The Lord Is Faithful

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

Paul was a powerful proponent of prayer and was not shy in requesting others to pray on his behalf. He knew he was engaged in a spiritual battle that required spiritual weapons. He told the Corinthians believers:

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

And as he told Timothy, one of the primary weapons in our warfare with evil is prayer.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NLT

His belief in the power and efficacy of prayer was supported by James, who wrote, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16 NLT). And, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had challenged them to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV). And, as Paul told Timothy, this was his desire for every congregation to which he had ministered.

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy. – 1 Timothy 2:8 NLT

Paul didn’t view prayer as an optional. It was not some kind of spiritual accessory you put on when it was convenient or when you determined it was necessary. It was to be a permanent and vital part of the believer’s life, a sentiment Paul expressed to the church in Ephesus.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. – Ephesians 6:18 NLT

And this call to persistent and perpetual prayer was because of the very real nature of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Just a few verses earlier, Paul had warned the Ephesian believers of the epic spiritual war taking place around them and their role in it.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

Paul was a man of prayer and he coveted the prayers of others. But notice that Paul’s prayer request, while personal in nature, was not focused on himself. He was asking them to pray that his ministry would continue to be successful – “that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 NLT). He didn’t provide the Thessalonians with a long list of personal prayer requests that focused on his health, finances, or relational concerns. It wasn’t that Paul didn’t have problems or personal issues, but that his focus was always on the bigger cause of spreading the gospel.

Paul didn’t need better clothes, a bigger house, improved health, or a trouble-free life. And while he appreciated any concern that others had for his well-being, he wanted them to know that he really had no needs, except the strength and determination to continue doing what he had been called to do.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:10-12 NLT

And Paul made it clear that all he really needed was provided for him by Christ.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13 NLT

As Paul’s letter has made clear, there were those who opposed his teaching and were always trying to add to or alter the gospel message. Not only that, but he also faced physical threats to his life because of his work on behalf of Christ. Paul provides a detailed list of his physical sufferings in his second letter to the church in Corinth. He describes how he had “been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gave them specific instances of his abuse. “Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25 NLT).

So, Paul asked the Thessalonians for prayer in light of the very real nature of his opposition and their relentless desire to put him out of commission.

…pray for us…that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not all have faith. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2 NLT

As the Thessalonians knew from their own firsthand experience, not everyone accepted the message of the gospel. Many of their own friends and family members had denied God’s gracious offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Not all have faith, Paul states. Not everyone is part of the body of Christ. And wherever believers exist, they will find themselves surrounded by those who despise their message and their very existence. Jesus had warned His disciples: “You will be hated by everyone because of My name” (Matthew 10:22 BSB). And He broadened the scope of this hatred by declaring that the whole world would stand opposed to His followers.

If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. – John 15:19 BSB

But Paul assures his fellow believers in Thessalonica that, while the world was filled with hostile people who did not share their faith, “the Lord is faithful” and “He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV). No matter how bleak things appeared to be or how intense the persecution may become, the Lord stood ready to strengthen and protect them. With true pastoral conviction and a loving shepherd’s heart, Paul encouraged his flock to remain faithful to the Lord. He had not and would not abandon them. And Paul complimented the Thessalonians for their past faithfulness and assured them of his confidence that they would remain committed to Christ, no matter what happened.

we are confident about you in the Lord that you are both doing—and will do—what we are commanding. – 2 Thessalonians 3:4 NLT

Finally, Paul offers up a prayer on their behalf, asking that God give them a greater understanding of His love for them and a deeper appreciation for the endurance Christ modeled with His own life. They need to keep the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ on their minds constantly. As Paul told the believers in Ephesus, an understanding of God’s love as expressed through Christ’s sacrifice is the key to experiencing fulness of life and power.

…may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT

And as the author of Hebrews points out, a constant focus on the faithfulness of Christ will go a long way in providing world-weary Christians with the strength they need to not only survive but thrive in this life.

…let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

Because of the unwavering love of God and the faithfulness of Christ, they had everything they needed to say as Paul did, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 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.

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

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The Good, the Bad, and God

34 To crush underfoot
    all the prisoners of the earth,
35 to deny a man justice
    in the presence of the Most High,
36 to subvert a man in his lawsuit,
    the Lord does not approve.

37 Who has spoken and it came to pass,
    unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?
39 Why should a living man complain,
    a man, about the punishment of his sins?

40 Let us test and examine our ways,
    and return to the Lord! – Lamentations 3:34-40 ESV

Jeremiah was painfully aware that the nation of Judah stood fully and justifiably condemned before God. They were guilty as charged and their fate had been ordained by the hand of God. It was the just and righteous punishment they so thoroughly deserved. And while God had graciously delayed His judgment for generations, He had not forgotten His promise to punish His chosen people for their rejection of Him. Their spiritual infidelity had become so pervasive that He could no longer allow them to defame His holy name through their unholy actions.

Jeremiah reminds his fellow citizens that God had not been blind to their behavior. He had seen it all. And He had grown tired of their blatant disregard for His holy law. They had long ago forgotten what it means to live in obedience to God’s law. The admonition delivered by Moses to the Israelites while they were still in the wilderness had been clear and compelling.

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good. – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 NLT

And yet, over the centuries, God’s people had failed to live in a way that pleased Him. They made it all about themselves. God became little more than a cosmic Genie in a bottle, whom the Israelites turned to when all else failed. They had long ago forgotten what it means to fear God, treating the Almighty as if He was just one more god in a long list of possible options. And over time, their outward behavior stood as evidence of their unbelief. Their actions condemned them.

And Jeremiah had spent years pointing out the glaring wickedness of their ways.

“Among my people are wicked men
who lie in wait for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind.
They continually set traps
to catch people.
Like a cage filled with birds,
their homes are filled with evil plots.
And now they are great and rich.
They are fat and sleek,
and there is no limit to their wicked deeds.
They refuse to provide justice to orphans
and deny the rights of the poor.
Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?” – Jeremiah 5:26-29 NLT

And now, Jeremiah reminds his fellow sufferers that they had received the just recompense for their sins against God.

If people crush underfoot
all the prisoners of the land,
if they deprive others of their rights
in defiance of the Most High,
if they twist justice in the courts—
doesn’t the Lord see all these things? – Lamentations 3:34-36 NLT

They had lived their lives as if God was blind or oblivious to their actions. But now they knew that He had seen it all and He had held them accountable. Everything that had happened to them was the direct result of God’s sovereign will. It had not been a mistake. It had not been the result of poor timing, bad luck, or the fickleness of fate. It had been the providential plan of God Almighty.

Who can command things to happen
without the Lord’s permission?
Does not the Most High
send both calamity and good?
Then why should we, mere humans, complain
when we are punished for our sins? – Lamentations 3:37-39 NLT

The people of Judah couldn’t blame Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians for their problems. They had been little more than instruments in the hands of God. They had been His chosen means for delivering His divine judgment against a stubborn rebellious people. The people of Judah had been punished by God for their sins against Him. And they had no cause to complain.

For years, they had lived in a state of overconfidence, basking in the goodness of God’s blessings, while regularly disobeying His commands. They thought they were immune from judgment. As God’s chosen people, they lived with a false sense of security, wrongly assuming that they were divinely protected from harm. But disobedience always leads to discipline. They were wrong to assume that their unique relationship with God made them untouchable by God. If anything, God was holding them to a higher standard. He had expected them to live lives that were distinctively different from all the other nations around them.

But their behavior had brought shame to the name of God. Their actions reflected poorly on His character. As His children, they bore God’s name, but they had failed to live up to their calling as His sons and daughters. Now, they were suffering the consequences for their blatant disregard for His holiness.

“For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 NLT

Their holiness was not an option. It had been God’s expectation from the moment He had chosen Abram out of Ur and promised to make of him a great nation. His descendants would be God’s chosen people, unique among all the nations of the earth. And their relationship with God, determined by His law and regulated by His sacrificial system, was to have set them apart as holy and wholly belonging to Him. But their lack of holiness had left a black eye on God’s character. And now they were suffering because of it.

So, Jeremiah calls them to examine their lives and to understand that their current circumstances were ordained by God and were for their own good.

…let us test and examine our ways.
Let us turn back to the Lord. – Lamentations 3:40 NLT

God had blessed them. Now, God was punishing them. But it was all for their good. And Jeremiah wanted them to learn the invaluable lesson that both the good and the bad come from the hand of God. And both are conditioned upon the love of God. He disciplines those whom He loves. But it is often difficult for us to recognize God’s love when it shows up as correction. It feels like anger. It comes across as rejection. But as Jeremiah stated earlier in this same chapter.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning. – Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

As God’s children, we must learn to recognize His love in all the circumstances of life. From the good to the bad, the enjoyable to the painful, the indescribable to the inexplicable, God never falls out of love with us. And, like Job, we must learn to see that God’s love never fails, whether we fail to understand it or not.

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 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.

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

The Lord is in the Right

12 “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
    which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
    on the day of his fierce anger.

13 “From on high he sent fire;
    into my bones he made it descend;
he spread a net for my feet;
    he turned me back;
he has left me stunned,
    faint all the day long.

14 “My transgressions were bound into a yoke;
    by his hand they were fastened together;
they were set upon my neck;
    he caused my strength to fail;
the Lord gave me into the hands
    of those whom I cannot withstand.

15 “The Lord rejected
    all my mighty men in my midst;
he summoned an assembly against me
    to crush my young men;
the Lord has trodden as in a winepress
    the virgin daughter of Judah.

16 “For these things I weep;
    my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
    one to revive my spirit;
my children are desolate,
    for the enemy has prevailed.”

17 Zion stretches out her hands,
    but there is none to comfort her;
the Lord has commanded against Jacob
    that his neighbors should be his foes;
Jerusalem has become
    a filthy thing among them.

18 “The Lord is in the right,
    for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
    and see my suffering;
my young women and my young men
    have gone into captivity. – Lamentations 1:12-18 ESV

Jerusalem’s plight was self-inflicted but God-ordained. They had freely chosen to break the covenant they had made with Him through repeated violations of His commands. Idolatry, immorality, and injustice had become the new norm throughout the nation of Judah. The spiritual state of the people just prior to their fall to the Babylonians harkens back to the period of the judges. This was the time before the first king ruled over Israel, when the people were still trying to conquer and occupy the land of Canaan. Seven times in the book of Judges, Samuel uses the phrase: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV). The people had essentially rejected God as their sovereign and had chosen instead to live their lives according to their own standards and rules.

And nothing had changed when the kings began to rule. As we saw in yesterday’s post, there had been times when the people were led by godly kings and lived in relative obedience to their covenant commitments. But for the most part, their track record was marred by repeated unfaithfulness and rampant idolatry.

Now, they were suffering the consequences of their actions. God had finally done what He had warned He would do: He had brought His judgment to bear against an ungrateful and unrepentant people who had taken their status as His chosen people for granted. And God’s judgment was fully righteous and their fate was well-deserved.

In verse 18 personifies the city of Jerusalem acknowledging God’s just and righteous actions against her.

“The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word…” – Lamentations 1:18 ESV

This statement regarding God’s unwavering righteousness even while meting out His judgment upon His disobedient people is found throughout the Scriptures. The psalmist was saddened by the nation’s rejection of God’s laws because they reflected His righteous and holy standards.

My eyes shed streams of tears,
    because people do not keep your law.

Righteous are you, O Lord,
    and right are your rules.
You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness
    and in all faithfulness. – Psalm 119:136-138 ESV

Ezra and Nehemiah, two men who would eventually lead a remnant of the people our of Babylon and back to the land of Judah. After 70 years of captivity, a small contingent of God’s people would be restored to the land He had promised as their inheritance. And while they would return to find the city of Jerusalem empty and in a state of desolation, they would recognize and confess that God had been fully just in all He had done.

“O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” – Ezra 9:15 ESV

Every time you punished us you were being just. We have sinned greatly, and you gave us only what we deserved. – Nehemiah 9:33 NLT

And Nehemiah, speaking on behalf of the returned remnant, would acknowledge that the ingratitude and disobedience of their forefathers had been the cause of their plight.

Our kings, leaders, priests, and ancestors did not obey your Law or listen to the warnings in your commands and laws. Even while they had their own kingdom, they did not serve you, though you showered your goodness on them. You gave them a large, fertile land, but they refused to turn from their wickedness. – Nehemiah 9:34-35 NLT

And it’s important to remember that the words found in Lamentations are from the pen of Jeremiah and not from the lips of the people of Judah. He uses the city of Jerusalem to act as a kind of proxy for the people, allowing it to voice what they should have said but had failed to do so.

Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
    which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
    on the day of his fierce anger. – Lamentations 1:12 ESV

There is a clear acknowledgment that their suffering was God-inflicted. But Jeremiah seems to stress that the people are more focused on their sorrow and suffering. Notice how many times Jeremiah uses the personal pronoun “he” to refer to God.

“From on high he sent fire;
    into my bones he made it descend;
he spread a net for my feet;
    he turned me back;
he has left me stunned,
    faint all the day long.” – Lamentations 1:13 ESV

Fives time in one verse Jeremiah makes mention of God’s divine actions against Jerusalem. But in the following four verses, he will utilize the personal pronouns “me, my, and I” 12 separate times. The emphasis seems to be on the peoples’ plight. It is written from their perspective. Yes, God was just and right in all that He had done, but they were unhappy with the outcome.

he caused my strength to fail – vs. 14

“the Lord gave me into the hands
    of those whom I cannot withstand” – vs. 14

“The Lord rejected
    all my mighty men in my midst” – vs. 15

“he summoned an assembly against me
    to crush my young men” – vs. 15

It was all about them. They couldn’t dismiss the idea that God had brought His judgment against them, but that didn’t mean they had to accept it or like it. And Jeremiah, who was living among the people who had been left behind after the fall of the capital, knew them well. He had heard their cries and laments. He had witnessed the devastation and listened to the pitiable pleas of the people as they navigated the dark days after the Babylonians had left. They had no king, no army, no capital, no temple, and no idea what the future held in store.

But they did have the recognition that their God and His judgments were real. It should have been a time when they came to grips with the seriousness of God’s call to covenant commitment. He had not been bluffing when He warned that disobedience would result in curses. They had just watched it happen with their own eyes.

But Jeremiah portrays them as fixating on all they had lost, rather than focusing their attention on the lessons God was trying to teach them. It reminds me of the opening lines of Charles Dicken’s classic work, A Tale of Two Cities.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period…” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

It is often in our moments of greatest despair that we experience the objectivity and clarity we need to view our circumstances accurately. Times of difficulty tend to get our attention and, if we allow them, they can be used to refocus our priorities.

But Jeremiah portrays the people of Judah as blaming God for their lot in life. They know He is the cause of their current circumstances, but what is missing is any confession on their part. There is no acknowledgment of guilt or expression of repentance. It is all about their pain and their suffering, their loss and their feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.

Jerusalem reaches out for help,
    but no one comforts her. – Lamentations 1:17 NLT

But despite the difficult conditions under which they suffered, their God had not abandoned them. Yes, He was punishing them and justifiably so. But He was a faithful, covenant-keeping God who would not fail to fulfill every promise He had made. All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, written before the people entered the land of promise under the direction of Joshua, God had warned them that their disobedience would have dire consequences.

“…the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. And there you will serve man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.” – Deuteronomy 4:27-28 BSB

But God had also promised to restore them.

“But if from there you will seek the LORD your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers, which He swore to them by oath.”  – Deuteronomy 4:29-31 BSB

The people of Judah fully deserved what they had suffered. What they didn’t deserve was the gracious and merciful love of God. They could claim to have no comforter, but they would be wrong. God was still with them and for them. He still cared deeply about them. And God intended to keep every promise He had ever made to them.

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

Faith in Action

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people. – Philemon 1:4-7 ESV

It’s not hard to recognize Paul’s intense and sincere love for Philemon. These are not the pious-sounding platitudes of a pastor, but they are legitimate expressions of love from a close friend. And Paul tells his friend that news of his faith and love causes him to offer up prayers of thanksgiving to God. Paul is grateful for the tangible expressions of life change that have become evident in Philemon’s life. His faith in Jesus Christ’s love for him has resulted in visible displays of selfless love for the people of God.

The apostle John used this same combination of faith in Jesus and love for others in his first letter.

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. – 1 John 3:23 NLT

And John went on to call for a consistent and persistent kind of love that would reflect the believer’s new relationship with their gracious and loving Father, who is the source of all love.

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

John emphasized that the believer’s capacity to love others was evidence of their newfound relationship with God and was made possible because God had loved them enough to send His Son to die in their place as the payment for their sins.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

Paul complimented Philemon for his love of others. But you can sense that Paul is setting Philemon up. He is lovingly preparing his friend to hear some news that will likely prove difficult to receive. It will involve Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus.

Paul begins by explaining to Philemon the content of his ongoing prayers for him: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 1:6 NLT). Paul has already complimented Philemon for his love for others. But he wanted Philemon to know and experience the full impact of the Gospel in his life. Paul deeply desired that his friend’s faith would grow in depth and intensity so that he might know and experience all the fulness of joy promised to him in Christ. Jesus had told His disciples:

“Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 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.” – John 15:9-13 ESV

Paul wanted more for Philemon. He was not content to allow his friend to rest on his laurels or to become complacent in his faith. While there was obvious evidence of fruit in Philemon’s life, there would always be room for further growth. And Paul wanted Philemon to understand that God’s transformative work in his life would never be complete in this life. It would be ongoing and never-ending. And Paul made it a habit to pray for the continual spiritual enlightenment of all those he loved and to whom he ministered.

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.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 1:18-20 NLT

Paul wanted Philemon to know that his love for others was contagious, having spread far beyond the confines of their local faith community. News of Philemon’s love had reached the ears of Paul, as he sat under house arrest in Rome. And Paul told him, “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love” (Philemon 1:7 ESV). But why? What was it about Philemon’s actions that caused Paul to rejoice and be encouraged? Paul provides the answer:  “because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7 ESV).

As an apostle, teacher, and fellow Christ-follower, Paul found great joy in watching believers live out their faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. When he was able to witness the body of Christ functioning as intended, he couldn’t help but be encouraged. Unity and true community within Christ’s church was important to Paul. That’s why he told the church in Philippi:

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:2-4 ESV

Philemon had no idea what was coming. As he, Apphia, and Archippus read this letter together, he must have been deeply encouraged. But the other shoe was about to drop. Paul was preparing to test Philemon’s faith in a profound way. His concept of what it means to love others was going to be stretched. His ideas regarding justice and mercy were going to be challenged as never before. His secular and sacred worlds were about to collide, causing him to reconsider his faith in a whole new light.

Philemon had a blind spot. But he was not alone, and this is probably the reason Paul had included Apphia and Archippus as recipients of his letter. The topic Paul was about to bring up was going to be controversial for each and every member of the local congregation who met in Philemon’s home. They would have known about Philemon’s runaway slave. And most, if not all of them, would have been familiar with and agreeable to Philemon’s legal rights as a master. But Paul was about to rock their collective world.

While the early church seemed to have no problem with slaves coming to faith in Christ and even attending their local fellowships, a social stigma remained. There was a lingering sense of separation and segregation. And Paul addressed this issue repeatedly in his letters to the churches. He was out to tear down the societal standards of his day that were creating division within the body of Christ. In their place, he called for a sense of oneness in Christ.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT

While the world outside the doors of the church was practicing segregation, enslavement, and every conceivable form of social prejudice, Paul was calling the body of Christ to practice “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 3:3 ESV). There was no place for division and disunity in God’s family. Everyone stands as equals at the foot of the cross. And as Paul reminded the believers in Rome: “For God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11 NLT).

No, in God’s Kingdom, all share the unique and undeserved privilege of adoption as His sons and daughters, regardless of race, creed, color, or social standing.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 3:4-6 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

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

Our Relentlessly Loving God

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 ESV

9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 1 John 4:9 NLT

3 “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.
    With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
– Jeremiah 31:3 NLT

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song – Frederick M. Lehman, The Love of God, 1917

God doesn’t just express love, He is love. It is His very nature. Love is not some feeling or outward expression that he conjures up in response to something or someone that is lovely or loveable. No, what sets God apart from humanity is His lovingness (if that is even a word).

God is the very definition of love. And all His other attributes are infused and closely intertwined with His love. His power is always displayed in love. And His love never lacks the strength or energy to express itself. God’s holiness is directly linked to His love. Without love, His holiness or set-apartness could make God unapproachable and unknowable. But because God is love, He has made Himself available to and knowable by mankind.

For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse… – Romans 1:20 NLT

Luke supports Paul’s conclusion when he writes that God “did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17 ESV). And he goes on to describe how God, the all-powerful creator of the universe, has lovingly and graciously made Himself known to mankind.

From one man He made every nation of men, to inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands.

God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. – Acts 17:26-27 BSB

God desires that men might know Him. Why? Because it is through a knowledge of God that men recognize His love for them. It is the love of this all-powerful, holy, and transcendent God that caused Him to send His Son as the payment for mankind’s sin.

“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

Jesus, the Son of God, was the greatest expression of His Father’s love, having taken on human flesh and come to earth that He might be Immanuel – God with us.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

Jesus even made the bold claim, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9 NLT). God’s love was manifested or made visible through the birth, death, and resurrection of His Son.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. – Ephesians 1:4 NLT

Love is invisible to the human eye, but that doesn’t mean it is unperceivable. And while God Himself cannot be seen, His love can be experienced and appreciated. It can be felt, enjoyed, relished, and returned. When we understand just how much God loves us, it creates in us a desire to love Him in return.

This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. – 1 John 4:10 NLT

And it is when we understand that the God of the universe loves us that we are able to express love to the rest of humanity, whom He has made.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 ESV

But our love will always pale in comparison to that of God. His love is infinite and holy, while ours is limited and marred by selfishness and self-centeredness. We tend to love, expecting love in return. Ours is a conditional kind of love, while His is unconditional, demanding nothing from us in return.

No tongue can fully express the infinitude of God’s love, or any mind comprehend it: it “passeth knowledge” (Eph 3:19). The most extensive ideas that a finite mind can frame about divine love, are infinitely below its true nature. The heaven is not so far above the earth as the goodness of God is beyond the most raised conceptions which we are able to form of it. It is an ocean which swells higher than all the mountains of opposition in such as are the objects of it. It is a fountain from which flows all necessary good to all those who are interested in it. – John Brine, 1743

What makes God’s love so remarkable is that He showered it on us in spite of us. He didn’t demand that we get our spiritual act together. He didn’t require that we stop sinning and start living righteous lives before He would love us. No, according to the apostle Paul, God loved us while we were mired in the midst of our sinfulness and rebellion against Him.

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

We have a difficult time relating to that kind of love because we tend to love the lovely and loveable. We put conditions on our love. And we demand that those we love show us love in return. But, fortunately for mankind, that is not how God operates. God’s love is a purely holy love. “God’s love is not regulated by caprice, passion, or sentiment, but by principle. Just as His grace reigns not at the expense of it, but “through righteousness” (Rom 5:21), so His love never conflicts with His holiness” (A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God).

God’s love is always sacrificial and constantly beneficial. And while it may sometimes take the form of tough love, it always results in our good. As the proverbs states, “the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 NLT). His love is never smothering or manipulative. It is not a controlling kind of love. At no time does God preface His love with the thought, “What am I going to get out of this?”

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists the qualities associated with godly love. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT).

That is the love of God spelled out in terms we can understand and even emulate. But unlike God, we are incapable of expressing this kind of love perfectly and selflessly this side of heaven.  Yet, as we grow to understand the incredible nature of His divine love for us, we can better appreciate how undeserving we are and turn that unmerited affection into tangible expressions of love for others.

God loves you. How much? He sent His Son to die for you. And there are not enough words in the human vocabulary or days on the calendar to fully describe just how great His love truly is. Frederick M. Lehman put it so eloquently in his great old hymn, The Love of God.

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

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 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

If You Love Me…

15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” – John 14:15-21 ESV

Jesus has been discussing some significant issues with His disciples. As the day for His crucifixion drew closer, He had begun intensifying His efforts to prepare these men for His departure. He wanted them to know what was coming. Jesus knew that His words would make no sense to His disciples, because they were still living with their own concept of who He was and why He had come. To them, He was still the long-awaited Messiah who had come to set up His kingdom on earth. Any hope they had of Israel being restored to prominence and the Romans being removed from power was tied to their concept of Jesus as Messiah.

But everything Jesus was saying and doing in these last days was creating confusion and concern among them. At supper, Jesus had surprised them by assuming the role of a household servant and washing their feet. And He followed this shocking display of humility with the words: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15 ESV).

His call to follow His example was accompanied by the reminder that “a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16 ESV). If He, as their rabbi, teacher, and Messiah, had been willing to humble Himself and serve them, what right did they have to see themselves as somehow exempt from such lowly service? Jesus was sharing important truths with His disciples that He fully expected them to hear and obey.

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13:17 ESV

Immediately after this exchange, Jesus had revealed that one of them would betray Him. And Judas, having been exposed by the Lord, had left the upper room to follow through with his prearranged plans to turn over Jesus to the religious leaders.

Jesus, knowing that His Father’s divine plan was in full motion and the time for His death was drawing near, told His remaining disciples, “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).

Jesus seems to have picked an odd time to discuss this particular topic. He had just told them that His remaining time with them would be short. He would soon be leaving them, and they would be unable to accompany Him to His destination. This shocked and saddened them, and prompted Peter to ask where it was that Jesus was going. And Jesus informed him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (John 13:36 ESV). Peter, always quick to speak his mind, declared that not only was he willing to follow Jesus, but he was also ready to lay down his life for Him. But Jesus prophesied that Peter, rather than dying for Him, would actually deny Him, three times.

Do you see a pattern here? Jesus was talking about the future, while the disciples were stuck in the present. They couldn’t see past the moment in which they lived, and yet Jesus was thinking about the glory to come. That’s why He had told them, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once” (John 13:31-32 ESV).

Jesus had been sent by His Father to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind and to make it possible for the justly condemned to be released from their condemnation and restored to a right relationship with Himself. But not only that, Jesus’ act of sacrificial obedience was going make it possible for unrighteous men and women to live truly righteous lives. No pretense. No pretending. No hypocritical displays of self-righteousness. What Jesus was about to do was going to be a game-changer. Better yet, it was going to be a life-changer for His disciples.

It is essential that we understand the timing of Jesus’ words. Everything recorded in this portion of John’s gospel is prior to the cross and long before the resurrection. Jesus was speaking of things to come. And while the news He was sharing sounded grim to His disciples, He encouraged them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 ESV). Jesus knew that they were struggling with disbelief and doubt. None of what He was saying made any sense to them. But He called them to believe. He assured them that He was going to prepare a place for them and that one day He would return for them. But Thomas, speaking on behalf of the other disciples, expressed his confusion over where it was that Jesus was going. They didn’t know the way. So, Jesus told him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). 

Notice what Jesus is doing here. Thomas was asking about directions to a destination. and Jesus pointed Him to God. Thomas was focused on a point on a map, but Jesus was pointing Him to a relationship. Thomas couldn’t stop thinking about where, but Jesus was attempting to shift their focus to who. And Jesus reveals a powerful truth concerning these men who had followed Him for more than three years.

“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:7 ESV

They had seen Jesus perform miracles. They had heard Him speak, marveling at His wisdom and wrestling over the meaning of His parables. But Jesus reveals that they had not yet understood His relationship with the Father. While at one point Peter had confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), he had not fully understood the weight of his own words. He had seen Jesus as a messenger from God, even as the long-awaited Christ or Messiah, but he had not understood Jesus to be the one who would reconcile sinful men to God. Peter and the disciples had not yet grasped the true nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But in time, they would.

Jesus was going out of His way to help the disciples understand His relationship with the Father. He asked them, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:10 ESV). Jesus was trying to convey to them the unity He enjoyed with God. His coming had not been about establishing an earthly kingdom, but about re-establishing man’s broken relationship with God. And He wanted them to understand that He was the key to that reconciliation taking place.

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” – John 14:11 ESV

It was His union with the Father that was going to make possible mankind’s reunion with their Creator. The disciples were still under the impression that their relationship with God was perfectly fine. But Jesus was revealing that His whole earthly ministry had been about the reconciliation of sinful men with a holy God.

And that brings us to chapter 14. Look carefully and closely at Jesus words. Consider all that He has communicated to His disciples up to this point. And then think about the import of His statement: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

What a punch to the gut that must have been to His disciples. It had to have sounded like He was questioning their love for Him. And it must have come across to them as if He was tying their love for Him to their obedience to Him. In other words, their behavior, as evidenced by their obedience, would the proof of their love. And sadly, that is how most of still interpret Jesus’ words. We hear Jesus saying that our obedience to His commands will prove that we love Him. And our disobedience will demonstrate that we don’t. But is that what Jesus is saying?

Jesus was letting His disciples know that the kind of obedience He was looking for was beyond their capability to pull off. They didn’t have it within them. But they soon would. Because He was going to provide them with the capacity to love and obey. Don’t miss how Jesus follows up His question, “If you love me…”

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

Their ability to love God had been marred by sin. Their capacity to obey God had been damaged by the fall. And Jesus had come to remedy that problem. His death was going to be the ultimate display of God’s love for sinful mankind and His selfless sacrifice would be the key for men being able to love in return. Take a look at the words of John, written long after Jesus’ death and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. – 1 John 2:3-6 NLT

Don’t miss what John says: “In him (the one who keeps God’s commandments) truly the love of God is perfected.” It is God’s love for us that allows us to obey. It is God’s love, as displayed in His Son’s sacrificial death, that made it possible for sinful men and women to be transformed into loving, caring children of God, who not only have the capacity to love Him, but one another. And to live in willful obedience to His commands.

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

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

 

Everyone Is Godless.

The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,
    and it will fall on Israel;
and all the people will know,
    Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
    who say in pride and in arrogance of heart:
10 “The bricks have fallen,
    but we will build with dressed stones;
the sycamores have been cut down,
    but we will put cedars in their place.”
11 But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him,
    and stirs up his enemies.
12 The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west
    devour Israel with open mouth.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

13 The people did not turn to him who struck them,
    nor inquire of the Lord of hosts.
14 So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail,
    palm branch and reed in one day—
15 the elder and honored man is the head,
    and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail;
16 for those who guide this people have been leading them astray,
    and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.
17 Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men,
    and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows;
for everyone is godless and an evildoer,
    and every mouth speaks folly.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.Isaiah 9:8-17 ESV

Isaiah has just prophesied about the light that would dawn, illuminating the lands of Naphtali and Zebulun in the northern region of Galilee, and eliminating the spiritual darkness in which they would exist. But that great day was in the far-distant future. In the meantime, the darkness would continue to increase because the people of God were refusing to honor Him. It was going to get far worse before it got better.

Isaiah makes it clear that God’s anger is against all the tribes by referring to them as Jacob, the man who 12 sons comprised the 12 tribes of Israel. But this particular warning was going to be against the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel. It is important to remember that the nation of Israel had been split in two by God after the reign of Solomon. His unfaithfulness to God, exhibited in his erection of idols to false gods, had led God to divide his kingdom in half. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin comprised the southern kingdom of Judah, and the remaining tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel. And not long after the split, Jeroboam, the king of Israel had chosen to make his own false gods in the form of golden calves and erect them in the cities of Dan and Bethel.

Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. – 1 Kings 12:30 ESV

The apostasy of Israel increased over time, and led to God’s eventual determination to punish them. And Isaiah warns them that they must repent or face the wrath of God.

But their greatest problem was their pride and arrogance, which had led them to create their own gods. They didn’t need Yahweh. Instead of relying on Him for help, they had made alliances with pagan nations like Syria. They were operating in their own power and according to their own wisdom. And they displayed an over-confidence in their ability to survive even the judgment of God.

“We will replace the broken bricks of our ruins with finished stone,
    and replant the felled sycamore-fig trees with cedars.”
 – Isaiah 9:10 NLT

Their prideful confidence in their own abilities would bring ever-increasing judgment from God. They would find themselves surrounded by enemies, sent by God, to punish them for their rejection of Him as their God.

The Syrians from the east and the Philistines from the west
    will bare their fangs and devour Israel.
But even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 9:12 NLT

And here is the saddest part of the story. In spite of God’s fully justified punishment of them, they will refuse to repent. They will stubbornly stick to their rebellious ways, continuing to reject God, the very one who had called them and formed them into a nation to begin with.

For after all this punishment, the people will still not repent.
    They will not seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 9:13 NLT

This incredible display of stubborn obstinance should not surprise us. It is displayed throughout the Scriptures, as mankind continually bows its back and digs its feet in the ground, arrogantly stiff-arming any offer from God of a relationship with Him. What makes this case so remarkable is that it involves the people of God, the descendants of Abraham – the very ones God had promised to bless if they would only remain faithful to Him.

But they had refused and, as a result, God was going to take His judgment to a whole new level, removing those in whom they relied for leadership.

Therefore, in a single day the Lord will destroy both the head and the tail,
    the noble palm branch and the lowly reed.
The leaders of Israel are the head,
    and the lying prophets are the tail. – Isaiah 9:14-15 NLT

Isaiah points out two distinct groups: The leaders of Israel and the prophets of Israel. The political leaders were misguiding the people by encouraging an attitude of self-reliance. Rather than calling the people to turn to God, they were modeling a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mindset that was based on a false sense of self-confidence.

And the prophets of Israel, rather than speaking the truth of God, were telling the people what they wanted to hear. Unlike Isaiah, who was willing to deliver tough news, these men were contradicting the warnings of God, telling the people that all was well and everything would turn out okay. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of the rise of this very kind of mindset in their own day.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

Trusting in man rather than God is always a dangerous game to play and the Scriptures make that point very clear.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. – Psalm 146:3 NLT

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. – Psalm 118:8-9 NLT

And the leaders of Israel were going to be hold accountable by God for their actions.

For the leaders of the people have misled them.
    They have led them down the path of destruction.
– Isaiah 9:16 NLT

The problem with lousy leadership is that it negatively impacts the lives of all those under its care. The misguided leader ends up dragging the innocent and the defenseless down the perilous path he has chosen to walk. The misguided leaders of Israel had actually led the people under their care to sin against God. To the point to where Isaiah was able to say: “For they are all wicked hypocrites, and they all speak foolishness” (Isaiah 9:17 NLT). Like a single cancer cell, one godless leader can infect the people of God, spreading the devastating disease of rebellion through the whole body and bringing the judgment of God to bear. And like a physician facing an aggressive form of cancer in a patient, God will do whatever He has to do to eradicate the disease from among His people.

…even then the Lord’s anger will not be satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike. – Isaiah 9:17 NLT

This image of an angry, wrathful God is uncomfortable to most of us. It seems to contradict our understanding of His ever-present, irrepressible love. But the reality is that God’s wrath is an expression of His love. He cannot and will not allow the deadly disease of rebellion to exist in His people. He will talk the scalpel of His divine wrath, motivated by His love, and do radical and invasive surgery to remove it.

For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverb 3:12 NLT

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

I know, O LORD, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it.
 – Psalm 119:75 NLT

Though he slay me, I will hope in him… – Job 13:15 ESV

Remember what Isaiah said just prior to this statement regarding God’s coming judgment. A light was going to shine in the darkness. A day was coming when God would illuminate the people of Israel again and eliminate the darkness in which they lived. They had chosen to live in the dark. They had rejected the love of God. And while He would be forced to judge them for their rebellion, He would one day bring to them the light of the world in the form of His Son.

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

Love Like 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? – Matthew 5:43-47 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 prohibited 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 were unworthy of our love. But as He has done so many time 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 of the word, “neighbor.” But instead of answering the man’s question, Jesus told 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 saw him lying on the roadside. A Jewish priest came by, but crossed to the other side of the road. Next, a temple assistant, another Jew, 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 that 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 into 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 in return 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