Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Love Your Enemies

“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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Good day to you all, Brethren. For quite some time, I have wanted to write upon one of the most important subjects of all time. This subject lies at the foundation of Christianity, being not only the  summation of the way in which the Children of God must walk, not only the breath and life of believers, but it is also the foundational element of God and the great gravity which binds together the Holy Trinity. Love is the basis of all that God does, has done, and will do. Therefore, we can rightly say that love is not merely a description of God, but rather that God is love (1 John 4:7-8). 

This reality is arguably the most important reality for us to grasp, and a full discussion of love would last for an eternity, since our God is eternal and unfathomable. However, in this post, I wish to discuss a specific aspect of love, one which is beyond us: love of our enemies.

Out of all types of love, this is probably the most difficult of all. Honestly, it is difficult to love someone who is always attempting to put you down or undermine your faith, or even kill you for believing Christ and obeying Him. It is difficult (to say the least) to do good to those who do evil to you (Romans 12:17-21, cf. 1 Peter 3:8-12). Nevertheless, it is commanded.

So, if we are to understand how we are to treat our enemies, the first question we must ask is: what is love?

Well, I can tell you that love is not a wonderful fluttering in one's heart over, or an infatuation with, someone, although those can be outward signs of love under certain circumstances. How do I know this? God, who is in a very real sense the essence of love itself, does not love in this manner.

"God is a righteous judge,
And a God who has indignation every day.

If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword;
He has bent His bow and made it ready.
He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons;
He makes His arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, he travails with wickedness,
And he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood.
He has dug a pit and hollowed it out,
And has fallen into the hole which he made.
His mischief will return upon his own head,
And his violence will descend upon his own pate." (Psalm 7:11-16)

Therefore, God’s love for man does not necessitate giddy infatuation over them. Now, one may look at this passage and say that it shows a god of hate, not love. However, we in the modern church have been emphasizing the word love for so long that it has actually lost its original meaning and power. God is not giddy over sinners (or even us who are saved), nor is He romantically in love with anyone (the Song of Solomon was not a picture of the love Christ has for His Church, quite frankly that idea is absolutely revolting and blasphemous on so many levels). Nevertheless, God does love all men, even those whom He has righteously decreed to be created as hell-bound vessels of wrath. 

How is it that the Lord still loves those whom He is sharpening His sword against to slay? How is it possible to be absolutely furious with those who refuse to repent (Psalm 2:4-6), so furious that you command your Son to dash them to pieces with an iron rod (Psalm 2:9) and ultimately cast them into untold, eternal torment and yet love them? Honestly, I do not know. I firmly believe that this is a reality too deep for mortal man to understand, but it is true nonetheless.     

However, I will admit that this still does not seem like love to our modern minds. Honestly, few will look at these truths and see love behind them. Nevertheless, love is there. First of all, the Father does this out of love for the Son (since it was love that motivated Him to give all things into the hand of Christ) (John 5:20-23) and the Son then obeys the Father out of love (John 14:31), destroying the unrighteous and then giving the Kingdom back to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Thus, all this is done in an ultimate sense as a result of the love within the Trinity.

Secondly, God also does this in spite of the love He has for the perishing ones.

“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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

This passage is found in the well-known Sermon on the Mount. Here we find a powerful declaration of God’s love even for those who hate Him. Firstly, Christ repeats a statement popular among the unsaved-yet-super-spiritual persons of all time: namely, love those that love you and hate everyone else. However, Christ declared that this idea is completely false. In fact, one must love not only his brothers, but also those who are enemies of yourself and God. Why? Because God does the same thing. In spite of the hatred of unbelievers, God showers innumerable blessings upon them. He grants them rain, sun, snow, food and happiness (Acts 14:17), and all other blessings (such as the sending of Grace and Truth incarnate, Christ Jesus, to proclaim the truth).

Yet, is this love, or is this mere concern for them? Well, we must look at this passage in further detail to determine this.

First, Christ states that we must be perfect just as our Father is perfect. Moreover, we are to be sons of our Father, and sons are called to become images of the Son (Romans 8:29), and Christ merely does what His Father does (John 5:19). Therefore, whatever we are commanded in this passage to do is what our Trinitarian God does.  

So, what are we commanded to do? Agape our enemies. In this text, Christ uses the word agape (ἀγαπᾶτε specifically) to denote what kind of love we must have for our enemies (those who hate us and thus hate God). This is not merely being nice to the other person, rather it is true love.

Yet, what is this love? Well, I would argue that the best summation of agape love is found in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

This love, agape love, is the love which we must have for all men, not merely fellow believers. This is not to say that we love those outside of the Church in the same exact way as we love those inside the body, for we are commanded to give especial love to the Church (Galatians 6:10). Nevertheless, we must be patient, kind, selfless, humble, gentle, enduring, hopeful, unfailing, never keeping a record of how they have wronged us. 

This has huge implications for us. For example, this is one of the reasons why we Christian workers are called to do good to our unsaved masters (Eph. 6:5, 1 Peter 2:18, Titus 2:9-10). In all of this, we are to work hard, as for the Lord (Colossians 3:22-24). Why would we do so? Well, we love both God and man, and we long for all men to escape the wrath to come. Like our Lord, we do not take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, but rather long for them to turn from their evil ways and live (Ezekiel 18:23). We realize that living a holy life will make an impression upon those who are outside of the faith, and thus our hard work may lead to the repentance of our unsaved bosses. This is love, and this is what motivates us in all our dealings with the unsaved, even those who hate us.

Again, we are called to love those outside of the Church. This is key, since if we love only those inside the Church, what reward do we have? It is easy to love those in the Church, because they will love you back. However, it is so much harder to truly love those outside of the Church because they will often hate us in return. Nevertheless, it is still commanded of us, and is a demonstration that our love for God and man is far greater than the “love” which the unsaved have for one another.

Now, does love always bring peace? No, for Christ came to bring a sword, not peace (Matthew 10:34-36), and our love will inevitably stir up hatred, even possibly amongst those closest to us. This is not because we are unloving, rather our patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control, etc., is of the Spirit, and God is light. As I have said before, men love darkness and hate light (John 3:19-21), and therefore will hate our love. Moreover, they will really hate the message which we lovingly preach (Eph. 4:15), which is Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), and this reveals their sins, which is something they fear (John 3:20). Therefore, it is the very love we have for them and the message it compels us to preach that will both draw some and repel others. As wise men have said, love hurts.

Because of what we originally declared about this passage (from Matthew 5) being based upon a command to be like our Heavenly Father, loving whom He loves and in the same way, we must also conclude that God has this same required love for those who hate Him and will hate Him eternally. God must love all men with agape love, otherwise He would be no better than the unsaved. It is this love for all, coupled with His justice, fury, holiness, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, gentleness, goodness, and all of His other attributes that sets Him above all men. Moreover, the degree to which we imitate this love is the degree to which we are set apart (sanctified) from those who hate the Lord.

God’s love for all men is the type of love described in 1 Cor. 13. Look throughout the Bible (especially in the life of Christ), and we see God’s patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, lack of swift provocation, forgiveness and passing over the times of ignorance, not retaliating against those who spat on Him, hatred and sadness over evil but joy over truth, bearing all things, full of hope, and enduring even the worst of trials unscathed. Overall, His love never failed, and never will fail. What love is this!

One could go for an eternity about this subject, but I must close sometime. So, let me close with this. We must love all men, even those that would kill us. We must never cease to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10), not only through teaching them the truth, but also through doing general good things for them (Romans 12:19-21). We must be like the Good Samaritan, showing mercy to and loving your neighbors, even those who are of a nation which collectively hates you, in our case, those who are citizens of the kingdom of Satan (Luke 10:25-37). Ultimately, it is not enough to love those within the Church. We must also love those who hate us, for that is a love beyond humanity: the agape of God.

Grace and peace to you all.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Danger of Tolerance and the Priority of Love

Love and unity - despite differences. That is the cry and the teaching of many. In almost every religion you peer into, you will be able to find it. Almost completely regardless of anything “disagreed” on (especially doctrinal issues, being unimportant), they want “peace”. They want to “get along”. They want “love”. So, don’t look down on the gay community. Love them. Translated - don’t say or think anything that might convict them and threaten their confidence on account of their choices. Don’t make a fuss about silly doctrinal issues, like the gospel, Israel, eschatology, and charismatic teaching. The Bible tells us to love one another - so back off. Don’t question teaching, don’t expose sin - that is mean, hateful, unloving, and unacceptable. You hear it from the Pope, and popular evangelical Christian leaders alike.
So, let’s ask the Bible and see what it says about this. In fact, let’s go to John, the “Apostle of love” in the book of 1 John and see what he has to tell us.

Repeatedly in the book of 1 John, a distinction is made between “the children of the Devil” and “the children of God”. They are principally divided by 1) whether or not they practice righteousness and 2) whether or not they love their brother. 1 John 3:4-10 says these two groups are easily distinguished. They are “obvious”. In fact, they identify themselves for us, and do so by what they practice. The children of the Devil practice unrighteousness. They can’t help it, they have to act according to their nature. The children of God, however, act righteously according to their nature as inherited from their Father. Already, we see, John is being divisive. In fact, he deliberately calls the “antichrists” who had left the church “liars” , and not even “of the church” (leaving only one option as to what/who they are of). In fact, he says, in contrast to the apostasy of the antichrists, that the people of the church had the anointing of the Holy One - implying that the apostates didn’t. So, we have lying, un anointed (probably referring to the Holy Spirit), children of the Devil. That’s pretty mean, John.

I specifically want to highlight John’s instructions to the church on their relationship to each group. How does the church treat her members, and how does the church respond to the world?
First off let’s look at the relationship from the church to the church.

For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world‘s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our hear and knows all things.
1 John 3: 11-21

Within the body, there is a priority of love. I stress “in the body”. This love is not primarily directed to those outside the church, but those in the church, those who are redeemed. It is misplaced when directed toward the world, and is only throwing a pearl before swine.  So, what does that love look like?

First, it is selfless.

Verse 16 states “we know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Here we have love identified and exemplified by Christ. True love lays down its life…for who? The brethren. This does not include the goats, the children of the Devil. By definition, if two children have different fathers, they are not brothers. “Brethren” here must be the sons of God. That makes sense, since Christ died for His brethren, for the elect, for those whom the Father promised to give Him. (Heb. 2: 13) In fact, Hebrews 2:14 says Christ was incarnated for the brethren, so that He could become like them and thus call them “brethren”. These are the ones whom we must die for, lay down our lives for, as Christ did.

Secondly, it is righteous.

In 3: 12, we have two brothers who were not of the same father. Beyond their physical father, there was clearly a child of Satan and a child of God. These are Cain and Able. You are all familiar with the account of their interaction in a field one day, so I will not repeat it . In summary however, Cain had a grudge against Able, and permanently informed him of it there by killing him. The motive of Cain hating his brother, and consequently taking his life, (instead of laying down his own for him), was because of the contrast of their deeds. Able’s were righteous, Cain’s were not. That provoked him, and drove him to hatred. That is the kind of love the church should not have - a jealous love, a provoked love, an angry love. It may never get to the point of physical murder as did Cain’s, but it doesn’t have to. Verse 15 says “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer”. Just like Cain. Let’s step back a little here. What causes leaders and followers today to declare “love” in disregard to habitual sin and erroneous doctrine? Is it not because there is something to cover? Why then is such a contrast resulting in ‘love”, and not hatred? This must not be genuine love. Even this far, we can see that. Simply ask yourself, would Pope Francis die for that crippled man? Would he die for those children? Would he die for those people who, in summary, are “going to heaven anyway”? Specifically, would he give his life for the church? If not, then he does not have true love. Let’s take it home here. Would you or I die for the church? Would we be willing to follow Christ’s and so many other saints example that way? To clarify, this love is not something you can muster up. It is not from you, remember, but from God. God produces it in His children. He does not produce it in Satan’s children. If you see someone who does not have this love, and does not repent when convicted over his lack of it, then you are not seeing a believer, a genuine Christian. That goes for the Pope.

Thirdly, true love is generous.

Verse 17 says - “Whoever has the world‘s goods, and sees a brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”. The love of God living in, being in, “abiding in” a person generates the character of God in that person - inevitably. There is no exception when it comes to giving. It would be accurately argued that a person who does not provide temporal things for a brother when he himself has them, loves those things more than that brother. In chapter 2 :15 of 1 John, the church is instructed not to “love the world, nor the things of the world.” The person who does love the world and its things, does not have the love of the Father in him. The love of the Father doesn’t produce that in people, ever. Further such love is entirely unlike Christ. If anyone had the opportunity to allow possessions to keep Him from sacrificing, it would have been Christ. (II Cor.8:9). He had beyond this world’s goods. He created this world’s goods. Moreover, He lived in the closest proximity to the Father in heaven. However, He exchanged all that became poor so that through it (His poverty) His brethren might become rich. That is our example, and we don’t even have to give up what He did - only this world’s goods. And, we know that Christ did not stay poor, but is once again with the Father in glory and will receive the nations as His inheritance, as Psalm 2 tells us.

I want to observe, although I may be being repeatedly redundant here, that we have not been told (I specifically mean in this text) to lay down our lives for the children of the Devil. We have not been told to give the world's goods to the children of the Devil. We have not been told to love the children of the Devil. (Not to say we shouldn't do those things, but let's focus for now where John is focusing.) On the contrary, 1 John 2:15 says, again “Do not love the world, nor the things of the world.” It is best to understand "love" here in the sense of where your heart is as in desire, imitation, approval and relationship on those terms. But we are told to “love one another” (4:7,11; 3:11). We also see that that is what the Father has exemplified for us. 1 John 2:28 says “This is the promise which He made to us: eternal life.” (Emphasis added) Chapter three verse one says “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God”. These are things that do not belong to the non-elect world. That is misplaced love, not to mention an effort in futility.

To clarify, it is not as though we are to hate the world by any means, as I will say in short order below. However, there is a unique love, and different love which is for those within the body. Romans 12 has much to contribute to this thought. Verse 10 says "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;..." That's within the Church. As for outside the Church, verse 14 says "Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse." Verse 17 says "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone..." And, verses 20-21 say "'But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Without going into detail here, I recommend reading the whole chapter.

So then, what does the church do with the world?

First, is there a love for the world? Or, is it right that we would be haters of everyone who is not "in the church"? Should you not provide for your unbelieving friend when they are in need and you can do something about it? Yes, no, and yes, you should. Lord willing, a future blog post will examine this more thoroughly. But, for now, suffice it to say that I am not claiming that you must "hate you neighbor" or "have no concern for your mother and father" who do not know Christ. In Mark 10: 21 we find Jesus interacting with the rich young ruler, who had just claimed to have kept from his youth up all the commandments which Jesus said he must keep in order to inherit eternal life. But, the reality was, the young man hadn't. Had he kept the law perfectly, he would have had a clear conscience. Still, with that in mind, the very next verse reads - "Looking at Him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, 'One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me'". We are never told that this man did that. We don't have any record that he ever did follow Christ. All we know is that "...he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property". (vs. 22) Jesus knew that this would be his reaction. He knew the young man would not follow but leave Christ - and He still had a love for him. And, it was that love that exposed the young man's lack of love for Christ.

Consider, also, the crowds whom Jesus repeatedly "felt compassion" for (Mt. 14: 14, 15:32) and both healed and fed. He did this knowing that the vast majority of them did not believe (John 6:36), would grumble against Him (John 6:41), and eventually walk away from Him (John 6:66). He could have sent them away beforehand and saved time, but He didn't. In fact, He could have incinerated them on the spot not only for their lives of sin, but their unbelief. However, He didn't. He felt compassion. He fed them. He healed their sick. Most critically, He taught them - and that is where they stopped listening and walked away.

In summary, so that I am not misunderstood,  I am not advocating hate for the world, at all. What I do say is that a believer's love for the world is a compassionate love. So, if you see someone at gun point and you can do something about it, do it. You don't you need to say "Hang on just a second! Excuse me, sir, but where do you go to church?". That would be ridiculous. In day-to-day situations, if a co-worker needs help lifting something, should you help only if you KNOW they are saved? Absolutely not. Let me ask you, did Christ die for godly people? No. The elect (pre-salvation) where/are just as sinful as the next guy. Did Christ only feed His disciples? No, as we glanced at above. Keep in mind, however, that the highest form of compassion, the greatest love you could show to anyone is that you would preach the gospel to them so that they may flee from the wrath to come. It is critical that you know how to do that, and it is not shoving the gospel down their throats every chance you get. That also is another blog post, and it is summed up in the question "how did the Lord evangelize?".

Secondly, there is a priority to guard what is taught the church. A prominent and reliable pastor recently stated “The most important thing in your life is not what you possess, but what you believe.” That is true. In summary of what he said after that, “what you possess cannot give you eternal life. But, what you believe does.” That is why it is critical that you believe accurately, and that is why Satan attacks sound teaching so relentlessly. If he is going to lead the elect astray (if possible), if he is going to destroy the work of the Son, then the truth must not be taught. What is taught must be anything but the Truth. In fact, although there should be a wide variety of flavors available, there must be some specific selections that resemble the Truth very, very closely. That way undiscerning men and women will not be able to tell the difference between truth and error, and will believe error with little to no hesitation.

But, that is why the truth must be taught - so that the church will gain discernment and be able to identify false teachers and false teaching. That is what John says to do in 1 John 4:1 “Test the spirits”. Don’t believe everyone, especially just because they appear to be Christians. Do they confess Jesus? Or do they mis-confess Jesus? Do they accurately understand and believe and teach Who He is? Also, observe what the world thinks of them. Are they liked and listened to by the world? If so, beware! 1 John 4: 5 teaches that these false teachers are from the world, and the world listens to them. On the contrary, true sheep hear the voice of Christ through sound teaching of the words of Christ and follow (vs. 6).

So, should false teaches be tolerated in the name of love? First of all, being false teachers, they are not children of God and our love which should be for the Church does not belong to them. Secondly, let’s say you do tolerate them, and they are allowed to teach. Now, a brother or sister hears them, and, lacking discernment, believes them. What have you just done for that brother or sister? Have you loved them? In the name of love have you harmed a brother? Is that really love? That is a true hireling - one who is complacent when a wolf appears amongst the flock. But, suppose you exercise love, and expose false doctrine, and you do it clearly, undeniably, biblically, confidently, but gently, and the brother or sister gains discernment and avoids that teaching. You have not only edified and protected a child of God, but have exposed an unsaved person to the truth. There are two potential responses. 1) He rejects it. Either God hasn’t granted him repentance yet, or he is a child of the Devil and won’t be given ever repentance anyway.
2) He is a sheep, and God grants him repentance, and you have won a brother. That was true love.

So, yes, it is very true that doctrine divides - and good. The problem is that the absence of doctrine (which is a false doctrine in itself) doesn’t divide - it blurs, it blends. You can’t tell who is who when those who do know are silenced and the truth is no taught. That’s when nobody gains discernment and false doctrine through false teachers is allowed to run rampant and un-checked within the church. It is no wonder Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 4:2 to “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction.

Does this mean the church should be “cliquish”, and secretive - hindering evangelism, not to mention unnecessarily making us look like nutcases? No. People can’t reject the word unless they here it. Conversely, people can’t accept the word unless they here it. You don’t know who the sheep, the children of God are. They aren’t all saved yet. Show love to them by preaching the truth, that God may grant them repentance. And, in doing so, demonstrate love to the world. After all, both sheep and goats alike watched Christ give His life on the cross for His brethren.

I will close with an excerpt from one of the more monumental chapters in the Bible, John 17. Here, Christ is praying for His disciples, and all who believe in Him through their word. This is for the Church:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
~ John 17:13-17