Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Loving God and Loving Others

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
These are two of my favorite verses in the Bible. They sum up the earthly pay-off of the Christian life; our love is people, not things. Things will be destroyed by moth and rust, but a soul quickened in the love of Christ will persevere forever.

Charles Spurgeon put it this way,
A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.
The girl that cut my hair today was not interested in spiritual things at all, she said, “I’m happy, and that’s all that matters.” It reminded me of a movement that has swept evangelicalism, that might be called the Ephesizing of America. (Revelation 2:1-7) Our love has turned inwards, the command is, “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor…” and yet from pulpits nationwide on Sunday morning we hear that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our life.

It has become me-centered Christianity; love is lost. We’re not really certain of what the word Ephesus means in Greek, it means one of two things, either desire, or remission, depending on which root you follow. The church at Ephesus had forgotten her first love, they were in remission from loving God and their neighbors, and they had replaced that love with something else which the Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly, but it doesn’t take much of an imagination to suspect that they had reverted to loving themselves.

Inward focused Christianity, as sold by the Osteens, the Warrens, the Hybels, the Ortbergs, the Fosters, and so many more, doesn’t fulfill any of the biblical mandates to love one another, and its pay-offs are so piddly that one wonders if these are the threat that Jesus Christ gave to Ephesus, that if they didn’t repent, he would take their lampstand away. Christ was actively warring against Pergamum, but he let Ephesus suffocate themselves in their self-centered anti-love atmosphere.

Paul was a great lover of his churches. He loved Christ first, but he loved the body of Christ just as much. In his boasting fit of 2 Corinthians 11 he tacks onto his physical suffering, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” After the church at Lystra went apostate following after works-righteous antichrists, Paul would write to them, “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” (Galatians 4:19-20)

Paul loved his churches, which is why he could call them his “glory and joy,” and later, “For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 3:8) In this outward love, Paul was rewarded infinitely more than if he had sought to love himself into such a state of euphoria. Near the end of his ministry, he recorded the words of Jesus Christ, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Our love should NEVER be inward. Love yourself? Anathema! Beloved, Christ summed up a 613 statute Law in two commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Our love should be outward, loving in deed and truth, not just in word and talk.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen new and old Christians step out of their own worlds to give to others, expecting to receive nothing in return.

I’ve seen students preach Christ and him crucified to their classmates, caring more for the eternal security of their friends than if the friendship would be ruined because of the offense of the cross.

Others have given up weeks and weekends to organize and participate in outreaches to the homeless, the elderly, the afflicted, and the perishing.

I’ve seen teenagers step outside of their comfort zones to work with toddlers and dance with seniors, expecting nothing more than that in their obedience their Saviour would be glorified.

Students have asked how they can help their deceived friends see that Mary and science cannot save them, but that only Immanuel who willingly drank the Father's cup of wrath and defeated death can revive and reconcile their soul.

This is a mere taste of the love in action of a church motivated by a Saviour who loved them first; a Saviour who instituted a new command, “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Paul was in love with his church at Thessalonica, he couldn’t stop boasting about them, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)

I understand his sentimentality perfectly; I have not mentioned any names in this post, as I would hate to leave anyone out, but my beloved coworkers in Christ, what is my hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are my glory and joy.

If you have been seeking the peace beyond all understanding by trying to bribe God through prayer, reading his word, attending Sunday School, beloved, you are doing as Hosea said, you are feeding on the wind, (Hosea 12:1) and you should expect nothing for your efforts. (cf. Acts 8:20-23) You have abandoned love; repent, and do the works you did at first. Loving others will, by promise of the Living Christ, be a bigger blessing to you than anything you could receive.

Paul writes to his friend in Colossae, “I pray that in the sharing of your faith you become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” (Philemon 6) Christ was really onto something when he commanded his followers to love one another.

So, where is your ministry? Are you loving God by loving others? God doesn’t need anything, and even if he did, he wouldn’t tell you. Therefore, in order to love God, you love him by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, befriending the stranger, and visiting the imprisoned, both in the spiritual and natural sense, for when you do something for the least of these, you do it unto Christ.

Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.

3 comments:

Byron said...

Canyon, I'm wondering if we can only respond to Christ's commands that He summed up only after we are converted and become transformed as Christians? Some times I get so caught up in explaining the Law to sinners to show the need for a Savior that I forget that Jesus is also using the Law summed up as He did to speak to those that are His. The reason I say this is because I have noticed many people witness to the unregenerate by telling them Jesus' command to Love God above all else and neighbor as themselves. However of would seem that in taking this approach would only price to present an impossible task to somone who isn't interested in the first place. Is this an example for the separate uses of the Law? Showing His justice in the 10 commandments toward sinners and showing His love towards those who are His by enabling them to love outwardly?

C.B. Shearer said...

Byron, even as Christians I still don't think we can come anywhere near fulfilling the summation of the law.

One of my favorite verses to this effect is Matthew 10:38, "And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." By taking up our cross, we can become worthy of Christ...therefore it must be impossible for us to take up our cross on our own, because apart from his saving work, we are totally not worthy.

If the law could be summed up in two commands, then we have to wonder why there are so many commands; the reason is because in our self-centered nature we could certainly twist two commands for our own purposes, after all, look at what some people do with the 10-Commandments...like #9 being only about being in court, or #7 being only physical, or #3 being only God's proper-name...

Once we know the spirit of the law, that it is to turn our affection to Heaven, then two are all we need; but until then, for unbelievers, the more we can show them they've broken, and that Christ kept, the better; for he was tempted in every way we've been tempted yet without sin.

in Christ,
Canyon

Byron said...

Beautiful answer. Thank you.