Tag Archives: Love

Do You Love God? Examine the Evidence.

At its foundation the Bible is, essentially, a love story. From Genesis to Revelation we learn of God’s deep love for humanity and desire for sinful mankind to be reconciled with Him. Embedded in every passage, every anecdote, every historical account is the message of God’s love.

And while secondary themes exist, they always reinforce the overarching idea that God loves people. The apostle John articulated this simple truth with three simple words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16; NKJV).

Fortunately, His love is not something we must earn. The apostle Paul tells us “God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). God does not condition His love on our becoming good people first. Instead, He extends His love to us while we are slaves to sin.

Experiencing that love only requires we place our trust in Jesus Christ and surrender our lives to Him. That simple yet comprehensive act of faith yields eternal life with God. But it also produces the responsibility to follow God’s example of love.

When asked to identify the most important commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NKJV).

Jesus’ response should not surprise us. God expects us to love Him and those around us even as He loves us and every other person in the world. And we are to imitate God and Jesus in our expression of love.

What does that mean in substantive terms? Well first of all, we must understand that God’s love is demonstrated in action not verbalized in words. God doesn’t tell us about His love, He reveals it to us on a daily basis. Likewise, we demonstrate our love for God and others by our behavior and deeds, each and every day.

Second, Jesus takes great care to explain one critical piece of evidence exhibited in the lives of those who love Him:

If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (John 14:21a, NKJV).

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23a, NKJV).

Jesus’ words are unmistakable. If you love Him you will obey His commandments. Not just those that are easy to follow, or those that do not disrupt your lifestyle, or those with which you agree. You will follow ALL his commands.

If that sounds like a herculean task, well it is. In fact, it’s impossible. But under the leadership of the Holy Spirit we can begin to live a life of increased obedience. And while we will never live perfect lives on this side of heaven, God does expect us to cultivate a lifestyle of holiness and more closely resemble Jesus as our faith matures.

However, our obedience does more than just evidence our love for God; it reveals genuine faith. The apostle John emphasizes this correlation in his first epistle. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4, NKJV). To eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding, John reiterates this point to his audience. “He who keeps God’s commandments abides in Him, and God in him” (1 John 3:24a, NKJV).

John connects obedience with knowing God in a real and meaningful way. Remember that at its core the Christian faith involves an intimate and personal relationship between believer and Jesus Christ. He abides in us as we abide in Him. So in that sense it is unlike any religion in the world – because it is no religion at all. It is a relationship.

John, then, is not suggesting that obedience precedes salvation. Rather, he is saying that faith produces obedience; that the call of Christ demands the passionate pursuit of holiness from would-be followers.

The above verses clearly establish a linkage between our love for and faith in Jesus with our obedience to God and Christ. An absence of obedience exposes an absence of faith and love.

Now, one might wonder, ‘What commands must I obey?’ And the simple answer is, ‘All of them.’ Every commandment captured in Scripture, from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.

If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, consider this statement from John. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, NKJV). In other words, we are not just to obey God’s commands, we are to do so joyfully and with gratitude, not begrudgingly or with resentment.

Many readers will protest at this point and claim that all this sounds a little too legalistic. They will insist that God’s love does not require obedience nor is our salvation preconditioned on it. And they’re correct. That’s true.

But these verses aren’t about God’s love for us, which exists regardless of whether we obey Him. They are about our love for Him and our faith in Christ. And if those are real, we will desire to obey God’s commands and thirst for His will, even when His commands and plans require we relinquish control of our lives and put to death our self-interests.

All of which would be difficult enough if God’s commands were few and easy. But they’re not. They are abundant in number and often quite demanding. Consider those below, for example.

1) “Study the [Bible] continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything in it” (Joshua 1:8, NLT).

2) “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).

3) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NKJV).

4) “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NKJV).

5) “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39b, NKJV).

6) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28, 19-20a, NKJV).

7) “Whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NKJV).

8) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).

9) “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciples” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

10) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).

11) “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5a, NKJV).

12) “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, NKJV).

13) “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV).

14) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, NKJV).

15) “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11, NKJV).

16) “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2, NKJV).

17) “Encourage one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, NKJV).

18) “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8, NKJV).

19) “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).

20) “Keep yourself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21, NKJV).

Only when we love God, pursue His presence regularly, and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit can we hope to partially fulfill these commands. But for those in a genuine relationship with Christ, that hope can transform into reality over time.

And as we obey God’s commands we begin to reflect Him more clearly in our lives and in our treatment of others. And we begin to understand what John means when he says, “By this we know love, because Jesus laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV).

We realize that Christ sacrificed His life for us, as an expression of love. And He calls us to do surrender our lives to Him as an expression of love. And when we do, we experience Him and His love in a far more meaningful and powerful way than we ever imagined.

Sacrificial Love.

God is love. That truth represents one of the overarching themes of Scripture. It courses through every book of the Bible and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross – to redeem mankind from sin and reconcile us to God.

That act of selfless obedience gave us more than eternal life, however. It also provided us a model for how we are to love others and demonstrated the supremacy of love both in God’s kingdom and in His people. More than that, we learn elsewhere in Scripture that genuine love evidences the presence of Christ in our hearts and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The apostle John informs us, “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10, NKJV). Take a moment to read that verse again and consider what John is saying. Those who fail to love the family of God reveal His absence in their lives. Said another way, anyone who claims to follow Christ but does not love God’s people is exposed as a liar. They have no part in God’s kingdom and will not experience eternal life. It is impossible, John tells us, to truly know Christ and not love His followers.

So what does love look like? Is it merely expressed in words? Is it enough just to claim love for others? Of course not. The apostle James tells us that words alone are useless in isolation; they prove nothing. Actions must work in concert with words for love to truly flourish.

In his first epistle John tells us, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV). Ah, now we’re getting somewhere in our quest to define love. Jesus shows us how to love others. He sacrificed His life for us because His love for us is so great. He wanted to reconcile us with God so we could enjoy eternal life in His presence.

John declares that we ought to love others in a similar manner – especially our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Just as Christ prioritized our salvation above His temporal needs (safety, comfort, long life), we ought to do the same for others.

Though the form that takes varies by believer, it always mirror Christ’s example in terms of sacrifice and selflessness. John provides one compelling example of demonstrated love in the next verse when he tells us. “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

The question is rhetorical. You cannot truly love God and allow those in His family to suffer in need. Whoever has this world’s goods, if he or she is a Christian, will share generously with those in need, especially those from the household of faith. How much you ask? Consistent with Christ’s model; that is, sacrificially. Anything less is mere lip service, which John rebukes as inadequate. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (verse 18).

The apostle James gives the same message in his epistle. “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17, NKJV).

God calls us to love sacrificially, love substantively, and to reveal Him to others as we love on His behalf. There are countless needs in this world, among believers and unbelievers alike. At the same time, our country enjoys an unprecedented level of wealth that could meet many of those needs. But that will only happen when we, as God’s people, set aside our selfish desires and train our resources on meeting the spiritual, physical, and basic needs of those across the globe.

Take time this weekend to consider the following questions. How is God is calling you to love sacrificially. In what ways does selfishness preempt you from following Christ’s model of love? Who specifically is God prompting you to inundate with love? How can you ensure that acts of selfless, sacrificial love become a part of your daily routine?

Gratitude for God’s Gifts.

Many of us will express gratefulness to God this Thanksgiving holiday for family, health, employment, and life. Others will make mention of God’s provision in providing a home, healing a sickness, or resolving a difficulty. Of course, some blessings are universal to all who place their trust in Jesus. Regardless of circumstances, those who surrender their lives to Christ are the recipients of many promises from God. Here are seven of those remarkable gifts.

1] Love: God loves you unconditionally. Nothing you do will ever increase or decrease that love. Irrespective of your failures, shortcomings, or mistakes, He loves you. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how despicable, He loves you. In fact, the Bible tells us, “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). His love is substantive, not theoretical. He offers us reconciliation with Himself through the death and resurrection of His sinless Son, Jesus. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).

At the moment you may face circumstances filled with pain, confusion, rejection, or suffering, and may wonder whether God loves you. The apostle Paul addresses that question in his epistle to the church in Rome. “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” (Romans 8:35, NLT). He answers with an emphatic, “No!” and explains “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NLT).

Know that God loves you and nothing can separate you from that love. Nothing!!

2] Peace: Many people experience stress and anxiety when current circumstances create difficulty. Often, they fear the future. But believers need not undergo such angst no matter the situation. Jesus tells us: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27, NKJV). What a powerful promise. Jesus offers His people peace in their hearts and minds, such peace the world cannot offer. His peace calms us as we surrender our problems to Him, so that we are no longer troubled by the present or fearful of the future.

Those without Christ often fear death and what the future holds after they die. It is a mystery, an unknown, that frightens them. They realize they have not made their peace with God and it troubles them. But we have confidence in our future after we pass from this world. Jesus gives us assurance that all those who place their faith in Him will spend eternity with God; we have been reconciled to Him. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1, NKJV).

The world will scoff at the suggestion that God brings peace to those who follow Him, especially in our world of chaos, violence, and uncertainty. It makes no sense to them that peace can exist in such an environment. His peace is beyond our comprehension as well, even though we experience it. The apostle Paul explains: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, NKJV). God’s peace protects us from the disquiet that plagues the world as the global landscape becomes increasingly frightful. We may not understand how that happens but we have proof in our hearts and minds.

3] Hope: Because our purpose in this world is clear (to love God with all our hearts and share His love with others) and our future is certain, we have hope. We need not suffer through the despair that afflicts many of those around us. Unable to control the events that spiral their lives out of control, the depressed and despondent often turn to artificial sources for meaning (e.g. success, riches, prestige) or to drown their pain (e.g. drugs, alcohol, hedonism). But not so for those who place their hope in Christ. He frees us from such acts of desperation. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13, NKJV). We don’t just possess a measure of hope, we abound in it. What an encouraging truth!

4] Joy: On the night of His betrayal, Jesus encouraged His disciples to abide in Him and keep His commands. After which, He said: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11, NKJV). One of the many benefits of following Christ is partaking of the joy He imparts. Unlike the fleeting and momentary happiness the world experiences, which ebbs and flows depending on circumstances and results, our joy is present in all situations. And it is overflowing.

Even in the midst of difficulty, trials, and tribulation we retain the unshakeable joy God has given us through His Son, because our joy is predicated on our relationship with Jesus, not our present circumstances. In fact, the apostle Peter encourages us to “rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13, NKJV).

5] Power/Strength/Courage: God has equipped us with boldness to do the right thing in a world that increasingly rewards and praises those who do the wrong thing. He calls us, and expects us, to leverage the power of the Holy Spirit to act courageously and remain faithful to Him and His standards, to protect the weak, intervene for the oppressed, and speak on behalf of the exploited. As we do He will strengthen us. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NKJV). God’s presence is with us when we act on His behalf to confront evil, speak truth, and show mercy to the downtrodden. Never forget that.

6] Good triumphs over evil: In this present age that seems unlikely. Evil flourishes across the globe, not only in grotesque forms like terrorism and human trafficking but also in more benign forms like greed, arrogance, and selfishness. Many of the skirmishes between good and evil appear to result in victory for the wicked. It can seem overwhelming at times, and discouraging if you don’t remember the big picture: in the end, God wins! That is a key message of Revelation. God defeats Satan and his army of evil, and establishes His kingdom in the New Jerusalem. What an encouragement to know that despite appearances to the contrary at the moment, God eventually dispatches all vestiges of evil.

7] God never changes. In a world of chaos where change happens at supersonic speed, it is comforting to know God never changes. As the world’s standards evolve (or devolve), society redefines truth, and God is disparaged as a relic from an era of ignorance, we need a foundation that can withstand these seismic shifts. We need an anchor that keeps us from tossing to and fro in the ocean of moral relevance, where good is demonized and evil is glorified. That anchor, that foundation, is God’s immutable permanence. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NKJV).

Happy Thanksgiving!

America’s Least Favorite Bible Verse.

Many things divide our nation. Political affiliations separate us into segments of blue and red, depending on whether we support Democrats or Republicans. Professional and college sports fuel rivalries between fans of different teams. Wealth separates us by zip code and neighborhood depending on where we can afford to live. Religion sends us in different directions on weekends to worship whatever God we follow, if any at all. Issues of national importance often are viewed through the lens of race, gender, education, and age, frequently tearing us apart instead of bringing us together. Of course, not all differences are divisive and most are reflective of the healthy melting pot America represents.

One commonality, however, unifies our nation almost universally – in large cities and rural communities, across religions, races, and age groups, among political parties, and within most neighborhoods whether rich or poor. That unifying theme is a love for the world and the things in it. We may disagree on what aspects of the world we love or how we manifest that love but nearly all of us love it deeply. Evidence of this truth is all around us, in how we spend our time and how we invest our income. Some examples might prove helpful.

We love entertainment. From YouTube to Netflix, music to television, sporting contests to cultural events, video games to social media, we cannot get enough entertainment. While the genre and medium vary considerably, our thirst (perhaps lust) for entertainment appears insatiable.

We love stuff. While the stuff we love and the brands we buy differ dramatically between individuals, Americans love acquiring the things of this world. And it’s not enough just to collect stuff; we want the best, most popular, and coolest brands: Apple, Givenchy, Beats, Mercedes, Breitling, Neiman Marcus, and Hermès. We insist these are not luxuries but simply a part of being a real American. Laptops, i-pads, cell-phones, chic cars, large-screen televisions, double lattes, and six-dozen pairs of shoes are necessities. And the more we acquire, the more we realize that we require more necessities.

We love pampering. Our definitions may vary but we love being ensconced in luxury. Spa treatments, pedicures, and deep tissue massages to forget the rigors of work. Resort vacations to alleviate stress. Patronizing those businesses that make us feel special and understand our need for comfort. We gravitate to retailers, merchants, and brands that recognize our importance and meet our physical, emotional, and psychological needs.

I could go on but you get the picture. More than ever, a love for the world and all it offers unites us as a nation and represents the American dream. It probably sounds crass and we may resist that truth but the evidence is overwhelming. We love the world and the things of the world.

This may not sound at all troubling to most Americans who probably agree with the above assertions and might even celebrate them. Heck, yeah, we love entertainment, stuff, and pampering. But who cares? Indeed, for secularists and those of other faiths, a love for the world is nothing to be concerned about.

But for those who claim to follow Christ, it is a topic of grave concern – or at least it ought to be. Scripture addresses the issue on numerous occasions and we would do well to reflect on relevant verses, to understand God’s perspective. Perhaps the clearest and most compelling passage comes from the apostle John. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17, NKJV).

John leaves no room for ambiguity. Do not love the world or the things of the world. Simple and straightforward, right? Yet on reading that verse many Christians reject it (‘I don’t agree with what it says’), dismiss it as legalistic (‘I am free in Christ to do whatever I want, which means I can love the world and the things in it’), or insist they already adhere to John’s advice irrespective of how they live (‘I don’t love the world or the things in it. End of discussion.’).

Still, many believers who claim to prioritize their faith and take it seriously have little interest in understanding and applying the truth of this passage. Why? Because it discomforts us and requires wholesale changes in our lives. It is a very disruptive verse that, if followed, will radically alter how we spend our time and invest our resources. And let’s be honest, most of us have no desire for radical alterations to our lives. So we ignore or reject the truth embedded in that passage.

Perhaps the most disingenuous response, though, comes from believers who contend they have no love for the world or the things in it. Despite drowning in a sea of stuff, entrenched in entertainment activities, and living in the lap of luxury (by global standards where abject poverty thrives), they refuse to admit the truth. They are so deeply in love with the world that they have convinced themselves otherwise to avoid having to undergo a lifestyle transformation consistent with John’s verses.

So why does God wants us to avoid loving the world, its’ pleasures, and the things in it? Does He simply want us to live an ascetic life so we are miserable? Does He want His followers to suffer while the rest of the world enjoys lives filled with fun and indulgence? Not at all. He calls us to avoid falling in love with the world for two reasons. First, the world distracts us from following Him. When we fall in love with the things of this world, they take God’s rightful place in our hearts and minds. We focus on serving ourselves and pursuing our interests instead of serving the Lord and pursuing His plan.

Second, a love for the world consumes the focus, time, and resources that properly belong to God. When we resist the temptation to love the world we are set free to love God fully. Jesus explained it like this, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).

Sadly, many of us believe we can serve God and the world simultaneously. Or we believe we can love the world and all it offers while pretending and claiming to love and serve God. But Jesus makes clear that such an arrangement is not possible. To avoid any confusion, He outlines a very simple litmus test for identifying our one true love. “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:21, NLT).

So ask yourself: ‘Where is my treasure?’ How do you spend most of your free time? Where do you invest the majority of your financial resources? In the things of the world or in the kingdom of God? Your answer reveals your real love. If you don’t know how to answer, look at the evidence around you. It is probably overwhelming.