THE RETURN TO GOD’S PERFECT LOVE

(Genesis 2:25) Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

(Genesis 3:7) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

From the last verse in Genesis chapter 2 to the 7th verse of chapter 3, a significant change came over Adam and Eve.  They began with no awareness of being naked; and then when their eyes were opened, they were ashamed and felt the need to cover themselves.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve only looked through eyes that saw good.  After the fall, their eyes were opened to also see evil.  The events of verses 1-6 in chapter 3 tell of their fall into sin.  With sin came self-awareness. 

Self-awareness has tainted the way we see each other and the way we love each other. Before sin came into the world, we were other focused.  We could love without thinking about ourselves.  Love in the pre-sin world was a pure love, a Godly love.  The kind of love God still gives to us, his perfect love.  But fallen man’s kind of love is infected by self-awareness. 

When we return to God through Jesus our Lord, he gives us his Spirit so we are empowered to fight against the sinful nature, yet it is a continual fight.  Selfishness, judgement, hatred, and unforgiveness get in the way.  We are born with a sinful nature into this world of tainted love.  We are trained by those around us to follow the selfish tainted ways of loving.  Yet there is hope for retuning to God’s perfect way of loving.

 We can trust in the hope of that day when Jesus will come and take us home to a place where perfect love again prevails.  The Apostle Paul speaks of this hope, (1Corinthians 13:8-10) “Love never fails.  But where there are prophesies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears”.

THE ENEMY WITHIN

(James 1:13-15) When tempted no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees?  They were the leaders of the Jewish faith.  They were the moral and righteous ones, yet Jesus called them hypocrites because they failed to recognize their hypocrisy.  So I ask myself, “Am I also a hypocrite?”  The answer is painfully, “yes!”  Every time I judge a fellow human, or place myself morally above them, I’m in danger of hypocrisy.  Since I’m a sinner like everyone else, I never have the moral high ground.  I’m as capable as the next guy of sin.  My greatest enemy therefore is my own sinful nature, the enemy within.

I’m amazed at how little impact Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor, pray for them who spitefully use you, judge not less you be judged, take the plank out your own eye so you can then remove the speck from you neighbors eye, etc.”, have upon my daily actions.  Do I think that Jesus was only kidding when he said these things? Actually, I believe he was placing a mirror before my eyes, so I could see my failures and maintain a humble place in my walk with him.

Truth brings reality, and reality should bring humility, which in turn will put me in a right place with God.  Then the words of Jesus can guide me into righteousness; however, there will always be the enemy within working to cloud out the words of Jesus.  Every day I need the light of his words to disperse the clouds and keep me in that humble place.

THE SOURCE OF LOVE

(1Corinthians 13:4-8a) Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails …..

  In these verses, The Apostle Paul gives us a definition of agape love, God’s love.  These are the characteristics of the love God has for his creation, and especially for us the crown of his creation.  This is also the love he wants us to have for each other.  Jesus said to his apostles, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).

Where did love originate?  Only one answer presents its self, and that is from God.  The Creator fashioned all that is in the temporal world, so it’s a logical assumption that love came from him. This is what the Apostle John has to say in chapter 5 of his first letter, verse 16 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  He goes on to say in verse 19, “We love because he first loved us.”  Love is therefore inherent in God.  Love must have existed even before the creation within the triune of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I have a desire to love more completely, and if you share this desire with me, we know that we must go to the source of love.  As I meditate on the list of what love is, I am fully aware of how much I lack in loving God and loving others, but this list also speaks of how God loves me. I believe the secret is to first comprehend his love for me.  The more his love pours into my soul the greater the opportunity for it to flow out of me.  God is love, and he is the one in whom we can find true love.

Author’s note: Did you ever realize that God’s love is a very humble love?

A DEPRAVED MIND

In my concern for our country, I would like to spark some Biblical insight about what is happening to America.  Last week I shared that countries will be judged for their wickedness.  Today I’d like to give some thoughts on what is wrong with our thinking.  Have you noticed that our leaders seem especially irrational in their thinking?

In Romans chapter one the Apostle Paul explains how rejecting God affected our thinking.  Romans 1:21, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

If you think there isn’t a God, you fit in well with the liberal thinking of our times.  However, America was founded with the idea that there is a God who is identified in the Bible.  There is certainly still enough evidence to this conjecture to be convincing.  No doubt there are many who would like to destroy this evidence, but let’s get back to our investigation of the problem with our thinking.

Romans 1:28-30, Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents.

In God we find the source of wisdom.  We think we’re intelligent, but without God we falter in our use of knowledge.  Sin gets in the way of our ability to think rationally.  We need God!  He is our only hope!  Unless we repent and turn to God, we are doomed to continue in our futility and irrational sin driven thinking.

BEING A GOOD CITIZEN

(Romans 13:1-7 MSG) Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it is God’s order. So live responsively as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

The Apostle Paul’s admonition to the first century Roman citizens has stirred many debates among Christians. We Americans have a sense of being autonomous, but the government is always intruding. Protesting is allowed, but only if it’s peaceful. Currently the Government is interfering in our lives, and we don’t like it.

Governments are established for the protection and prosperity of its citizens. During our covid 19 crisis, some say the government is not doing enough, while others say it is doing too much. We all have our opinions. The question is, “Is the government doing its job?” Considering that the government is run by humans I’d answer, “They’re trying.”

As a Christian I ask myself, “In my frustrations, am I considering others, or am I just focused on me?

FACING EVIL WITH LOVE

(1 Peter 3:8-9) Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Continuing last week’s subject of overcoming evil with good, the above quoted Scripture expands on this theme, and includes loving and caring for one another. The Apostle Peter asks us to return evil with blessing. Blessing inspires an active giving in the face of evil, a kindness, an encouragement. This is facing evil with love.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, pray for them that persecute you (Matthew 5:44).” As I put together these thoughts, the words “God so loved the world” come to mind. When we become his children, these words become a clarion call for us. As his children, we should also love the world. Consciously putting aside hatred, prejudice, and revenge is part of the new life he has given us.

I never want to present topics of this nature without inserting Jesus’ reminder to us, “Without me you can do nothing.” Only in fellowship with Jesus can we ever hope to love the world, and love enough to overcome evil.

OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD

“The only way evil ever wins victories is by making a man retort by evil, reflect it, pay it back, and thus afford it a new lease on life. Over one who persistently absorbs it and refuses to give it out, it is powerless.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Traveling Light, p.188)

I am truly challenged by the words of this quote from the book Traveling Light. Everything in my cultural training and my human nature tells me to get back at someone who does me wrong. Yet, I see in my retaliation, the propagating of evil. How can I change my natural tendencies?

I find in Jesus’ death and resurrection a definitive example of overcoming evil with good. By not returning evil for evil, he brought forth the ultimate victory over evil. I, as his follower, am challenged to carry on his example of good over evil in my daily life. When I think of the suffering and humiliation that Jesus went through, I realize that this is not going to be easy. Perhaps, I can simply trust God and do as the Apostle Paul exhorts in Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

Paul expands on this exhortation in the next few verses then concludes in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Evil perpetuates evil. When I repay with evil, I will be overcome by evil. The only way to break the chain of evil is to avoid responding with evil. Now there’s an encouragement. Who wants to be overcome by evil?

Jesus gave an example of how I can overcome evil in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.” So if I hit them back the situation escalates, and I perpetuate evil.

I know that these words challenge our basic nature. Yet, if we are to have victory over evil as Jesus did, we must avoid returning evil for evil, and overcome evil with good.

EQUALITY IN CHRIST JESUS

(Galatians 3:26-29) So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In the family of God we are all equal. Regardless of our current status, as a child of God we have complete equality. This is important because in this fallen world, we are not treated equally. We are evaluated by our ethnicity, social status, economic status, and even our gender, but this is not how God sees us.

God sees us as his children. And like the perfect father that he is, he loves us completely. He has made us heirs to all that is his. We are recipients of Abraham’s blessing as recorded in Genesis chapter 12. We have immense blessing as God’s children. We all receive eternal life, none are separated out, and all are equal.

Help me to see my fellow believers through your eyes Father, loving them, and treating them as equals.

LIVING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE – CONCLUSION

Romans 12:20-21(MSG) Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

 

Feeding the poor and hungry takes a new slant when applied to “my enemy”. Personally, I can’t think of anyone I’d call my enemy. There are obviously unnamed enemies looking to do harm generally, but they’re not people I know. I think this is more than about feeding and providing drink for my enemy. This is about perspective on a person who is against me, and it correlates directly to the concluding sentence of our scripture.

The last sentence of Romans chapter 12 concludes all the challenges I’ve talked about in my writings on living the Christian life. “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.” Unfortunately, the way I respond to evil is often with evil. When I respond to evil with evil, I obviously indulge evil. I often wind up doing greater evil than the evil that was done to me. When it is all over, I am often horrified by what I’ve done. Evil has gotten the best of me.

When I look over my past sins, I can see where doing something different would have been the better choice, yet in that moment my response was to lash out. As with all my attempts to live the Christian life, the reality is that I can’t do it without Jesus. I constantly need Jesus to guide me. Only with Jesus’ help can I get the best of evil by doing good.

LIVING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE – PART 8

Romans 12: 17-19 (MSG) Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

In a church I used to attend, a strong willed lady came to our congregation. She immediately had the ear of the pastor, and she seemed to be taking over the church. I was concerned and found her ways offensive. At an evening prayer service, which it seemed that she had taken over, I was speaking to the Lord about her, and the Lord gave me a vision. He showed her to me as a little girl, and he said, “This is how I see her.”

With that vision, the Lord completely change my perspective on this lady. Every time I saw her, I saw that little girl. My concerns were allayed, and I was even able to receive some very helpful prayer from her.

I tell this story because only with Jesus was I able to see the beauty in this person. Personal relationships are best when they include Jesus. Isn’t it true that living the Christian Life can only be accomplished with Jesus? In John chapter 15, he tells us exactly that. Without him we can accomplish no good thing.