The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“Do you love Me?”


“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” – John 21:15

Have you ever really blown it? Ever really messed up? You know: you let your Lord down and maybe because of fear and peer pressure didn’t acknowledge that you know Him or that He was your Savior and Lord? Ever just have a lapse in behavior, even cursed someone out? Ever curse a person who “accused” you of being a Christian or disciple of Jesus? Have you ever then compounded your pain and regret by thinking This time I’ve gone too far; Jesus will never forgive me ? Christians aren’t immune to really blowing it sometimes in life. Even disciples, even apostles blow it and let their Lord down.

Peter was a disciple and then elevated by Jesus to apostleship. But Peter really blew it. He not only denied Jesus, he denied he even knew Jesus. And he lost it and cursed a blue streak in the process! What made matters even worse was that Peter denied Jesus when Jesus needed him most, at the cross (Matthew 26:69-75). Have you ever let the Lord down at a critical moment; denied Him when you should have taken a stand with Him? If you are feeling despair and regret because of a failure I want to encourage you that it is possible to be reconciled and restored with Jesus.

In John 21, after Jesus had resurrected from the dead and appeared to the disciples, He appeared to them another time at the Sea of Tiberius. There must have been quite a bit going on in the mind of Peter. It was glorious that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus defeated death! That’s fantastically hopeful. Jesus had proven true to His word. Everything Jesus said would happen happened, just like He said it would, including what Jesus predicted about Peter. Peter had promised to stand by Jesus. He had promised to die for Jesus. But when the rubber met the road Peter denied Jesus; he denied Him three times (Mat. 26:31-35). Now what? Yes, Jesus had appeared to the disciples, including Peter. But where was Peter’s relationship with Jesus? How did Jesus feel about him? Would Jesus still include Peter in His plans even though he had terribly failed Him? Would Peter simply return to his old life as a fisherman? Yes, there was a lot on Peter’s mind. And maybe there was a lot on the minds of Thomas, Nathanael, James and John the sons of Zebedee and the two other unnamed disciples who joined Peter in fishing.  They had denied Jesus too, just like Peter (John 21:1-3).  

Feeling low about themselves they went back to do what they felt most comfortable doing; they went fishing. But seeking some self respect by returning to their old familiar work didn’t pan out as they had hoped. They fished through the night, but caught nothing, zero, zilch, nada, absolutely nothing. They thought they had failed as disciples of Jesus. Now they couldn’t even succeed at fishing! (John 21:4).

The disciples were discouraged. They tried to distract themselves from their discouragement by doing something familiar to keep their mind off of their problems. But that didn’t work. What they did apparently do was move away from Jesus enough in their mind that when He came they didn’t recognize Him. Isn’t that just like us? We get discouraged; respond by trying to get our mind off things by doing something, anything, and then when Jesus comes, we don’t recognize Him. Watch out for that.

In the morning Jesus called to the fishermen from the shore. But they didn’t recognize His voice (John 21:5). Unlike Mary Magdalene who recognized Jesus by His voice (John 20:16), when Jesus called to the disciples they didn’t pick up on Who it was who was calling them. They had let their discouragement divert them from Jesus.

Jesus is merciful. He doesn’t hold grudges. When we are discouraged and down in spirit so much so that we don’t or cant’ recognize His voice, He has a way of making His presence known. The disciples had labored unsuccessfully and unfruitfully through the night until morning. With a word of instruction from Jesus their fortunes would change. “Cast the net on the other side of the boat, and you will find some” Jesus called (John 21:6a). What is good to see is that in spite of their discouragement and diversion from the Lord and the ability to hear His voice they immediately obeyed. They had labored long and hard, but they were humble enough to respond to instruction. That paved the way for them to see and recognize and experience the Lord once again. Humble obedience always paves the way to deeper contact with Jesus (John 21:6b).  

 

Jesus makes His presence known with fruitfulness.  Even though they had fished on their own in the same place where Jesus now told them to cast their nets, when Jesus gets involved it results in production. Jesus is the difference between emptiness and fullness, between failure and success, between ineffectiveness and effectiveness. We plant and water in ministry, but increase comes from the Lord (1 Cor. 3:7). The disciples caught a net breaking abundance of fish where they in their own strength hadn’t caught anything before. There is a difference between that attempted in our own strength and that done in the strength of the Lord. In our own strength we labor to fruitlessness. In the strength of the Lord we labor in fruitfulness.

 

As soon as they saw that net fill they sensed something supernatural was going on. John, the disciple who loved to refer to himself as “that disciple whom Jesus loved,” was the first to exclaim, “It is the Lord!” Peter was the first one to act and jump overboard into the water to swim toward Jesus. Oh how the disciples must have had their spirit lifted as they saw Jesus and swam to Him. They must have rejoiced to hear Him tell them to bring some of their fresh catch of fish. Jesus wanted to eat with them; just like old times! Jesus had referred to them as “brothers” earlier but now He was inviting them to eat with Him; a cultural expression of welcoming fellowship (John 20:17). Jesus was inviting them to fellowship; a sign of reconciliation and forgiveness (John 21:7-10).

 

John is inspired to recollect of the full net of fish, “and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” (John 21:11). When Jesus blesses our efforts He stretches us (like the net) but He doesn’t break us. He holds together the instrument used to bring His production and fruit. Jesus will allow us to be tempted, but he will always limit the temptation or trial and provide a way that we can stand up under it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus will stretch our faith, but he will not break it to pieces; He will not destroy our faith. Remember that.

 

When we fail the Lord He will discipline us and address the issues that need to be addressed to bring us to reconciliation. That is what we see Jesus do here. But Jesus doesn’t heap guilt and accusation and destructive thoughts on us. That is the work of the enemy. Satan is a liar who wants to murder your faith (John 8:44). He wants you to think you’ve blasphemed the Holy Spirit and are beyond the redemption of the cross. FALSE! No sin, if repented of, is beyond the redemption of the cross of Jesus. If you fear or are concerned you have done some unpardonable sin, that in and of itself is proof your heart is tender enough to care about what you’ve done. That is the first step to genuine sincere repentance (cf. 2 Cor. 7:9-10). If we confess our sins to God and seek forgiveness based on Jesus redemptive atoning work on the cross, WE WILL BE FORGIVEN! That is certain (cf. 1 John 1:7-10).

 

What Peter and the other disciples were struggling with was a spiritual attack from Satan. Jesus is going to help them through this battle. Jesus will get up front and personal with Peter and the others and deal with the sin in their life. But Jesus will deal with it. He won’t let it drag on and He won’t hold a grudge. When He forgives and restores the issue dealt with is finished as far as he is concerned. Any digging up of buried sins of the past is a work of the devil. When that happens we need to put our spiritual armor on (Eph. 6:10-18) and take every thought and in faith obey Jesus and His word about it (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-4). That is so important to remember my friends; so important.

 

Jesus, resurrected, is still the Servant serving the disciples (John 21:12-14). He had washed their feet (John 13), now He was cooking them a meal. It’s part of Jesus’ divine nature to serve. Service is not something Jesus did for mere effect and instruction. Serving is part of who Jesus is and it should be part of who we are. Later in John’s inspired book of Revelation Jesus will say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). The disciples have heard Jesus knocking and they are open to Him. He will then dine with them in sweet fellowship.

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15). Fellowship is more than mere physical feeding. Fellowship is more than food. Fellowship is spiritual nourishment; edification. Jesus has physically fed the disciples, now He moves to the heart of one of their leaders by asking Him an all important question.

It’s interesting how Jesus addresses Peter. Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon.” The name “Simon” means hear or listen. By addressing Peter as “Simon” and not as “Peter,” (which means stone) perhaps Jesus was trying to get His attention. Peter had heard but he certainly hadn’t been a rock of faith; he wasn’t even a stone of faith.

“Simon” was what Peter had been referred to before Jesus called him to follow Him. By using his pre-call name and not the name Jesus gave Peter after his calling (Mark 3:16), Jesus was insinuating that Peter’s threefold denial was acting in accord with his old nature and not his new one of discipleship. By addressing Peter as “Simon” all three times in His questions to him it must have penetrated the heart of Peter and convicted him of his sinful denial of Jesus. When we fail Jesus it is because we revert to our old sinful nature.

There are some church groups that emphasize loving God as the means of attaining eternal life and salvation from sin. But we don’t get to heaven by love. Jesus’ disciples are marked and to be known by Christlike love, but they must be disciples first; Jesus said this to his followers (John 13:34-35). If we could love our way to heaven that would make heaven something we earn or worked toward. That is counter to what the gospel states. Salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins is something we receive by faith in Jesus as a gift of God’s grace (Romans 3-5; Gal. 2:16; Titus 3:4-7).

Sin separates us from God (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:1-2). Jesus said eternal was knowing Him and the Father (John 17:3).We can’t know God when we are living in sin or before we have accepted Jesus as Savior. Before we accept Jesus as Savior we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3). We can’t know Jesus when we are living in our sins. And you can’t love someone you don’t know. Therefore it is impossible to love your way into God’s kingdom. We don’t have the capacity to love Jesus before we are born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3). It is the Holy Spirit who pours out God’s love into our heart that enables us to love Jesus (Romans 5:5). Therefore we must first be born again and experience our second birth which is spiritual before we can love. That is what we see in the context of the gospel of John. We see the disciples born again (John 20:22). Then and only then do we see Jesus address their love for Him in John 21.

By addressing Peter as “son of Jonah” and linking him with that prophet perhaps Jesus was also subtly pointing to Peter’s departure from His calling. Jonah initially rebelled against God’s call and went in the opposite direction by sea. It took a great storm and three days in a fish to bring Jonah to his senses and turn him around (cf. Jonah). Peter had been in storms before (Matthew 14:22-33). Jesus had ministered to him in storms, even kept him from sinking. But now Peter had to learn to call out to Jesus in a different kind of storm. Now he would have to call out to Jesus in a relational storm.

The waters of working through relational problems were about to get stormy. Jesus begins by asking Peter the question, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” This question will get to the heart of the turmoil and stormy weather percolating in the heart and mind of Peter. Jesus is still asking that question, to us; “Claude, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” “__________, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” Insert your name there and they ponder that question from our Lord Jesus. It’s not an easy question to honestly answer.

What does “these” refer to? The word “these” can be translated with either a masculine or neuter gender grammatically. If the neuter is used it would refer to the great catch of fish Peter had just made - “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these fish; these material things of your labor.” If it is masculine, Jesus would have been referring to the other disciples – “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these other men; other disciples.” Either way, the point made by Jesus as He is addressing Peter’s love for Him is whether or not he loves Jesus more than anyone or anything else. Peter is being drawn into a self-examination as to whether he loves Jesus first and foremost. Jesus wanted Peter to consider if He was really the top priority in his life or was it material things or other people instead. Our usefulness and effectiveness in Jesus’ plans is determined by the level of priority we give Him in our life. Do you love Jesus “more than these?”

The word “love” (Greek agape) used by Jesus here is the highest form of love. This “love” is defined in loving like Jesus; humbly, sacrificially, with a servant’s heart (John 13:15, 34-35). Jesus was therefore asking Peter whether or not he had heard and remembered His teaching on His disciples identifying mark; loving “as I have loved you.” That is a challenging question! Do you love Jesus as He has loved you?

The account continues, “He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” (John 21:15b). Peter’s response, on the surface, seems to be a good response. But when we look at the word Peter used for “love” it exposes a shortcoming in his walk with the Lord. We need to examine the nature of our love for Jesus. What is the quality of our love for Jesus? Do we love Him a mile wide and an inch deep or to the very bottom of our being? That’s what we need to consider.

 

When Peter says, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You” the word he uses that is translated in our English as “love” is the Greek phileo.  Phileo means to have affection for, like, kiss. Phileo means “love” but it is a lesser kind of love than what Jesus used in His question to “Simon, son of Jonah.” We might demonstrate the difference between the two words with the following sentences:

 

  • “I love (phileo) this cake, but I love (agapeo) my wife.”
  • “I love (phileo) my car, but I love (agapeo) my wife.” “I love (phileo) my dog, but I love (agapeo) my wife.”
  • “I love (phileo) my friends, but I love (agapeo) my wife.” (Husbands are supposed to have a greater love for their wives than for their friends. Whether or not they do is a discussion for another time.)
  • “I love (phileo) my wife, but I love (agapeo) Jesus.”

 

As you can see in this last sentence context means everything. Phileo and agapeo are comparatively used. When we “love” the things we should “like” we get ourselves in trouble. The same is true when we “like” the things we should “love.” In comparison to Jesus, everything else should be lesser loved. It is only appropriate to love Jesus supremely; no lesser love will do. Truly, the more we love Jesus and live in His love, the better loved everyone else will be loved because our love and life will be in balance.

 

“He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15c). Having received a response of affection from Peter Jesus then installs the first step toward reconciliation and reinstatement of Peter as one of His apostles. Jesus is calling Peter to “Feed My lambs.” These lambs Jesus is instructing Peter to feed are His lambs. The flock of God is never ours it is always His. Jesus referred to the church as “My church” (Mat. 16:18). We get in trouble and out of kilter when we forget that and start to insert ourselves where Jesus alone deserves to be in relation to the church. And to feed these lambs means to nourish them in what Peter has learned over the last three years in walking by the side of Jesus. Jesus was calling Him to feed His lambs His word, not Peter’s words.

 

Now I believe it’s important to note that this conversation is going on in front of the other disciples. Jesus is talking to Peter around a beach site breakfast in earshot of all the other disciples. So what Jesus is saying to Peter the other disciples are hearing too. No doubt the other disciples are thinking of their response to Jesus questions to Peter.  “Do I love Jesus with an agapeo love; the way Jesus loved me; on the cross?” He said it for all their benefit and for all of ours.

 

Jesus does thorough work. So he proceeds into another layer of Peter. “He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:16). Jesus asked Peter a second time if he loved Him with an agapeo love. And a second time Peter responded that he loved Jesus with a phileo type of love. Now we see that Peter’s response is more of an admission of failure or not measuring up to Jesus question. It’s as though Peter is saying, “Yes, Lord, You know that I only love you with a friendly affection and not a love like you loved me with.” Admission of sin or shortcomings precedes spiritual growth and development. Admission cultivates humility. And that’s important because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5-6).

 

Even though Peter is not measuring up, Jesus continues His call on Peter saying, “Tend My sheep.” The word “tend” (Greek poimaino) means to herd, shepherd, tend sheep, rule, govern, care for, look after, and nourish sheep. The word “Pastor” is derived from a form of this term. Jesus is calling Peter to pastoral ministry here. The grammar of the verb “tend” also conveys the idea of you must keep doing this (Present/Active/Imperative). This was an exhortation to Peter by Jesus that Peter shouldn’t give up but he must keep on pastoring Jesus’ sheep. Jesus is telling Peter, “Keep on in ministry; don’t go fishing” 

 

Jesus is calling Peter to be a shepherd of the flock of God that would eventually be raised up. Jesus calls imperfect people. Peter’s failures didn’t surprise Jesus. Jesus predicted them! But Jesus used Peter anyway. Jesus uses imperfect people. So if you’re imperfect, don’t give in to your sins or imperfections, but don’t disqualify yourself from being used by Jesus, just consider your love for Him.

 

Now one last time Jesus surgically probes to the hurt of Peter’s heart. “He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” (John 21:17).  It’s not an accident that Jesus asks Peter the same question three times. Peter denied Jesus three times. Each time must be addressed. And so Jesus probes deep into the heart of the fisherman to get to the heart of the problem with his love.

 

In His last question to Peter Jesus switches the word He uses for “love” using phileo. It’s as though Jesus is asking Peter, “Old nature Simon, son of one named after a disobedient prophet, do you really only like Me?” It grieved Peter to hear Jesus question him like this. It brought Peter face to face with his fleshly failure of Jesus. But it was necessary for Peter to address his sinful nature and what it had led him to do. We all have a sinful nature, and when we fall prey to it, it must be dealt with. There is a necessary intention of Jesus in this conversation.

 

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question is a further and more deeply heartfelt admission. Peter says to his Master, “You know all things.” Peter admits he can’t hide anything from Jesus. Jesus knows all things. We can’t hide anything from Jesus either. Don’t even try. Peter is now peeled down to nakedness before Jesus just like Adam and Eve were before God. His sin and its gory grotesqueness are laid bare. Peter admits, “You know that I love [phileo] You.” Peter admits he only likes Jesus. The sense of it is that Peter admits he hasn’t and doesn’t love Jesus as he should love Jesus. That’s a hard admission to make, especially after you’ve witnessed a falsely accused Savior of the world be beaten unjustly, lashed hatefully and crucified unmercifully. Yes, Peter is owning His sin and it hurts. Have you looked at Jesus on the cross? Have you owned your sin? Have you been humbled like Peter? It’s a prerequisite for ministry.

 

We’ve seen three overt questions by Jesus to Peter. But probably the million dollar question that begs to be considered is the one not asked but only implied. How can Peter’s love deficiency be fixed? Can it be fixed? Those questions are the gorillas in the room. These questions follow in implication. They are not directly asked but everyone there is thinking about them. But if Peter and those like him are ever to have any hope such questions must be asked and answered.

 

I believe this love deficiency can be fixed and that it was fixed. There is hope for people like Peter. Why do I believe that? Well, Peter denied Jesus three times. His three denials were rooted in fear, lack of faith, and reliance on himself; the flesh. But in about fifty days from the time of this conversation with Jesus there will be a drastic change in Peter. Peter will become bold as a lion and courageous as a fearless ship captain. That change will take place at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the apostles and other disciples in the Upper Room (cf. Acts 1 and 2). From that point on Peter will be a fearless dynamo disciple of Jesus. He will proclaim the gospel and resurrection of Jesus to those who had crucified Jesus. And three thousand will come to the Lord as a result of his powerful fearless preaching of the gospel of Jesus. The baptism with the Holy Spirit will make the difference in Peter. Peter’s love deficiency will be filled up as the Spirit pours agape love into His heart. From that point on the love of Christ will powerfully compel Peter in ministry to serve as an apostolic pastor of the flock of God (compare Romans 5:5, Acts 1:4-5 and 8;and 2 Cor. 5:14-21). He and the other world overcoming disciples of Jesus will be powered by God’s agape love that never fails (1 Cor. 13:8a).

 

Do you love Jesus the way He should be loved; with agape love? Do you love Jesus first and foremost? Does your life reflect that? Maybe you’ve tried to love Jesus in your own strength. Maybe you’ve discovered that in your own strength you can only muster up phileo affection for Jesus. Maybe you’ve found that in the time of need or crisis such affection doesn’t sustain you; it only leads to failure; frustration; denial of Jesus. Have you received the empowering baptism with the Holy Spirit? Have you had the Spirit pour out His agapeo Christlike love into your heart? We don’t have to fail like Peter failed the night he denied Jesus three times. We can have our personal Pentecost right now. It is a matter of asking Jesus for such a baptism of His love and receiving it by faith (cf. Acts 2:33 and 15:8-9). Will you settle the issue now? Will you sit down in prayer with Jesus, commune with Him, answer His questions about your level of love honestly, and then receive the empowering love of the Holy Spirit? Jesus says, “Do you love Me?” Do you?

 

 

 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Words of Comfort


 

“Therefore comfort one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:18

 

 

Every human being will one day die. The only exception are those people alive at the Rapture of the church by Jesus. But the Bible says each person will die and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). The Psalmist was inspired to exhort us to ask the Lord to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). In Psalm 139 it tells us God has created each person with an allotment of days saying, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16).  Our days are in God’s hands.

 

David in Psalm 39 spoke of the transience, the frailty of life when he was inspired to write:  Lord, make me to know my end, And what is the measure of my days, That I may know how frail I am”(Psalm 39:4-13).  So what can we know about our end? How do we measure our days?

 

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he is inspired to provide words of comfort death. He writes: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  

 

We will all inevitably experience death both on a second hand and first hand basis. We all know people who have died, and we ourselves will someday die.  Death is a 100% certainty. In response to the question, “How many people die per day?” Yahoo Answers recorded, “According to the CIA World Fact Book, as of July, 2005, there were approximately 6,446,131,400 people on the planet, and the death rate was approximately 8.78 deaths per 1,000 people a year. According to our nifty desktop calculator, that works out to roughly 56,597,034 people leaving us every year. That's about a 155,000 a day.[1] The online Wiki Answers estimates that “6098 people die each hour. . . .102 people die each minute.”[2] Death is all around us. People died in the past. People are dying in the present. People will die in the future. Death is inevitable.

To some death is a deep dark frightening mystery to be dreaded and held off for as long as possible. Thanatopia is the fear of death. In the movie Star Trek Into Darkness two prime characters die; Rear Admiral Christopher Pike (played by Bruce Greenwood) and Captain Kirk himself (played by Chris Pine). What is interesting about the two deaths is that in the last gasps before death both express their fear of death. Apparently with all the advances of the future there has been a distancing from God. The result? Fear of death. Death doesn’t have to be merely an into darkness experience.

People go to great extents to hold off death. We live in a society consumed with the health and physical condition of our bodies. Part of this is motivated by a fear of death and desire to hold it off as long as possible. Each human being inherently knows there’s a ticking clock of age that one day will sound the alarm of death. No matter how much we humans try, there is no way to escape from death.

For many, death can be a very troubling fact of existence. The inevitability of death, when a person is unsure and in the dark about it can be a source of great fear and dread.  The things Paul had to say can be a great comfort for those considering the reality of death. He shared about death and then said, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

How can we be comforted about death with these words of Paul? What is it that Paul is inspired to tell us to be conscious of in these verses that will give us comfort?

First, be conscious of the fact that death is a reality (4:13). Paul says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, . . .” The word “ignorant” here (ἀγνοέω agnŏĕō, ag-no-eh´-o ) means, “uniformed; to lack information.” Another English term is rooted in this word which is “agnostic.” (Interestingly, we also derive the word “ignoramus” from the Latin translation of this Greek term.) The opposite of being ignorant of something is being informed and knowledgeable about it. By stating his desire that they not be ignorant he implies it is possible to be ignorant about these things. Don’t be ignorant about these things, be informed.  Paul wants us to be conscious of something here.

What does Paul want us to be conscious of? Everyone dies, we all know that, but Paul calls us to be conscious of how to face and understand death. It is possible to understand death and face it fearlessly with hope. Paul’s choice of words in speaking about death are important.

Paul doesn’t want his readers to be ignorant “concerning those who have fallen asleep.” In the New Testament believers who died were referred to as having “fallen asleep” (Mark 5:39; John 11:11). This is not “soul sleep” but the “sleep” of the physical body in the earth until it is resurrected to a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-57; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9). The reason Christians who died were spoken of in this way was because death for the Christian is only a temporary transition to being united with Jesus.  Therefore, right from the start Paul helps us to be conscious of a hope in the face of death.

Some people live a kind of ignorance is bliss attitude toward death. They put off thinking about it as though they could actually put off death and prolong life. Some people live as though they are the exception to death.

Before his death in 1981, American writer William Saroyan telephoned in to the Associated Press this final, very Saroyan-like observation: "Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?"  [3]

 

Is that your way not-thinking about death?  There are no exceptions concerning death, we’ll all experience it.

On a tombstone was written:

Pause, stranger, when you pass me by; As you are now, so once was I; As I am now, so you will be; So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passer by scratched in some additional words which said:

To follow you I’m not content, until I know which way you went.

What we need to know about death is not just that it is inevitable but that there is a way to be prepared for it. And this is so very important because death brings with it a final decision about a person’s eternal destiny. There is an existence after death. The decisions we make in this life now, have a direct bearing on our eternal destiny which we embark upon at the point of death.

Second, be conscious of a hope available in death (4:13). Paul continues, “lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” Paul tells his readers that death doesn’t have to be a dark unknown that produces despair. We can have hope. Despair is the absence of hope. Sometimes when a loved one dies, those left behind despair because death to them is dark and uncertain, the great unknown in human existence. To them their loved one has passed on forever into that unknown never, (they think) to be seen again. Paul here tells his readers, it’s alright to sorrow, but don’t sorrow hopelessly, sorrow hopefully.

What is “hope”? Hope is a faithful expectation of future good. How can we face death with hope? First we need to consider why some face death despairingly or without hope. The Bible tells us that those who do not have a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are those who have no hope:

  • Ephesians 2:12 - that at that time you were without Christ, . . . , having no hope and without God in the world.

 

The Bible teaches clearly that without Christ there is no hope. This is because every person has sinned at some time in their lives and sin separates us from God, the only source of hope (Isaiah 59:2; 53:4-6; Romans 3:23).

Sarah Winchester's husband had acquired a fortune by manufacturing and selling rifles. After he died of influenza in 1918, she moved to San Jose, California. Because of her grief and her long time interest in spiritism, Sarah sought out a medium to contact her dead husband. The medium told her, "As long as you keep building your home, you will never face death."

 

Sarah believed the spiritist, so she bought an unfinished 17-room mansion and started to expand it. The project continued until she died at the age of 85. It cost 5 million dollars at a time when workmen earned 50 cents a day. The mansion had 150 rooms, 13 bathrooms, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and 10,000 windows. And Mrs. Winchester left enough materials so that they could have continued building for another 80 years. Today that house stands as more than a tourist attraction. It is a silent witness to the dread of death that holds millions of people in bondage because they have no hope in death (Heb. 2:15). [4]

 

How can a person receive hope, a hope that comforts us in death? Is it a matter of building earthly monuments to leave behind us? Is it a matter of going to church, of performing a ritual, of keeping the Ten Commandments, of being a good person, of being religious? No, none of these things measure up to God’s requirements to enter heaven. They all fall short of His glorious standard (Romans 3:23; John 16:8-11). There is only one way to receive hope and comfort with which to face death.

Third, be conscious of Christ’s hope (4:14). It states, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” The condition laid down here by Paul to receive comfort and hope with which to face death, is believing “that Jesus died and rose again.” To “believe” means simply to put your trust in something, accept it as true and follow through on that belief.

Here Paul tells us we must believe or trust in the fact that Jesus died. Jesus’ death was an atoning death. He died like all people do, but because He was the sinless Son of God His death atoned for or paid the just penalty for our redemption. Jesus paid a debt He did not owe for those who owed a debt they could not pay. And because of this when we accept and believe that “Jesus died for me,” to pay our debt, our death penalty (Rom. 6:23) and on the basis of Jesus substitutionary death we ask God’s forgiveness for our sins, God justly forgives us on the basis of Jesus death on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:23-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Why did God send His Son Jesus to die for our sins? God sent His only Son Jesus because He loves us (Rom. 5:8). And when such love is perfected in us, when it is fully matured, such perfect love casts out fear of judgment (1 John 4:17-19). Paul’s words imply there was a question amongst the Thessalonians about death and those who die before the return of Jesus. This may be further evidence of what Paul alluded to earlier as lacking in the faith of the Thessalonians (cf. 3:10). If they were perfected or fully mature in the love (agape) of God, they would not fear judgment or the apparent issues associated with death. We are human and will naturally question or have interest in the afterlife. But those who are fully mature spiritually in the love of God put fear associated with death aside through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what the apostle John taught (1 John 4). This is what the apostle Paul teaches here. We should aim to be able to say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

How do we overcome the fear associated with death? What is the basis of victory over such fears? It is the belief and trust in the fact of that Jesus rose again from the dead. The resurrection is the exclamation mark of God indicating the atoning work of Jesus on the cross completely satisfied His just requirements of the law and was entirely sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. That Jesus rose from the dead also demonstrates victory over the final enemy, death! And Jesus is the first fruit, the One who goes before. He leads the way for us so that all those who trust in Him can have a hopeful prospect of resurrection too (1 Cor. 15). The resurrection is the proof in the pudding. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where God put up and skeptics must shut up.

How can this be applied to our life? Hope can we appropriate this hope in Christ? Receiving hope from God through faith in Jesus Christ is as simple as ABC:

A – ADMIT – that you have sinned (even just once is enough – Gal. 3:10; James 2:10) and broken God’s Law. ACKNOWLEDGE – that because the wages or penalty of breaking God’s law is death (Romans 6:23a) you are deserving of death. ACCEPT – by faith that Jesus paid the penalty for sin for you by dying on the cross as your substitute (John 1:12; Romans 6:23b; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).

B – BELIEVE that Jesus’ death on the cross for you is sufficient to reconcile you to God, for Him to justly forgive your sin and apply Christ’s righteousness to you (2 Corinthians 5:21). Believe that as you Admit, Acknowledge, and Accept His gift of salvation, that He fills you with His Holy Spirit (John 3; Romans 8:5,9; 10:8-10; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

C – COMMIT your life to Him; to walk in obedience to His Spirit with Jesus as Your Lord and Master (Galatians 5). Just give Jesus your life and trust Him with everything.

Through faith in Jesus we have hope, an assurance of future good coming to us as we pass through the door of death into eternity. Those are comforting words of hope. When we have a hope in Christ that does not disappoint, we are comforted in the face of death.

 

Fourth, be conscious of the hope found in God’s word (4:15). Paul wrote, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.” This passage in 1 Thessalonians speaks about the return of Jesus. When Christ returns at the “coming of the Lord,” true believers in Christ upon the earth will be gathered to Him. Those who die before that return “precede” or go before those who will be taken at the return of Jesus. But notice a very practical point here.

Paul directs his readers to “the word of the Lord,” because it is God’s word that fuels our faith, and hope is a faith applied to the future (Romans 10:17).

If you want God’s hope, He offers it in His word. The Bible says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). There is great hope to be found in God’s word (e.g. Lam. 3:22-23; 1 Cor. 1:3; Rom. 15:13; Phil. 1:21; Col. 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 2:16-17; 1 Pet. 1:3). If you’re feeling hopeless, the most practical way to get your hope up is to go to God and His word. Prayerfully take it in and He will give you His hope.

 

Fifth, be conscious of Christ’s coming (4:16-17). Now Paul substantiates his words by writing, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” This passage in 1 Thessalonians deals with prophecy, predictions of the future. Did you know that the Bible is unique in this regard? Only the Bible has prophecy of future events. Other religious writings have nothing that compares to the prophetic content of the Bible. There were over 300 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus at His first coming. God uses prophecy to put His finger print on His word. God sees the end from the beginning so that when He inspires a human writer in the Bible to share prophetically He  is only speaking naturally for Himself. We are limited by time, God is not. Therefore, when God speaks through human agents the words are often prophetic in that they speak of things yet future, sometimes centuries or thousands of years ahead of time (Isaiah 42:9; 46:9-10; 2 Peter 1:20-21). God has spoken prophetically in the Bible and what God says is certain to come to pass just as it always has (2 Peter 1:19). Paul tells his readers about a blessed hope for the future that Jesus is coming back to earth (4:16-17).

 

Paul in another letter refers to this as the blessed hope of the Christian saying, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13). Jesus is coming back. He is coming for His flock of true believers at the Rapture. And then with His flock at the 2nd Coming of Jesus. When He returns He is going to remove all injustice and make all things right. His glory will cover the earth and peace will finally be established upon the earth. That is a blessed hope for believers, but for those who do not know Christ there is only the anticipation of the just wrath of God.

 

Our End Time

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but what we do know is that our “end time” might come before His return. Each of us has their own “end time” at the point of death. Death without Jesus is dark, despairing and destined to lead to eternal separation from God in an eternal place of darkness, pain and torment (Luke 16). If we die in our sins without having a personal relationship with Jesus as our Savior and Lord, then we really will experience hopelessness. But death with Jesus gives a glorious hope.

Paul wrote in another passage, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Believers have hope and don’t sorrow like those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Believers approach death differently. Believers never have to say “I’ll never see them again”; but instead can say “see you later.”  Death is only a temporary separation for believers. Death is a peaceful sleep or rest; it’s a door to a better place.

 

This is not the case for the one who is unsaved from their sins or who does not have a saving relationship with God through faith in Christ. For the unsaved, death leads to eternal darkness and separation from God and everything good. Dying without Jesus is a reason to despair, for if you die without having received Jesus as your Savior by faith, there is no longer any hope for you. Those who die without having had their sins forgiven by God in Christ, will be judged for their sin and the sentence is eternal separation from God and all good. This is not something God desires for anyone. God prepared hell for the devil and his angels, not people. But those who reject God, in effect choose to rebel like Satan and will spend eternity in the same place of torment. In reality, those who spend eternity in hell have chosen to be there. That may offend you, but that is the truth everyone needs to consider. If you disagree, your argument and disagreement is not with me, but with God and His word. No one has ever or won or ever will win an argument with God. (See Matthew 10:15; 25:30, 41, 46; Romans 1:18, 32; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 2:17; 3:9-10; Revelation 19:20; 21:8.)

 

Lastly, be conscious of Christ’s comfort and comfort one another (4:18). Paul concludes, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” The word “Therefore,” points us to what precedes and conveys the thought of, “What should we do with this information from God’s revelation?” Paul says, “comfort one another with these words.” There is comfort in our relationship with Jesus Christ. There is comfort from God’s word. There is comfort from the hope of Christ’s return. And there is comfort that God gives through fellow believers.

 

What does “comfort” mean? “Comfort” (παρακαλέω parakalĕō, par-ak-al-eh´-o ) occurs 109 times in the New Testament and is translated “beseech” 43 times, “comfort” 23 times, “exhort” 21 times, “desire” eight times, “pray” six times, “entreat” three times, and “besought” once.  The idea here is to come together to exhort, encourage, strengthen, instruct, console and comfort. [5]

What is there to come together and be comforted about in this passage? In review we see:

1.)   We are comforted when we are conscious of the fact that death is a reality, but through faith in Jesus we can have a sure hope that death is not the end but only the beginning of a better life, eternal life. Christians don’t view the death of another Christian as “I’ll never see you again,” but “See you later.”  (4:13-14)

2.)   We are comforted when we are conscious of the hope and comfort offered in God’s word (4:15)

3.)   We are comforted when we are conscious of Jesus return. He’s coming again. He’s going to make things right, and that is a reality to give us great hope and comfort (4:16-17).

 

Our departed loved one in Christ is with the Lord right now. We shouldn’t be sad for them, we should be glad for them. They have left behind all the shackles of an earthly body. They have left behind all earthly cares. They are in the presence of the Lord Jesus and experiencing joy inexpressible and fullness of glory. When that is our hope, it is a great comfort.

 

A Christian railroad engineer was speaking to a group of fellow workers about heaven. He said, "I can't begin to tell you what the Lord Jesus means to me. In Him I have a hope that is very precious. Let me explain. Many years ago as each night I neared the end of my run, I would always let out a long blast with the whistle just as I'd come around the last curve. Then I'd look up at the familiar little cottage on top of the hill. My mother and father would be standing in the doorway waving to me. After I had passed, they'd go back inside and say, 'Thank God, Benny is home safe again tonight.' Well, they are gone now, and no one is there to welcome me. But someday when I have finished my 'earthly run' and I draw near to heaven's gate, I believe I'll see my precious mother and dad waiting there for me. And the one will turn to the other and say, 'Thank God, Benny is home safe at last.'"

 

The person who dies in the Lord is in a much better place. They are safe at home. They are enjoying the Lord and enveloped in His worship. With Jesus there are no more groan producing bodily ailments. There are no more health problems to hold them down. They are happier in the presence of Jesus than they could ever be here on earth. In fact, (don’t be offended) the departed loved one is probably not even thinking of those left behind. They have their eyes where they longed to put them all along, on Jesus. And if we were able to pry our departed loved one away for a moment from their worshipful gaze on the Lord, they would tell you how “GREAT!!!!!” heaven was. How happy they would be if we would all someday join them in the presence of Jesus.  What joy they would have to know they played a small part in your following their lead. The comfort the Christian has is that it’s never “Goodbye forever,” but only “See you later.”

 

 

 



[1] http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120115065827AACFt62
[2] http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_people_die_every_hour
[3] Today in the Word, April 11, 1993.
 
[4] Our Daily Bread, April 2, 1994.
 
[5]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong's Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What are we to do?


But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. – Colossians 3:14

 

There’s an awful lot of change going on and most of it not for the better as far Christianity and Biblical revelation is concerned. Marriage has been redefined by the secular Supreme Court. The LGBT colors were shone on our nation’s capitol when it happened. Our nation has gone through some drastic changes. Those who like to point out the Christian roots of our nation certainly feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under them. But all of this was inevitable when prayer and scriptural references and the name “Jesus” were removed from our schools and shunned in the public domain.

 

If our nation approved of the abortion of multiple millions of unborn babies why should we be surprised or taken aback when same-sex marriage is approved. Nowadays people spend a huge chunk of their lives watching TV. It is an effective propaganda machine. Oprah is arguably the most influential person in America. The trends leading to the present state of affairs have been clearly seen on TV’s ever more immoral content. There is no “family hour” anymore. There are only darker, more deeply immoral and lusty themes portrayed. Folks, it’s time to turn off the literal boob-tube.

 

What are we to do in response to today’s developments? The temptation is to respond with a militant tradition based patriotic rebel cry. The temptation is to be up in arms. Maybe you’ll run for office. Good luck with that. Maybe you’ll contribute more to your political organization(s) of choice. Or maybe you’ll come to the realization that we aren’t in a political party system as much as we are simply in a political system that elevates politicians over the people they are supposed to represent and serve but seldom do.

 

Maybe you’ll start writing a responsive blog. Not a bad idea; we need sound Christian writers on the blogasphere. Maybe you’ll draw closer to Jesus. Maybe start to take prayer more seriously and war on the floor. Prayer should always be our first option. Maybe you’ll actually begin to read your Bible more. All of this is very important; necessary; critically important.

 

Maybe you’ll take your kids out of public school and home school them. Not a bad idea. It’s almost a necessity in our day. Maybe you’ll shut the windows, pull down the blinds or draw the curtains, lock the doors, and hunker down in your bunker complete with food stuffs for the next six months within which Jesus is sure to return. Maybe you’ll just give up figuring all of what’s happening is “out there” and doesn’t affect your life “in here.” That last move would be the most dangerous.

 

But if you are a student of the word and follower of Jesus there is a way that is above all other ways. There is a God ordained preference in how we respond when all hell is breaking loose in this convoluted cockamamie corrupt and corrupting world of ours. There is a way to be proactive and prepared for every worst case scenario. There is a right way to respond that may leave your earthly bank account a bit poorer but will leave you with an eternal nest egg in heaven. (And besides, from what the economic egg heads are predicting our 401Ks and earthly investments in their various forms are all going kaput very shortly.) What are we to do?  

 

In this crazy mixed up degenerating devolving world we need to go to God’s word. When we go to God’s word we see Paul writing an inspired letter to the church in Colosse. This city that had a church was a cosmopolitan city in decline. Colosse was a city filled with numerous differing philosophical views and secular trends.  The Roman Empire in which this city existed  was the pace setter for government approved world debauchery. Christians were being more and more marginalized and persecuted. The world was whirling around the church and the church was in danger of being caught up in it like Dorothy’s house in a Wizard of Oz cyclone. Isn’t that how we feel today with all the changes going on? Yes it is. What did the Spirit inspire Paul to instruct the Colossian church people to do? He instructed them to put on love. The Lord in His word through Paul told them and tells us, “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). Let’s see why that is such a godly and good idea.

 

Paul says, “But above all these things, . . . .” What things? Your world view (Colossians 3:1-4), putting to death worldly ways in your life, and putting on the attributes of the new man in Christ such as renewing knowledge of Jesus, impartiality, tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering and forgiveness (Colossians 3:5-9). These are all important things, but there is something that transcends them all. That is because in reality this one thing incorporates all of the above. That thing is love.

 

This “love” (ἀγάπη - agapē, ag-ah´-pay) is not a measured calculated affection but literally a love feast. It’s an overflowing lavishing of love on others. The Greek word agape was not a commonly used word in the secular world. It took Christ to define such love. In Christ God lavished His love on us. Christians are to communicate that love to others. Christians love God supremely because of His love for us (Mat. 22:34-40). Christians love others sacrificially in obedience to evidence our love (John 14:15, 21). Christians love sacrificially as a love offering to the One who loves us so much. He loved so we love (1 John 4:7-12).

 

God the Father in love sent Jesus to redeem dirty rotten sinners; us. We are all sinners (Romans 3:1-23). Sin is not measured so much in degrees as it is in disease; every human is infected with sin. The only difference, and it is an important difference, between physical disease and the sin disease is that humanity embraces this disease of sinful disobedience. Every sinner, every one of us, is guilty of gross offense before Holy God. Our plight is hopeless without Jesus. But God overcame our despair with His love in Christ (Romans 5:8).

 

God’s love is lavishing. God’s love is an overcoming love. God’s love is revealing. It is not a love like the world knows. It doesn’t only love those that reciprocate in love. It goes beyond that. It overcomes to love even enemies. It loves the unlovable (e.g. Luke 6:32-35). This love gives perspective. It helps us to understand our struggle is not against flesh and blood homosexuals, or politicians, or pornographers, or adulterers, or sex traffickers, or addicts, or rioters, or any other sin trapped person, anyone who aggravates and opposes you. Our struggle is against invisible forces of darkness that manifest themselves through the humans they have deceived and influenced (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Cor. 4:4). A sinner is a willful victim and culpable for their part in sin. There collusion with sin puts them at a very unfair disadvantage. But it is a disadvantage of their own choosing. The sinner has tendencies, inclinations, dispositions toward various forms of sin. Humanity is born with a sinful nature. But the Holy Spirit calls the sinner to repent (John 16:8-11). And when that convicting call comes the sinner must choose; they will either turn to their sin or turn from their sin; but they will turn.  On their own the sinner is as good as dead eternally. If it weren’t for God’s grace all would be lost. But God overcomes and enlightens with eternal light those who respond to His love.

 

God’s brand of love is tailor made for sinners (Rom. 5:8). This love is full of hope because it “never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a). Truly God’s love is this world’s only hope. The love of God is incredible. It is powerful. It is what distinguishes the Christian from every other person, (or at least it should.) A case can be made that a loveless Christian is no Christian at all (cf. 1 John 3:14-16). Love is the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of spiritual life (Gal. 5:22-25). If you call yourself a Christian, do you love? Do you love with an agape kind of love? Do you lavish God’s love on others or do you limit its dispersal like the world does? Do you love the sinner; the enemies of God? Do you choose to lambast lovelessly the sinner or love them, really love them? Loving them is the only way to win this battle against those soaked in the sins of the world and the devil. Our mission is to love people into God’s kingdom.

 

Love is the “bond of perfection.” The word “bond” (σύνδεσμος - sundĕsmŏs, soon´-des-mos) refers to a ligament, a joint tie, a fastener, or that which ties together. Love is the bond, the glue that holds us together. Like the cross members that hold a ship together or like the links in a strong chain, love makes a sturdy relational structure. The church needs to unite in God’s love. We are to be an ark of love.

 

What does this love look like? In Jesus selfless sacrificing longsuffering giving of Himself on the cross we see the extent and quality of this love that binds together. It is by viewing His love for us that we are inspired and compelled to love in the same way (2 Cor. 5:14ff.). It is through the indwelling Holy Spirit that we receive such love (Rom. 5:5). We are called to be like Jesus; to love like Him (Romans 8:29). To love like Jesus a person must truly be born again through faith in Jesus (John 1:12; and chapter 3). The Spirit then pours this love into our heart. Bottom line, people have to get serious with Jesus and give their life and heart to him.

 

Someone has said, “It is natural to love those who love us. It is supernatural to love those who hate us.” That is why love is the glue and bond of perfection. The love of Christ moves us to go beyond what would normally be expected. We need love to hold us together. We are so weak. But the love of Christ is so strong. When the enemy comes in like a flood the Spirit of God raises a banner against him. That banner is love. That banner is Spirit-filled loving us (Isaiah 59:19).

 

This love has to permeate the church before it can be preached in the world. For instance, the following piece by an unknown author illustrates love that needs to be in our fellowships:

 

What is love?

It is silence--when your words would hurt.

It is patience--when your neighbor's curt.

It is deafness--when a scandal flows.

It is thoughtfulness--for other's woes.

It is promptness--when stern duty calls.

It is courage--when misfortune falls.

 

You can see how such love will guard relationships and hold them together. This is important. Part of the reason for the rapid rise and acceptance of same-sex marriage is the fall of heterosexual marriages. And what has made impotent much of what the church says is the failure of many Christian marriages. The world has been watching and what they’ve seen has provided little reason to run to the church for help in their relationships.

 

If we are going to evangelize the lost we must do it by God’s grace in love. Sometimes we need to be silent instead of addressing an issue with someone. They may not be ready to hear. Sometimes God would have us trust Him silently and let Him do the talking. Patience is required to bear the hurts of others. The LGBT community is cheering what they see as a “victory” in the Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriages throughout the nation. But the LGBT community is going to find out soon enough that any relationship without Jesus at the center is going to have emptiness. And no amount of twisting scripture or ignoring scripture by so-called “Christian homosexuals” is going to alter or alleviate the guilt of sin. There are a lot of hurting people in this world. Jesus is what they need. Jesus loves all these people; all sinners; no matter their sin of preference. We need to put on love and represent Jesus as His ambassadors of love.

 

No way does true love condone or accept sin. God’s love is rooted in, guided by, and inextricably connected to His truth (Ephesians 4:15). Jesus said His word is truth (John 17:17). Use God’s truth as a scalpel like a loving surgeon would perform surgery on a family member. We look beyond the external to the internal heart issues involved. It’s not a bad idea to shut out scandalous tidbits of information spread by the gossip. It’s always good to be mindful of other’s needs. A servant is prompt when the Lord calls us to a task. There are times when courage is required to take steps of faith or stand still in faith. All of it is an expression of agape love.

 

When we trust God and put on this love, it becomes for us the bond of “perfection” (τελειότης - tĕlĕiŏtēs, tel-i-ot´-ace) or perfectness, completeness, maturation. It is through love that we realize our purpose as Christ’s disciples. Love is the sign of spiritual maturity. We need to grow up in His love. Love is what distinguishes a follower of Jesus (John 13:34-35). Like Jesus, we need to love to the end (John 13:1). And in the end, like Jesus, we will come through victorious. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Empowered by the love of the Spirit we will be more than conquerors (Romans 8:37-39).

 

Often I have couples come to me for counseling. Inevitably the root issue is one of love or a lack thereof. There are always different situations with differing details. But the bottom line always comes down to love. Too often the problem stems from one or both of the partners being more concerned about who is right and winning an argument than they are about genuinely loving each other with an agape love. It is time for husbands and wives to love each other. Love!

 

Husbands, you are called by God to love your wives with an agape love. That means lavishing love on them. That means sacrificing to love them; sacrificing your rights and pride. That means serving in love. That means loving through pain and hurt. Wives, you are called to submit to your own husband in love. Without the love of the Spirit to empower you that won’t happen (Eph. 5:18-33). The question remains for husband and wife, “Will you count the cost? Will you go to the cross for your mate? For Jesus? Will you deny yourself and walk in the love of the Spirit?” It’s not only about you, it is about submitting to Jesus, living for Him and reaching the lost world He died for in love.

 

Both husbands and wives need to put on love in their marriages. And parents and children need to put on love in their relationships (e.g. Eph. 6:1-9). How many scars have been left on the lost and sexually confused by those who have been cruel torturing and belligerent bullies? Stop it! Put on love.

 

The call to love like Jesus is not an easy calling. That is why we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to provide and empower us to love (Rom. 8:26a). No matter how difficult loving others is, it is always worth it. And God is able to cause every circumstance to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). The love of God can turn this world around. The early church turned their world upside down; or right side up (Acts 17:6). Why couldn’t God do it again? He can and will if we rely on the Spirit and love. Nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26; Luke 18:27). That is God’s promise. That is God’s purpose; to love. God is faithful. He will do what He promises to do. Trust Him. Love. Above all put on love. That is what we are to do. Now let’s pray, and let’s go do it!