Theology in Practice

Philippians 2: 3 – 4

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

We have heard a lot about individual rights lately. As both a political science major with a pre-law emphasis and then a lawyer, I have always been (and still am) an individual rights proponent. However, I have learned that there is a proper hierarchy of values and that love and care for our fellow human beings must precede our thoughts of self. The Word teaches that we are to concern ourselves with the needs of others above our own needs (1 Corinthians 10: 24). That necessarily means that love overrules philosophy, religion, politics, and even theology. In fact, theology is greatly simplified once we put love on the throne. When love, who is God remember, is in its proper place at the head, everything else begins to fall into place.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 13). The point is that love is sacrificial. It puts the needs of others first. Jesus showed us the way of love. Certainly, that does not mean that each of us is the die for others but in many ways, every day we can lay down our lives for others by putting what is needful for them ahead of our desires.

Frankly, I am tired of hearing people complain about wearing masks! For goodness sakes, no one likes wearing the things, but it is such a small price to pay for the comfort and safety of others. And when I hear Christians complaining and arguing about their rights I am flabbergasted! Jesus laid down his life and told us we should do the same and yet we lose our minds, and our Christianity, over wearing a mask? Give me a break!!

Many people give so much to care for the needs and safety of others. In many places in the world just holding a Bible can condemn a person to death. How, then, can a rational Christian spend so much time and energy on something so trivial? It is confounding! Jesus gave his life for us. Now we are being asked not to breathe on others and make them die for us. Does that seem too much to ask?

Did you know that if you hold someone up at gun point even though your gun is a water pistol you could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon? When our actions put people in fear of their lives, we can be held responsible for those acts. The most virulent weapon may be your breath. If you are around someone and you choose not to wear a mask, you could actually endanger them but also, you may cause them concern and angst. Jesus would have us take care of those people, not put them in fear.

The Bible is explicit in its instruction. Those with ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit of God is saying to you today. Our needs and wishes are not all we should consider. Putting the wellbeing of others in a preeminent position is the Christian thing to do every day. I didn’t say it was easy or that we would always get it right. However, this message should go to the forefront of our minds and certainly should be the banner of our faith. Jesus left us with one commandment, “Love one another; just as I have loved you” (John 13: 34). It must have meant something when he said it. It must be pretty important if he made this our one guiding principle. By this, and nothing else, we will be known as his disciples.

Some of you won’t like this message. If that is you, take it up with Jesus. It seems to me he was pretty clear. Don’t quit! Don’t unsubscribe. Be teachable and receive instruction. I know you want to follow him. If I am wrong, Jesus will help you find your way. If I am right, he just did.

Who is my Brother?

Psalm 119:63         TLB

Anyone is my brother who fears and trusts the Lord and obeys him.

In these confusing times, it is nice to have theological guidance from the one who is best qualified to teach us, the Lord Himself. It is so easy for humans to divide ourselves into cliques. In religious circles we call them denominations. The denominations work to help likeminded individuals worship God in patterns which agree with their personal philosophies, habits and even comfort. We are different but have similarities with others. We congregate around those similarities.

In today’s verse, God shows us the one similarity that is important to Him. We can overlook a great number of differences when we have this one in common; that we each love God, having given our trust and obedience to Him. Interestingly, this guiding principle leads us to communion with Jews as well as Christian denominations because they, too, love the God we love. So, it turns out that the real test for communion is love of the one true God. How we serve Him and how we worship Him is less important than our zeal for Him.

I have adopted this philosophy though not so much intellectually as organically. By that I mean that I really did not make a decision to believe this way. I simply found myself attracted to others who love God even if we don’t believe exactly the same. I am also learning that I do not have to persuade them to my way of thinking. The Holy Spirit is the teacher and is leading us all on the journey to full enlightenment. It is his responsibility to teach us. I may have some revelation another doesn’t, but they may have learned some things I have not yet learned. It is even okay to be wrong if you love Yahweh. Our Lord is revealing all truth to us bit by bit and will lead us all to the fullness of the knowledge of Him. The one thing God cannot do is mandate our love and devotion. The decision to love and serve Him is uniquely our own. Once that decision is firmly settled down in one’s spirit, the decision to love others becomes easier and easier.

You and I both have witnessed disagreement between Catholics and Protestants, between Jews and Christians, and disputes amongst Protestants. When I imagine myself sitting in the throne room, beside God looking down and witnessing these disputes, I do not perceive them as important. In truth, today’s verse is an excellent reflection of Jesus’ theology. When asked which was the greatest commandment Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37 – 40). Jesus was teaching that all of the law and all the teaching of the prophets, the entire canon of law and the entire theological doctrine from the beginning of humanity until that very moment was contained in those two commandments. Jesus then went on to synthesize and express the entire law and doctrine of his coming and ascension, or the complete embodiment of New Covenant theology. He said, “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another,” (John 13: 34). This is the sum of Jesus’ theological argument. This is New Testament, resurrected savior theology. The rest of the New Testament is there to lead us to this revelation.

I am not Catholic, but I love Catholics. I am not Baptist, but I love Baptists. I do not cling to any one denomination, but if you love Jesus and if you revere God, then you are my brother and I love you. My job in God’s service is to teach but first, I must love. If you get a revelation because of something I have taught, fabulous! But, if you draw closer to Yahweh in your own relationship with Him because you have seen the love of God in me, Hallelujah! That is the glory of God.

God is . . . not jealous

1 Corinthians 13: 4

Love is patient, love is kind, and [love] is not jealous.

We have heard that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20: 5), so how does this make sense? Well, it is true. As the song says, “God don’t play second fiddle.” He will have no other gods before Him. However, His love is not jealous and in a general sense He is not. He just will not abide idolatry and that is very different. I think you can easily distinguish these expressions of God’s preeminence as your God from jealous love.

He is more than happy for you to have many loves. In fact, He has told us that we ought to love one another even as He has loved us (John 13: 34). He desires that we be unified in love even as He and Jesus are one (John 17: 21). You see, love is not jealous.

Love, and therefore God, always wants the best for us. It isn’t selfish or controlling. It doesn’t take things or people away from us because it wants all of our attention. If someone in your life demonstrates these traits, then their love for you is not mature. This should be an immediate danger sign for you. Jealousy is not of God and is not godly. Further, there is no place in love for jealousy. What that person feels for you may be need or desire but it is not love.

God wants your time but He does not want to dominate your time or attention. His plan would be for you to take Him along on your run or your dinner out with friends. He does not have to be the center of attention and He does not want you to neglect the other parts of your life. His is a healthy love and as such is the model we should use in our interpersonal relationships. If people need to control us, they don’t love us. God wants you happy and healthy. His is a true love. He is not jealous.

Acceptance

Romans 15: 7

Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

God has not called us to be separatists but rather to love one another in the unity of His great love for us all. Nor did he call us to be judges, neither of the brethren nor of the world. This is a great temptation for us all. We know the way he has called us to righteousness. We have seen in his word behaviors he has told us to stay away from so it is easy for us to say that those things are wrong and judge people who participate in them. Sometimes we go even further. We judge those who are different from us or practice their faith in a different way. We need to remind ourselves that we are called into unity with one another (Ephesians 4: 3) and that Jesus gave us only one commandment (John 13: 34). That is that we love one another as he loved us. His love was sacrificial; putting our needs before his own. When we can get that one commandment down we will not have to worry about judging others. We will receive them in love. We will accept everyone even as Christ accepted us.

Whom Do You Love

John 21: 15

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?

That was a loaded question. If you have ever heard a teaching on this passage which delves into the Greek words for “love” you know that Peter was really up against the wall because Jesus was talking about a deeper kind of love than Peter was yet able to fathom. I would like for us to look at this passage today in a similar way to the Greek word study but in a way that I think makes Jesus’ meaning even more clear. (By the way, the easy way to see what was going on in the Greek is to read this passage in the Amplified Bible.)  

Let us take today’s verse and overlay it onto 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8a. When we do so we find Jesus asking Peter a series of questions. First let us read the passage from 1 Corinthians. “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. Love never comes to an end” (God’s Word Translation). In many versions the last sentence reads, Love never fails. Well, you get the point but if you really want a revelation, read this passage in the Amplified translation. Actually, read it in a lot of translations. You will be enlightened. Anyway, when you read 1 Corinthians 13 together with John 21: 15 you find Jesus asking Peter (and each of us), Peter, do you love me – will you be patient with me? Peter, are you kind to me? Are you jealous? Do you brag? Are you arrogant and self-centered? Are you ever rude to me? Peter, are you thinking of yourself or of me? Are you irritable with me? Do you keep a record of past wrongs? Are you happy with unrighteousness; happy in the truth? Will you always be patient with me, believe in me, never give up, never fail and never stop hoping? That is what Jesus was asking when he said, “Peter do you love me?” 

Now think of it this way. Jesus has said to you, “I love you.” When Jesus says he loves you he speaks in the fullness of the concept of love. That means that he is conveying to you all of those things found in 1 Corinthians 13. There is great richness and depth in Jesus’ love for you. This is the way the Father loves you also. They love you with their whole being for love is not a shallow word in Christ.

Think of this also the next time you tell a person that you love them. Do you mean to convey all that is found in 1 Corinthians 13? If not, then you don’t really love that person. It may be a deep form of “like” but it isn’t love if you cannot put their needs in front of your own applying all of the characteristics of love. You see, 1 Corinthians 13 defines love for us. In our society we can sometimes use the word love very casually but now that we see what it truly means we may want to curb our tongues. Don’t misunderstand me though. I am all for telling people that you love them. I just want you to mean what you say and understand what love is. If we are not patient and kind to people then we have to conclude that we really do not love them with what God calls love. We may need them, want them, etc. but we have not reached that place in our hearts where we can love as Jesus commanded. When this is the case we must look within ourselves and ask why we, like Peter, have such difficulty expressing true love.

Peter was at the infancy of his ministry when Jesus asked him this question and it really was a question that was intended to prepare Peter for ministry. As we continue to follow Peter’s life and ministry we see that he did get a revelation of what Jesus began teaching him with that simple question. Peter grew and changed and became a great disciple of Christ and a great bearer of the commission and commandment of Jesus. Jesus only gave us one commandment and that command is to love one another (John 13: 34). Our commission is to spread love. It sounds so 1960’s but it is the truth and the essence of Christian life and evangelism. Go into all the world and tell them the good news (Mark 16: 15). What is the good news? That God loves them and that Jesus has restored them to that non-failing, endless love.

So, I want to ask you this question. Who do you love? Do you love Jesus? Does your love for God stand up to the test? Are we putting our needs and wants before God? It is a tough test, to be sure, but looking inside our hearts for the answers will help us to grow as people and as Christians. Live, love and grow.

Giving God Away

John 13: 34

“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

John 15: 13

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus gave us one commandment knowing if we would live by this one commandment we would fulfill all the law and the prophets. Everything that God would prescribe for us is included in this one commandment, that we love one another as Jesus first loved us. 

How did Jesus love us? He loved us sacrificially. He put our needs before his even to the point of death. That is a remarkable act. Can you imagine putting other people’s needs before your desires even if it means your death? That is a tall order. Face it; most of us continuously serve ourselves even at the cost of others. How often do we cease our pursuit of what we want long enough to even consider what others need or want? It is just not our way, is it? We were not trained to serve others but rather to grab all we can get even if it means hurting others. So, what does it take for us to, even for a moment, retire our self-interest long enough to consider the needs and wants of someone else?

Whatever Jesus told us to do he has also empowered us to do. That is good news, yes? But realize too that there is no excuse for disobedience. We do not have the excuse that we cannot do what he has commanded because he always provides the ability with the command. So, if this is Jesus’ command to us, and we know it is, and he has empowered us with the ability to fulfill the love command, then why aren’t more of us living by this commandment? 

God is love. He is the power and authority required to fulfill this commandment. Jesus is showing us that our grand command is to convey the essence of God to others. Did you catch that? Since our command is to love one another and God is love then the command is to “God” one another as Jesus did or to express the nature and heart of God among one another just like Jesus did. It sounds like a difficult task but Jesus provided the way. He told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father which would give them the requisite power (Acts 1: 4 – 8). Then he sent the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit has come to make his abode in us, to actually live in our hearts. He is the power to love and to live. The only way we can do what Jesus has commanded us to do is for us to fill up with God. We can never in our own strength or by an effort of our will love people the way Jesus has directed us. We must first let love fill us to overflowing, then we will be able to let the expression of who God is flow out of us.

So we have an absolute command from our Lord regarding how we are to treat others and he has provided the means by which we can adhere to his command. We must make a decision to obey this commandment of love. We need to understand with our minds that it means putting others needs ahead of ours. We should actually spend some time thinking about what that means and meditating on how that might appear in practice. Then we need to seek the help of the Father through prayer. We must first let Him love us. We will never be able to love others if we do not first receive the love of God deep into our hearts. His love can only flow through us once we have allowed Him to abide fully within us. So there is our starting point and perhaps where many of us fail. Make a decision to obey Jesus’ command to love others as he loved us and then earnestly seek the help of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Open your heart and let God flow into it. Open your heart and let His love flow out.