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?

38. The Law

Meditations in Malachi : 38.  The Law

Mal 4:4   Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

If Christians get confused over any issue, I would say it is the issue of the Law of Moses and the position of the Law as far as we Christians are concerned in everyday life. Here in the verse above, we find the Lord calling to Israel to “Remember the law.” Remember means more than just bring to recollection; it means bring it to recollection and then follow it, do what it says.

So why did God give Israel the Law to start with? Well He gave it to them at Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai, at the time when He called them into being as a nation. But they weren’t just any nation, they were His nation, His special people called to receive all the goodness of His love and thus become a light to the rest of the world to reveal Him. The Law would help them do that.

So what do we find in the Law? First of all we find guidance on how to live as a community of God’s people, instructions about how to hold a right attitude about God (Ex 20:3-7).  Second, comes guidance on how to live as a community, relating to one another. (Ex 20:8-17).  Third, we find the ordering of that society and the recognition that people will do wrong, and so what should happen in such circumstances. i.e. how to ensure justice is seen to prevail. (Ex 21-23).  There is a recognition within this of the sinfulness of mankind, and the fall of human beings that needs to be taken into account. Fourth, there were rules for establishing a meeting place with God (Ex 25-27) and then a priesthood to administer it (Ex 28-29). This was to establish a procedural basis for the way Israel as a whole would worship the Lord. Fifth, there were extensive instructions for bringing offerings and sacrifices to the Tabernacle as expressions of their love for God and for their penitence after sinning (Lev 1-7). Sixth, there were what we might summarise as dietary or health laws (Lev 11-15) designed to maintain good health among the community. These are the basic laws; there are others but they will either fit the above descriptions or are repeats of the above.

So how might we summarise the Law?  Jesus summarised it for us: 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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)  From the above we see the ‘loving God’ parts being expressed in the first part of the Ten Commandments, the establishing of the Tabernacle and Priesthood, and the law of offerings and sacrifices. The ‘love your neighbour’ part was expressed in all the rest of the laws.

So does the Law apply to us today? The Ten Commandments certainly do for they are general laws applicable to any community anywhere in the world and without them such a society becomes superstitious and turning to idolatry and the occult, and then anarchistic, harmful and destructive. The rest of the ‘society’ laws were specifically for Israel as a unique but primitive agricultural society in that land in that part of history. The ‘worship’ laws depended on the existence of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, and a priesthood, none of which exist now. Moreover the New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfilment of all of the sacrifices, so we no longer have to offer sacrifices for our sins. The law is useful however to show us that by keeping rules we simply fail again and again, and therefore we have to turn to God for some other way of being right with Him – and that, of course, is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So do we no longer have laws that apply to us today? Change the word ‘laws’ for ‘instructions’ and you will find that the New Testament is full of them in the Gospel but mostly in the Epistles. There are there to act as guidelines for us. We aren’t saved by keeping them, only by turning to and trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, but they are there for guidance for daily living. Some are specific and some are general: “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat (Specific). And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (General) (2 Thess 3:12,13). The epistles are full of such instructions and they are things to be followed as we work out our relationship with the Lord on a daily basis. And they are there to bless us, because they come from a God of love!

47. Family Harmony

Ephesians Meditations No.47

Eph  6:1-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

The context you may remember is of submission creating unity in the church, the body of Christ. Paul developed that concept through the picture of marriage and now extends it into the whole family. It is a subject – and through these verses especially – that often raises a number of questions. Paul starts off, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He is looking at the parent-child relationship and so starts with the child who is the one who is most likely to have difficulty with the submission concept. This especially comes so in teenage years when the young person is seeking to find their own identity, and part of that process involves temporarily drawing away from the parent. It is also difficult when the child is a Christian and the parent is not and the parent makes demands that conflict with the faith of the young person. It may also be difficult when the parent is a Christian and the young person has not made a decision for Christ themselves.

In the call to children there are two things that deserve particular attention. The first is the word obey’. The role of the parent in God’s design is to be there to provide for and protect the child and, if we follow Old Testament teaching, to train up the child (Prov 22:6). Part of those things will be to issue instructions which may vary from the mundane (e.g. please will you pick up that toy off the floor), to the more serious, (e.g. I really don’t want you mixing with those teenagers who are taking drugs). If we ever had a question of the reality of sin (rebellion), observe any child! The wilful refusal to do that which is asked (or required) leads us into discipline issues, which are beyond what we have space for here.

The second thing to consider is Paul’s use of the words, ‘in the Lord’. Now he obviously includes these for a reason and that, we suggest, is similar to our thinking when it comes to the requirements of the State. The Law, or the instructions of the parent, should never go contrary to God’s laws, instructions etc. Thus a non-Christian (although tragically this doesn’t exclude some Christian men), who brings instruction to a child that involves them submitting to abuse, is wrong and should not be heeded. Wisdom suggests that as the child gets older instructions give way to discussion, i.e. bald commands give way to explanation. It is always wise to put in some form of explanation with every instruction (e.g. …otherwise your toy might get broken if you leave it there) but in teenage years talking and discussing (in a family forum?) are much better and are an acceptance and recognition of the child’s growing responsibility.

Then Paul gives a reason for ‘obeying’ parents, and it is because it goes with the original Old Testament instruction as the fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Honouring is slightly different from ‘obeying’ in that obeying can be an expression of honouring. Honouring is more about having an attitude of respect, a recognition of the role that God has given to this older person. It isn’t about how well they have performed it! So important did God consider this that He made it a condition of blessing, originally in the Promised Land, but now in life generally. I wonder how many young people DON’T realise this (or older ‘children’ too!) that God’s blessing on their life can be curtailed because of a bad attitude towards their parent?  Even when the parent has not been good, godly ‘honouring’ should produce a concern for (and prayer for?) that parent.

There is another side to this submitting which might be simply summarised as ‘don’t make it difficult to be submitted to’: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Why does Paul say this to fathers? First, because fathers, as the ones who have the responsibility before the Lord for the family, should be the ones taking the ultimate action to bring about the training in righteousness of the child and, second, fathers tend to be more heavy handed in these things than the mother. It is thus something that, for both reasons above, the father needs to give particular thought to.

A final comment: in all of these things pertaining to family relationships, legalistic demanding of them does no good. Whatever else is required of such parental leading, the primary thing is love and acceptance. Let those two things temper all you do with your child, and increasingly as they grow older. If there is a genuine loving relationship, there is more likely to be obedience that flows out in response to that love. You will also need to cry to the Lord for wisdom on more than a few occasions! May it be so!