The Third Commandment

www.bible.com/72/jhn.13.34.hcsb

Jesus was once asked what are the greatest commandments in the Law. He said that the two greatest commandments were the Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These didn’t change with the advent of Christianity. We are still expected to follow these commands under grace. But Jesus then added a third commandment, one distinctive to the Christian faith and experience. He said that Christians ought to love one another. Weird, huh? It seems like that should be a given. If I love God and love neighbors, wouldn’t I love my fellow Christians?

It seems to me that Jesus knows us better than we think. But what commandments have we violated more than this? And do you know what excuse we use to avoid obeying this commandment? They don’t believe like we do. We don’t associate with them. We don’t fellowship with them. We don’t do anything with them that might look like we love them. Hmmm.

Should there be recognition of doctrinal differences? And are there boundaries that denominations should not cross, boundaries of orthodoxy? Is there orthodoxy? Should the Bible have the final say on what we ought to believe, or should the Church? Because if we are going to disobey this commandment of Jesus, then we ought to have a really good reason. Is our reasoning strong enough to “tithe mint and dull and cumin, but avoid the weightier matters if the law”?

This is the tension between love and truth. Many churches exclude others based on truth. Other churches avoid truth and include everyone based on love. Is the “other” in one another a person also saved by grace, washed in blood through faith in Christ Jesus who must also live up to a code of conduct expected of the Christian?

It is very easy for us to dismiss “one another” when they don’t believe as we do, or their practices are different. We may stand and point fingers at each and declare “heretic”! all day long. But we forget that we are all fighting he same battle, the same enemy. And this enemy has enjoyed much success because he has us fighting each other instead of him. Are there greater evils in the world than a rival denomination? It seems we have bigger fish to fry than making sure everyone believes in exactly the same way.

I believe that every denomination has a problem in its doctrine somewhere. Nobody has it right. And I don’t know if this side of heaven we’ll ever figure it out. But I do believe some have it more right than others. Certain essential doctrines like the resurrected Christ, His atonement for our sins, the veracity of the Scriptures, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and a host of other things. But let us not turn on each other over petty things, like worship styles and architecture, crowd sizes and preaching styles. We have a bigger mission. Let us learn how to love one another, despite our differences, learn to combine our strength and defeat this enemy’s work among us.

God bless you all today.

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Starting with Love

www.bible.com/72/jhn.3.16.hcsb

Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe I am just a hack when it comes to preaching. And I probably am. After preaching for over 20 years, I’ve been out of the pulpit since 2016. My preaching gears are getting rusty. In part, that’s why I write this blog, just to have an outlet for those energies. I don’t have an axe to grind. It’s just that that street preacher really bugged me. It bugged me because he represented for most what Christianity is about, fire and judgment and the wrath of God. While true, it is a narrow interpretation of God’s nature. God is much more than this.

If he had delivered that message in a church, he would probably received a more sympathetic hearing, but as a trial sermon, I think it would have been a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” situation. I can’t fault the guy for trying, because it was more than I was doing sitting there minding my own business. But could I have done better, with that mildly hostile crowd? The guy was preaching the word of God, and reading directly from the text. But he might have started with this John 3:16 instead of Romans 1:19ff.

He could have started with John 3:1. He could have started in the gospels. He could have started in the Psalms. He could have started with love and then balanced with God’s wrath for sin, and that expended upon Christ at the cross. As Paul in 1 Cor 3, he could have come preaching “Christ and Him crucified.” He could have went a number of different places. But what do I know? I’m just a guy writing a blog.

It seems to me that guys that begin and end preaching against the sins of the world have come out of some pretty dark places themselves. This is preaching out of personal pain and shame. If someone has not felt the love of Christ, it’s very hard to preach about it. And I think that’s where these guys come from. They are spoon-fed the wrath of God and fear of God’s judgment if they live less than perfectly. And that’s where they start in their preaching. It is a sad reality that many are exposed to Christianity in its most negative light. It’s not fair to God to describe Him so one-sidedly.

God bless you today.

Love Rejoices with Truth

www.bible.com/72/1co.13.6.hcsb

WOW. I really needed a Bible verse to tell me this. I have been inundated with the message that love trumps truth from my culture trying to lecture me on what my faith ought to be. It tells me I ought to accept anyone’s preferences in love because love trumps anything that old dusty Bible says. Us Christians can’t be authentic because we put limits on love.

Well, yes, we do. Love is a powerful emotion, and powerful bond. “With great power” comes rules for its use. Nuclear energy is a great source of power. We don’t hand out uranium like candy. We have very strict rules about the use of nuclear energy because it is dangerous if mishandled. The power of nuclear fire is less potent than love. Love brought an infinite God unto a human form to die for our sins. There are rules for this kind of power, and it is Truth.

Without Truth, Love is dangerous. Adulterous love can destroy marriages, children, even several generations. It can destroy the fabric of society when divorce is easy. Adulterous love caused that. Homosexual love is destroying the family, and now threatens the church. Churches are being told not to indulge in “hate speech” which the Bible seems to be full of. How is this? Because the Bible declares there are rules for love. Good love rejoices with the truth. Bad love hates the truth. Self-love can destroy an individual, isolating and ultimately destroying him, especially in suicide. Self-love declares that what I think is always right, even when my thoughts are objectively wrong, like “nobody wants me”.

Love and truth are partners. One needs the other. Truth needs love so that it’s razor’s edge heals surgically rather than hurts by slicing to ribbons. Christian never discount the connection between love and truth. They are inseparable if they are to be used at all. They are the Christian’s currency and trade. Be careful how you use them.

God bless you today.

All the Rest is Commentary

www.bible.com/72/deu.6.5.hcsb

This is the first and best commandment. It’s not the first of the Ten Commandments, but it is the first of the the two that Jesus recommended. The second is like unto the first, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To this Jesus adds the Christian commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” It all seems to be about love, doesn’t it?

Is it telling that all of these commandments command love? As if to say that love is not something that comes naturally from us. We must be told to do it. Is it somehow contrary to our nature to love God, neighbor, and our brother in Christ? Or is it that though we love, we don’t love the right things, and that these commandments are direct our love, instead of correcting our lack of love.

In regards to this, do you remember Ephesians 5? In that passage, women are commanded to respect and submit to their husbands, while husbands are commanded to love their wives, as Christ loved the church. While on the one hand, submission is not an easy nor popular thing to do, genuine self-sacrificial love is just as difficult for a man to express for his wife. This is the same kind of love commanded in all three commandments above.

If love wasn’t a commandment, would we do it? Do you struggle with love? It is hard for us to know what Love is when we’ve never been exposed to it. Many people experience unconditional love from their parents, but many don’t. Without that experience, it’s hard to imagine a God who is Love. For without love, it impossible to know God. It’s impossible to understand His motivations. That God would willingly sacrifice His own Son so that the world could be set free from sin. What kind of love is that?

I challenge you today to explore this love. 1 John is an excellent commentary on the love of God. If love is challenging for you, make this a matter of first priority in your prayer life. Because everything we are commanded to do comes from this.

If you struggle with love, let me pray with you. God bless you today.

The Greatest

www.bible.com/72/1co.13.13.hcsb

Of faith, hope and love, the greatest is love. Why is that? Simply because love outlasts the others. Faith is temporal, for it will only be necessary until we see the face of Christ. Then we will know and be fully known. (Do not take this lightly, as faith is the basis for our salvation, and without faith it is impossible to please Him. While temporal, it is still extremely important). Hope too is temporal, in that when we see Him, our hope will be realized. (Again, this is not to say that hope is not needed. We depend on our blessed hope to endure this present darkness and press on to the light. We need our hope like oxygen for perseverance, the mettle or our maturity. Without hope we no direction or focus. We need hope, just as much as faith) But the greatest by far of the three is love. Love is eternal. Love is everlasting. Unconditional, forgiving love is our mainstay, which we will experience both now and forever.

How great this love is when the Father sends His own Son, proof of His love, to suffer and die, to take upon Himself the infinite wrath of God on our behalf. One day we will see his face, though I will ashamed, knowing that this eternal loving God had to suffer and die for my sins. I will week as I’ve never wept before for shame, that such a one, a perfect One, took my sins and curses upon Himself. I am a wretch before Him. And such love will raise his nail-scarred hand and wipe away my tears. What love is this, that would love me so completely? Such I have never experienced on this earth. Such is too wonderful, too hoped for, too fantastic for my imagination. Could I imagine such love? That without regret He would deem me worthy of such a sacrifice as His cross? Am I so valuable to Him as to deserve that love? I am worthless. But He has imparted to me by His grace such worth that I cannot take it all in. So I weep in gratitude. Through tear-filled eyes I behold my Savior and thank Him for His love. And I weep for those that didn’t embrace His offer of love. Such love is too powerful. Shall we ignore it?

God bless you on this Valentine’s Day. He loves you deeply. Don’t ever forget that.

Mere Love

www.bible.com/72/1jn.3.18.hcsb

Surely love is too important, too deep, too wonderful to be merely love. Yet this is John’s contention this morning. Is it possibly that love be mere talk? To say “I love you” is just talk? From what I hear, that’s the extremity of commitment for some and a true test of relationship for others. Some count this as proof that they are ready for cohabitation. Mere love, mere expression without commitment. There is saying “I love you” and showing “I love you” by doing. This is the difference John is teasing out here. Saying “I love you” in the backseat of a car or online is far less significant than saying “I love you” before a crowd of witnesses at the altar. It is less meaningful than when holding your wife, tearful after a long and difficult day, weeping how much she wishes she could help people more, angry at the world for its unfairness, and to simply hold her, knowing she has borne you four children, remembering with her that there are good times, that is love. It is love to willingly do dishes when you know she hates to do them. It’s dropping everything at a moment to see what she needs two rooms away.

Love is more than speech. It is action, commitment, a willingness to follow through with the promise of “I do.” Love isn’t just between humans either.

For the love we experience with God is much more. For his did God demonstrate His love for us? Did He scrawl “I love you” on the face of the moon? Did He send a Valentine’s card in the mail? He sent His Son. His only Son into a world that He knew would be hostile to him. He sent His Son to suffer and die for the sins of the world, to receive into Himself the extremity of His wrath for sin. You see, our God is an angry God, angry at sin and the men who commit it. Since Adam God has weighed and counted the sins of the men, preparing them for His wrath. God’s Justice must be served. God prepared a place called Hell to receive the souls of the damned for eternal torment and suffering to a degree we are not familiar. Sin is costly, and it must be paid for.

But the Love of God must also be satisfied. For His love is just as intense and infinite as His sense of justice. And there was only one answer to the intensity of His wrath, and that was the willingness to endure it through the perfect sacrifice of His Son on Calvary. For as infinite as His wrath is, so must also be the One willing to endure it, and that can only be Jesus, the God who became Man, and the Man for all of us. This is the Love of God.

Cards and flowers say love, but what really shows love? Don’t merely say love. Mean it. Do it.

God bless you today.

Loud Noises, No Meaning

www.bible.com/72/1co.13.1.hcsb

I’ve heard the phrase “Turn up the signal, drown out the noise” which seem cryptic on the surface, but as I’ve come to understand it, means that we focus on the meaningful communication and tune out the meaningless noise. We live in a world with a lot of noise. Everywhere we go thee is music, chatter, the noise of machines and the business of life. But none of that matters when what you want to hear are the sounds of your children, or your wife’s voice saying “I love you”. More than this, all of life’s noise drowns our the small still voice of our Heavenly Father. You can hear his voice if you listen closely. You open up His Book and His voice is right there.

Pail here is talking about love and its importance to the life of a believer. Without love, life is just noise. Love makes it meaningful. Love makes the message matter. So something we need to work on today is our love. Do we have it and is it meaningful? I suggest you do a love inventory. What and who do you love? Do you love to receive or do you love that you may give love. Love is powerful , and without it, life is useless noise. Don’t let your life be useless.

God bless!