Give Yourself to Others …

Posts Tagged ‘love one another

Follow this link to a story about how love manifests itself in modern society. It’s a story of a couple who provide free housing to families at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. I wish there were more stories around like this one.

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Among theologians, both professional and amateurs, there is sometimes a debate over Solo Scriptura, or the idea that everything about God is contained in the Scriptures … variously defined as either the Old Testament and/or New Testament text.

First we have to recognize that the “word of God” as used in the NT Text is not a reference to scriptures.

Second, even the NT Text itself seems to minimize the value of written text. Hebrews 10:16 emphasizes that God will write his covenant with us in our hearts — in contrast with the old covenant which was written in stone.

Third, the NT Text cannot possible be comprehensive in it’s presentation of or about God, the Son and the Spirit. No human text could possibly contain everything there is to know about the subject. You might argue the NT Text contains everything we NEED to know — which is a credible position — but not everything THERE IS to know.

Fourth, the NT Text itself says that a legal or command oriented approach to righteousness is not what the new covenant with God is about. However, what does a reliance on the Text result in? A perpetual argument about what the Text means — which cannot be what God desired. And in fact, it seems to perpetuate a Pharisaical approach to our relationship to God, which is repeatedly condemned in the NT Text, especially in the reports in Mark about Jesus.

The only time Jesus is quoted as describing his own words as commands occur in John 13 and John 15. Both times, his command is to love one another as he loved us.

For me, everything flows from that. If it doesn’t, then it’s not from God.

This is the reason, for me, the debate over IM is so misguided.

Because for anyone to condemn or even chastise me for using IM — whether a little or a lot — requires you to judge my heart. And no one knows my heart, except God. Some times I don’t even know my own heart.

So, back to the initial focus of this post … a Solo Scriptura approach to understanding God is limiting. I won’t say I have a better source than the NT Text. I don’t.

But I also know that God is not constrained by or limited to what is written in the NT Text.

A friend of mine was recently fired from a job at a local congregation, where we both worship.  At least we both did until the firing — now only I worship there.

As I’ve reflected on the points of conflict and points of view that led to the firing, I’ve reached some conclusions, which I’m choosing to share here.

First, it’s mildly troubling when congregations of faith begin to base their actions upon state law rather than principles of Christian faith.  I’m not saying congregations should ignore state law, but rather, the standard of behavior should not be what the state says is proper, but rather, what God says is the way to treat people.  When it comes to treating people right, God’s example of loving one another should trump human rules.

Second, from where I sit, looking the circumstances of my friend’s termination, the people involved are looking at the same set of facts, but reaching dramatically different conclusions about motive, intent, etc.

Only God knows our heart — it says that in the Text, somewhere — but I find people often reaching conclusions about someone’s intent or motive.  And that’s not what a disciple of Jesus should be doing.

I know there have been, and probably will be again, times in my life when I try to the right thing for someone, but I just blow it.  When I think is the right thing, turns about to not just be not the right thing, but a terribly wrong thing.  Was I wrong to try?  Did I sin?  Did fail my friend?  Did I fail God?

I wanted to do the right thing, but I missed the mark.

Isn’t that what Paul wrote about at the end of Romans, chapter 7.

My conclusion, for now, about those involved in my friend’s termination, is that as a group, they are not looking at the possibility that they may not know the intent and motives and point-of-view of the others involved.

The result has been a lot of tension, anxiety, and potentially hard feelings.

I don’t think this situation has been handled as well as it could have been.  But I don’t doubt the intent or effort to do so — only that the choices made have not worked out the way they expected.

I also think that many, many times, when we think we’re faced with a serious conflict and/or confrontation, we haven’t gone to enough effort to appreciate someone else’s point-of-view.

From my point-of-view, this is the practical wisdom of what Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-20.

When I plan to met someone at a public place, if they’ve never seen me before, I often tell them I bear a close resemblance to Santa Claus — mainly because of my mostly white hair and white beard … as my picture will attest.

And during the Christmas season, I enjoy filling in for the jolly old elf, in spite of myself.

But there is an interesting analogy between putting on my Santa Suit and labeling myself a Christian.

David as Santa Claus, with a little friend

When I put on my Santa suit, I have to always be prepared to represent Santa to children.  I can’t be Santa and be a grouch — or a jerk — or be impolite — or short-tempered.  I have to be willing to be Santa and everything that goes along with that “stereotype.”  If I’m not willing to do that I shouldn’t put on the suit.  When anyone sees me, they should say, There’s Santa!

And that’s the way it should be as a Christian, as well.  If I “put on Christ”, then when anyone sees me, they should say, That’s guy is a Christian.

There are a lot of implications that go along with that.  And I’m not saying it’s easy or simple.  I’m just saying there is a parallel.

Obviously, it’s easier to put on a suit to then look and act like Santa Claus.  One reason it’s easier is because I can take the Santa suit off and people don’t automatically think of me as Santa.

But then the remaining question for both you and me is this:  Do people think I do as good a job of representing Jesus, as they think I do representing Santa?  Shouldn’t they?

I think the answer to that should be, “yes.”

Okay, here’s where I am:  what does it mean to love?

I mean, let’s face it, love is so overused — used to mean so many different things — that it has become almost meaningless.  Can anyone dispute that?

In the New Testament, as well as the Greek language, there are several words which we translate as “love” in English.  Specifically, they are:

eros — the root word for erotic.  Obviously, a reference to the physical aspects of infatuation, sexual arousal, etc.

phileo — “brotherly love.”  This is the beginning of Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love) and philanthropy.  It is also used to describe the affection between friends.  So there is this sense of reciprocated care between two people.

agape — this is the word Jesus used in John 13 and 15, which I talked about last time.  He used it in a lot of other places as well.  It’s the word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 13.  The King James Version translated it “charity” in 1 Cor 13.  One of the best definitions I’ve run across is from Bill Clark:  giving yourself to others for their good, expecting nothing in return.”  I think you could also say “requiring nothing in return.”

That’s the way Jesus loved us.

Another point — note the different standards for love when Jesus cites the Old Testament:  Love your neighbor as yourself; compared to Jesus’ new command in John 13:  Love one another as I have loved you.

Have you ever taken note of people who seem to really dislike themselves?  Treat themselves pretty poorly?  Well, if we stick with the love your neighbor as yourself standard, if you’re one of the folks who don’t think much of themselves, you might treat others as poorly as your treat yourself.

However, then consider how the standard changes if you move to Jesus’ new command in John 13: Love one another as I have loved you. Wow, what a difference.  Now, it’s not how I treat myself that becomes the baseline, it’s how Jesus treated me.  While I don’t like the “advertising” connotations of “what would Jesus do”, it is the right question.

How do I love you the way Jesus loves you?

That is a standard to try to live by.

That’s what really matters!


Okay, so, I’ve gotten to the point that I’m focused on the two commands that Jesus described as the greatest commands in the Mosaical Law:  Love God … and love your neighbor as yourself.

I’m not sure exactly how long I contemplated the question of how those commands work themselves out in my life.  It seemed like a long time, but I didn’t try to keep track of the time.

Then, one days I was watching brief video presentation by one of my spiritual mentors, Landon Saunders.  He was talking about 1 John 4.  And, the light bulb lit up.  Here’s the important versions, beginning in 1 John 4:7 (NIV)

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What struck me about this passage is that it seems to say, you can tell if someone loves God, by whether he loves his brother.  (I’m ignoring the question of who is my brother, for the moment.)  That seems much more understandable.  I can get my mind around that.  It seems very simple and clear.

The simplicity and clarity of this idea was reinforced when I read two section of the Gospel of John… 13:34 and 15:32.  First, John 13:34 (NIV), you can read the entire context by reading the whole chapter:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Wow.  Talk about simple and straight forward:  Love one another, the way Jesus loved us.  Could it be any simpler to grasp!  Not easy to do but anyone can get that message.

Just for emphasis, Jesus repeated himself in John 15, specifically, verses 9-17 (NIV)

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

Note the emphasis I added — almost identical to John 13:34.  Straight from the mouth of Jesus.

Here’s another interesting point, which I make for emphasis.  I looked up the Greek word for command, to see where else Jesus used the word.  The only place Jesus used the word command to describe his own words are here in John 13 and John 15.  Even several years after discovering this point, I’m a little cautious about making too much of it.  But I still think it is a telling point.

But now I’m faced with the other question I posed earlier — what does it really mean to love?  Six Greek words = One English word.  That doesn’t help much.  So, next time, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about that.

So, I started looking for the single premise from which everything else comes.  That may not seem like the right question for you, but it seemed right to me — and in fact, still does.

Eventually, I settled — likely to no one’s surprise on the following passage from Matthew 22:34-40 (quoted here from The Message)

The Most Important Command

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

After all, we’ve got Jesus saying everything in God’s Law comes from these two commands.  It seems pretty clear.

One of my personal guidelines is that the simplest answer is generally the best answer.  Answers cannot always be simple, but those are still the best ones.  And this passage seems to fit that requirement.  Although I confess, I’m continually a little amazed how many believers seem to refute that these are the most important commands.  They both seem to, and often admit to, placing other, more detailed commands ahead of these.  But ultimately, each of us is accountable for what we individually believe — so, to each his, or her, own.

After finally settling on these, I began contemplating what they really mean.  They are such fundamental principles that they may be simple to quote, but they are very difficult to fully apply to life.

My contemplations resulted in two dilemmas, which I could not easily resolve:

  • What does it really mean to love God?

Now, I get it that my love for God should be all consuming — at least that’s how I understand the implications of the heart, soul, strength and mind references.  But what can I really do for God.  Sure, I can worship him, as I should.  But I also have no illusion that God does not need my love in order to be God.  God is not changed by my love for him.  Much more likely is that I am changed by my love for God.  So, I didn’t know exactly the implications of loving God so completely.

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?

Some folks get preoccupied with the “who is my neighbor? question, but the story of the Samaritan, to me, pretty much clarified that, at the very least, my neighbor is anyone with whom I come into contact, anyone, anytime.

But the other question is what does it mean to love someone the way I love myself?  I mean, I know some people who really treat themselves poorly.  And what would this verse mean about how they treat others.  Surely, it’s not a basis to treat other poorly, just because I have a bad attitude about myself, or whatever.

So, I struggled with what the standard is for loving.

And a related question is the question of what is even means to love.  There are six different Greek words for love, but us English speakers are stuck with just one.  Got to find a better word for love, too.


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