Friday, February 14, 2014

The Greatest Thing in the World

What is the greatest thing in the world {other than God Himself}? Some may say it is wealth, or beauty, or power. Christians might list off things such as joy, hope, faith, trust, etc. But what is truly the greatest thing in the world?

According to 1 Corinthians 13:13, it is LOVE which comes out on top: “Now abide faith, hope, love, theses three; but the greatest of these is love.” Love is greater, Paul says, than even the cornerstone of faith and the capstone of hope.

Today is Valentine’s Day – a day used to celebrate love throughout at least the western world. But is that feelings-oriented, romantic love the type of love which Paul was referring to? I think NOT. The preceding verses before his proclamation quoted above explain his definition of love. Go read it for yourself—it’s a short chapter!—and see if you think it matches up with what the world tries to sell as “love.”

Welcome back! If you read those verses very carefully, I think you would be quick to agree with me that living out everything Paul says love is seems like an impossible task. To mention just two, he says that love “is not self-seeking” and “always perseveres” (vs. 5b, 7d). I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty common for me to realize that I am focused on my own wishes, or that I’m wanting to give up on doing things that are difficult. But true love, by Paul’s definition, does not give in to either. So he seems, in this chapter, to set an unattainably high standard, yet states (in vs. 1-3) that without love we miss out big time.

Additionally, loving one another is a command. In the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus gave His disciples a new marching order: “that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus says in the next verse that this love will be a signifier of His followers to the rest of the world! On His last night with His disciples, Jesus took the time to urge—no, to command!—them to love one another.

The apostle John came back to this idea of love again in his first epistle. In 1 John 4:7-19, he reiterates the importance of loving one another. Just a few comments from this passage:
  • God IS love (vs. 8, 16). His character is the definition of love, and love is an integral part of who He is.
  • God loves us first (vs. 9-10). Even when we were running far away from God, He loved and wooed us.
  • Our love is to picture the invisible God (vs. 12-16). When unbelievers see Christians loving one another, especially in unconditional and sacrificial ways, it is a testimony of God’s character.
  • No fear in love (vs. 18). We believers can have confidence that when we face the potential of judgment we are covered by the blood of Christ because of His love for us.
  • We love because He first loved us! (vs. 19).

The kind of love which Paul and John have described for us is a pretty tall order – it’s pretty intimidating. What’s more, Jesus told us to love as He has loved us (see Philippians 2:1-11 for a more in-depth picture of that!). Again, we are confronted with the impossibility of this task. BUT this is what God calls us to, and as He has loved us so His love is to overflow from us to others.

It can be easy to think of reasons for why we should not love this completely. What if I show people this love and they reject me? Or I’m too busy doing ____good thing to make that kind of sacrifice. Remember, though: Paul said the love he described in 1 Cor. 13 is greater and more important than anything else! What’s more, God has called us to do this. Therefore, we should follow His lead and leave the results up to Him.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).

**Last night the folks here at the Institute had our second weekly worship meeting. My roommate and I were asked to lead it this week by picking songs and sharing a little bit of a devotional. Since this is what has been frequently on my mind and heart the past couple of years, this is what I shared. It was only after I started considering talking about it that I thought of the Valentine’s Day tie-in. Which is why it is also getting posted on here!

I must mention here a book to which I am partly indebted for the inspiration of this post. I “just happened” to find a copy at a used book store in N. Ireland this summer, and as I read it while in North Carolina I couldn’t help but be impacted by it. It’s called Love: The Greatest Thing in the World, and it is not-too-long—but deep—investigation of 1 Cor. 13 and its application. I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since and never have…so this is at least a hint of what it has brought to mind.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Whence Cometh Strength?

"The JOY of the LORD is your STRENGTH" - just saw that verse in a friend's FB photo, and it very well. Because it's true.

It's so easy to focus on the things that can drag us down. I've had a scratchy throat all afternoon. I hurt my ankle some again. But if that's where I choose to fix my eyes, I'll miss out big time.

The Joy of the Lord. What is the joy of the Lord? It's an easy answer in some ways. God created a world which, though it is now marred by sin, is still amazingly beautiful. The joy of the Lord can be seen in the butterfly feasting on the flowers outside of our dining hall. His joy shines in the happy voices of children and the glowing smile of the youngest Institute kid.

Of course, it's more than that too. The joy of the Lord is evident in every one of our lives when we remember to see it. He takes joy in Himself, and He takes joy in the work He does in our lives. He is overjoyed every time we look to Him. And He is always there for us, no matter how many times we've tried to live life on our own.

That verse, often quoted without reference to its context, comes from Nehemiah 8. The people of God had just been led into a time of repentance by God's servants Ezra and Nehemiah, and they were burdened by their sin. They had just heard God's law read to them, and they saw how far short they had fallen.

"Then he said to them, 'Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'"

God had restored His people from exile into Jerusalem. They had just rebuilt the walls, and they had hearts and ears ready to hear anew God's commands and expectations. He worked in their lives, and He gave them His joy as their strength to move forward in repentance and revival. Notice that this joy came when they humbled themselves, placing their lives under the authority of their holy King.

Isn't our God marvelously gracious? :) All praise & glory to Him.