Musings on Christianity 31

Musings on Christianity 31

What is Love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

“If you love me … “ It’s a phrase many people hear and say. The question of “if” introduces a lack of faith to begin with. If one has to question love, then one already doesn’t feel love. Perhaps one doesn’t feel loved regardless of its presence. After all, God’s love is endless. He sent his son to die for us.

And that, readers, is the message of this chapter. Love, ultimately, is sacrifice. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).”

In the verse quoted at the top of this chapter, we see several examples that also prove the theory that love is sacrifice.

Love is patient. Love means denying what you want now (patience). Sacrifice your immediate desire for a greater treasure later. This is most holy when sacrificing your immediate desires to honor God, but it works great in Earthly relationships, too. Maybe I give up an hour of video games to watch an episode of TV my wife likes. It shows her love in that I’m willing to wait. She’s not even asking me not to play video games, she’s just asking me to wait.  The last chapter focused entirely on patience, so I won’t dwell on it here. I just wanted to draw the connection between patience as an act of sacrifice, which ultimately shows love.

Love is kind. Kindness is giving. A simple Google search defines kindness as being friendly, generous, and considerate. To be generous means to give. What would one possibly give but something one already has. The degree of sacrifice might be high or low, but any act of giving is at least to a small degree an act of sacrifice. I must note here though that the giving must be joyful (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

It’s not kind to give someone any gift and mutter about what it cost or complain about how you had to work to obtain it. You’ve sacrificed nothing and, therefore, gave nothing. That sort of act isn’t generosity, it’s self aggrandizing. What is consideration if not the act of letting one’s offenses pass over you (Proverbs 19:11)? And what is that if not the sacrifice of your pride?

Naturally that leads back to the idea that we should just live and let live. However, letting people jump off cliffs because it’s fun isn’t love. It might be fun, but when they die, the fun is over. Patience against a personal offense will indeed lead to glory. But those who sin against God are doomed. It can’t be loving to not even offer wisdom. I personally won’t cause an argument to try and “make” you see wisdom (fear of the Lord (Job 28:28.))  There’s a balance, but there is absolutely a difference between not becoming sinfully enraged at another’s sin and just letting folk do whatever they want. I might not be willing get into a fist fight over what is a sin and what isn’t (the Bible is clear on sin), but I also won’t pretend that sin isn’t wrong. Nor will I endorse it. 

Back to the subject at hand. We constantly want others to “get over” our mistakes, but if we want that sort of behavior (forgive and forget), we have to be willing to do the same. The instant you’re not willing to let go is the instant you can’t then get made at someone else who’s equally unable (or unwilling) to let go. However, each time you do this, you do this to your glory.

Love does not envy. You cant love someone if you covet what they have. If you look at a happily married man and then want his wife for yourself, you’re taking. More loving is to let go of your desire so that couple may live in peace. That would require the sacrifice of your love (or lust).  To hold onto that envy only leads to sin. This is because seeing leads to coveting, which leads to sin, which is demonstrated in hiding what you’ve taken because you’re aware it was wrong (Joshua 7:21).

Love does not boast. This is because boasting makes something about you. I touched on this when I talked about kindness. To give so you can show off how “generous” you are is only a way to boast and bring about attention to yourself. This is the opposite of love because any act of self is by definition selfish.

  I’ve spoken about these few things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 because they prove that love is sacrifice. This is true because anything that leads to personal gain or attention is the opposite of what love does. Having offered a few examples, I want to skip over examples of what love does not do to return to the things that love does.

Love rejoices with the truth. So what does one give up with the truth? It depends. Truth reveals. Truth exposes. We use lies to hide (so we appear better). We use lies to fool (so we can dupe others to give us what we want). To have truth means to risk people truly knowing you. Is there anyone in your life (other than our all-seeing God) who knows everything about you? If not, why? If you’re like me, your answer is, “because I don’t want them to think less of me.”

Everybody has secrets. I do, at least from some people. But the secrets I keep (and I’d argue the secrets you keep) are because you refuse to give up the esteem you have in the other person’s eyes. While I can say I know that holding those secrets denies a person the chance to show their love for you, I won’t be hypocritical enough to say I haven’t done it. What I can do going forward though is to show more love. The easiest solution is to not do anything that would lead me to shame. If I think I’d have to hide an action from others because they’d think less of me, the best thing to do would be for me to not take that action. This shows love because I’m denying myself the sinful action I’m considering and because it shows that I love the person I’m thinking about more than the action I’m tempted to take.   

Love bears all things. The word “bear” is such a deceptively small verb. It implies to carry or support. Imagine that. Love means carrying others. Love means supporting others. How would one be able to do that unless they are willing to set down other things? Husbands, did you ever, just for a moment, resent your wife for that time you couldn’t go fishing, or play video games, or finish that book? We husbands carry the hearts of our wives wherever we go. If we remember that, then we should realize we set those hearts down to chase after whatever other pleasure we choose. Does this mean you can’t play golf on Tuesday? That’s not what I said. What it means is if you start to desire golf more than your wife, you should really take a look at your priorities. To bear anything, we must have hands free, and that is only possible if we let go of what we might otherwise hold on to.

Love believes all things.  Here again we must let go or sacrifice our own preconceptions. Is this saying we should believe whatever we hear? Not exactly. A loving heart is trusting. A loving heart believes that what is right will come. Most importantly, with God’s love, we can believe all His promises. Here on Earth, we can believe that those you love aren’t trying to hurt you. That belief could be false. Unfortunately, several people are abused by people who claim to love others. However, we can use this list as a way to verify love.

The short test, if the person you’re looking at is completely unwilling to sacrifice anything for your sake, he or she doesn’t love you.

However, one who consistently sacrifices to some degree or another is at least showing you some love; therefore, you can trust and believe in that love. Naturally each time that person is unloving, that trust is damaged. This is why we need forgiveness on Earth just as God offers it through Christ in Heaven. We need to be able to forgive so that love can overcome and take it’s place where hate and resentment would otherwise live.

So we can also have hope, the sacrifice of despair, because the love we have shows us that the things we want to happen will come to pass. Why would anyone want to hold onto despair? I don’t know, but we do. We don’t trust that the repentant person who’s sinned against us won’t do it again. We don’t trust that the goal we’re pursing will come true. This might be because the person who’s sinned against us had committed this sin seven times before. This might be because we’ve been chasing this goal for five years. We have the best hope when we have the most secure love. This is why God is our greatest hope because he’s never failed to show his love for us.

Again, this isn’t an endorsement for one to stay in an abusive relationship. First, one who’s willing to injure for any reason has already shows murder in his heart (Matthew 5:22). Second, I leave it to you to determine if a person is loving or not. I can’t know your circumstances. What I am saying is that if you hold fast your hope in love, you will have more peace than if you don’t. Our highest hope and faith should be in God, the ever-living, who always provides (Matthew 7:11), who is slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17 among many others), and ultimately gave up His Son so that we might live (John 3:16).

Of course any other hope in any other person bears risks. They’re human! I would only ask that you weigh the sins of another against the sins you’ve committed to see if they are unworthy of love.

Love endures all things. What has God endured from us? How often do we stray? How many sins have I committed? Are there enough stars in the sky to compare? Are there enough sands on the beach? How much has he put up with me? How slow has his anger been for me? While we were enemies of God, sinners living in our own lusts, God sent his Son to die for us.

On Earth, how wonderful it is to endure our trials. Maybe you and the wife are in a rough patch, but you endure that trial in hope that things will be better. The reward is a marriage that’s stronger, tested by fire and proven true by patience and sacrifice. Anyone can quit if something isn’t fun, but to endure suffering or fear is to show how much you love the person for whom you suffer. Most people think that’s easy. We causally say, “I’d do anything for my son,” and then shout at him when he interrupts our TV show.

We say, “I love my wife more than anything,” and then grumble when we have to take out the trash in the middle of the game.

Those aren’t even comparatively real trials. How much more sacrifice comes from the wife who endures her husband’s cancer treatment? How much more sacrifice comes from the father who endures his son’s special needs? As we endure trials with those we love, our love becomes strengthened. Who wants to suffer alone? However, who wants to suffer at all? Therefore, if you find someone willing to suffer with you, hold fast to that person, for his love is readily apparent. 

All these words are descriptors of the ultimate form of love, which is sacrifice. Let go of yourself. Let go of your wants so others may have. Sure, you might have less on this world than you could have, but God promises that what treasure we deny ourselves here is piled up for us in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

For our panel: Why is it so hard for man to sacrifice for others? Is there a point where we would ever be justified to stop loving (and therefore sacrificing) for another? If that’s the case, doesn’t that mean that there is indeed a point in which God is also just to deny us his love? Is it only love if a person is always willing to sacrifice, any unwillingness or failure means an absence of love? What is the greatest form of sacrifice?

Musings on Christianity 12

Musings on Christianity 12

Why Christ?

Inevitably, there comes a time when people speak of religion and begin to try and harmonize faith into one set of beliefs. The idea is that any path taken to honor God will lead to Him. This is most common for people who believe in a singular God. There are also times when people will question why one faith is superior to another. 

What I’m not going to do is tell you why my faith is superior to another faith. What I am going to do is simply explain why I need Christ.

Let me ask you a brutal yes or no question. Remember, you can’t explain or justify your answer; you must simply think, “yes” or “no.” Are you perfect? I didn’t ask if you were generally a good person. I didn’t ask if you’re no worse than someone else. I didn’t ask if you haven’t done anything truly bad. I mean, are you absolutely perfect?

I know I’m not. The first chapter covers this same theory. Remember, I’m not good, and neither are you. This is the first part of why I need Christ. I’m not perfect. I’d even go so far as to say I’d rather not even attempt to justify myself next to some other mortal men. I have regrets in my life. 

The next part of this explanation demands yet another important honest question. The same rules apply.  Do you believe you could earn your way into Heaven? Some religions do. Some people do. If you answer, yes, then there’s really not much I can tell you. Time will tell. I however, do not think I could earn my way into Heaven. Why? Because if I’m not perfect, I can’t honestly expect a perfect God to want to have anything to do with me.

Here is another issue that needs to be addressed. It’s perhaps comforting to think of God as someone who loves us. This is actually true. However, the idea of “love” is the one that needs clarification. There are those who want the idea of God’s love to mean, “I can do whatever I want, and he still loves me.” 

I don’t believe that’s true. First, let’s look at this as any Christian should look at a question. Does God love everyone?  He does love us in that he offered salvation to us (Romans 5:8).  But if you lean on that verse, then you must remember the whole thought. God shows his love for us (which is there) in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If Christ is the mechanism for which he showed his love, we must, therefore need him for that love to have been shown.

But why then did Christ’s death need to be? I’m coming to that, but first we must address the concept of God’s love.

God’s hatred does exist. There are those he hates. Who? He hates evildoers (Psalm 5:5).  He hates those who are haughty, those who’ve lied, those who’ve shed innocent blood, those who devise wicked plans, those who hurry to evil, a false witness, and those who sow discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Anyone as self defensive as I am would quickly shout, “I’ve never shed innocent blood!” They may say, “I’ve never devised a wicked plan!”

I’m not going to invest time to explain how God sees hatred of another itself as murder (the shedding of innocent blood) (Matthew 5:21-48).  I’m also not going to invest time discussing what constitutes a wicked plan. Indeed, I’m going to simply conceded those two arguments.

However, the items on this list I, for one, can not dispute condemn me are those who lie, and those who sow discord. Here comes another brutal question. Yes or no: have you ever, ever, lied? Welcome to the list of those God hates (or hated, we’ll come to that).  I’ve lied. I don’t have any idea of the number of times I’ve lied. From, “Mom, this sure tasted great!” to “You look fine!” I’ve lied. Those are just the “white” lies. Lies we tell for good. Let’s make something clear. You can not do something evil for good. You can not lie for a good reason. If you’ve lied, you, like me, are on the list.

What about sowing discord? Well, have you ever talked about someone behind their back? Have you ever vented to a friend about that guy you “just can’t stand?” Have you ever spoken about that boss who “everyone hates?”  That’s right, you’ve sown discord. Welcome to the list. Don’t worry, I’m on that list too. 

What then can we do? There are some who would say, “Sure, you’ve done some bad in life!” They conceded the first question above proclaiming, “no one is perfect.” Then they try to make that lack of perfection ok by either stating “God loves us anyway,” which we’ll address here in another moment, or they say, “the point is to try to do more good than evil.”

Here’s were that logic just falls short for me. Taking from the list of things God hates listed above, just imagine every “fib” every “white lie” you’ve ever told. I don’t know about you, but I lost count. So how can I know how many good deeds to do? If my single list of this one “bad” thing is already too difficult to count, how, exactly can I hope to know how many “good” deeds I need to do?

This line of thinking becomes even more mind boggling to me. What about the severity of the sin? I was a little thief in my younger days. Does that mean I have to give in these days? Does the “right” I’m obligated to do have to be at least equal to or greater than the “wrongs” done? It just gets too complicated. It also leads back to one very important thing. Do I really think I can earn my way into Heaven? If I don’t think I can, then no amount of good deeds is going to be enough anyway.

And I don’t. I don’t think I’m going to do a darn thing for the creator of the universe. I don’t have a resume item I think will compare with, “created all things.”

So I need help. If I realize I can’t earn my way into Heaven because I’m not perfect, I’m can’t even tell the amount of good I must do to outweigh the bad I’ve done, and I’m not able to do anything to impress the God who created the universe, I need someone or something to help me. Therefore, I need Christ. 

The next question then must be, “What does Christ do for those who believe in him?” There are several different ways to ask that question, but that version works for me.

The first thing he did for us what that very same demonstration of love I mentioned above from Romans 5:8. His very death, if we believe in him and his death, is a symbol of God’s love. Why though? Why did his death for us help us? Why is his death the symbol of God’s love?

Because death is the price for sin (Romans 6:23). In the days of Moses, a substitutionary sacrifice was enough to temporarily pay the price for a man’s sin. That substitutionary death was to be a lamb without blemish, a perfect lamb. 

These sacrifices had to be repeated though. They were offered at specific places in specific times and repeated because man continued to sin. This had to be repeated because an animal was never regarded as equal to man (Matthew 6:26 gives one example of this fact). So the only way for man to be permanently forgiven is for a perfect man to die.

Therefore, I need Christ. He was perfect. He did die. More importantly, he was raised. His death paid for my sins. His resurrection broke the bonds of death so that life everlasting becomes possible.

So I choose Christianity for a great number of reasons. The reason that’s relevant to this particular chapter is that I already know there’s nothing I can do to be good enough to get into Heaven. I need help. I know I need help because I already know I’m not good enough on my own. What Christ did is pay the price for my sin. What Christ does is advocate for me with his Father in Heaven (1 John 2:1). Rather than rely on myself to negotiate my way into Heaven, I rely on Christ to be the way.

Again, this isn’t where I say to those of other religions, “This is why you’re wrong.” Instead, this is where I say, “This is why I need Christ.” No other religion has a figure who, in perfection, provided me a means to be cleansed and a person to advocate for me.

Dr. John MacArthur once broke religion down into two ultimate groups: Faith based religion and works based religion. If you believe in your core as some do that you are the one who must earn your way, I’m not going to convince you other wise. I just don’t agree. I’m just too aware of too many people who did so many good things, but I can always find one guy who doesn’t think that person measures up. However, what I can choose to do is have faith in one who was perfect and paid my price and speaks for me.

I offer this prospective to you to help you understand why I feel the need I feel. If you don’t feel good enough, Christ is. If you don’t feel as though you can do enough, Christ has. If you don’t feel you’re perfect, Christ is.

For our panel: What are some other ways to demonstrate how Christ served as our substitutionary sacrifice? What is the relationship between sin and death? What was it that showed you the need for Christ? How is Christ unique as a savior in comparison to other religions? How does Christ serve as our advocate in Heaven?