for someone in John 15:13. This phrase is used several times in Scripture:

  • In John 10 Jesus uses it to speak of risking your life for others. This is what the good Shepherd does for the sheep. In contrast, the hired hand who doesn’t care about them and runs away when there is danger. (John 10:11; 13).
  • In John 13:37 Peter uses it to speak of dying for someone (Mark 14:31). He is talking about his willingness to die for Jesus.
  • And then, in 1 John 3:16-17, John uses the phrase to speak of helping a brother or sister in need by giving of your resources.

So, to lay down your life is to act for the other person’s good, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

And then finally as a clue, we have Jesus’ statement that we are to love one another “as I have loved you.” Jesus’ love for us models what our love for one another should look like. How did Jesus love us?

  • Jesus acted for our good in that he ministered to our needs. He gave of himself. He healed people. He taught people. He prayed for people. He was a true servant.
  • Jesus also acted for our good in that he died on the cross for us, literally laying down his life for us so that we could be saved.
  • And Jesus did all this even for those who despised and rejected him.

This is how Jesus loved us.

So we have these three clues and they show us –

How we are to love each other

Love involves:

*         acting for the good of each other.

*         ministering to each other’s needs; being servants to one another.

*         sacrificing for each other’s good.

*         doing all this, even if the person doesn’t like you.

This might mean:

  • helping with a material need, as I John 3:16-17 talks about; giving of what we have to help a sister or brother in a time of crisis.
  • giving someone our time, letting someone share their burdens and concerns.
  • helping someone work through a problem.
  • encouraging someone who is overwhelmed and ready to give up.

There are so many practical ways that love is expressed – showing kindness, forgiving someone. And in all of these ways, we lay down our lives for each other, and we love each other as Jesus loved us.

Now, I have certainly seen this love among us. And I want to encourage us this morning to continue to do this and to love each other still more.

Love is the true witness

Let me end by reminding you that when we love each other deeply from the heart, then we will be true witnesses. You can have all the outreach you want, but if there is no love it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35. People will look at us and say, “Hey, they act just like Jesus did. Jesus laid down his life for others, and look how they lay down their lives for each other. They must be true followers of Jesus.”

This kind of selfless love isn’t natural. It’s supernatural – from God. So when people see this, they know that something different is going on. And this draws them to come and find out what it is.

May God help us to love each other in this way.

William Higgins

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Hospitality: Hebrews 13:2

Do you remember a time when you were a stranger; the new person? Maybe a new school or a new job. You don’t know anyone, you don’t know how things work and you feel awkward. But then on top of this you were left out, treated rudely or made fun of? Well then you have an experiential understanding of the need for hospitality, which is our topic today.

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” This is an interesting verse. It clearly teaches us to show hospitality to strangers. But it also talks about the possibility of entertaining angels, which we will come back to in a moment.

The meaning of hospitality

The Greek word, translated as “hospitality” in Hebrews 13:2, means literally, “stranger love.” As the phrase suggests, it means that you show love to a stranger. It is a form of the command to love your neighbor as yourself – the neighbor who is new to you and new to your community.

If you look up our English word “hospitality” it means “treating strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” You receive someone you don’t know, who is not apart of your group – as a guest; so that they feel comfortable and at home. This is the exact opposite of ignoring them, treating them rudely or making fun of them.

Now, in the ancient world hospitality also included housing, food and protection. That’s because there were no hotels or motels, like today. So travelers had a lot of needs to take care of. They were away from home and in a strange place, without a place to stay or social networks to rely on. They didn’t know who to trust. And also, because of this, they were vulnerable and easily taken advantage of by the locals.

So the virtue of hospitality, or being kind to and taking care of strangers and travelers was highly prized in society and, as we will see, by God.

In Scripture –

The model of hospitality is Abraham

We find this is the story in Genesis 18:1-8. This passage, by the way, is most certainly one of the incidents referred to by Hebrews 13:2 when it talks of entertaining angels.

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.”

So he has some strangers standing before him.  What will he do?

“When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on— since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

Let’s look at all the things he did:

  • He ran to them
  • He was humble before them – he bowed down
  • He invited them to stay
  • He offered them water to wash their feet
  • He offered them rest under the shelter of the tree
  • He brought them food and drink to refresh them
  • He waited on them while they ate

We see in this passage that Abraham made himself the servant of his guests. It was hot out and he was resting. But as soon as he saw them, he worked hard to make his home, their home. And he sacrificed of what he had to do this.

Well, if Abraham is the model of hospitality, then –

The model of inhospitality is Sodom

And this story is found in the next chapter, Genesis 19. I will just mention this briefly since you know the story.

  • Two of the same angels that Abraham had just hosted came to Sodom to see if it needed to be judged.
  • The people of Sodom sought to take advantage of these strangers – by means of a same-sex sexual assault. They sought to degrade and humiliate them.
  • And you know the result. The evil of the city was confirmed by the angels and so Sodom was destroyed.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 tells us that the sin of Sodom was that they “did not aid the poor and needy.” And I do not doubt that this is talking about refusing hospitality and trying to take advantage of and exploit the weak and vulnerable strangers who came to them. And the two angels were just the latest example. This is why Lot told them not to sleep in the town square. There was a pattern here.

This incident shows that such evil inhospitality is a serious thing in God’s eyes. And it is wrong, even if one doesn’t go to the extreme that the people of Sodom did.

So in these two chapters we have contrasting portraits concerning hospitality. And God calls us to imitate Abraham in his love and concern for strangers. Since this is so, let’s look now at –

Putting hospitality into practice in our lives

We are to be hospitable anytime we meet strangers. Hebrews 13:2 is quite broad – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” No qualifications are stated. But here are some specific examples.

We are to be hospitable to immigrants. Leviticus 19:34 says, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Here stranger love is applied to immigrants, and connected to the command to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Why? Because the Israelites were once strangers as well. And because the Lord commands it.

We are to be hospitable to fellow Christians. 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” The little note at the end points to our human nature. It is not always easy to be a servant to others and so we are to make sure that we don’t complain.

But the specific application I am interested in this morning has to do with welcoming those who come as visitors to our church. And of course, I am mindful while I share this, that we are having our ‘Open House’ next week.

Now, we have all visited churches where we didn’t know anyone. So we know what it feels like. And, I believe, we all know how to make guests feel at home. But let’s remember together. [Open time for suggestions from the congregation.]

Here are some things I thought of:

  • A warm greeting
  • Talk to them. It is easy to just talk to people you know. But go out of your way to talk to visitors and include them.
  • Answer questions about the congregation – where things are, how we do things. Help them feel at home.
  • Help them connect to others in the congregation. For instance if we find that they have common ground with others.
  • Give up your seat so that a new family can sit together.
  • Invite them over/out for a meal

Let us show love and warmth to our guests. Let us be servants. Let us make them feel comfortable and at home. Let us remember Abraham.

You never know, perhaps we will have angels visit our congregation. So be on your toes! This is the message for today.

William Higgins

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We are beginning a series on the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. I want us to see what Jesus says by the Spirit to these churches and also what he might be saying to us.

Today we begin with the church in Ephesus. But before we get to this, a bit of . . .

Introduction

John the prophet is in exile on the island of Patmos, as a punishment for his faith. While he is there he has an amazing set of visions of Jesus and his return. And as a part of this revelation, he is told to write letters to seven churches, which is found in Revelation  2-3

Each letter has five sections: 1. the address; 2. a description of Jesus; 3. Jesus’ review of the church; 4. a call to hear; and 5. a description of the reward for faithfulness. We will be focusing on section 3 of each letter.

Ephesus was the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia and it was the seat of Roman government in this area. It was a real commercial hub and a part of this was its prominent sea port. It was also known for its temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Ephesus was also one of the most important cities in early Christianity. Paul spent three years there and helped establish the church. Ephesians and I Timothy were written to this church. Paul also wrote 1 Corinthians while he was in Ephesus. Also, the gospel and letters of John are traditionally associated with Ephesus.

Coming to the message in these verses, first of all we see that . . .

Jesus encourages the church

Verses 2-3 form an inverted outline:

A. “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance”

B. “and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.”

`A. “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

In the A sections the emphasis is on hard work and especially endurance. In the B section the focus is on opposing false teaching. Both sections seem to be talking about the same situation – opposing false teachers and enduring the conflicts this must have generated.

First of all, these verses tell us that they worked hard at exposing false teachers. Given their prominence as a church and as a city, with numerous travelers coming through, they would have had many itinerant teachers coming around looking for disciples. And they would also have had resident false teachers. V. 6 gives an example of their encounter with false teachers – “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” We will encounter this group again in later letters.

Secondly, their opposition to false teachers may have caused much contention, which they had to endure. They may have been slandered as false by the false teachers, and so they experienced a measure of persecution for speaking up for the truth.

So Jesus commends them for enduring and holding on to right teaching. But next . . .

Jesus admonishes the church

v. 4 – “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” This doesn’t seem to be a problem with loving God. They have a zeal for the truth and have accepted persecution for the name of Jesus.

The focus seems to be on loving other people. They have abandoned their acts of love for others. They are not caring for the needs of others. Or perhaps they are not caring for each other’s needs, helping the weak among them.

1 John 3:16-18 talks about the necessity of this kind of love. “By this we know love, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Perhaps a part of this is that, because of their bad experiences with false apostles, they aren’t giving any support or hospitality to true teachers who come through. This is kind of support is called “love” in 3 John 5-6. (If this is the case, their strength – weeding out false teachers – also leads to their weakness – not receiving any teachers.)

Whatever the case, next comes . . .

Jesus’ strong call to repentance

v. 5 – “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” They are to think back and remember how they used to love others, and then they are to have a change of heart and mind, and do what they used to do.

“If not, (Jesus says) I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” In Revelation 1:20 we see that the lampstand represents the church. So what this means is that Jesus will extinguish their life as a church. This is a powerful warning and certainly a motivation to repent and make things right.

Jesus speaks to us

V. 7 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice the plural. Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus go beyond just Ephesus. They are also words for us. And, as he says, we need to listen to his words.

1. It is good to test teachers (vs. 2, 6). Jesus was pleased that they did not bear with false teachers, but tested them and that they hated the works of the Nicolaitans.

Testing teachers is a common theme in Scripture:

  • We are to test their moral lives. Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, “you will recognize them by their fruit.” False teachers will act in wrong ways.
  • We are to test their words. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 to the Pharisees, “How can you speak good, when you are evil?” False teachers will speak and teach wrong things.

The lesson here is that, just as with the Ephesian Christians, Jesus is also pleased with us when we test teachers and expose the false ones.

2. Jesus can be offended by our behavior (v. 4). Jesus had a serious concern with them. He said, “I have this against you.”

Do we recognize that Jesus can be upset with us? That Jesus can have a problem with us? That he can have something “against us” or against me?

This goes against the popular picture of Jesus as always being warm and fuzzy, and completely accepting. But the truth is that Jesus can be unhappy or angry with us.

And we are no better than these Ephesian believers. We too will be judged if we as a church or as individuals allow sin in our lives.

3. You can’t live off of yesterday’s faithfulness (vs. 4-5). They used to have acts of love. The phrase “at first,” is repeated two times. This is referring to when they first believed and were founded as a church. But they don’t practice such love anymore.

And the point is that their previous faithfulness doesn’t cancel out their current unfaithfulness, which is why they are warned to change or be judged.

The same is true with us. If we used to be faithful in an area, and then cease, our previous faithfulness will not cancel out our current unfaithfulness. We too will be subject to judgment from Jesus.

4. It’s not enough to have right teaching, you have to have love others (v. 4). They had a love for the truth, but not a love for others – which is to miss the point. I Corinthians 13 says, “If I have . . . all knowledge . . . but don’t have love I gain nothing.” Right knowledge or teaching is inadequate by itself. And besides, right teaching is supposed to lead us to love!

Do we love each other? Or do we focus on what is easier – thinking about truth, arguing about the Bible, things that are not connected to people. Jesus calls us to love one another, to care for one another, to sacrifice for one another, and also those who are not a part of our church. Do we love other people?

___________

Lets end with Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness in v. 7 – “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

William Higgins

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We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, and then, I hope, we will each evaluate how we are actually doing.

Last week we focused on the first mark: Complete Yieldedness to God. I showed you how this has to be at the core of our Christian lives. And that’s because without this we remain stuck in our sins, failures and compromises. But with this we are able to move forward and experience the spiritual renewal that God has for each one of us.

Specifically today, we see how completely yielding ourselves to God is the key to restoring our relationships with God and with others. We begin with the first of these . . .

2. Renewed relationship with God

Our unyieldedness to God damages and eventually destroys our relationship with God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Our undealt with sin, which we know about and continue to choose, creates an obstacle, a wall, a barrier between us and God.

1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him (God) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Its not possible to have a right relationship with God, while there are areas of our life where we choose not to submit to God.

So because of our unyieldedness, our relationship with God becomes distant, stale, and cold. As Paul says, we are “alienated from God” (Ephesians 4:18).

This shows up in different ways:

  • We have little if any sense of God’s presence in our lives. You know, God speaking to us, comforting us, guiding us, fellowshipping with us. God is distant.
  • We have little if any sense of devotion toward God. I’m talking about that sense of deep emotion that is connected with that which has the most value for us in all of life. Think of the devotion you have to your family. You feel strongly about them. Well, when we choose not to yield to God, we lose this for God.
  • We spend little if any time with God, that is, in prayer, reading the Scriptures, Christian fellowship and worship. Oh, we may come to church, but our heart doesn’t enter in. We’re just going through the motions. Its like with a person that you aren’t getting along with. You don’t really want to be around them. And if you see them you just go through the motions.

If this is where you find yourself, here’s . . .

What you should do to renew your relationship with God. As we talked about last week, yield yourself completely to God in every area of your life. And we do this through honest assessment of our lives and making hard choices of repentance.

And then, ask God to forgive your sins, your failures, and your compromises. Jesus’ blood was poured out on the cross “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And you are a part of that many. He died for you.

The promise to us is that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Through what Jesus has done, and our receiving this gift by faith, the walls of our sin are broken down. The barriers are destroyed. We have –

Restored relationship with God:

  • We come to know and feel the presence of God in our lives. God is close to us, leading us and helping us.
  • We come to feel devotion for God. We have a deep passion and desire for God and to serve God.
  • We want to spend time with God; to be in God’s presence, to soak up all that God has for us from the Scriptures, times of prayer and worship and Christian fellowship. We can’t get enough of it.

This is the second mark of a vibrant Christian life. Renewed relationship with God in all these ways.

3. Renewed relationships with others

Our unyieldedness destroys our relationships with others. And this can happen in two different ways:

  • Our own wrongdoing can destroy relationships
  • Or our unwillingness to love and forgive those who have wronged us can destroy relationships

Either way our relationships with others become distant, stale and cold. They become characterized by things like bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:31. If this is where you are at, here’s –

What you should do to restore these relationships. Again, yield yourself completely to God – here in terms of how you have treated others, and how you have responded to those who have hurt you.

More specifically 1) Make things right with the one you have wronged. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you (you have wronged them), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24.

There is no guarantee that they will respond and the relationship will be restored, but do what you can to restore the relationship through repentance and love for them

2) Forgive those who have sinned against you. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3.

Again, there is no guarantee that they will repent and seek forgiveness. And without repentance on their part there can’t be restored relationship. But, do what you can to restore the relationship. Show love for them and be willing to forgive if they repent so that there can be true reconciliation.

I would just note here the seriousness of this. In both of these cases our relationships with others, has a decisive impact on our relationship with God.

Matthew 5:23-34 shows that our unrepentance for hurting others affects our relationship with God. Why do we first seek reconciliation? Because if we have sinned against someone and don’t seek to make it right, our relationship with God is broken. There is no need to try to bring your gift to give to God in worship. You have to first make it right with the other person.

Matthew 6:14-15 teaches us that our unwillingness to forgive others affects our relationship with God. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Our horizontal relationships with each other, affects our vertical relationship with God. This is really important. So if nothing else, this should spur us on to the goal, which is . . .

Restored relationships with others. This is when we set aside hatred and love each other from the heart. This is when we set aside bitterness and find forgiveness. This is when we put away hard-heartedness and find compassion and mercy.

As Paul said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32.

This is where we love each other and are willing to lay down our lives for each other, to sacrifice for each other. As John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters” – 1 John 3:16.

Restored relationships mean that we are humble before each other. As Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” – Philippians 2:3.

And we live in peace with one another – As Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50.

This is the third mark of a healthy and faithful Christian life. I hope that you will look at both of these and evaluate where you are at. Do you have this kind of relationship with God? Do you have these kinds of relationships with others?

William Higgins

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Today we are looking at a very familiar text – Leviticus 19. This is where the commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” comes from, which Jesus names as the second greatest commandment of all.

But how many of you know that the context of the giving of this commandment is – dealing with wrongdoing in relationships among God’s people? This is our title and focus for today.

Here is the text:

“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of them. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:17-18 (NRSV modified)

Alright, we begin with . . .

Two initial considerations

. . . that will help us to make sense out of these verses.

1. This is talking about relationships among the people of God. There are actually several different terms used in these verses to talk about relationships, but all of them speak to fellow members of the covenant community.

The word “neighbor” used in the love command of v. 18, based on how it is used in the Old Testament, clearly means ‘fellow Israelite.’ [Leviticus 19:34, which repeats the love command, reinforces this point. It calls for love for “aliens” or “strangers” – those who immigrate and become to some degree a part of Israel. This wouldn’t need to clarified, if “neighbor” already covered everyone.]

So, we are dealing with relationships among God’s people.

2. Vs. 17 and 18 parallel each other (Jacob Milgrom). I share this because the two verses help fill out each other’s meaning; they give context to each other. There are three part to both verses, which speak to three themes:

v. 17 v. 18
What you shouldn’t do You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people

What you should do

you shall reprove your neighbor

but you shall love your neighbor as yourself

Why?

lest you incur sin because of them

I am the Lord

This will help us, as we now see what these verses teach us about what to do –

When you are wronged by a neighbor . . .

1. We learn what you shouldn’t do. V. 17 – You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin.” You can see the parallel and the expansion in v. 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your.”

The idea is that when you have hatred in your heart (v. 17)

  • You have wrong inner attitudes towards the person; you “bear a grudge” – (v. 18). And also,
  • It leads you to take wrong actions towards the person; you “take vengeance;” you do them wrong in return (v. 18).

We shouldn’t harbor hatred or grudges in our heart that lead us to wrong actions on our part.

2. We learn what you should do. V. 17 – “you shall reprove your neighbor.” The word reprove is similar to rebuke, admonish, censure, or correct. It means to point out a wrong, specifically here, a wrong done to you. The idea is that you do this, so that the wrong can be righted. Instead of trying to get them back, you go to them to work things out.

The parallel here is really important. V. 18 says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So, to reprove your neighbor (v. 17) is to love your neighbor as yourself (v. 18).

Let me say it this way. In context this is what neighbor love means. When wronged:

  • Don’t hate them or wrong them in return
  • Rather point out the wrong in order to work through it. Come to them with the issue so that things can be made right.

This is what it means to love your neighbor, when they have wronged you.

Now the way these verses are put together makes it clear that the call to reprove, is a call to love. So obviously this is not about venting anger, telling someone off, or saying mean things. It is about loving your neighbor as you love yourself. You are to act for their good, just like you act for your own good. This is what the phrase – “love your neighbor as you love yourself” means. And so it is to be an act of love, done in a loving way.

3. We learn why you should reprove/love instead of hate/take revenge. V. 17 says, “lest you incur sin because of them.” This most likely means, if you harbor hatred it will lead you to act in hatred toward the person; that is to harm them. This is not loving your neighbor. So in this way it leads you to sin.

V. 18 says, “I am the Lord.” This means, because God said so. And God is always right. And we should do what is right and not sin.

So this is the basic teaching. Now lets ask a practical question . . .

How wrong does the wrong have to be before we act to reprove?

Well, we are always going to do things that annoy each other. This even happens among happily married couples. How much more among us!

And there will always be people with different personality types, who most likely aren’t ever gonna be best friends. And this is OK. We are called to love one another, not all be “best friends forever.”

And we will always have misunderstandings or even disagreements and we can work on these.

But these don’t mean that you need to automatically move into “reproving mode.” What I am saying is there is an element of bearing with each other, and overlooking minor things in any community’s relationships.

  • As Colossians 3:12-13 says, – “Put on . . . compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . .”
  • As Proverbs 19:11 says, – “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Some offenses can be overlooked.

But, how do you know when you should speak to the person? Well, if what was done is causing: resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, abiding anger, wrong words (like gossip or slander) or wrong actions on your part; in the language of our text – hatred in your heart, a grudge, or actions of vengeance – then you must act! Deal with the issue. Seek to work through it.

Now let me acknowledge that . . .

It can be hard to do deal with such issues in our relationships with each other

As Americans we just as soon break off the relationship, than to honestly deal with things. We are uncomfortable with this kind of stuff.

And as church people we think that we have failed if there is conflict, because we are supposed to be witnesses for love and peace to the world.

So we become conflict avoiders; we push everything under the rug. I mean some churches have so much stuff under the rug that when you walk around your head hurts from scraping the ceiling!

What we need to understand is that we are true witnesses when we work through issues in love, rather than just getting mad or walking away. The world already knows how to do this. When we have problems and pretend like we don’t – we just come off as hypocrites.

We will be true witnesses when they see us love each other enough to work through things in a loving way. This kind of deep love is new and different. This is our witness.

So no matter how hard it is, God calls us to have real relationships with each other. And this means dealing with problems that arise in love.

Let me just say that this is what God does with us. It’s because he loves us that he reproves us:

  • Hebrews 12:5-6 (quoting Proverbs 3:11-12) says, Don’t “be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves . . .”
  • In Revelation 3:19 Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline . . .”

In the same way, if we love the person, we will deal with the issue.

Alright, we could also talk about receiving reproof, forgiveness and reconciliation – but we will stop here for today.

I hope you hear me this morning:

  • Let us not be a congregation where resentments build up, where relationships remain strained, where our love for one another is shallow, weak or cold.
  • Let us deal with our issues that arise – and is this way love each other as we love our own selves; and in this way live in peace with one another.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Luke 15:11-32 this morning and the story of the prodigal son.

The point

. . . of this parable is easy enough to discern. The verses right before it set the context for understanding it: Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

  • Jesus is receiving and eating with repentant sinners; people who have intentionally disregarded God and knowingly done what was wrong.
  • The Pharisees do not approve of this; people who have tried to keep God’s will.

This is the situation that is being dealt with in the whole of Luke chapter 15.

Then in Luke 15:3-10 come the twin parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin – which comment on this situation. Yes, there are those who are not lost – the 99 sheep and the 9 coins, but when the one that was lost is found there is rejoicing. Even rejoicing in heaven among the angels.

Then in our text we have:

  • The younger son’s repentance which is celebrated
  • And the elder son, who grumbles about this

So, you can see how these all line up, and what corresponds to what:

prodigal context

So all these parables refer back to the situation of Jesus and the Pharisees and comment on it.

The point of our parable, then, is that it is right to welcome and celebrate sinners who repent.

  • The father celebrates his son’s repentance. In vs. 23-24 he said, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
  • The father tells his older son that it is right to do this. In v. 32 he said, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

Now, beyond this central point – there is much that we can learn from this parable about repentance, and we have looked at it in this light.

There is also something to learn about how those who have sought to be faithful and have been serving God for years, should be welcoming to repentant sinners, and rejoice for them, despite their years of sin and failure.

And there is also much to be learned about God’s love. And this is our focus today. And to get to this, first we look at . .

The love of the father in this parable

He is actually the central figure of the story. It begins and ends with him, and he is the thread that holds the two parts together, first with his younger son and then his elder son. So lets look at his love:

1. The father’s love endures rejection. His son’s request was highly unusual, indeed insulting to the father. You only get your inheritance when your father is dead! And so the son is, as it were, treating his father as if he is already dead. And he just wants his money. He doesn’t care about his father, only what he can get out of him.

But the father grants his wish. V. 12 – says “he divided his property between them,” that is the two sons.

2. The father’s love accepts his son when he repents. Even though the father knew his son was wasting his own hard earned resources and squandering his good gifts . . ..

Even though he knew that his son was debasing himself:

  • using the money on prostitutes (v. 30)
  • sinking to the lowest possible point for a Jew, caring for pigs which are unclean animals
  • and being so hungry that he longed for their food . . ..

Even with all this, when the father saw his son coming v. 20 says,

  • he “felt compassion”
  • he “ran and embraced him”
  • he “kissed him”

This kind of display of affection was unusual in this cultural context. It shows the intensity of his love for his son. And this despite all that his son had done wrong.

The father’s love survived all the insult and pain and was there waiting for him as he returned from far away and from his foolishness. It was waiting to accept him.

3. The fathers’ love is full of mercy. He gives him so much more than he deserves, given all that he has done. V. 22 speaks of . . .

  • “the best robe”
  • “a ring” (a symbol of authority)
  • and “shoes”

All of these items speak to a certain social status. The father is proclaiming him to be his son and not a servant. (The son had only hoped to be accepted back as a servant).

And then the father welcomes him with a party – v. 23. The fattened calf is brought out, reserved only for the most special of occasions.

4. The father’s love is patient with the elder brothers grumbling. The elder son objected to the party. In fact, he insults his father by not taking part. Even though the father pleaded with him.

Yet the father is patient and only gently rebukes him. He says in v. 32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad . .  ..” The father is saying, ‘He’s your brother! And something amazingly good has just happened.’

5. The father’s love rewards the faithful service of his elder son. In v. 31 he says to his elder son who has worked for him so long and so hard, “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.”

This shows us again that sin has consequences. The younger son’s inheritance was still all gone. But the point here is that the father honors faithfulness. Everything the father has is his elder son’s. He is blessed for his faithfulness.

Our heavenly Father’s love for us

Now, the father in this parable certainly represents to us our heavenly Father. So let’s see what we can learn from him about the love of God:

1. God’s love endures our rejection of him. So often we dishonor God by making our own choices that go against God and God’s way. But yet, like the prodigal son, we want what we can get out of God. When we get in trouble or there is an emergency we call for God’s help.

But despite our all this, our heavenly father’s love for us endures.

2. God’s love accepts us when we repent. No matter how much we have rejected God, no matter how much we have debased ourselves, no matter how much we have squandered God’s gifts to us – when we come to our senses and come to him in repentance – God is there to welcome us with affection and love.

3. God’s love is full of mercy to us. Our heavenly father gives us so much more than we deserve. When we come in repentance –

  • He blesses us with gifts
  • He calls us his children
  • and there is rejoicing in heaven

None of which we deserve.

4. God’s love is patient with us when we grumble. Although we all live out the prodigal son’s story to some degree, since we understand that we have all sinned against God, we can also all find ourselves in the place of the elder son.

Perhaps you were raised as a Christian, or at least you’ve been a Christian for many years – serving God and seeking to do what is right.

And we become proud and un-accepting of those who have lived truly sinful lifestyles for years. All the attention and fuss that is made over them. We’ve been toiling in silence for years!

Yet God lovingly and gently admonishes us to rejoice with those who have come to their senses; to welcome them.

5. God’s love rewards us for faithful service. God’s grace to those who have wasted so much of their lives in sin, will not cheat anyone out of God’s blessings. No one needs to fret or be upset.

If we have truly been faithful, God will be faithful to bless us for all that we do for him.

So we learn much about God’s love to us in this parable – when we are walking in sin, when we come to God in repentance and when we are faithful as well. God loves us with an amazing love!

William Higgins

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This story comes right after Jesus’ conversation about the two greatest commandments and the story of the good Samaritan – which illustrates the second commandment to love your neighbor. In the same way this story of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him becomes an illustration of what it means to love God. To learn from and be in the presence of Jesus, who makes God’s word and presence known to us, is to love God.

The Martha and Mary story also illustrates the priority of loving God as the first commandment over serving the needs of others – which Martha was doing. We are to do both and there is a time and a place for each, but loving God takes priority.

It is also interesting, in keeping with Luke’s emphasis on the lowly and outcasts, that the illustration that Jesus uses for both commandments is one of these. The Samaritan illustrates the second commandment. A woman illustrates the first commandment. (Alan Culpepper – The Gospel of Luke)

This section of Luke 10 can be seen as an inverted outline (chiasm):

A. The command to love God – v. 27

        B. The command to love your neighbor – v. 27

      `B. An illustration of neighbor love – vs. 30-37

`A. An illustration of loving God – vs. 38-42.

William

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Love as Jesus Loved

We are gathered here to celebrate! To celebrate with Josh and Bethany and to celebrate God’s gift of marriage.

The scriptures have much to say about marriage. In Mark 10:6-8, Jesus said, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

This tells us that marriage comes from God, and speaks of the essence of marriage – two becoming one.

But I would like for us to focus on a second text, one that speaks to the love that is necessary for – two to truly become one. I would like to share some thoughts with you under the title – “Love as Jesus Loved.”

This comes to us from John 13:34, where Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

There is much that is shallow, fleeting and self-absorbed that passes for love today. We see this in the world around us.

But for the Christian – it is Jesus who defines for us the meaning of love, through his teaching and his example. So we look at how Jesus loved us, and then we know how to love one another.

And Bethany and Josh – this includes how you are to love one another in your shared life together.

First of all, Jesus shows us that love is about caring for one another’s needs

He demonstrated compassion, which moved him to help, for instance:

  • two blind men – whom he healed (Matthew 20:34)
  • a crowd – whom he fed (Matthew 15:32)
  • a leper – whom he cleansed (Mark 1:41)
  • and a widow whose son had just died – he raised him from the dead (Luke 7:13)

And Jesus was gentle and kind in how he treated us. Matthew 12:20 speaks of him as one who would not break a bruised reed, or quench a smoldering wick.

Jesus cared for our needs and concerns, and he calls you to do the same in your new life together. Be compassionate, kind and gentle with one another. Care for each others needs, just as Jesus has cared for you

Second, Jesus shows us that love is about sacrificial giving

The story of Jesus is a story of self-sacrifice:

  • Jesus himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
  • John talks about how Jesus “laid down his life for us.” (I John 3:16)
    • Jesus gave of himself to us – sacrificially – by humbling himself, coming to us and serving us.
    • And Jesus gave of himself to us – sacrificially – by dying for us.

The apostle Paul picks up on this in Ephesians 5:25 and applies it to marriage, when he says, “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And the same can be said to the wife –

And so I say to you both – sacrifice for each other, lay down your lives for each other, just as Jesus gave of himself and sacrificed for you.

Finally, Jesus shows us that love is about deep commitment

For many, love is an emotion. It is based on how we feel about another person. And these feelings change according to the circumstances we are in; and over the course of time.

But Jesus shows us that love has to do with commitment. An unending commitment to the well being of the other person – even when it gets tough.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus struggled. He asked God, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). And when there wasn’t another way to help us, he stayed true to his love for us and died on the cross.

Jesus’ commitment to us was unyielding. His love for us was steadfast. In the same way I say to you – love each other with steadfast love and deep commitment, just as Jesus loved you with an unending love.

My prayer for you is that you will not only receive this model of love that Jesus demonstrates for us, but that you will receive from God’s Spirit the power to put this into practice in your lives together. May God bless you in this.

William Higgins

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The Scriptures call us to love all people. But what does it mean to love someone? Pick someone to see if you love them. Go through the following traits of love and test yourself. Do you love them?

1. Love is shown through deeds – True love is not about words or good intentions. As 1 John 3:18 says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” True love is expressed in deeds. When you see _______ in need, and you can help, do you act?

2. Love acts for the well-being of a person – Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” God loved us by giving his Son for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8. If you love someone, you will not try to hurt them. Rather, you will try to do what is good for them. Through your words and actions do you harm, injure or hurt _______? Or do you seek what is good for him/her?

3. Love builds others up – 1 Corinthians 8:1 says, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” It is easy to put down others when you think you know more than they do or that you are smarter than them. But love doesn’t act this way. Love seeks to lift others up through encouragement and help. Do you encourage and strengthen _______? Or, do you discourage and tear him/her down?

4. Love is not self-centered – Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love does not insist on its own way.”  Love listens to others and is considerate of their point of view. Love is not pushy only wanting to get its own way. Are you considerate of _______ and what they think? Or do you simply try to get what you want?

5. Love is glad for the success of others – This shows up in two phrases in 1 Corinthians 13 – “Love does not envy” – (v. 4) and “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing” or as some translations put it – “does not gloat over the failure of others” – (v. 6). Since life is not all about you, you can be happy when others do well in life. Are you glad when _______ does well?

6. Love is respectful of others – 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not rude.” It does not dishonor others. Love shows dignity and honor to others. Do you show proper respect to _______?

7. Love is kind to others – 1 Corinthians 13:4 says “Love is kind.” This is a broad word that means tenderhearted, considerate, compassionate, gentle and merciful. Are you kind and gentle to _______?

8. Love is humble before others – Two phrases from 1 Corinthians 13:4 make this point – “Love does not boast” and “Love is not arrogant.” Love does not cause us to lift ourselves over others, but to lower ourselves before them. Do you show humility to ______?

9. Love serves others – Paul says, “through love serve one another” – Galatians 5:13. We lower ourselves in order to help others with their needs. Are you willing to serve _______?

10. Love sacrifices for others – This is a central part of what love is about. Jesus says in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Are you willing to sacrifice to help ______ with what he/she truly needs?

11. Love is giving – 1 John 3:17 says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”  If _______ has a real material need, and you can help, do you?

12. Love is honest – Ephesians 4:15 talks about “speaking the truth in love.” 1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love . . . rejoices with the truth.” Sometimes we don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to hurt someone, or cause trouble. So we keep quiet when there is a problem. But love means you have integrity with others. You are honest, not to hurt them, but so you can have a real relationship with them, not an artificial one. Are you honest with _______ when there is a problem? Or are you two-faced?

13. Love is slow to anger – 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not irritable” or “Is not easily angered.” Love is not quick tempered, but is willing to overlook minor offenses. Are you quick to find fault or express your anger towards _______?

14. Love is longsuffering – 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “love is patient.” The word means longsuffering, which means you are able to suffer for a long time. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says “love bears all things.” That is, it puts up with annoyance or difficulty. Similarly 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “love endures all things.” Do you bear with _______ weaknesses and endure his/her failings? Or are you impatient and intolerant?

15. Love seeks peace with others – Colossians 2:2 speaks of hearts “being knit together in love.” Love draws people together. Colossians 3:14 says, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Verse 15 then goes on to talk about unity in the church. When there is conflict or misunderstanding, love compels you to do the hard work necessary to find peace with the other person. Are you willing to seek peace with _______?

16. Love forgives – Paul says, “Love does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Peter says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). To cover sins is another way of talking about forgiveness.  Are you willing to forgive _______? Or do you hold resentments and bitterness?

17. Love is trusting – 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love believes all things.” This doesn’t mean that you are naïve. It means that, unless there is good evidence to the contrary, you are willing to extend trust. Are you willing to believe _______? Or are you overly suspicious and distrustful?

18. Love is hopeful – 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love hopes all things.” Love is optimistic, even when things aren’t going well. You leave the door open to healing with the other person. Are you open to healing with _______?

19. Love is a commitment – It is not based on feelings, which can come and go. God commands us “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” – Mark 12:31. You can’t command a feeling, but you can command a choice and a commitment. Are you committed to love _________ whether you feel like it or not?

20. Love is impartial – You don’t take into account how someone might be different than you, or how favoring them might help you. Speaking of favoring the rich over the poor, James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” This would also apply to other social distinctions as well. If _______ is different than you in race, economic status or social status, does this affect your love?

21. Love is not based on how the person treats you – Jesus says, “Love your enemies . . . For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:44, 46). Paul says, “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Even if someone harms you, you will not return harm for harm, but return love and good. Do you love _______ even when he/she doesn’t love you or treat you well? Or do you try to get even?

How did you do? If you find yourself struggling, don’t be surprised. It is very difficult to love someone in this way. This kind of love does not come naturally from the human heart. Rather this kind of love comes from God, because God is this kind of love (I John 4:7). This love is supernatural. It is a fruit of the Spirit of God working in our lives (Galatians 5:22).

Since this is so, we should pray that God will change our heart and empower us to love others in this supernatural way.

William Higgins

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