Generous Grace.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.   2 Corinthians 8:1-8 ESV

Paul had been overwhelmed by the reception of his previous letter, even though it had ended up causing the Corinthians some serious sorrow. That sorrow had led to their repentance and they had responded in grace, love and gratitude. Now Paul takes the opportunity to appeal to that same grace in order to enlist their help with a pressing financial concern. For nearly five years, Paul had been actively soliciting funds from the churches he had helped establish throughout Macedonia, Galatia, Achaia, and Asia Minor. This money was being sent to help Hebrew Christians living in Judea, where they were suffering from the effects of a famine as well as the poverty that came as a result of their conversions to Christianity. Many had lost their jobs, been ostracized by their families or were having a difficult time trying to do business with their Jewish neighbors. Paul was constantly requesting that the churches over which he had influence, would participate in providing financial aid to their brothers and sisters in Judea. And Corinth would be no exception.

Paul began by informing the Corinthians of the generosity displayed by the churches in Macedonia, a neighboring region. In referring to the Philippians, Thessalonians, and Bereans, Paul was adroitly using comparison to make his appeal to the Corinthians. He points out that their neighbors to the north “have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2 ESV). And this was in spite of their own “extreme poverty.” Paul says, “they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will” (2 Corinthians 8:3 NLT). Not only that, they begged Paul for the opportunity to give. This was not the first time the Corinthians had heard about the need in Judea. Paul had raised this topic with them before in his first letter. He referred to it as the “collection for the saints” (1 Corinthians 16:1). But either the Corinthians had begun to give and then stopped, or they had never fully gotten behind the effort to begin with. Either way, Paul is now appealing to them to allow the grace of God to flow through them as it had done with the believers in Macedonia. Paul had a strong sense of community and unity when it came to the body of Christ. He wanted each congregation to understand and embrace their connection with and responsibility to the other fellowships located all around the world at that time. They were not to view themselves as independent entities, isolated and removed from the larger context of the family of God. They were to see themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing a common bond with believers all around the world. And Paul wants them to know that God desired to use them to extend His grace to the believers in Judea. Paul had even sent Titus to encourage their participation in this fund-raising effort. 

Paul reminds them that they are a gifted church. They excel “in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness” (2 Corinthians 8:7 ESV). Paul had told them in his first letter, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:4-7 ESV). Now he wants them to add to their resume of giftedness this “act of grace.”  Paul tells them, “I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:7b NLT). But he doesn’t want them to do it under coercion or as a form of compliance to a command. It must be done in love. Giving without love is ultimately self-motivated, in order to get attention. Or what is given is soiled with selfishness, regret and sense of reluctance. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus taught, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:1-2 NLT). If you give in order to get praise, that is the only reward you will receive. That is what led Paul to write in his first letter, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV).

The giving of the Corinthians was to be an extension of the grace of God, flowing from Him through them and to the believers in Judea. God’s grace is anything but selfish and self-centered. It is an expression of His love. So in giving to the believers in Judea, the Corinthians would be showing the love and favor of God through their willing generosity. Giving was to be seen, not as an obligation, but as an opportunity to love others as they had been loved by God – generously, undeservedly, and graciously. In his first letter, Paul had sternly reminded the Corinthians, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). They had become arrogant and prideful, seeing themselves as spiritual superior and blessed by God. Paul scolded them, “You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). But all that they enjoyed had come from God. It had all be a result of the grace of God. Their giftedness was God’s doing. Their salvation had been the result of Christ’s death, not their own merit. The reality of their indebtedness to God should have created in them a sense of gratitude that manifested itself in gracious generosity. Their giving was to be a reflection of the joy they felt for all that they had been given. We love because He first loved us. We give because He has given to us. We bless others because He has graciously blessed us.


Love, Knowledge and Discernment.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:9-11 ESV

It was Paul’s desire that the love of the believers in Philippi would grow more and more. He knew how important love was in the life of the believer. He fully understood that, because God has loved us, we are obligated to love others. God is love, and as His children, we are to express His nature. But Paul also qualified His request for increasing love by requesting that it be accompanied by knowledge and discernment. He was not asking for a sentimental sort of love, but a well-reasoned and Christ-like love founded on an understanding of the truth of God. Our love is not to be without discrimination or discernment. The psalmist writes, “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10 NLT). Paul himself wrote to the believers in Rome, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9 ESV). In his prayer for the Philippian believers Paul gives his reason for requesting love accompanied by knowledge and discernment – “so that you may approve what is excellent.” The NET Bible translates that phrase as “so that you can decide what is best.” Our love, as it grows, if accompanied by knowledge and discernment, will help us establish right priorities and enable us to focus on what really matters. The problem today is that love has become non-discerning and indiscriminate. We love without thought or priority. We love food, cars,  entertainment, pleasure and people all equally and without considering what it is that God loves. What does His heart beat fast for?

There are things in life that we are NOT to love. God hates pride. So should we. God hates injustice. So should we. But there are also things that are not immoral or unethical, that we have made priorities or “loves” in our lives, that have taken the place of God. We love convenience more than God or others. We love our own comfort more than we love God or others. We love acceptance, the praise of men, the things of this world, our own agendas, and a host of other things more than we love God or others. But Paul prays that our love will be marked by knowledge of the truth and a Spirit-provided discernment that will allow us to see what really matters. True love can be costly. God showed His love for mankind by sending His own Son to die. It cost Him dearly. God knew what needed to be done and He did it. His love was driven by what was best. Jesus’ love for us was also driven by what was best – what His Father wanted. We are to love, but always on God’s terms. Sometimes, our brand of love can do more harm than good. In our day and age, we have confused tolerance with love. We are told to love everybody. But what we are really being told to do is approve of what everyone is doing. Our love is to be all-accepting and non-discriminatory. We are not to judge. We are not free to disapprove. But the Word of God would have us love – within reason and with truth as our standard. In the Proverbs we read, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV). God will not overlook sin. He can’t. So neither should we. That does not mean that we should refrain from showing grace. But at no point are we to show love without discernment. Sometimes the greatest form of love is that which points out the sin in another person’s life. If sin separates us from God, then letting someone know that what they are doing is putting a barrier between them and God is the most loving thing you could do for them. Telling them you love them while knowing that their behavior is an affront to God is anything but loving.

What if we prayed this prayer for one another today? Can you imagine what it might be like if each of us, as believers, were more knowledgeable and discerning in our love? What would it be like if we truly learned to love as God loves? Peter tells us, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). But notice that he says, love covers a multitude of sins, not accepts or ignores them. Yes, we need to love more. But we need love that is based on knowledge and discernment. We need love that approves of and agrees with what is best – God’s best. How did God love us? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God loved us at our worst, but He was not wiling to leave us that way. The apostle John reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). God’s love was based on redeeming us and renewing us into the likeness of His Son. He didn’t love us by leaving us just like we were. He loved us so that He might justify and sanctify us. And we are to love in that very same way.

Do We Really Love?

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. –1 John 5:2 ESV

1 John 5:1-5

Repeatedly throughout his letter, John has strongly encouraged us to love one another. But he has only given us one example of a practical application of this command. We find it in verse 17 pf chapter 3. “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Then John clarifies his question with a statement. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18 ESV). Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it. Our love is to show up in legitimate action. But no where else in this letter does John give us a list of acceptable actions that would prove we are loving correctly – as Jesus has loved us. He doesn’t provide us with five steps to follow or ten iron-clad examples of godly love. Because if he had, we would turn those things into measuring rods of righteousness. Take John’s example from chapter three. We might see a brother in need and write a check to help him get back on his feet. Or we might give him a handout of cash to help him bide his time. And in doing so, we might feel as if we had loved him. But notice that John says the problem to begin with is that the brother with the worldly goods “closes his heart” against the one in need. He sees the problem but doesn’t allow his heart to engage. Writing a check can be a heartless activity. Giving someone cash can be as well. The King James Version paints a much more vivid picture of what is going on in this illustration. It reads, “and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him.” The Greek word John uses means “to shut up compassion so that it is like a thing inaccessible to one, to be devoid of pity towards one.” The word translated “heart” in the ESV is translated “bowels” in the KJV. It is the Greek word, splagchnon. Check out what Strong’s Concordance has to say about it:  “the bowels were regarded as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart (tender mercies, affections, etc.).” This all ties back into Paul’s great love chapter in 1 Corinthians. We can do a lot of great things, but if they are done without godly love, without mercy, compassion, kindness and a legitimate love for the one being helped, they are all worthless in the end.

John says we must not love in word and talk, but in deed and in truth. The word, talk, can also be translated, “tongue.” It is as if John is saying, “don’t just act like you love someone by speaking words that come from nowhere other than your tongue.” Instead, we are to love in deed, in actions, but backed up by truth. Truth refers to “what is true in things appertaining to God and the duties of man, moral and religious truth.” It is to love as God has commanded us to love. Which brings us back to our passage for today. John tells us, “By this we know that we love the children of God” (1 John 5:2 ESV). Again, it’s significant that John does not supply us with a list of acceptable deeds or actions to follow. But what he does give us is a way of knowing that we are truly loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is when we love God and keep His commandments. Then he qualifies it further by saying that to love God is to keep His commandments. I think this helps us understand what John meant earlier by deeds done in truth. It is doing what God would have us do, as made known to us in His Word. We show our love for God when we live our lives in obedience to His Word. And John lets us know that when we do, we will find God’s commandments not burdensome. They won’t feel heavy and oppressive to us. In fact, they will be a joy to obey because of the benefits and blessings they bring to us and to others through us.

When we remove the truth, God’s Word, from the equation, we will tend to love one another according to the world’s standards. We may end up showing compassion or mercy to a brother or sister in need, but to love them in truth is to love them as we have been loved by God. It is to care about them as children of God. It is to care as much for their spiritual well-being as we care about their physical needs. Worldly love tends to focus on the externals. But godly love focuses on the heart. So many of the issues we end up dealing with in our attempt to “love one another” are symptoms. And it isn’t that we should ignore the symptoms, but we must look to the root cause of the problem. We must learn to look at the heart. This is where it can get messy. When we begin to learn to look past the surface issues and into the heart, we will find we are loving as God has commanded us to love. Paul writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important” (Galatians 6:1-2 NLT). Godly love is costly love. It requires sacrifice. It involves the heart. It is obsessed with the spiritual health of the other. It meets needs, but never on just a surface level. It digs deep. It obeys well.

Love Like God Loves.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7 ESV

1 John 4:7-21

Throughout these 15 verses, John repeatedly reminds us to love one another. But he has not left it up to us to define what that love should look like. He has gone out of his way to make sure we know that the standard for the kind of love we are to show one another is a high one. It is the love of God. And that love was not simply an emotion or a response to something lovable in us. It was the outflow of His very nature, and an expression of His character. As John says, God didn’t love us because we loved Him first. It was the other way around. He loved us when we were at our worst. He loved us when we were in rebellion against Him, existing as His enemies, and stubbornly content with our lot in life. Paul puts it this way: “you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions” (Colossians 1:21 NLT). Yet, in spite of our unlovely condition, God loved us. “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). God loved the unlovely and unlovable. And that love was costly. It required the death of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. But that priceless payment was necessary in order that we might be restored to a right relationship with God. He paid the price we could not afford to settle a debt we owed. Now that’s love. And it is that kind of love John has in mind when he says, “Love one another.” It was the kind of love Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” ( John 13:34 ESV).

God loved us in order to restore us. Jesus loved us enough to die for us, so that we might live as sons and daughters of God. Their love was focused on our holiness, not our happiness. Their love was focused on our eternal well-being, not our temporary satisfaction. Jesus died to deliver us from this world of sin and death. His prayer in the garden on the night of His betrayal says it all. “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:14-17 ESV). His love was focused on our sanctification, our ongoing transformation in His own likeness. Ultimately, God’s love and that of His Son is all about our future glorification. And our love for one another should have that same focus. Do I love my brother or sister in Christ enough to speak truth into their life? Do I love them enough to give up my own rights in order to see that they grow in Christ-likeness? Do I love them enough to want God’s best for them? Do I love them enough to sacrifice my time, my resources, my comfort and my self-centered conveniences in order to see that they live lives that are pleasing to God?

The reason Jesus said the world would know we were His disciples because of our love for one another was due to the nature of that love. It would not be the kind of love with which the world was familiar. And let’s face it, the world does love. Those who live in this world without Christ love their kids, express love towards one another, give their money to worthy causes, feed the hungry, help the needy, do service projects, sacrifice their time, and show love in a thousand different ways. But the love we are commanded to show is different. It is what sets us apart. It is what gives proof that we are His disciples. When John says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV). In the same way. With the same focus. The reason we love is so that those we love might be restored to God. Any temporal aspect of our love should have an eternal focus. Meeting physical needs should always have a spiritual focus. Feeding the hungry, while failing to give them the bread of life, will provide temporary relief, but leave them with a much more serious problem. That’s why Paul wrote, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV). The greatest love we have to give away is the love we have received. A love that was focused on our greatest need. The love of this world is temporal in nature. It seeks to solve immediate needs with temporary fixes. We attempt to fix broken relationships with flowers. We try to remedy sadness with some form of temporary gladness. We give the hungry a meal or a job. We give the poor a handout. But the kind of love the world needs is far more lasting and long-term in nature. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT). He said this in response to those who had demanded, “give us that bread every day” (John 6:34 NLT). They had been part of the crowd that He had fed the day before. They wanted more bread. They wanted their physical needs met. But Jesus was offering them more. His love was focused on something far greater. Their salvation from sin. Their restoration to a right relationship with God. And that should be the focus of our love. I love others most when I desire for them God’s best.

The Cain Mutiny.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. – 1 John 3:12 ESV

John has a tendency to use terms and images that portray striking opposites. He loves the use of contrasts. Darkness and light. Sin and righteousness. Lies and truth. Old and new. Love and hate. The temporal and the eternal. Death and life. Abiding and forsaking. Then right in the middle of chapter three, he uses what appears to be a contrast between two Old Testament figures, Cain and Abel. At first glance, this is a very perplexing and difficult to understand passage. Seemingly, out of the blue, John brings up an event that happened all the way back in the story of beginning of the earth, recorded in the book of Genesis. The context is Jesus’ command that we love one another. Then, all of the sudden, John tells us, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12 ESV). That’s quite a contrast. John goes from talking about love to warning about murder. In the well-known story of Cain and Abel, Cain killed his own brother. But why? John says it was “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12 ESV). So is John saying that Cain killed Abel because Abel was a righteous person? Did he murder his brother out of some form of jealousy or resentment? That was probably the surface cause. But there is something far deeper going on in this story, and we need to go back and look at the actual event to get a better handle on what actually happened and in order to see why John is using this story as an object lesson about love. Back in Genesis 4, we read, “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,  but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:3-5 ESV). Both brothers brought offerings to the Lord. There is no indication that God had indicated the type of offering that was to be given, so God’s rejection of Cain’s offering does not appear to be about what he brought. But it clearly says, “but for Cain and his offering he [God] had no regard.” The word “regard” in the Hebrew means “to look on with favor.” So when it says God had “no regard” for Cain, it means He did NOT look on him with favor. Cain’s offering was an extension of his heart. The offering was not the issue, Cain was. There was something wrong with Cain that caused God to reject him and his offering. You have to go all the way to Hebrews 11 to discover what was going on behind the scenes. There we read, “By faith, Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV). Notice those two words, “by faith.” They are key to understanding the story and getting the point of John’s inclusion of this event in his discussion about love. The motivation behind Abel’s gift was faith. He believed in God. And his gift was directed at a God he had never seen. That is an important point. You have to remember that neither Cain or Abel had ever seen or heard God as their parents had. After the sin of Adam and Eve, they were banned from the garden and from God’s presence. Their sons had never seen Eden or had the joy of intimacy with God. What they knew about God they had been told by their parents. Both had heard the same stories, but it would appear that only Abel believed what he heard.

What is interesting is that the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Abel had faith and his offering was pleasing to God. Cain did not have faith and his offering was displeasing to God. Cain did not believe in God. When it says that Abel offered a “more acceptable sacrifice than Cain,” the word “acceptable” in the Hebrew refers to “greater in quantity, greater in quality.” But it was not the sacrifice that was the issue. It was Abel’s faith. His faith gave his sacrifice its value. His belief and trust in God was what made his sacrifice acceptable. And according the writer of Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abel had faith in a God he had never seen. He had hope and assurance in God and gave his sacrifice out of love and gratitude. Verse 6 of chapter 11 of Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please him,” but there is more, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Abel believed God existed. Cain did not. Oh, he gave a sacrifice, but it was not from the heart, and it was given in a spirit of doubt and disbelief. Interestingly, in early Jewish and Christian writings, Cain is used as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve in God. Cain lacked faith in God. Cain didn’t love God. He didn’t abide in God. Cain loved Cain. His inability to love God made it impossible for him to love his own brother. And John warns that we should not be like Cain. We need to abide in Christ. We need to remain dependent upon Him and believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Our faith in God will produce fruit. Our love for God will produce love for others. Cain didn’t love God. Cain loved Cain. And Cain was incapable of loving Abel. The lack of love is hate. Love is saying “No” to one’s own life so that others may live. The to key loving others is faith in God. It is when we believe in Him and know that He loves us that we will be able to love others more than we love ourselves.

2 Chronicles 35-36, Philemon 1

Our Persistent Compassionate God.

2 Chronicles 35-36, Philemon 1

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 ESV

The days of the kingdom of Judah are quickly coming to an end. In spite of the reigns of kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, the downward spiral of the kingdom continued. The unfaithfulness of the people became increasingly evident. Even the reforms of Josiah would not prevent the inevitable spiritual decline of the people. While Josiah had proven himself to be a good and godly king, he too failed to fully trust God. He had gone out of his way to reestablish the proper worship of God, reinstituting the Passover ceremony. But when he found himself facing a possible threat from the Egyptians, he took matters into his own hands and refused to listen to the words of God. His stubbornness and rebellion results in his own death. From there, things went downhill fast. Josiah was followed by his son Jehoahaz, but his reign would last only three months. He was deposed by the king of Egypt and replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. He would be defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and taken captive. Jehoiachin replaced him as king of Judah, but his reign would last a mere three months and ten days. He too would be taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah, his brother, would replace him as king. But “he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:13 ESV). And all during this time, God had been sending His words of warning and calls to repentance through the prophets. He had repeatedly sent men like Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah. These men had been His ambassadors and spokesmen, delivering His message to the kings and the people of Judah. They warned of things to come. They called the people to repentance. They expressed God’s desire to restore them if they would only return to Him. But rather than listen, the people mocked God’s prophets, “despising his words” spoken through them. They scoffed at these men, rejecting their messages, “until there was no remedy.”

What does this passage reveal about God?

God persistently, compassionately gave His children opportunities to return to Him. He begged them to repent. He warned them of what was going to happen if they refused to turn from their wickedness. He gave them ample proof of His power and goodness when they did things His way. But they just couldn’t seem to trust Him. Even the good kings each eventually ended their reigns on a sour note. They started well, but ended poorly. But God’s compassion never failed. Jeremiah the prophet would write of God, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV). When reading these closing chapters of 2 Chronicles, we must remember that they were written to the people of Judah who had just recently returned to the land of promise after having spent 70 years in exile in Babylon. They had been allowed to return to the land, in spite of all they had done for generations. The chronicler had spent chapter after chapter reminding them of their less-than-flattering history as a people. He had made it painfully clear that their fall had been their own fault. But he had also gone out of his way to make sure they understood their return was undeserved. They were back in the land, not because they had done something to deserve it, but because God was merciful, loving and faithful. The chronicler closes his book with a reminder of the most recent events in the history of the people of God. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up”’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ESV. God had done a miracle. He used the king of a pagan nation to return His people to the land. Cyrus would not only decree that the people of Judah return to the land and rebuild the Temple of God, he would fund the entire operation. God made that happen. God was faithful to keep His Word and restore His people to the land He had promised to Abraham all those years ago.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is inherently unfaithful. Even those who have enjoyed the blessings of God and been the recipients of His power and presence can find themselves refusing to live in faithful obedience to Him. In spite of His goodness and grace, we tend to return the favor with a stubborn determination to do things our own way. We are rebellious by nature. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). All of us have sinned against God. All of us are guilty of open rebellion against a holy and righteous God. But in spite of us, God provided a plan to redeem us. He sent His own Son to die in our place and satisfy His own just demands that someone pay the penalty due. None of us deserved it. None of us had earned it. It was the gracious, merciful gift of a loving God. Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Like the people of Judah, we must be reminded of God’s amazing love and mercy, showered on us in the midst of our disobedience, while we were living as slaves and captives. Jeremiah knew of the compassion of God and he tried to let the people of Judah know that God would never let them go completely. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:31-32 ESV). In spite of us, God just keeps loving us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the story of Philemon and Onesimus, we have a picture of God’s amazing love, forgiveness and compassion modeled in a real-life scenario. Paul was writing to Philemon, who was a Christ-following slave owner. No where in the text does Paul speak against slavery. It was a part of the cultural context in which the Christian in his day lived. Paul neither condoned or condemned it. He did not address the moral, ethical or spiritual implications of slavery. But he did encourage his readers to treat those who found themselves living as slaves in a different way. Paul’s desire was not to revolutionize or change the institution of slavery, but the hearts of those involved in it. Onesimus, a runaway slave, had become a believer, probably through Paul’s ministry. He had been ministering to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul knew that Onesimus needed to make things right with Philemon, his master. So he appealed to Philemon to accept Onesimus, not as a guilty, runaway slave deserving of punishment, but “more than a slave, as a beloved brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16 ESV). Paul infers that the relationship between these two men had been radically changed because of Onesimus’ acceptance of Christ as His Savior. While he was technically still a slave, according to the laws of the land, Onesimus was now a brother in Christ. And in reality, Paul, Philemon and Onesimus were all slaves to Christ. They all had a new Master. Paul’s appeal to Philemon’s compassion was based on the compassion shown to each of them by God through Christ. Elsewhere Paul would write, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV). We are to love as we have been loved. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are to show compassion to the same degree that we have received it from God Himself. What a difference it would make if we were able to live this out in everyday life. What a testimony we would have to the world around us if we could model the compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness of God in our everyday relationships. 

Father, help me to fully grasp the magnitude of Your amazing grace in my life. Show me how to express that kind of grace to all those around me, not just because they deserve it, but because I have been the recipient of it from You. I want to love like You love, forgive like I have been forgiven, and show compassion in the same You have shown it to me. Not based on the other person’s merit, but simply because You have called me to do so. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 104 – Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34

The Law of Love.

Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

In this section of the Gospels, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do what He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn’t believe in resurrection and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handles their question. Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees are quickly followed by the Pharisees again. This time they raise a question concerning the Law – their area of expertise. “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’” (Matthew 22:34-36 NLT).

This was common debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment had precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, and they had imposed this staggering list of 615 precepts on their followers. With that many laws, it wasn’t long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, “Do not stand idly by when you neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). The over in Exodus, it states, “…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath” (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, were you to do nothing? This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees, because He healed regularly on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear breaking of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than them. And they seriously doubted that He did.

A Simple Solution

Jesus’ answer reveals His authority over the Scriptures. “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT). He quotes from the Shema, a portion of Scripture recited daily by all Jews. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV). This is the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But there was a second part. “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39 NLT). Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part is equally essential. He tells them that they are to love God and love man.

What Jesus presents is not new, but He provides it with new emphasis and meaning. While the love of God is supreme, one of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our love for man.  “If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”(1 John 4:20 NLT). Why was this so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They said they loved God, but hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them. “For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4 NLT). In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. The Ten Commandments themselves are divided into these two areas. There is a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other – they are reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.

Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT

But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 NLT

Jesus puts love for God and love for man on equal footing. They are inseparable and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God, but hated their fellow man. They hated sinners of all kinds.

Who’s Your Neighbor?

Take a look at Luke 10. Jesus has an encounter with “an expert in religious law” – probably a lawyer and likely a Pharisee, one the experts in oral law. He comes asking what he has to DO to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the law says? “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’” (Luke 10:27 NLT).

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:28 NLT).

“The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29 NLT).

He wanted a little qualification and clarification. As a lawyer, he wanted to limit his responsibility for loving. He wanted to justify himself as a keeper of the law and therefore, qualified for eternal life, so he was hoping Jesus would say, “Just love those who are righteous like you.” But instead, Jesus tells him a parable. It involves an unidentified man on a 17-mile road trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a long and dangerous trip, plagued by thieves. The story revolves around a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. Two would have been well-respected, while the other was an outcast. As recorded in Luke 10, the man on the journey is accosted by thieves and left for dead. The priest sees him lying on the side of the road and crosses to the other side. The Levite passes by some time later, bothers to take a look at him, but leaves him just as he is. Finally, the Samaritan comes along and not only stops, he provides first aid. It says he felt compassion for him, soothed his wounds, bandaged him up and then put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he continued to care for him and covered the cost out of his own pocket.

After completing His story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits” (Luke 10:36 NLT). To which he replied, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37 NLT). And Jesus promptly replied, “Go and do the same!” Jesus has just clarified the question of who our neighbor is. It is anyone God brings into our life in need. It is anyone to whom we have the capacity or opportunity to show love. When we do, it is the fullest expression of our love for God.

Over in Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus is talking about the future judgment of man. He uses the picture of a shepherd dividing between the sheep and the goats. This is an image what will take place at the end of the tribulation period. It is speaking of Gentiles who have survived the tribulation period. Some will have come to faith in God during that time. Their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:37-40 NLT). Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will be evidence of their hearts having been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criteria for judgment. All those who failed to do the same would be condemned. OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It proves our love for Him. It is proof that we understand His love for us. So how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Like the lawyer, do you want to qualify who your neighbor is to justify yourself? Since you can’t put your arms around God and hug Him or show Him love physically, He asks you to express your love for Him through others. How do you think you’re doing? Could you be tried in a court of law and convicted as a Christian solely based on your love for and treatment of others?

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:35 NLT

Father, I want to increasingly learn to love others as an expression of my love for You. It is so easy to dislike and even hate those whom You love. I can so easily forget that all men are made in Your image. It is easy to love those like me or those who agree with me. It is easy to love those who love me back or who love me first. But loving the unlovely or unloving is difficult. Yet that is exactly how You love me – when I was at my most unlovely and when I was totally out of love with You. Help me to love like You love. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men