Faith in Action

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:3-7 ESV

Peter has just offered a prayer that grace and peace be multiplied in the lives of his readers, based on their expanding knowledge of God and His Son. As their understanding of the Father and Son grew, so would their faith in and reliance upon them. Later in his letter, Peter provides a stern warning against the dangers of false teachers. These individuals were attempting to promote a different source of knowledge. But here, he opens up with an encouragement to know God. His simple prayer reflects the thoughts of Paul found in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. – Ephesians 1:15-18 NLT

Here in the opening chapter of his letter, Peter puts a heavy emphasis on spiritual growth and maturity. It echoes the words found in his first letter.

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

While salvation is a one-time event in the life of a believer, it is far from a static process. It begins at a point in time but then carries on for a lifetime. This process is often referred to as sanctification. The apostle Paul sums up the God-ordained and Spirit-empowered process of sanctification in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

In God’s grand redemptive plan, our salvation is the opening act of a marvelous drama that will one day culminate with the final scene of our glorification. The apostle John describes this ongoing transformative process in his first letter.

Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 BSB

Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that we are “saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” He went on to warn that it is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). Yet, Paul seems to be contradicting himself in his letter to the Philippian believers: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV). But Paul is not encouraging salvation by works. He is simply stating that the process of sanctification takes effort on our part. Our salvation was a gift. But our sanctification is a Spirit-empowered process that requires our cooperation and willing participation.

And Peter reminds his readers that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). In other words, they were not going to have to self-manufacture the energy to live godly lives. It had all been provided for them by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The “all things” to which Paul refers are the divine resources they had received when they came to know Christ. They were fully equipped for the sanctifying process God had in store for them. But it would require a constant reliance upon God’s Spirit and a desire to grow in their knowledge of God and His Son.

For Peter, it was essential that his readers understand that Jesus had called them to Himself by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had been attracted to the moral excellence and virtue of the God-man, Jesus. His sinless life and sacrificial death on their behalf had been the source of their belief. The gospel that had been preached to them had declared Jesus to be the Son of God and the sole source of salvation from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. And they had believed. But now, Peter wanted them to know that there was much more in store for them. There were precious promises attached to their salvation.

…because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:4 NLT

Peter raises their expectations and focuses their attention on the ultimate outcome of their salvation: Their future glorification. But that pending promise had present implications. Yes, they would one day share in Christ’s divine nature and permanently escape the influence of the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. But they didn’t have to wait for the hereafter. Peter assured them that they could also live distinctively different lives in the here-and-now.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. – 2 Peter 1:5-7 NLT

God had promised to sanctify them and He would. But they would have a part to play in the process. Jesus had not only called them by His own glory and excellence, but He was calling them to share in His glory and excellence. They were to model their lives after His. And Peter gives them an extensive, yet not exhaustive, list of Christ-like qualities with which to supplement their faith. These are the “things” to which Peter referred back in verse three.

Peter begins with moral excellence. The Greek word is aretē, and it refers to “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Faith in Christ should result in a life that mirrors the character of Christ. If we will one day be like Him, then it only makes sense to begin the process now. It should be our greatest desire to emulate His life and mirror His moral excellence in all that we do.

Next, Peter encourages his readers to supplement their faith with knowledge. The Greek word is gnōsis, and it refers to the acquisition of information that can be beneficial to decision-making. In the early days of the church, there was a growing heresy that came to be known as Gnosticism. The proponents of this false doctrine taught that true salvation was based on the discovery of secret or hidden knowledge that was only discoverable by a fortunate few. This “higher truth” was declared to be essential for attaining divine status and achieving spiritual maturity. But Peter was suggesting something altogether different. He was promoting an ever-increasing knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The kind of knowledge Peter had in mind was the same that Paul descrived to the believers in Philippi.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. – Philippians 1:9-10 NLT

Next, Peter adds the quality of self-control (egkrates), which is “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites” (Outline of Biblical Usage). One of the false teachings that had infiltrated the early church was dualism, which taught that the spirit was essentially holy, while the physical body was impure and defiled. This dualistic approach to life made allowances for ungodly behavior in the “body” because it didn’t matter. It propagated the idea that anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, was actually meaningless and, therefore, permissible. But Peter clarified that, for the Christian, there was no dichotomy between spirit and body. The new nature they had received by virtue of their faith in Christ was to be evidenced in every area of their lives.

And their visible exhibition of self-control was to be marked by steadfastness (hypomonē). In Greek, this word carries the idea of constancy and unswerving perseverance. According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

Peter knew that his readers were facing increasing opposition and oppression for their faith in Christ. And even when they did what was right, they would suffer for doing so. That is why they needed to persevere in spite of the adversity they would face. And when they did, they would be following the example of Christ Himself.

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV

Suffering for the sake of Christ was part of their calling. But perseverance in the face of suffering would require godliness (eusebeia). And Peter used the life of Christ to describe exactly what this looked like in his first letter.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:22-23 ESV

Patient endurance will show up as godly behavior – that which reflects the character of God. And it is based on a desire to honor and please God through our actions.

According to Peter, one of those demonstrations of godliness would be brotherly affection (philadelphia). It was essential that Christians exhibit a demonstrative and distinctively different love for one another. It was Jesus who said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). Their love for one another was to be tangible and visible. It was to set them apart from the rest of society and provide living proof that God had transformed their hearts and lives.

But Peter adds one more essential and non-negotiable attribute: Love (agapē). This takes the concept of love one step further. Here, Peter is highlighting a love that is unbiased and non-partial. It goes beyond filial or familial love. This is the kind of love that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48 NLT

The apostle Paul summed up this kind of love when he wrote: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT). This is the same kind of love they had experienced from God and they were expected to share that love with anyone and everyone, including their enemies and their friends. Even if it cost them their lives. For as Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

To Love Like Christ

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV

Peter has just quoted from the book of Psalms in order to encourage his readers. He has used the Old Testament Scriptures to remind them that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (Psalm 34:15). But not only that, “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:16). He wanted them to know that God the Father was watching over them and was on their side. The presence of difficulties and trials in the their lives was not a sign that God had abandoned them. The psalmist had called the people of God to live in obedience to the will of God, even in the face of opposition and the seeming absence of God’s presence. He was there. He was always there. And not only did God see their righteous response to the unrighteous actions of others, but the full weight of His righteous indignation was against those individuals. He would repay the wicked. Their only responsibility was to not return evil for evil. In fact, they were to turn away from evil and do good.

Then Peter follows up his quotation of Psalm 34 by paraphrasing yet another message found in the psalms.

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? – Psalm 56:11 ESV

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. – Psalm 118:6-7 ESV

And the author of the book of Hebrews used these same passages as when trying to articulate God’s unwavering faithfulness and care for His own.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV

Financial distress was no reason to worry or lose hope. And the love of or desire for money should never replace God as the believer’s sole source of sustenance and comfort. Material goods would make lousy substitutes for God. That is why Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The love of money and the fear of man are two powerful forces that constantly pull on the followers of Christ. We are prone to believe that money can bring contentment and that men are our primary source of acceptance. The world teaches us that material wealth can make us happy, and that our peers can make us or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. Yet the psalmists, Jesus, and Peter teach something quite different. And Peter chooses to make his point by asking a rather strange question that is cleverly worded paraphrase of Psalm 56:11.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? – 1 Peter 3:13 ESV

To those hearing Peter’s letter being read to them, the obvious and logical answer might be: Everybody! As they looked at the very real circumstances surrounding their lives, they could easily confess that there were plenty of people ready, willing, and able to do them harm for doing what is good. So much of their suffering was a result of their decision to follow Jesus.

But Peter was trying to get them to understand that their reaction to their suffering was a key demonstration of their faith in Christ. Were they willing to remain committed to doing good, even in the face of opposition and oppression? Would their mistreatment at the hands of their enemies cause them to respond in like manner or would they be a mimētēs or an imitator of Jesus. Centuries before Jesus suffered persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Roman government, the prophet Isaiah prophesied how He would respond to their unjustified and unrighteous treatment of Him.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

And Matthew records how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. – Matthew 27:12 NLT

Jesus suffered for the sake of righteousness. He didn’t defend Himself. He didn’t lash out in anger or resentment. And Peter lets his readers know that they too would suffer for the sake of righteousness and, when it happened, they could know that their suffering would bring the blessing of God. They would one day be justly and rightly rewarded for their faithfulness, just as Jesus was.

God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. – 1 Peter 3:14 NLT

Jesus had told His disciples, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT). And He knew what He was talking about. Jesus was well aware that His future fate involved His own physical death at the hands of His enemies. They would kill His body, but fail to touch His soul. Jesus would die, but His body would be resurrected and reunited with His soul in its glorified form. His death was far from the end. It was just the beginning of God’s grand redemptive plan to reconcile lost humanity to Himself. It was on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, that Peter made the following statement to his Jewish audience.

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:16 NLT

And it was some time later that Peter would stand before the high council of the Jews,  defending himself for having healed a lame man. And he would tell them:

“Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” – Acts 4:10 NLT

Jesus had suffered the ultimate for of persecution: Death by crucifixion. And yet, He was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and it was His resurrection power that enabled Peter, John, and the other disciples to do  “good deeds” even in the face of persecution. Peter knew from first-hand experience what suffering for the faith looked like. And he wanted his readers to know the secret to his ministry and resilience.

…worship Christ as Lord of your life. – 1 Peter 3:15 NLT

You might put it this way: Stop worrying and start worshiping. Rather than obsessing over what men might do to them, they needed to start praising Jesus for all that He had done for them. They were sons and daughters of God. They were heirs of the Kingdom. They were forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and had the Holy Spirit of God living within them. They had much for which to be grateful and plenty of cause to worship Jesus.

But along with praising Jesus for all that He had done for them, they were to tell others about the source of their hope, joy, and peace in the midst of life’s struggles.

if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

And as they shared their faith, even with their persecutors, they were to do so in love. They were not come across as judgmental or self-righteous. Their relationship with Christ was not to be a badge of honor or superiority that they flaunted before the less spiritual or ungodly. No, Peter told them they were to explain their faith  “in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:16 NLT). In doing so, they would maintain a clear conscience, free from hate and marked by gracious humility. And this Christ-like response to suffering for the sake of righteousness would have a remarkable impact on their enemies. 

Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

It’s one thing to be hated for doing what is wrong. That is to be expected. But it is another thing to be hated for doing what is right and righteous. And Peter wants the believers to whom he is writing to understand the difference. If they respond to mistreatment with hate, they will only receive more hate in return. But if they respond in love, in total contradiction to human nature, their enemies won’t know what to do with it. This is not a promise of immunity from further suffering or even death. It is a reminder that the believer’s power to show love to their enemies is evidence that they belong to Christ.

Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer. He warned them that the world would hate in the same way it hated Him. But Jesus loved the world enough to die for it. And as Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17 NLT). And, as His followers, we are love the world by sharing that message of divine love and salvation – even in the face of opposition, oppression, and the threat of death.

Remember,” Peter writes,  “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Mission: Impossible

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36 ESV

Because Luke is writing to his Greek friend, Theophilus, he does not include all that Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount. Matthew, writing to a primarily Jewish audience, recorded all of Jesus’ lessons concerning the Mosaic Law. In his account, Jesus addressed such topics as murder, adultery, divorce, the making of oaths, and retaliation, and He did so by taking what they understood about the law and expanding upon it. In other words, Jesus began with a common point of interest, the law and its list of well-known prohibitions or restrictions. Then He went beyond the letter of the law to explain the intentions of God that lie behind it. God’s command to not murder was really a call to refrain from anger. In His eyes, the two were inseparable and carried the same moral weight. The same was true of adultery and lust. To do one was to do the other. According to Jesus, merely keeping the letter of the law was not enough.

But due to the Greek nature of his audience, Luke chose to focus on the more general aspects of Jesus’ message, leaving out all references to the Mosaic Law. After letting Theophilus know what Jesus had to say about the blessings and woes, Luke picks up Jesus’ comments concerning love for one another. And what Jesus had to say would have sounded strange and impossible, regardless of whether Theophilus was a Greek or a Jew. Jesus boldly declared, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies…” (Luke 6:27 ESV). In any culture, that admonition sounds counterintuitive because it goes counter to human nature. Regardless of your religious affiliation, ethnic background, or cultural context, the command to love your enemies would have sounded impossible and illogical. It made no sense.

Yet, Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to add, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). It’s important to remember that as Jesus spoke these words, He had His newly appointed disciples in mind. Yes, there were others in the crowd that day, but Jesus is focusing His attention on the men He has chosen to be His future apostles or messengers. This would have been the first of many lectures they would receive from their new teacher, and it would have left their minds reeling with confusion and filled with questions.

First of all, the twelve would not yet have been aware of the intense hatred to which they would be subjected as disciples of Jesus. From their perspective, they saw Jesus as a popular figure who was attracting huge crowds and gathering a growing number of followers. They believed Him to be the Messiah and had high hopes that He was going to usher in the utopian-like future of Israel. So, all this talk of loving their enemies must have sounded strange to them. Each of them could have probably counted the number of their enemies on one hand. But before long they would learn that their association with Jesus would place them in the eye of the storm of controversy and contention that would engulf His life and ministry.

And Jesus gave them very specific examples of what He meant by loving their enemies.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.” – Luke 6:29 NLT

All of this would have sounded unthinkable and highly unappealing to His disciples. For the most part, these were unsophisticated men who would have considered Jesus’ words to be a call to social suicide. No one would survive the rough-and-tumble culture of 1st-Century Palestine if they followed this kind of advice. The kind of meekness and mild-mannered mousiness Jesus was describing would get you abused, if not killed.

But what these men don’t yet understand is that Jesus is describing the character of those who belong to the Kingdom of God. He is presenting them with a picture of their future sanctified, Spirit-filled state. Jesus knew that all of this was impossible in their current condition. They were still operating in the power of their fallen human natures. They had not yet received the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. But Jesus wanted them to know that His followers were expected to live distinctively different lives, and through faith in Him, they would one day receive the power to put into practice all that He is describing.

Jesus was describing a life of true righteousness. With His arrival, things were about to take a dramatically different turn. Up to this point, the disciples and every other Jew living at that time were trying to earn favor with God by keeping the law and observing all the rites and rituals associated with the sacrificial system. Their hope of getting into God’s good graces was based on their ability to live up to the exacting standard of His commands. And now, Jesus seemed to be upping the ante. He was demanding even more from them. But His whole point was that a truly righteous life was impossible to attain without His help.

His call to love was nothing new. The Old Testament law had demanded that they love God and love others. But, according to Jesus, anyone could do that. Loving those who love you earned you no special favor with God.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them.” – Luke 6:32 NLT

No, Jesus was describing a kind of love that was indiscriminate and non-reciprocal. In other words, it was a kind of love that expected nothing in return. And this same one-directional mindset applied to acts of kindness as well. Simply doing good to those who did good to you was not going to cut it.

“And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!” – Luke 6:33 NLT

Jesus was letting His disciples know that God expected behavior that was not based on what you get out of it. Giving to get and loving only when loved were not sufficient. Even sinners can do that. But the kind of life Jesus was describing was impossible. It was humanly unachievable and unattainable.

But Jesus promises all those who can somehow pull off what He is describing, “your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35 ESV). The selfless and sacrificial kind of love He is describing will end up paying off in the long run. It comes with a remarkable reward: Inclusion in the family of God and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And that would be true for Jesus’ 12 Jewish disciples and Luke’s Greek friend, Theophilus.

Jesus was calling His disciples to mirror the very character of God, “who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35 ESV). God is not a discriminator of persons. He shows no favoritism. As Peter later put it, He “shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35 NLT). So, Jesus calls His disciples to emulate the very nature of God.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36 ESV

Even for those of us living on this side of the cross, these words still convey a sense of impossibility. They sound unattainable. Jesus seems to be asking us to do something that is beyond our capacity as fallen human beings. But we fail to remember that we have been equipped with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As Peter reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

But for the disciples of Jesus, sitting on that hillside, His words were impossible. They did not yet have the Spirit of God living within them to energize and empower them. They were enthusiastic and motivated men who believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah, but they were not yet ready or equipped to accomplish all that Jesus was calling them to do. But in time, they would be.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

As I Have Loved You

And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:5-6 ESV

Love one another. Now, where in the world would John have picked up an idea like that? It doesn’t take much digging to find out that John had been heavily influenced by the three-plus years he had spent with Jesus. His time spent under the tutelage of his friend, rabbi, and teacher, had made an impact on him. And ever since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, John had spent his life fulfilling the commission given to him and his fellow disciples.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 18:18-20 ESV

The “dear lady” to whom John had written his letter was none other than a local congregation of believers located somewhere in the province of Asia Minor. And John was writing to encourage the members of this church to observe and keep the commands of Jesus. And John had one particular command of Jesus in mind when writing his letter.

John well recalled that fateful night in that upper room in Jerusalem, where Jesus had shared a last Passover meal with he and the rest of the disciples. The image of Judas walking out of the room in order to betray Jesus must have been indelibly etched into John’s mind. But it is obvious that he never forgot the words Jesus spoke to them just before they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. He recorded them in his gospel account.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV

There was a great deal that Jesus had taught His disciples during the time they had been together. But this particular statement from Jesus had resonated with John and had remained a focus of his ministry long after Jesus had returned to His rightful place at His Heavenly Father’s side.

Jesus referred to this command to love one another as a “new commandment.” And yet, in the first of the three letters John wrote, he described this command as an “old commandment.” Consider his words carefully.

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 7-11 ESV

Even under the Mosaic Law, the people of God were required to love one another. But it was based on the concept of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had stated that this idea encompassed all the teaching found in the Law and the Prophets.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 ESV

It was a reciprocal kind of love. In fact, Leviticus 19:18 reads: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill or complete everything written in the Law and the Prophets.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17 ESV

The kind of love commanded under the Law was reciprocal in nature. And, according to Leviticus 19:18, it was a love that used self as the standard: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

But what made this old commandment new, was the arrival of Jesus on the scene. He had come to reveal a new way to love, one that was based on a much higher standard than “as you love yourself.”

That night in the upper room, Jesus had expanded the command to love one another by adding the important phrase: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). He was establishing Himself as the new criteria for measuring and modeling love. It was not enough to love others as you loved yourself. Now, the standard was Christ’s love. It was going to be a selfless and sacrificial love. A lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love. And just a few chapters later in his gospel, John recorded Jesus repeating this new command to love one another.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:12-14 ESV

Now, in his letter to the “the elect lady and her children,” John was reminding this local congregation of Christ-followers to love one another in the same that Christ loved them. This selfless, sacrificial love was to be the mark of each and every believer. Again, in his first letter, John explained:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:19-21 ESV

The motivation behind their love for one another was to be the love of God for them, as expressed in the sacrificial death of His Son. As John recorded in his gospel:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV

How easy it is to enjoy the love of God, as demonstrated in His Son’s substitutionary death on our behalf. And how quickly we can express our love back to God for all that He has done for us. But John would have us remember how hypocritical it is to state our love for God while refusing to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we love God, we are obligated to love all those whom He loves.

And John wants his audience to know that our love for God is best expressed through our obedience to His commandments.

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:6 ESV

The New Living Translation puts it this way “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

For John, our love for God and others were inseparably linked. You could not do one and not the other. The greatest expression of love for God was to obey His commands, and one of His primary commands was for His children to love one another.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:2-3 ESV

It should not be difficult for believers in Christ to love one another. In fact, it should be a joy to love as we have been loved. It should bring us great pleasure to share with others the love that God has lavishly and graciously showered on us.

John had been steeped in the love of Christ. And, as one of His apostles, John was passing on His message of love to the growing body of Christ – the Church. And each time he stressed love for one another, John must have recalled the closing words of the prayer Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father that night in the garden: “…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Love of Christ Made Visible

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:31-46 ESV

Matthew’s entire gospel has been centered around the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ right to rule as the heir of David. And Matthew has recorded the efforts of Jesus to correct His disciples’ errant views of that Kingdom. They fully expected that when the Messiah appeared, He would set up His kingdom in Jerusalem and restore Israel to its former place of power and prominence. But Jesus, as the fulfillment of all the prophetic promises concerning the Messiah, had been out to change their perceptions regarding the Kingdom.

First of all, rather than sitting on a throne in David’s former palace, Jesus would hang on a cross, wearing a crown made of thorns, not of gold. His first coming required His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind. He had come to redeem, not reign. He had come to conquer sin and death, not Israel’s earthly enemies. He had come to restore men to a right relationship with God, not return Israel to its pre-exilic condition.

As His two parables inferred, Jesus was going to go away. He would die, be raised back to life, and then return to His Father’s side. But He would return one day. First, He would come for His bride, the church.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

This event will usher in the period known as the Great Tribulation. With the removal of the church at the Rapture, the Holy Spirit, who indwells each and every believer, will be removed. The apostle Paul refers to this reality in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed… – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV

Jesus made it clear that only one thing kept the “man of lawlessness” from showing up: The Holy Spirit who indwells His church. When the church is removed at the Rapture, the restraining influence of God’s Spirit, in the form of God’s people, will allow the Antichrist to rise to power. The period of the Great Tribulation, which will follow the Rapture of the church, will be a time of unprecedented suffering, marked by unrestrained sin and unsurpassed rebellion against God. Jesus described this seven-year period in stark terms:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

And at the end of the seven years of tribulation, when Jesus returns to earth the second time, He will come as a conquering king. John describes His arrival in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

And this time, the Messiah will judge all those who live on the earth at that time. The book of Revelation makes it clear that many will come to faith during the period of tribulation. In spite of the absence of the church, God will continue to show grace and mercy to the world, bringing both Jews and Gentiles to faith. His Holy Spirit will once again move among the people of the earth, convicting of sin and leading many to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But a great number of those tribulation saints will suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Antichrist. All of them will face persecution and endure the plagues, famines, wars, and cosmic upheavals that God will bring on the earth during those days.

But when Jesus finally conquers those in rebellion against Him, including Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet, He will judge all those on the earth. And that is what this passage is all about. Jesus told His disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31 ESV).

Notice the conditional nature of this statement. Jesus stated that His reign would begin with His second coming. It will be then that He sits on His glorious throne, not now. And one of His first acts as King will be to judge the nations.

He will gather all the nations, including all Jews and Gentiles, and separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. And “he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:33 ESV). Then, Jesus will reveal how He made the determination between these two groups of individuals. He will make known the criteria for His judgment. To the group on His right, the sheep, He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34 ESV). And He will tell them why they are going to inherit the kingdom. The word “for” could be translated “because,” and Jesus will explain that their judgment is based on their expressions of love for Him. He was hungry, and they fed Him. He was thirsty, and they provided Him with water. They had welcomed as a stranger. They had provided Him with clothes and visited Him while He was in prison.

But these people will wonder how they accomplished any of these things since Jesus was not even among them during the days of the tribulation. And Jesus will explain that their treatment of others was an expression of their love for Him.

It is important to point out that Jesus was not teaching a form of salvation by works. I other words, their acts of love to their fellow man will not be the cause of their salvation. But those tangible expressions of love will serve as proof of their salvation. It is exactly what James discussed in his letter.

“How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 218 NLT

During the incredibly difficult days of the tribulation, these people will show incredible faith by loving the unlovely, meeting the needs of the helpless and hopeless, protecting the innocent, and caring for “the least of these.” All at great risk to their lives. Their love for Christ will show up in their love for others. And Jesus makes it clear that their selfless, sacrificial actions are an expression of their faith and love for Him.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40 ESV

But what about the rest? How does Jesus address all those whom He has gathered on His left? He flatly states: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 ESV). Then He tells them why.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” – Matthew 25:42-43 ESV

They showed love to no one. They sacrificed nothing on behalf of others. They ignored the needs of all those around them. And in doing so, they revealed their lack of love for Christ. Their actions will give proof of their sinful state. Their failure to love will be evidence of their lack of faith in Christ. And Jesus makes the fate of both groups perfectly clear

“…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46 ESV

As James wrote, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26 ESV). That truth applies today, and it will apply during the tribulation as well. Faith in Christ brings life change. It is tangible and transferable. Love for Christ manifests itself in love for others. His selfless sacrifice for us should instill in us a desire to sacrifice our own lives for the sake of others. And those who live lives of selfless, sacrificial love for others give the greatest evidence of true saving faith.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Love of God

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48 ESV

Jesus has just finished addressing His listeners’ wrong perspective regarding the “law of retaliation” or lex talionis. The law, as they understood it, said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, it gave permission to seek retaliation against an enemy as long as it was equal in weight. But Jesus gave them a whole new interpretation of that law, saying, “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:39 ESV). And He follows up His counsel to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile with something even more shocking. He tells them to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them. Jesus is attempting to move their emphasis off of retaliation and on to love and reconciliation. But not just toward their friends and neighbors.

Once again, Jesus clarifies what was a wrong perception on their part regarding the law of God. And it is essential that we know what the law actually said. The specific law regarding love of your neighbor is found in the book of Leviticus.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:18-19 ESV

Notice that there is no mention of hating your enemy in this passage. And also notice that the law forbade hatred for a brother and clarified that hatred emanated from the heart. Hatred wasn’t necessarily a visible action but was most certainly an inward attitude, and its source was the heart. Yet the Jews had somehow taken this law and added to it an addendum that prescribed hatred for their enemies. Where the law was silent, they gave it a voice and one that was loudly and vociferously hateful to all those who didn’t meet their definition of neighbor. Because, as far as they could tell, the law only required them to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In their simplistic way of looking at things, they believed this law taught that love has its limits. The kind of love it demanded was reserved for neighbors, not enemies.  Enemies are unworthy of our love. But as He has done so many times already in this message, Jesus dismantles their false arguments and replaces it with the reality of what God was demanding when He gave this law. Jesus was trying to get them to understand that godly love knows no bounds. The law of God provided no place for partiality or personal preferences regarding who your neighbor might be.

This passage brings to mind a story that Jesus would later tell to an expert in the religious laws of the Jews. Luke records it for us in his gospel.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? – Luke 10:25-29 NLT

The man’s question to Jesus had to do with eternal life. More specifically, he was asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He was wanting Jesus to tell him what actions he must take to be approved by God. And, as Jesus was so often prone to do, He answered the man’s question with a question. He asked the expert in religious law what he thought the law of Moses actually taught. And the man answered by quoting from part of the Shema, the morning and evening prayer recited by all faithful Jews.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  – Luke 10:27 ESV

And while Jesus affirmed that the man’s answer was correct, He also told him that it would require living it out in real life. So the man asked Jesus the next logical question, “And who is my neighbor?” What do you think this expert in the religious laws of the Jews expected Jesus to say? He was looking for Jesus to agree with his understanding of the word, “neighbor”. But instead of answering the man’s question, Jesus tells him a story.

A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On his way, he was attacked by robbers and left for dead. In the course of the day, three men will see him lying on the roadside. A Jewish priest came by but crossed to the other side of the road. Next, a temple assistant, another Jews, saw the man, stopped to look at him, but left him there. Finally, a Samaritan, a non-Jew, saw the man and stopped to offer him aid. Not only that, he paid to provide for the man’s ongoing care until he could get back on his feet.

After telling His story, Jesus asked the expert in the law, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (Luke 10:36 NLT). And the man responded, “The one who showed him mercy.” And, once again, Jesus affirmed that the man had answered correctly, but told him, “now go and do the same.”

What makes Jesus’ story so compelling is it presents a Samaritan as the hero. Samaritans and Jews hated one another. Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the Jews. They were the descendants of Jews who had been left behind when the Babylonians had conquered Judah and taken tens of thousands in captivity in Babylon. Many of those who were left intermarried with the pagan nations. The Samaritans were looked down on by the Jews and were often referred to as dogs. They were enemies of the Jews. But in Jesus’ story, it was the Samaritan who showed mercy and love to a Jew. He treated him as he would a neighbor or fellow Samaritan. But the two Jews in the story refused to do anything to assist their fellow Jew.

So what does this story have to do with what Jesus had to say that day on the hillside in Galilee? In essence, Jesus was telling the Jews in His audience that they don’t get to choose who they love and hate. He was presenting a new paradigm, a new way of life, in which those who are approved by God will love in the same manner and with the same intensity as they had been loved by God. And the apostle Paul reminds us of just how great God’s love really is:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And he tells us we are to imitate God, following the example of love He provided through His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

And Jesus takes this kind of love one step further, encouraging his listeners to pray for those who might persecute them. The natural human response would be to curse them and ask God to bring down hurt and heartache on them. But Jesus says,  don’t curse them, don’t wish ill on them and don’t seek revenge against them. And Paul would pick up on Jesus’ strange-sounding counsel, telling the believers living in pagan Rome:

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. – Romans 12:14 NLT

Peter would also echo the words of Jesus:

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. – 1 Peter 3:9 NLT

It would be natural to ask Jesus, “Why?” What purpose is there in loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? What possible good could come out of living and loving like that? And Jesus gives us the answer.

…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… – vs 45

This takes us back to verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Those who are blessed or approved by God will emulate Him. They will reflect His character. They will love like He loves. God is indiscriminate is His goodness, “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45 NLT). He shows His love even to those who hate Him. He bestows His blessings on those who curse Him. He sent His Son to die for all who had rebelled against Him. Jesus Himself, while hanging on the cross, was able to pray, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT). And while He prayed that prayer, the Roman soldiers who nailed His hands and feet to the cross gambled over His clothes right beneath Him.

The love Jesus came to reveal was not a reciprocal kind of love. To love those who love you is an insufficient, earthly love. It is a selfish, what’s-in-it-for-me kind of love. But Jesus would later say, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT). And Paul would clarify that even our friends are undeserving of the kind of love to which Jesus is referring.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Jesus is calling for a love that emulates the love of God Himself. It is a selfless kind of love. It is a non-discriminatory kind of love. It is not based on the loveliness or lovableness of the other person. We are called to love as we have been loved by God. And our love is not to be reciprocal in nature, but redemptive. Our goal is restoration and reconciliation, not so much with us, but between our enemy and God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Remember and Repent.

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’” Revelation 2:1-7 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapIf you recall, in verse 19 of chapter 1, John was told, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” These next two chapters of his book contain the things “that are.” In other words, he is going to write about the seven churches that existed in real time during his own day. These were seven literal congregations located in seven different cities in Asia Minor. In these two chapters, John is seen acting in the role of a secretary, writing down everything he hears from the lips of the Lord. The first church Jesus addresses is the one located in the city of Ephesus. In each case, Jesus will state the identity of the church to which He is speaking. Then He will point out their strengths and weaknesses. This will be followed by a call to repentance and an exhortation to listen carefully to His words. And Jesus makes it perfectly clear that his intended audience is far bigger than the existing congregations of these seven 1st-Century churches. He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelations 2:7 ESV). This is obviously a reference to the seven churches, but also includes a call to the churches of all ages to hear and heed what He has to say. Anyone and everyone who has the capacity to hear each of the messages to these churches should listen carefully and consider the implications, regardless of the century in which he or she lives.

As Jesus begins His address the church in the city of Ephesus, He singles out its “angel” or messenger. John provides us with no clarification as to whom Jesus is referring. There are those who believe His use of the Greek word angelos is a reference to angels or heavenly beings who are assigned to the various churches as guardians or keepers. There are others who believe the seven angels of the seven churches is a reference to the pastors of these churches. The Greek word, angelos can also be translated as “messenger” and could be used to speak of those who will deliver the message of Jesus to the particular churches. From Revelation 1:20, we do know that the seven lampstands are intended to represent the seven churches.

So, Jesus addresses the angel of the church at Ephesus and He points out two things that He knows regarding this local fellowship:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” – Revelations 2:2 ESV

“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” – Revelation 2:3 ESV

Jesus offers two statements of commendation to the church in Ephesus. In spite of the presence of false teachers, they remained true to the Word of God, faithful to their calling to live out their faith in love and good works, and for patiently enduring persecution for the sake of the gospel. At first glance, it looks as if this church has their spiritual act together and that Jesus is well-pleased with them. And they were doing a lot of things right. But then, Jesus drops the other shoe.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” – Revelation 2:4 ESV

This church had started out with a deep love for God’s Word and a desire to defend it at all costs. They would not tolerate false gospels or allow faulty interpretations of the Scriptures to mislead or confuse them. But something had happened along the way. They had lost their fervor for God. Jesus describes it as having abandoned the love they had at first. The love to which Jesus refers is agape love, the sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love with which He loved us. Jesus gave His life for the church. His was a selfless kind of love, preferring to put the needs of others ahead of His own. And evidently, this local fellowship had allowed their love for one another to wain. They were orthodox in their theology and dedicated to the gospel, but somehow they had allowed the flame of love to dwindle and practically die out. So, Jesus calls them to repentance.

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. – Revelation 2:5 ESV

This church had a heart problem. They loved God. They loved the Word of God. But it seems that they didn’t necessarily love one another. At least not in the way they once did. Perhaps they were lacking in unity and harmony. Sometimes a church’s determination to maintain orthodoxy can result in an uncompromising dedication to the truth that lacks compassion for others. We end up disliking those with whom we disagree.

It is interesting to note that in his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul had commended them for their love for others.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints…” – Ephesians 1:15 ESV

And Paul had ended his letter to them with the following words:

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:23-24 ESV

Notice his emphasis on brothers and love with faith, as well as love for Christ – a love that is incorruptible. This church had allowed that love to be corrupted in some form or fashion, and Jesus called them to do two things: First of all, they were to remember from where they had fallen. In other words, they were to reflect on the difference between their current state of affairs and how they had started. Then, they were to repent. They needed to change their minds and, as a result, their behavior. They were to return to their former way of loving Christ and others. Orthodoxy (right thinking) without orthopraxy (right behavior) can be deadly. It can become divisive. What we say we believe has to show up in how we behave. John, the very one to whom Jesus was dictating these words, had written something about this very matter in one of his letters.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:9-11 ESV

Jesus warns the church at Ephesus that if they don’t repent, He will remove their lampstand. It is important that we remember this message was to the church as a body, not to an individual believer. So, Jesus is not threatening the loss of salvation. He is simply warning the believers in Ephesus that their refusal to repent will result in their failure to exist as a local fellowship. They will forfeit their preferred position as Christ’s ambassadors. A church that lacks love lacks the ability to truly reflect the message of the gospel to a lost and dying world. Loveless, bickering Christians are the worst form of advertising for the life-transforming power of the gospel.

But Jesus has one last word of commendation: “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:6 ESV). We don’t know much about the Nicolaitans. Whoever they were and whatever they taught, it is important to note that Jesus expresses His hatred for their works. Notice that Jesus says He hates their works, not them. It is speculated that these were individuals who had infiltrated the church at Ephesus and who were teaching false doctrines, most likely some form of false gospel. The apostle Paul had some harsh words to say about these kinds of people and their dangerous doctrines of salvation.

“Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

Jesus commends the Ephesian church for its hatred of falsehood. But He longed for them to return to their first and former love – a love for God expressed in their selfless love for one another.

Finally, Jesus leaves the church at Ephesus with a word of promise.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. – Revelation 2:7 ESV

He challenges them, and us, to listen. To heed what He has to say. This is a call that is common to all seven letters and is intended to be true for the church throughout all the ages. The Spirit of God is out to convict the people of God, in all times and places, with the truth of God. Jesus is offering us the promise of eternal life, guaranteed to all who conquer. But what does that mean? Is Jesus inferring that we have to win the victory? Is he saying our future glorification is somehow up to our ability to fight the good fight on our own? The answer is a simple, yet resounding, “No.”

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul reminds us that our ability to conquer comes from without, not from within. He asks the compelling question:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? – Romans 8:35 ESV

Then he provides us with the confidence-boosting answer:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39 ESV

The key to conquering is Christ and our faith in Him. Paul reminds us that it is the love of Christ for us that makes us conquerors. Not the other way around. And the apostle John reminds us, “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT). Our ability to conquer comes from God. It is He who redeemed us through the blood of His Son. And, the apostle John tells us that our basis for love is the love showed to us by God. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 NLT). When we realize how much God loved us, we should desire to share that love with others. And what should encourage us is that God’s love for us is perfect and unwavering. Nothing can separate us from His love. So, why would we allow anything to keep us from loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. The church at Ephesus needed to return to their first love. They needed to be reminded that their salvation had been based on God’s unmerited love and favor. And their love for one another was to be a reflection of that reality. If they did what Jesus was telling them to do, they would not only continue to exist as a church, they would conquer and enjoy eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Love Like It.

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you. – 1 Peter 1:22-25 ESV

For Peter, the love of God should be reciprocal and a motive to express the same degree of love to others. In other words, we should love God and love others. Which is exactly what Jesus said when He had been asked what the greatest commandment was.

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22L37-40 ESV

God has loved us by ransoming us from sin “with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19 ESV). Paul reminds us, “he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32 NLT) and “showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). And Peter points out that it is because God sent His Son, manifesting or revealing Himself in human flesh, then dying in the place of sinful men, that we are able to believe in God. It is through Jesus that we have access to God. Peter puts it this way: “who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Ultimately, Jesus points us to God. It was God who sent Him. It was God who raised Him. So, our faith and hope should be in God. 

And by believing the truth about who Jesus was and what He came to do, and obediently accepting His offer of salvation, we have been purified. On the cross, Christ took our sins upon Himself and transferred His righteousness to us. Not only that, He placed the Spirit of God within us. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, indwells each and every believer – all those whom God has chosen. He is our advocate, comforter, helper, intercessor and source of power required for living the Christian life. That is why Peter encourages us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). We have been given the capacity to love like we never could have done before. Prior to our salvation, our lives were marked by selfishness and self-centeredness. That is not to say that we never loved anyone else. But our love was always tainted by sin and an innate desire to get something in return. Human love, apart from Christ, is always a what’s-in-it-for-me kind of love. It is based on a scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of mentality. But Christ-like love is selfless and anything but self-serving. Jesus died for those who hated Him. He loved by giving His life and allowing Himself to be crucified by those for whom He came to provide salvation. And we are to emulate that kind of love, especially among those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

19 We love each other because he loved us first.

20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:19-21 NLT

Even Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). And Peter reminds us that we have been born again. We are new creations. We have been given new spiritual life. And that new spiritual life is eternal in nature, not temporal. It has attached to it an eternal inheritance. Our relationship with God the Father will last forever. So will our relationships with our fellow believers in Christ. Quoting from the book of Isaiah, Peter contrasts the transitory nature of our old nature with that of our new nature in Christ.

24 As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass;
    their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades.
25 But the word of the Lord remains forever.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25 NLT

 

God has loved us with an everlasting, never-ending love. He has promised us an eternal inheritance. And we will share that inheritance with those who have also been chosen by God. We are now part of a family and we are to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Each of us has received the good news regarding new life in Christ. That news changed everything about us: Our natures, our hearts, our destinies, our hope for the future, our source of help for the present, and our ability to love those whom God has chosen and whom He has placed in our lives. What we must come to grips with is the reality that our adoption into God’s family is permanent. It will last forever. And all those with whom we share the remarkable reality of adoption by God will be our brothers and sisters for eternity. That’s why we must begin learning to love them now.

Over in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides a stark list of the works or deeds that come out of a life lived according to the flesh or our old sinful nature.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Notice how many of them are relational in nature. Sexual immorality is by definition, relational. It involves another individual. Lust is the same way. Hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, and envy – they’re all relational in nature. When we forget what Christ has done for us and that what He did was God’s idea, we allow our old nature to raise its ugly head. It becomes all about us again. Our needs, wants, and desires take precedence over our love for others. And this is especially true when we find ourselves suffering or struggling with trials of any kind. Difficulties drive us inward in our thinking. We become obsessed with ourselves. We become myopic in our outlook, thinking that we are alone and demanding that everyone minister to us. But Peter recommends selflessness, even in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. We have been born again to eternal life. The difficulties of this life will not last, but our love for one another should. Love is eternal, because it is a quality of our eternal God. In fact, it is more than a character trait of God, it is the essence of His being. God is love. It’s not something He does. It is who He is. And as His children, the same thing should be true of us. We are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). Or as the apostle John puts it:

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unloved, But Undeterred.

I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps? – 2 Corinthians 12:11-18 ESV

Paul confesses that he feels like a fool. All this self-promotion is out of character for him, but he tells the Corinthians that their silence forced him to do it. They are the ones who should have been commending him. They had been the recipients of his ministry and message. They had enjoyed the benefits of his self-sacrifice and loving commitment to share the gospel with them. And as far as Paul was concerned, he had no reason to take a back seat to the “super-apostles” who were setting themselves up as his spiritual superiors. He had come to them as an apostle of Jesus Christ, armed with the gospel and backed by the power of God as revealed in the signs and wonders he had performed while among them. This had been Paul’s modus operandi everywhere he went.

Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. – Romans 15:18-19 NLT

Paul had not short-changed the Corinthians. He had treated them the same way he had every other Gentile city he had visited. The only difference was that he had not burdened them with providing for his needs while he had ministered among them. Others had funded his ministry, and before that, he had paid his way by working as a tent maker. And yet, there were those who were accusing him of deception and craftiness, claiming that he acted as if he was sacrificing on their behalf, while hiding the fact that he was receiving outside aid. There were others who were saying that Paul had simply gotten money from them by sending his surrogates to collect it, under the guise that it was going to be used for the saints in Jerusalem. In other words, they were accusing Paul of sending Titus and others to take up a collection, all the while using that money for himself. It seems that, in the eyes of the Corinthians, Paul could do nothing right. His actions were constantly under attack and his motives were always suspect.

But Paul pledges to keep on loving and giving whether they returned the favor or not. It is his sincere desire to return to Corinth for a third time and he intends to act in the same way he always had. He will love them like a father loves his children. And while he would greatly desire that love to be reciprocal, he wasn’t going to let their lack of love prevent him from doing the will of God. He tells them, “I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me” (2 Corinthians 12:15 NLT). Everything Paul had done for them, he had done out of love. He had sacrificed greatly in order that they might received the gospel. He had already written two other letters intending the encourage them in their faith and to provide them with wise counsel regarding real-life scenarios taking place in their midst. He was like a loving father, gladly providing for the needs of his children, willingly sacrificing his own needs on their behalf. And while he would have longed for them to return his love, he would not let their distrust and disloyalty sway his actions, because all his efforts were motivated by his desire to please his heavenly Father. When all was said and done, Paul was out to please God, not men. He was looking for the praise of God, not the praise of men.

Paul’s only regret was that he was having to waste time defending himself before the Corinthians. There were other pressing needs he would have preferred to address. Instead of wasting time “boasting” about his qualifications and defending his actions, he would have liked to have been helping them grow in their faith. Paul was a teacher, yet he having to spend all his time playing defense attorney. He could have given up. He could have decided enough was enough and written the Corinthians off as too stubborn and hard-headed to waste any more of his valuable time on them. But Paul was committed to their spiritual well-being. He was not content to see them languish in their faith and settle for the status quo. He was not going to allow their complacency to deter his commitment to the call of Christ on his life. He was out to make disciples, and nothing was going to stand in his way, including the false accusations of false apostles, the lack of love from those to whom he had shared the gospel, or the constant demand that he defend his actions. His attitude remained, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”

Visible Faith.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that the faith you share with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing that belongs to you in Christ.  – Philemon 1:4-6 NET

They say faith is hard to see, but Paul would disagree. Faith has fruit. Our belief in Jesus Christ should have a direct impact on the way we live our lives and should be visible to all those around us. Paul had heard of Philemon’s faith. Others had been able to see it and talk about it. They had been first-hand recipients of Philemon’s love – a direct byproduct of his faith in Christ. One of Paul’s other prayers, found in his letter to the Philippians, read, “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation–the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ–for this will bring much glory and praise to God” (Philippians 1:11 NLT). As we grow in our faith, the fruit of that faith increases, impacting those around us. Which is why Paul prayed that Philemon’s faith would deepen his understanding of every blessing that belongs to him in Christ. Our faith in Christ should result in a growing awareness of the incredible blessings we have received from God as a result of our relationship with His Son. We enjoy His unmerited grace, mercy, forgiveness,and love. We have the ongoing assurance of His abiding presence. Nothing we do can ever alter our relationship as His child. He never falls out of love with His children. As the incredible nature of the our relationship with God sets in, our faith should increase, along with our love for those around us. When we realize just how much we have received from God, we should desire to share that same love, grace and mercy with others. The apostle John writes, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12 NLT). God’s love for us was never meant to terminate on us. His love should flow through us to others, in order that they might feel the love of God in a tangible way.

As we grow in our understanding of the blessings of God available to us through Christ, we are able to turn from our normal and natural inward fixation to a Spirit-motivated love for others. We begin to live out what Paul described: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). We become known for our love for others. Our faith in Christ takes on a visible nature that others can see, feel and experience. We become less self-centered and more other-focused. Our selfishness slowly gets replaced with a spirit of selflessness and sacrifice. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ should be accompanied by a love for others. That is the fruit of righteousness. Paul knew that as Philemon grew in his understanding of all that he had received in Christ, he would increase in his desire to love others. So that was the heart of Paul’s prayer for Philemon. And we should pray that same prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ today. Our love for one another and our love for the lost are tangible expressions of God’s redemptive, restorative love for us. We are to love as we have been loved. We are to show grace as we have received grace. We are to extend mercy as we have had mercy extended to us. We are God’s ambassadors, His representatives on this earth. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’’ (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 NLT). But the most effective way to get people to return to God is to allow them to experience the love of God through us. They can’t see God, but they can feel His love as we love them as He has loved us. Oh, that our faith would grow and that our awareness of God’s great love for us would continue to increase. Then that love would find expression in our selfless, sacrificial love for others. And the world would take notice.