What loving our enemies looks like

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You know how there are some passages of the Bible people seem to reject quicker than others?

Romans 1 is one of those.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to preach on this text, one of the most divisive chapters of the Bible. Much like Genesis 1, which presents God as the authority over all creation, Romans 1 reminds us that, despite our best efforts, we cannot deny His existence, for He has made it plain to us in the things that are seen.

And yet, people do deny Him. Thousands of people die every day clinging to this rejection of God… Thousands live every day clinging to it, and embracing its fruit with abandon. Idolatry, foolish thinking, sexual immorality, gossip and slander, disobedience to parents—evil of all sorts and kinds. For these, who are haters and enemies of God, only one thing awaits them at the end: the unrestrained wrath of God.

And even as we know this truth, that punishment awaits, we are also called to love the lost, to love our enemies. So what is one of the most important ways for us to love them?

The answer is, for many, something that seems so counterintuitive, and yet it is the one thing that can turn away the wrath of God from those who are perishing: the gospel.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). This is the only hope those any of us have. And so loving our enemies, loving those who mock and jeer, who treat us as intellectually incompetent because we believe such silly things, means telling them this truth—stuffing our pride and often our hurts so that they might also be saved.

We plead with them, knowing that they might reject us. But we do it because God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Think back to Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and life,” God says. “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?”

There is no act of righteousness committed by man that will satisfy God’s anger. We need the righteousness of another to save us, a perfect righteousness. And so God, in love for His people, provided. God loved the world in this way, by sending His only Son so that whosever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. And at the cross, Jesus took the full force of God’s fury against sin, bearing the burden for every sinful thought, word and deed ever committed by those who would believe in Him. And then He rose from the grave as proof that sin had been defeated, that forgiveness had been achieved, and could be found in Jesus.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

And so we must go and we must plead with those around us, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” We must plead with them to repent and believe the good news. We must offer them the grace God has so richly provided in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because those who have rejected God’s authority are perishing, we must plead with them to repent. We must show great love to the lost. Great affection toward those trapped in the worst of sins. But most of all, the most loving act we can possibly do is tell them that their only hope is to repent and believe.

Sincere love always finds new beauties in the One beloved

 

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If the soul be warmed with divine love, “the various discover that God makes of himself to us, will not only be matter of frequent contemplation, but of pleasing wonder.” Admiration or wonder is a noble passion, arising from the view of something that is new and strange, or upon the notice of some rare and uncommon object: Now when so glorious and transcendent a being as the great and blessed God, becomes the object of our notice and our love, with what pleasure do we survey his glories, which are so rare, so uncommon, that there are none to compare with them. We shall meditate on the surprizing discoveries that he has made of himself, till we find new matter of holy admiration in all of them. Sincere and fervent love is ever finding some new beauties and wonders in the person so much beloved.

Isaac Watts, The Works of the Rev. Isaac Watts, vol. 2, 525

 

Before all time, God is love

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The one living and true God is revealed, not as God absolute, but as God related, or as God subsisting from the beginning with certain internal relations; in a way admitting, in some sense, of mutual action and reaction; of a certain reciprocity of loving and being loved.

So we are to conceive of God as love. He is love. And his being love is not dependent on what may be called the accident or contingency of his having creatures to be loved. It springs out of the very necessity of his nature. It is his essential manner of being. Before the existence of any creature—before all time—God is love.

And he is not love potentially only, but actually: not capable of loving, but loving. He loves and is loved. He is love itself. He is not love quiescent, but love active and in exercise. He is so from all eternity. And he is so, and can only be so, in virtue of the eternal distinction of the divine persons in the Godhead, and the eternal relations which they sustain towards one another.

More particularly, it is in respect of the eternal relation of fatherhood and sonship that God is thus, from everlasting, love. It is chiefly in virtue of that relation that God is revealed as consciously, if I may so say, and energetically, love. From everlasting the Son is in the bosom of the Father. And the infinite, ineffable complacency subsisting between the Father and the Son in the Holy Ghost, is the primary exercise of that love which God is; that love which is of the essence of his nature.

It is thus that love in God has never been, properly speaking, the love of himself, or self-love. For there have ever been in the one undivided Godhead the holy three, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, mutually loving and loved. And especially in the second person, and in the real and intimate relation of fatherhood and sonship between the first person and the second, the deep disinterestedness of the divine love is proved. The Father loveth the Son. The Spirit glorifieth the Son. For it is in the Son, as the Son, that the fatherly love of God flows forth in full stream. It flows forth to create and bless the countless multitude of intelligences who are, throughout eternity, to rejoice in calling the highest Father, in and with the Son.

Robert J. Candlish, The Fatherhood of God, pp. 67-69

Links I like

What Do You Mean by Unconditional Love?

Erik Raymond:

It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”

When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”

In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.

Get The Creedal Imperative in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the paperback edition of The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Blood Work by Anthony Carter (hardcover)
  • Upsetting the World conference messages (DVD)
  • The Majesty of Christ teaching series by R.C. Sproul (CD)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Missional Love

Matthew Sims:

Love we see is absolutely integral to who God is, but did you notice how the the two references work backwards? Look at like this: Love is essential to who God is and it’s out of this love that he sent his Son to die. God’s love (and all true love) is not insular. It’s not looking in and loving oneself. That’s why the two greatest commandments according to Jesus are love God and love neighbor. That’s also why God as trinity is essential orthodoxy. God has been and will always be a God who overflows in his love for others. This originates with his love within the trinity and overflows onto us.

Save big on books by R.C. Sproul

50 Good Reasons to Sleep Longer

David Murray:

We are sleeping between one and two hours less per night than people did 60 or so years ago and it’s having a devastating impact upon every part of our lives. Over the last few months I’ve been collecting research about the dangers of too little sleep, which I’ve summarized below.

Are We Christians Good Neighbors?

Thabiti Anyabwile:

I played with Bea and Fred’s five children. We did everything from ride our bikes together to play basketball or stickball in the neighborhood park to chase one another in frenetic games of tag or hide-n-seek. We children were neighbors, too.

I thought about Bea and Fred last week as I prepared to preach Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the so-called “good Samaritan.” I prefer to call it the parable of the godly neighbor since Jesus tells the story to a religious man who asked in a self-justifying moment, “who is my neighbor?”

Links I like (weekend edition)

Get to know your Bible translations

Adam Ford nailed this:

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a few Kindle deals from the last week to check out:

Don’t Pray in Circles!

Tim Challies:

…it is from Honi that Batterson found the inspiration to begin praying in circles. In his book he describes many occasions in which he has prayed in circles and seen the Lord grant what he asked. The promise of his book is that it “will show you how to claim God-given promises, pursue God-sized dreams, and seize God-ordained opportunities. You’ll learn how to draw prayer circles around your family, your job, your problems, and your goals.”

I want to give you three reasons not to pray in circles in the manner Batterson prescribes.

Love Is Not a Verb

Jon Bloom:

But it’s still a massive and potentially dangerous oversimplification. If we reduce love to a verb, we will miss love completely. Making love a verb will likely make us Pharisees. Because just like you can talk loving without really loving, you can act loving without really loving. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “if I give away all I have and deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). We can look like we’re fulfilling 1 John 3:18 and still not love.

Genuine Love is Odd

When I refer to “Enemies, Big and Small,” obviously I am not thinking of their physical dimensions—bantam-weight enemies perhaps as opposed to three-hundred-pound enemies—but of the scale of their enmity. Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike. . . . They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church. It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t “niceness” what is demanded?

If we find our “friends” only among those we like and who like us, we are indifferentiable from first-century tax collectors and pagans. Both our neighborhood and the church will inevitably include their shares of imperfect, difficult people like you and me. In fact, the church will often collect more than its proportionate share of difficult folk, especially emotionally or intellectually needy folk, precisely because despite all its faults it is still the most caring and patient large institution around. There is a sense in which we should see in our awkward brothers and sisters a badge of honor. The dangers, however, become much greater (as do the rewards) when the church is richly multicultural, because the potential for misunderstandings rises significantly…

Some offenses are of the sort that Christians should follow the procedures set out in Matthew 18; in some cases, there should be excommunication. . . . But in many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. . . . To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience [of Col. 3:12-14]. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15).

This action goes way beyond niceness. One thinks of Flannery O’Connor’s biting and hilarious stories with their “nice” Christian ladies who have a domesticated Jesus who approves all they do and all they hold dear. They are spectacularly “nice”; they are also whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27). . . . Forbearance and genuine tenderheartedness are much tougher than niceness, and sometimes (as we shall see in a later lecture) tough love is confrontational. Christian love, McEntyre writes, “may even demand that we be downright eccentric, at least if we are to believe O’Connor’s word on the subject: ‘You shall know the truth,’ she warned, ‘and the truth shall make you odd.’” That, of course, is implicitly recognized by Jesus himself. If genuine love among his followers is their characteristic mark (John 13:34-35), then Jesus himself is saying that such love is not normal. It is odd.

D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places, pp. 52-54 (Also available in PDF format)

We Love by Choice, Not by Feeling

God has called every husband to lay down a sacrifice bunt for his wife, so to speak. On a day-to-day basis, this may simply mean not always having to have your way just because you’re the leader of the home. Sacrifice involves what is best for the other person, not necessarily what is best for us. Jesus gave up heaven to save us, not because He had to, but because He chose to.

Jesus’ sacrifice tells husbands what it means to love. We love by choice, not by feeling. . . . [L]oving your wife has little to do with whether you feel like being loving today. Biblical love is generated by the need of the person being loved, not necessarily the feeling or wishes of the one doing the loving.

Tony Evans, For Married Men Only: Three Principles for Loving Your Wife, p. 13

God Loved You By Calling You

The above is a powerful excerpt from John Piper’s final sermon before beginning his eight-month sabbatical, Consider Your Calling from 1 Cor. 1: 26-31:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

I would highly recommend you listen to the whole thing as it’s quite moving and encouraging.

The following text is from the sermon’s transcript:

“For consider your calling, brothers.” What is Paul referring to? Their job? Being a carpenter? Homemaker? Teacher? No. He is referring to the work of God in calling them to himself out of darkness into light, out of death into life. You can see the meaning pretty clearly in verses 22-24:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [Read more...]

Truth, Love and Jonathan Edwards

Continuing to think about Sinclair Ferguson’s talk from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference; in particular, about a reference he made that left an impression.

In his message, Ferguson shares four of Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions, a series of seventy commitments he made in pursuit of living a life of godliness. These four, all dealing with the tongue, are as follows:

31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.

34. Resolved, In narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

These resolutions, so simply stated, hold such deep wisdom. And they’re integral to Christian character.

James 3:2-3 says that, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well” (emphasis mine).

We all stumble, particularly with our words, and no man but Christ has ever had perfect control over his tongue. But what is the “bit” by which we can guide it?

Love. [Read more...]

Book Review: Leading with Love

Title: Leading with Love
Author: Alexander Strauch
Publisher: Lewis & Roth Publishers

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have a prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

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 Cor. 13:1-7)

We’ve all been to a wedding where the apostle Paul’s exposition on love has been the Scripture passage of choice (in fact, I’m pretty sure it was read at ours). But as often as it’s used in that context, pastor & author Alexander Strauch reminds us in Leading with Love that these words are not simply poetry:

They are divine commands.

In this book, Strauch shows readers the “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31b), as he reminds us that we can do all things, but if they are done without love, they are worthless. “Love is indispensible to you and your ministry,” he writes on page 3. Love for God and love for people are to be our motivation. [Read more...]

The Love of God: Audio from St. Paul's United

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more about “The Love of God on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

 

On August 15, 2009, it was my great privilege to preach at St. Paul’s United Church in Aylmer, Ontario. I am very grateful to my friend and co-worker Peter for the opportunity to share God’s Word with a great group of people.

You can also download an MP3 at the link below to listen to at your leisure.

The Love of God MP3 Audio

I hope you find the audio both profitable and enjoyable.

Update: For those who prefer or require a transcript, the text version follows: [Read more...]

Three Simple Letters

When thinking about why I trust the Scripture, I am reminded of the beauty of it’s words. There’s truly no other book as powerful and amazing as the Bible.

And do you know what is one of my favorite words in the whole Bible?

It’s not one that a lot of people really think about, because it’s an easy word to overlook. It’s three letters that are packed with power:

But

Look at 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (emphasis mine).

And check out Ephesians 2:1-6:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following m the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (emphasis mine)

Just in these two examples, we see the power of the word “but.” Without these three letters, we would not see the grace of God in these passages. “But,” as a conjugation, connects opposing ideas, or coordinates elements.

We cannot love God on our own… but He loved us and died for us so that we can!

We were condemned, dead in our sins… but God, in His mercy and grace, made us alive!

Without the intervention of God, we’d be left stranded on our own, lost in our sins. “But” shows God’s intervention on our behalf.

That’s why a word like “but” is so powerful.

I trust the Scriptures because even the most seemingly insignificant words are rich with meaning.

I hope you will find as much joy in the simple words as I do.

A Few Key Texts on Love

In his book Love or Die, Alexander Strauch provides a list of fifty key texts on love. I’ve greatly appreciated the reminder of the importance of the theme of God’s love, and thought I would share a few from Strauch’s survey:

Ex. 34:6
The Lord…proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”

Deut. 6:5
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deut. 7:7-8
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you…but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…

Jer. 31:3
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

1 Cor. 13:2
If I…understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.

Eph. 5:2
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

1 John 4:10
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

But, what is perhaps my favorite passage on God’s love (aside from 1 John 4:10) is Ephesians 2:4-10:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Whenever and wherever you’re reading this, it’s my great hope that you would find as much joy in reading and meditating on these passages as I have.