Cornerstone Verses: John 13:35 “… if you have love”

35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another – John 13:35, NASB. 

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashPastor James Macdonald recently preached a series on what he called game changers. These were some of the individual verses that he said changed everything when it comes to our faith. A game changer is defined as “an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.” As I listened to his recent podcast, I couldn’t help but wonder what verses I would add to such a list. What verses are cornerstone verses? What verses are fundamental to the way we do church, discipleship, faith, and Christianity? While all Scripture is “God-breathed and useful for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16), certainly some verses can be considered building blocks that all Christians should be familiar with and eager to live out in their lives.

As I considered which verses I would include on such a list, John 13:35 was among the first that occurred to me. We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but in this verse Jesus tells us that others will know we are His disciples because of our love for one another.

We are connected to Jesus by our love. It makes sense. When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior we become indwelled by the Holy Spirit. If God lives in us, and God is love, it is inevitable that His love will impact the way we view others. In fact, Scripture teaches that “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). It appears that the absence of love for other believers signifies there is something dreadfully wrong in the life of a believer. 

They Will Know Us By Our Love for One Another

We live amid a cultural climate that is characterized by many things, but love is not one 136aa4cc778661545ba36ff2d1069a2eof them. Divisiveness, bitterness, hatred, and outrage seem to be the themes of social media, but not love. A quick scan of Twitter will reveal that virtually everyone is mad about something. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. It seems everyone has picked a tribe and gone to war with others. We’re characterized by our skin color, politics, geography, sexual preferences, sports teams, and even diets. The vitriol can be smothering at times and it’s easy to get sucked in, but Jesus tells us that the Christian “tribe” should be identified by their love for one another. In fact, He tells us in John 13:34 that we should, love one another as He has loved us. Jesus is talking about sacrificial, unselfish, supernatural love. 

That’s a kind of love that will stand out in the world we live in. The love Jesus is talking about rises above mere tribalism. It’s bigger than skin color or nationality. It rises above politics. It puts others first and makes Christ the center of our lives. The love Jesus is talking about honors God. It is a kind of love that should naturally flow from Christians who are indwelled by the Spirit. In fact, its a kind of love that is impossible without the Holy Spirit. 

Too often, though, Christians choose to quench the Spirit by treating each other poorly. I’ve witnessed Christians on Social Media lambaste one another over politics, social causes, sports, and all sorts of other things that are inconsequential when compared to eternity. It’s even worse when such squabbles escape the confines of social media and infiltrate the local church. 

Let us never forget that we have been “raised to new life with Christ Jesus” (Colossians 3:1). It is a new life that should be characterized by our love for other believers. Everything we say and do should be filtered through that love because there is no cause greater than the cause of Christ. 

When in doubt, we should look to Christ as out example of love. And pray that others would see that love in us (John 13:15). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons from The Apostle Paul: Paul Was the Real Deal

Rembrandt as Paul
Rembrandt self portrait portraying himself as the Apostle Paul 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

“… Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV. 

The above passage from 2 Corinthians blows me away. Paul is writing to a church that had shunned his authority and instead turned to false teachers. Paul calls these teachers “super-apostles” and does so rather sarcastically. In chapter of eleven of 2 Corinthians he acknowledges that compared to these “super-apostles”, he isn’t a gifted speaker. He acknowledges that he humbled himself so that the Christians in Corinth could be elevated.

He then, rather reluctantly, tells them of a time he was “caught up into the third heaven” into the very presence of God and “heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul could have grown conceited or arrogant because of this vision he received from God, but instead, he was humbled by a “thorn in the flesh” that God allowed him to suffer from. Why? Just to make sure Paul didn’t grow conceited.

Paul was humbled by a thorn in the flesh. He prayed and prayed for God to remove the thorn but God refused; choosing instead to teach Paul the lesson that “[His] grace is sufficient … and [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” I relate to the lesson Paul learned from this thorn because God is teaching me something similar. 

Not all of the Corinthians, however, appreciated Paul’s thorn. They saw Paul’s weakness and held it against him. They chose the  “super-apostles” who were just a little too perfect. Some members of the church preferred a “different gospel” (see chapter 11) preached by fake apostles because those apostles looked the part.

I wonder if the modern church does the same thing at times. We need to be wary of church leaders who are “too perfect.” If our teachers and preachers never struggle, it might be a red flag. Paul was the real deal. He had been called by Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. He had been called into the very presence of God to witness things most people will never see on this side of eternity … but the church chose fake, super apostles because they spoke well and looked the part. I can only imagine they were good looking, wore fancy clothes, and had perfect hair.

The Corinthians had been duped.

Too often, we are quick to metaphorically crucify church leaders who make mistakes. We  expect them be perfect even when God doesn’t. Paul’s thorn in the flesh made it apparent that any success he had in ministry was solely because of God Almighty … and that’s exactly how God wanted it. God used a flawed man with a checkered past to accomplish mighty things in order for God Himself to receive all the credit.

Be wary who you follow. If they are too “perfect”, there will be no room for God to move. We don’t need “super apostles.” We need humble leaders who constantly point to God as the source of their strength.

In the church, humility, transparency, and honesty should always be preferred over false perfection and self promotion. Paul compared the false teachers in Corinth to Satan who “masquerades as an angel of light” ( 2 Corinthians 11:14). It is imperative that we don’t allow ourselves to be fooled.

If it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

Do You Reciprocate​ God’s Love?

sunset-hands-love-womanIn his post “A Key Ingredient for Friendship“, blogger and pastor Lyn Perry identifies reciprocity as a key ingredient for friendship. He does so after reading about William Shatner’s damaged friendship with Leonard Nimoy in the book Leonard. Perry writes, “Without reciprocity, friendships fail.” And he’s right … it’s hard to love someone that doesn’t love you back.

It’s so hard, in fact, that I suspect even the best of us would eventually tire of an unreciprocated friendship. Heck, I’m only going to care for so long. Eventually, I’m going to write you off if you fail to love me back. I say that even though God role-models something much different.

The oft-quoted verse John 3:16 begins with the words “For God so loved the world …” God loved the world that would crucify His Son. God loved the world that would, by and large, reject Him. Yet God doesn’t write us off. In response to His unrequited love for the world, God displays patience and desires the best for us (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s unrequited love for the world is the most remarkable kind of love ever displayed. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God didn’t just love sinners, He put His Son on the cross for sinners.

That is remarkable!

I write all of this to arrive at a point. It’s not just an unbelieving world that fails to respond to God’s love. There are many of us Christians who are still failing to reciprocate God’s love for us. We give lip-service to our faith in Christ yet continue to live in a way that doesn’t reflect our profession of faith. This is what James was saying when he wrote, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

In the cross, Christ displayed the most remarkable kind of love for the world and Christians, of all people, should be responding to and reciprocating that love. If I’m being honest, I go through periods where my life doesn’t reflect God’s love. I am prone to selfishness. I sometimes allow my mountains to take my eyes off My Rock. My prayer is for that to change dramatically in 2017. I want to love people more. I want to serve myself less than I serve God. Mainly, I want to reciprocate the love God has shown me. Because His love is truly remarkable.

Advice for the Grouchy Father

A recent assignment for school required me to seek advice for the “Grouchy Father” from Proverbs. It was an assignment incredibly applicable to my life. There are times when I come home from work in a bad mood and then (after adding the stress of bills and life in general to the mix) take it out on my family by being in an angry or sullen mood. The Book of Proverbs speaks directly to my situation.

Proverbs 16:32 – He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city (NASB).

Steveson writes that the word “mighty” in this verse is referring to one who distinguishes himself as a hero in battle (p. 226). The implications are clear. The father who is able to conquer his own anger and rules his own emotions is even better than those military heroes who win battles and capture cities with their might. What father doesn’t want to be a hero in his own household? As fathers, if we are able to control our emotions and respond gently to our wives and children, we will be heroes in our own house!

Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger (NASB).

In the context of a family, the implications of this verse seem obvious. In the household, parents are required to respond to all sorts of issues. Fathers will have to discipline their children and respond to chaotic issues in their house. Steveson writes, “The idea is that conciliatory speech can calm an angry person” (p. 201). In the house, fathers can be a calming influence or they can make a chaotic situation worse. If we respond to our family in a gentle manner, we’ll promote calmness and peace in the house and become a rock in the middle of the storm.

Proverbs 30:33 – For the churning of milk produces butter, And pressing the nose brings forth blood; So the churning of anger produces strife (NASB).

The imagery in this verse works well. Just as the churning of milk produces butter (Steveson suggests they curdled milk is a better translation on p. 433) and the squeezing of the nose produces blood, the churching of anger produces strife. It is that image that has stuck with me … “the churning of anger.” Churning milk is a deliberate action. The churner works the plunger until the fat separates from the cream. The father who creates strife because of his anger is one who has deliberately acted in anger and cultivated strife. It is a pattern of anger for him. It really speaks to the condition of his heart. As fathers, however, if we continue to cultivate such anger we will produce strife – it is only a matter of time.

I think we need to be  deliberate in cultivating a calm and gentle personality if we hope to grow more Christ-like in our home life.