circumstances (2)

This Week’s Question: Since too many have a romanticized view of love, what is love from a Biblical perspective?

Love is one of the three foundational pillars that Christianity is built upon, with faith and hope being the other two pillars. Unfortunately, many claim to be Christians based solely upon their love for God. Nevertheless, from a Biblical perspective these pillars work synchronously and cannot be dichotomized. To be more explicit, true faith is dependent upon love according to I Corinthians 13:2, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” In the same vein, genuine hope must be fueled by love according to Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Similarly, faith cannot be divorced from hope because hope is embedded in it according to Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In the final analysis, those who claim to have faith without also having hope and love are, in actuality, governed by superstition not faith. Similarly hope that is not accompanied by faith and love is only wishful thinking; and love that is disconnected from faith and hope is mere sentimentality.

In our last post we identified the fundamental element implied in James 2:1-9 to be love, and three reasons were discussed to justify its importance: (1) God commands His followers to love; (2) Love is the distinguishing characteristic that separates God’s children from satan’s; and (3) The motive behind a person’s love is more important than that person’s deeds. So what is love? Four types of love are described Biblically and they are: Eros – Sexual or romantic love; Storge – Natural mutual affection or familial love; Philia – Brotherly love that unites true believers; and Agape – The love God has for humankind. Although each has a place in scripture, agape is focused on in this post because it is the love God has for the world, and is the love that His disciples must have for one another for acceptance into His Kingdom. Paul makes this point very clear in Romans 13:8 when he writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

So what essentially is agape love? Paul, beginning in I Corinthians 13:4 describes agape love beautifully: “4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails…” Someone once said, “love is what love does,” which confirms the fact that love is not an emotion. Also, it is not rhetoric. Instead love is the mitigating force that controls one’s speech, thoughts, and works. By examining I Corinthians 13, it is evident that love forces true disciples to be patient, mild, and kind toward others. It also prevents them from being envious of or hating others; and keeps them grounded whereby they neither think too highly of nor feels the need to elevate themselves. Instead, proper behavior is the modus operandi for disciples because they are not easily provoked into behaving inappropriately. True love causes disciples, by their thoughts, to internalize Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” Meditation, of this nature, prevents true disciples from thinking evil thoughts or gloating when another succumbs to sin. Instead that disciple is happiest when others also stand on God’s truth!

The bottom-line is since love never ends, it is infinite, has no bounds, cannot be measured, transcends time, and, unlike faith and hope, it is the only pillar that extends beyond this realm into eternity. Therefore, since love is infinite, disciples who have it withstand hardship and adversity because love bears all things! Since love is infinite, disciples who have it recite Romans 8:28 as their mantra, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” because love believes all things! Since love is infinite, disciples who have it do not allow their circumstances to dictate their actions because love hopes all things! Finally, since love is infinite, disciples who have it are confident of the power behind Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, since love endures all things! To bring true love to life, love was the force behind the Civil Rights Movement because despite the murders, lynchings, jailings, protests, beatings, discriminatory laws, biased government officials, hosings, dog bites, and sheer humiliation; my forefathers, as a group, knew that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails! They knew it, they lived it, and God delivered to us, as a community, several major victories because of our communal love for everybody!

Next Week’s Question: The Bible has many vivid examples of love, can you think of any? And if “yes” is your answer, can any Biblical principles be gleaned from them?

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Lay Down Your Circumstances

I have to admit, I’ve always been perplexed by people who talk about the “comfort” of the Christian life, especially in terms of it being the primary reason for believing in Christ. To be sure, there’s “comfort and joy” to be had in knowing Christ, and “a peace that passes all understanding.” But humanly speaking, there’s still life to be lived. And life can be painful—so much so that it cuts through the veneer of all that joy and peace that people both inside and outside of Christianity think we’re supposed to be exuding 24/7.

The good news is: God’s OK with that. In fact, he’s the one who’s allowed those circumstances to happen. And a big reason he allows them is this: Our circumstances reveal who we are and what we really trust. The situations we face each day—especially the bad ones—tend to bring out what we’re made of, whether we want them to or not. We may be shocked by what our circumstances reveal about us, but God isn’t—and he wants us to stop being shocked as well, so that we trust him rather than ourselves to get through those circumstances.

However, we often don’t approach it that way. We think that if God cared about us, he’d change our situation. In fact, that was pretty much the serpent’s argument in the garden, and it worked. Even paradise wasn’t good enough for us.

On the other hand, when we lay our circumstances before God, he provides a way through them, even when we think things might be impossible—or probably closer to our real issue: even when we have no control over our circumstances. I already have the control, God reminds us; are you going let me do what I need to do, or are you going to continue to fight me?

The Exodus account is a great example of laying down our circumstances. After the second plague out of ten (frogs, by the way), Pharaoh asks Moses to remove this lousy set of circumstances. Moses’ response in Exodus 8:9 is worth noting: He actually gives Pharaoh, the enslaver and persecutor of his people, permission to set the dates for this plague to be removed. Yet by doing this, he’s acknowledging that no matter what Pharaoh decides, God is still in control and ultimately will deliver Israel.

In contrast to this attitude is the well-known (and often overargued) hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 8:14, etc.). The best definition I’ve seen of this “hardening” is “the continuation of a prior condition.” Put another way: God was pressing Pharaoh’s buttons and revealing his heart, already knowing how he would respond to his circumstances:

For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go (Exodus 9:15–17).

Sometimes, parting the Red Sea is easier than opening up a human heart.

And that brings us back to… us. We want to change our outer circumstances; God is more concerned with changing our inner circumstances—the very ones we seemingly should have more control over but don’t. (Read Romans 7 if you don’t believe me, or even if you do.) When that happens, our outer circumstances begin to change as well. So give it all to God, and let him accomplish his will through your circumstances.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s spend some more time with a question you hopefully began addressing in last week’s small-group session: What circumstances are you facing right now that seem impossible to you—and maybe, therefore, also seem impossible for God?

Ask God to open the way for you to walk through your circumstances—not asking for a solution (though he may well provide one), but to see clearly how to follow him through whatever it is you’re facing right now. Resolve to wait for God’s answer, and ask him for the strength to wait. Start that waiting right now. Don’t just throw up a prayer and stop reading, but spend time waiting. Give God the chance to speak—and give yourself the chance to hear.

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