Give Yourself to Others …

Posts Tagged ‘love

Like many people, I’ve probably read 1 Corinthians 13, a thousand times.  The description of “love” by Paul, is beautifully inspiring.  I often read it when I perform weddings.

On a side note, the old King James Version translation of agape as “charity” is probably a better translation than “love.”  But that’s a topic for another time.

What I’ve missed in the thousands of times I’ve read 1 Cor 13 are the first three verses (this is from The Message):

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Am I the only one who missed this?

I can be the smartest person in the world.  I can understand everything … even the greatest mysteries about God … I may have so much faith that I can perform miracles … I can be the most generous person in the world.

And if all of this is true, but I’m not loving others, the way Jesus loved me, then it’s all pointless.

If we are not loving towards one another, we’ve missed the whole point from Jesus.

Think about that, the next time you argue about doctrine!

There are two basic approaches to view, understand and interpret the Text of the Bible, and even more specifically, the New Testament:  Legally and Spiritually.

Many people see the New Testament Text as first, the story of Jesus (which primarily encompasses the core gospel message), following by a brief history the movement of Christianity across the Roman empire and finally an lengthy exposition of the gospel into a set of commands, which we must follow literally, if we are to succeed in living a Christian life.

I have always believed that the message of the Text, as God would have us hear it, at the very least must be consistent.  That is, there is somewhere a principle, which, when applied properly, allow us to read what sometimes appears to be conflicts within the written text of the New Testament.

For example, Paul and others write that the law has been done away with.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love. And yet, we can also delineate within the NT Text, numerous examples of where Paul or other epistle writers give what seem to be very specific instructions on what we should or should not do.  Many see these instructions as commands, or laws, to be followed. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

So, is the New Testament a rule book?  Or, not?

Here’s my answer:  If all you do is keep the rules, you may miss the point of Jesus’ message.

I provide two points to support this conclusion:

First is a combination of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 10.  Hebrews 10:16 actually quotes Jeremiah 31:33.  Here is the critical piece of text:

Hebrews 10:16 (New International Version)

16 This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.

Hebrews 10:16 (The Message)

This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time “I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts.

Hebrews 10:16 (English Standard Version)

16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,

Under the law, which God gave to Moses, it was in writing.  You didn’t have to doubt it, interpret it, it was written.  And if you have any doubt, just read Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers, where you will find pages of explicit instructions, often followed by a “thus saith the Lord” in the KJV.

But now, Jeremiah comes along and quote God as saying he will eventually make a new deal with us.  And in contrast with the tablets of stone, he says he will write it on our hearts and minds.

Maybe my reading of this passage is too simplistic, but it says to me there is a major contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant.  The implications of this contrast are laid out most simply in Paul’s quote above: But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Seems pretty clear.

Second is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, taken in full text, especially as presented in Luke 10:25-37.

Luke 10:25-37 (English Standard Version)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man(I) was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The first part of this passage presents the well known Q and A about the Greatest Commands, which Matthew also reported.  Equally known is that the first command is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second a quote from Leviticus 19:18.

Let’s examine the fuller context of Leviticus.  Almost the entire chapter 19 is a litany of individual commands of the law.  And verse 18 reads as follows:

Leviticus 19:18 (New International Version)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:18 (The Message)

Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people.  Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.

Leviticus 19:18 (English Standard Version)

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

What jumps out to me is that in this context, it is clear, that God was telling the Jews that the definition of neighbor is limited by the scope of the Jewish people.  That is, Samaritans (and other Gentiles) are not our neighbors.

How does this affect our view of the parable Jesus then relates?

Could it be that Jesus is not trying to condemn the Levite and the Priest?  After all, might it be that the Levite and the Priest were actually following the law?  I think they were.

No, the point Jesus was making was that the definition of neighbor is much broader than the law said it was.  If you just keep the rules, you miss the larger point and the more important command.

When the Jews heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, they did not hear a condemnation of the Priest and Levite — they heard a completely new view of God’s message.  We are not bound to love just other Jews, but to love anyone and everyone.

That’s a much more important message, than the message of condemnation.

It is the contrast of law verses spirit.  The spirit takes us farther than the law.  The law limits our responsibilities to just keeping the rules (although, I grant that we can’t even do that).  The spirit requires that we remove those limits, and follow Jesus to the unlimited scope of unconditional love — which goes way beyond anything the law would ever demand.

Does the law demand that we give up our lives?  No.

Does the law demand that we forgive all the bad things people do to us and treat them with love?  No.

Does the law demand that we ignore our heritage and the differences between us and treat others better than ourselves?  No.

That is the central flaw of turning the New Testament into a rule book.  It places limits on our obligation to God — and there are none.  It places limits on what we must do on God’s behalf — and there are none.

If all I must do is keep the rules, then I don’t have to think.  I don’t have to struggle with the hard questions of how I give my life to the people around me.

If all I have to do is keep the rules, I miss the point Jesus was trying to make.

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!

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.

This is a great post by John Mark Hicks, who twice has suffered pre-mature death of family.  It speaks to the sadness of such loss in a way that only someone who has experienced it has the credibility to speak.

I’ve been considering things related to the suicide I wrote about last week. And I’ve learned a new more things about his circumstances.

A couple of things jump out.

First, it turns out (and probably not a surprise to people who know about these things) that he’d been planning his suicide for some time. Searching the internet for information on how to do it.

Second, no one realized what he was considering. Not his girlfriend. Not his parents. Not his family or friends.

At the funeral, his uncle pointed out how many people were there. He highlighted the fact that his nephew must have felt very alone, and perhaps, unloved or loved for the wrong reasons — whatever. But look how many people came — the fact was that lots of folks cared for and about him.

But apparently, he didn’t realize it. How sad.

My wife, Linda and I were reflecting back on the “dark days” of our youngest son. They lasted from the eighth grade thru college (with some relief for a couple of years in the middle of all that).

We remember how hard we had to work to make sure our son knew we loved him, no matter what.

Our story came out okay; not so for our friends. But no one could predict which way that might have worked out.

So, what’s the point?

Just a reminder to make sure that the people you love know it. Say it often. Demonstrate it often. Don’t put conditions on it.

And just when you think you’ve done that enough, do it some more.

That’s what Jesus meant, when he said “Love one another, the way I have loved you.”

Our friends would gladly give their lives for their son — but the chance to do that has passed.

For a long time, I viewed 1 Corinthians 13 as a description of what love means.

But I spent this past weekend with some friends listening to several presentations by Landon Saunders, whom I’ve know for 35 years. Almost in passing he reread the opening few verses of that chapter and my view of those words changed.

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

This passage is about me. It’s not about love. It describes me, if I’m not demonstrating love in my life.

I can be the greatest speaker in the world. I can be the wisest and smartest person the world has ever seen. I can accomplish anything. I can be the most generous person you’ll ever know, even to the point of sacrificing myself. But if I’m not doing it out of love for others, then it’s completely pointless.

I can have all the right doctrines. I can understand the Bible perfectly. But, if I don’t love others, the way Jesus loved me (John 15:12), then I’ve missed the point, according to what Paul is writing in 1 Cor 13.

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Here’s a pretty familiar passage from Matthew 22:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

There’s one questions that rose out of this passage that pre-occupied my thinking for sometime. Here’s the question: What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul and mind?

Loving your neighbor as yourself seems to be more understandable. We may not get it right all the time, but, almost intuitively, you and I have some idea of what that command means.

Let’s get real. Do we really think God needs us to pray to him? Does God need us to worship him? Does God need us to contemplate or meditate on him?

Although you may disagree — I don’t think we do those things for God, we do them because it is good for us to pray, worship, contemplate and meditate.

So, if I’m correct, how do we actually love God. One quick answer is to repeat the remainder of the verse which says to “love God and keep his commands”. But that verse is about how to remain in God’s love.

As I contemplated this question, I finally ran across 1 John 4.

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.

Later in the passage is a passage that repeats this same point in slightly different way, by pointing out that if we don’t love our brother, whom we can see; how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

So, I reached this conclusion — to demonstrate my love for God, I must demonstrate my love for you and for all the other folks I interact with each day of my life.

So, I got to John 13:34, where Jesus makes the only point which he described as a command: Love one another, as I have loved you.

That’s what it means to love God.

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For the past several months, my wife, Linda and I have been mentoring young married couples as well as a few engaged couples. In the next few months, I expect to have the opportunity to officiate at a wedding. So, I’ve been reflecting some on marriage.

If you start with the premise that Christians should be loving others the way Jesus loved us, then how can love in marriage be something special or different?

That’s the question I’ve been contemplating.

It’s my nature to try to find the most fundamental principle — the principle upon which all others are based. And I’ve found one I think worth pursuing:

There are three different Greek words which are translated as “love” in the New Testament:

  • eros — from which the word, erotic, comes. It’s a reference to romantic love. It is a kind of love that makes you feel good.
  • phileo — which is the word at the beginning of Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love). And that’s what phileo is are reference to: the love of a brother or a friend. It’s a kind of love that is reciprocated.
  • agape — this is the word which I’ve defined as “giving yourself to others for their good, expecting or requiring nothing in return.” This is the type of love Jesus has towards us.

Agape is our obligation towards every other human being.

Phileo is not an obligation, but certainly represents our relationship with others who reciprocate our care, concern, friendship.

Eros is the special feelings we have towards certain others — something none of us understand, but most us of recognize.

The light bulb that came on as I reflected on these matters is that marriage is where all three forms of love come together in a single relationship.

I won’t pretend I’ve completely explored all the implications of this premise, but so far, I like what I think!!

Jesus never said this “loving” business would be easy. It’s anything but easy. And the question I’ve posed in the title of this post is just one example of how difficult it can be.

And I suppose the answer to the question lies in the manner of the disagreement.

It’s possible to get emotional and irrational when you disagree with people — especially if the topic of the disagreement focuses on deeply held beliefs — and that describes what most of us believe about spiritual matters — they are deeply held beliefs.

This is the moment to recall Romans 14:4 (NIV) – “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.”

That is to say, God is your judge. And God is the judge of everyone else. You are not their judge. They are not your judge.

And my relationship with God is not based on how many people believe the same as I believe. It is not a popularity contest. It is not majority rules.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 [NIV]).

Our relationship with God is his gift to each of us. All he asks of us our faith. And Gods gift to me is not dependent upon his gift to you. Nor is yours dependent upon his gift to me.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15 [NIV])

You need to know what you believe why you believe it. It must be your faith, not the faith of your “church” or the faith of your “evangelist” or the faith of your “pastor” or the faith of your spouse.

Your faith.

If your faith is your own, then you can disagree without being disagreeable. You can give yourself to others for their good expecting nothing in return.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus did. He loved all of us so much he died for us — all of us — even the ones who didn’t believe in him then, and those who don’t believe in him now. Certainly, he died for all of us who believe in him, but disagree about how to understand what the New Testament teaches.

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