53. The Christian love thing

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  53.  The Christian love thing

Heb 13:1   Keep on loving each other as brothers.

Intro to Ch.13: As we have gone through this book (although the writer calls it a short letter – Heb 13:22) we have observed a number of what I have referred to as ‘exhortations’, appeals to his readers to hear and respond. In this final chapter we are now going to observe a number of basic instructions. These are not so much appeals to keep to the faith as we have had mostly so far, but specific instructions to DO certain things or hold certain attitudes.

The temptation is to skim through these fairly ordinary things but we will resist that with the thought that this are particular basic issues that the writer was bringing to the early church and if they were basic for them, they should be basic for us, and we therefore need to pause over each one. There are, depending on how you read these verses, at least twelve of these instructions in chapter 13.

  1. Love each other: The first one is to “Keep on loving each other.” Now that appears so fundamental that you might wonder why we give a full meditation to it. My reason is that it is so basic we all know it in our minds but I am not sure of the practice in the church of the twenty first century. Let’s establish the basic teaching about love in the New Testament.

Love in the NT: Well, first of all, it is the same as found in the Old Testament and Jesus quoted the Old when he said, Jesus replied: ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:38,39)  Love is the fundamental and most basic character of the Christian faith. It starts with wholeheartedly loving God and continues with loving all those in our vicinity.

The Meaning of Love:  I had cause some while ago to stop and consider what love actually means. A dictionary says, ‘Love’ – warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for.”  Note that last part in particular – ‘strong  benign feelings for’. Benign means caring, kindly, gentle, compassionate, thinking good for, wishing the good for. Is that how we feel about each person in our vicinity? When I took that definition and applied it to God, for “God is love” (1 Jn 3:8,16), I felt it fell short and so a better and more appropriate definition of love in respect of God is, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others.”  Note the unrestricted good will towards all others.

A New Commandment:  Now understanding how God loves is important because Jesus said to the disciples at the Last Supper, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35). Now we may want to restrict this measure of love to fellow-believers because Jesus was talking to his disciples but even so it presents quite a challenge. Stop and think about the people you encounter at your church. Can your feelings for them be described as “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others”. Do you have that sort of ‘good will’ towards all of them, because that IS Jesus requirement for his church? Now you may see why I said earlier I am not sure of the practice in the church.

Some Applications: Take the people closest to you in the church. Do you know them well, do you know about their lives? Do you know the things that worry them? Do you know the difficulties they are going through?  Just knowing people like this has to be the starting point in considering love in the church. Now you cannot know everybody like this in a big church but we must know some. Now what happens when you find out how they are, you find out about their worries, their difficulties etc.? Are you there for them? Love means being there for them. Love means accepting them like they are. Love means praying for them and over them. Love means giving them help. Love is always practical, it does not just sit and watch. Is your church community like this?

Love for Enemies? But before we finish we have to note that Jesus’ teaching went way beyond this: You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:43,44) This love thing is to be extended beyond my close contacts in church, beyond those in my vicinity, it is to be extended even to those I might consider my enemies. We cannot escape Jesus call to ‘love your enemies’. Love means we dare not tolerate barriers between us and this needs saying in a day where there have been surprise shock at national levels of voting. As Christians we dare not hold on to hostility for those who voted in a different way to us. Oh yes, this love thing is very practical and in the kingdom of God it does not stop at boundaries, group boundaries, cultural boundaries or national boundaries.

How? Now much of this is ‘a hard word’. How can I love people like this? And the answer has to be, only by the grace of God. It can only be as we turn to God, surrender our feelings of self to him and ask Him to fill us with all of His grace, His resources to enable us to conform to His will, to comply with His instructions, and they cannot be more basic than this first one in this chapter – “keep on loving each other.” Oh yes, ‘as brothers’, as those closest to you, part of the family. Yes, it starts with God, it continues to the church and then it extends to outsiders and even to enemies. Basic but very challenging, that’s why we need to pause over each of these things, as simple and as basic as they may appear because if we don’t conform to the basics, you have to wonder are we really Christians?

31. Reputation

Meditations in Romans : 31 :  A Question of Reputation

Rom 2:22-24 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

One of the tragic things about the tidal wave of attacks from crusading atheists in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century in the West, is that although they purport to attack the existence of God, their ability to attack Him on the basis of Biblical doctrine is virtually non-existence. Instead their attacks are based on the behaviour and activities of those who purport to be the Christian Church, past and present. We give them a great deal of ammunition! It should not be! It seems that the history of Judaism and of Christianity both simply go to confirm the Bible’s teaching that man is sinful and gets it wrong – even when they are supposed to have a relationship with God!

Paul is challenging the Jews of Rome who rely upon their knowing the Law and apparently having some sort of relationship with the Lord.  He has been saying that it is not sufficient to know the Law in your head; you need to be obeying it, living it out.  Here he now gives two examples: You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s all very well to proclaim the Ten Commandments (e.g. “You shall not commit adultery – Ex 20:14) but actually if you commit adultery you are dishonouring God and are breaking the commandment. Simply knowing about the command is not enough! Stealing from Pagan temples was obviously a common occurrence. Believers might have justified such behaviour that it was only pagan temples they were taking from. Certainly later in history that happened and one assumes from Paul’s comment that it had probably already happened.

In these two things we see Paul’s charges against these almost-believing Jews to be summarised as  a) you fail to keep the commandments of the Law, and  b) your general behaviour in the world is questionable!  i.e. it’s not only your failure to keep the Law, it’s also your failure to live decently anyway.  As he goes on to say, the result of this is that they dishonour God.  They purport to be followers of God but their behaviour is just as bad as anyone else and so this demeans God in the eyes of the world.

In fact he then goes on to quote the Septuagint version of Isaiah: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Our version of Isaiah 52:5 reads, “And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” A similar accusation was found in Ezekiel: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezek 36:22)

In both cases, Israel’s behaviour was less that would be expected from those who claimed to follow a holy God. In both cases the world was mocking the Jews and deriding the name of the Lord because of the behaviour of the Jews. Such a thing should not have happened but it did.

Thus we say again, today the Christian community worldwide should not be providing fuel for the world to mock.  We more than any others should be living ethically correct lives; we should be showing an example of goodness, kindness, gentleness and love to all around us. We more than others should be peacemakers: those who bring reconciliation, who speak only truth, who refrain from gossip, slander and speaking badly about others. We, surely, should be those who shy away from dubious business practices, away from greed and covetousness and taking advantage of others. We in our churches should, surely, seek to be simple in our worship and adoration of our Lord and avoid charges of excesses.

We, surely, should be bringers of the love of God with respect and gentleness and with honesty and integrity. We, surely, should be lights to the world, doing good things that bring glory to our Father in heaven (Mt 5:14-16). We, surely, should not be argumentative but gently persuasive. In us, surely, should be seen patience and perseverance. But how often do we fail!  How often does the name of the church or the image of the church be derided on TV?

How often is the image of men of the church portrayed in weakness and silliness? How often are people of the church portrayed as weird? We are different but that shouldn’t mean weird! We, more than any others, should be seen as ordinarily good, not freaky but good to be around!  Aren’t we called to be salt and doesn’t salt bring out flavour? Aren’t we those who should enhance the quality of the lives of our communities?  Or do we hide away in religious ghettos? These are questions that leaders of the Church, and we who form the Church, need to face and be honest about otherwise, like the Jews Paul was speaking about, we will continue to let the name of the Lord down! May it not be!