Posts Tagged 'Agape Love'

Who Is God, Part 2

If a Christian wants to have a complete, balanced, healthy relationship with God, then he must know God; he must make it his quest to know all that is knowable about the Lord. Since what may be known about God is only found in the Bible, it goes without saying that knowing what the Bible says about the subject is essential. Too bad so many well-meaning Christians don’t understand this simplest of truths. God is not known by singing hymns or listening to gospel songs all day. He is not known by reading books about Him, although they may be helpful. He is not known by praying, although you should pray. God is known by knowing the Bible.

It may surprise you to know that human beings actually have an innate need to know God. One of the Greek words for “man” is anthropos, which literally means, “the one looking up.” In a way, man is looking for God, though he may not know it. Because of that, man is a praying creature. Even people who have no relationship with God will utter words of prayer during some crisis, “just in case,” they would say. Man is not an animal, but he may become like one because man without God has no clue how special and dignified a creation he really is. Man is special because he alone was created in the “image” and “likeness” of his Creator. That sets man apart from all of creation and makes him the crowing creative achievement of God the Creator.

God, the Creator, is a holy God, meaning that He is separate from His creation. He is above it and beyond it. God is in Heaven and we are on Earth, so God is separated from His greatest creation, even from the people He redeemed by the blood of His Son.  God, in some respects, continues to be separate from them. We may enjoy precious fellowship with God, but He is still “up there,” and we are still “down here.” When our salvation is finally consummated and we have been ushered into the actual presence of God in Heaven, that impassable gulf will finally be breached.

God is holy, but God is also love. And that’s the subject of this second message in the series.

A statement of fact

God is love, and God also loves the people He created. The classic verses on this subject is one we all know so well, we could cited it with our Bible closed. Here it is from the KJV, the version we probably have memorized:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 | KJV)

There is no more profound verse on the love of God for sinful man than John 3:16. God loved “the world,” that is, God loved the people He created who are now lost in sin, so He offered His only Son to be their atoning sacrifice, thereby making it possible for sinful man to believe and have faith and, and a result, enjoy everlasting life with Him in glory. This verse along with a couple of others, perfectly captures the love of God for the people He created:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 | NIV84)

One of the sinners Christ died for was one Henry Moorehouse. Do you know who he is? He’s also known as “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist.” He was born in Manchester and as a young man he spent considerable time in local jailhouse, and after being bailed out time and again by his very patient father, young Harry found himself a soldier in the army, where his talents for fighting and getting into trouble could be put to better use.

Upon getting out of the army, Harry happened to pass by a tent revival meeting where Richard Weaver was preaching. It must’ve been a raucous service because Harry, thinking there was a fight going on inside the tent, buttoned up his jacket and raced in, ready to fight. Of course, there was no fight, just an excited preacher. Harry, disappointed, turned to leave, but then he heard the one word that would forever change his sorry life: JESUS. Harry couldn’t leave that tent; Jesus got a hold him and wouldn’t let him go. In an instant – in a moment of time – all the rage and anger of Harry’s heart melted away and this restless wanderer became a different man. He heard about the love of Jesus and that love invaded his heart and made him a “new creation.”

You likely never heard of “Harry Moorehouse, the English Evangelist,” but you probably heard of one of his friends, D.L. Moody, the American Bible teacher and preacher who would found The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, which is still going strong today. One of the men who influenced Moody the most was Moorehouse! Once, Moody hosted Moorehouse at his Institute, and for an entire week, The English Evangelist preached on John 3:16. An entire week’s worth of sermons featuring that single, life-changing verse.

The preaching style of Moorehouse, according to Moody, was very different from his own. Instead of preaching that God was ready to judge the sinner and execute perfect justice, Moorehouse told the congregation that God wanted every person to be saved because He loved them. Moody said of his preaching:

I didn’t know God thought so much of me. It was wonderful to hear the way he brought out Scripture. He went from Genesis to Revelation and preached that in all ages God loved the sinner.

Moorehouse ended the last sermon of the week like this:

For seven nights I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you, and this poor stammering tongue of mine will not let me. If I could ascend Jacob’s ladder and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, to tell you how much love God the Father has for this poor lost world, all that Gabriel could say is: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 | KJV)

An example from the Old Testament

In trying to understand the love of God, there are are some verses in the Old Testament that answer a lot questions on the subject. In the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, a book that a lot of Christians think is all about tithing, we read this startling verse:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob…”. (Malachi 1:2 | NIV84)

God declared to His then-backslidden people, “I have loved you,” and these people in their backslidden state, questioned that love. But God was adamant: “I HAVE LOVED you…” These people had lost their love for God, and therefore their spiritual senses had become dull; they honestly thought God had stopped loving them. As if that could ever happen! But a spiritually dull person is almost always wrong when it comes to spiritual matters.

To prove to his wayward people that He did, in fact, love them, the Lord pointed to His favored treatment of Israel (Jacob) over their ancient enemy, Edom (Esau). You’ll recall that Jacob and Esau were brothers, and Israel and Edom were the nations that descended from each of them respectively. The state of Israel – prosperous and thriving for much of its history – versus the state of Edom – always at war with somebody and always struggling to get by – proved that God preferred Israel over Edom. If their hearts hadn’t been so hardened, Israel would have remembered how God protected them historically, and fought for them, and freed them from their captivity.

In looking at the love of God for Israel, we can learn a couple of very salient points about the love of God in general.

God’s love is not earned or deserved

Looking at what the Lord said through His prophet Malachi, this what we read:

I have loved you,” says the Lord.“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2-3 | NIV84)

Can God really hate? It may seem strange that in a sermon about “God is love” that we read that God hated a person is a bit shocking. God actually hates a lot things; sin, lying, pride, and other things, but here the word “hate” is used in the sense of “preference.” God preferred Israel over Edom. And His treatment of Israel proved that He preferred them over Edom. The Edomites were nasty people, just as Esau was a nasty man.

But on the other hand, Jacob wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, either. He was a liar, a cheat, and a conniver, and con artist. Yet God preferred him over his brother? Here is a point about God’s love: Nobody can earn it and nobody deserves it. Jacob didn’t any more than his brother did, yet here we have it stated that God preferred Jacob over Esau. The choice of Jacob was God’s sovereign choice, not influenced by anything or anybody. It was a choice made in grace.

God’s dealings with us are always out of grace. We are saved by grace, we are empowered for Christian service by grace, and we are kept by grace. The fact that God loves us is an act of grace that no believer deserves, yet enjoys nonetheless.

God’s love never changes

When we speak of God’s love, we’re talking about agape love. This kind of divine love is above all other forms of love. Agape love means, first of all, that God’s love for the believer is absolutely perfect – God cannot love you more and He cannot love you less. God’s love for you is perfect. God’s love won’t lessen when you misbehave nor grow when you do something righteous. His love is perfect. His love is constant. Like the North Star; God’s love is always there.

Secondly, because His love is perfect, it never changes. In the Hebrew, the force of Malachi 3:2, 3 isn’t just “Jacob I love and Esau I hate,” rather, it’s “Jacob I loved and I continue to love.” It’s important to note this because as God spoke these words to Israel through His prophet, Israel had become a corrupt, discouraged, backslidden nation. They were lazy in their faith and treated God with contempt. Yet God continued to love them just as He always had. God’s love for His people didn’t change because of their misbehavior.

God’s love is truly amazing. It’s almost beyond comprehension that God is able to love like that. But it’s a fact; it’s in the Bible.

God loves everybody

And so we return to John 3:16 for the last point. God’s love is universal. If His love isn’t conditional, then it naturally follows that He loves “the world,” just as John said. This is what we could call God’s “merciful love.” The result of this “merciful love” is spelled out by Peter:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 | NIV84)

God wants everybody to be saved. That’s why Jesus is said to have been “coming soon” for over 2,000 years! It’s the slowest “soon coming” in history! But that’s why. God is waiting for the last possible moment to get as many sinners saved. God’s love is universal, but salvation isn’t. Not everybody is going to get saved. And therein lies the rub. Don’t confuse God’s love for the sinner with salvation. The love of God compels God to call all people to repent and believe. But the love of God doesn’t compel Him to save everybody with no corresponding actions on the part of the sinner.






Be’s of the Bible, Part 7


There are many “be’s” in the Bible, and so far we’ve covered six of them:

• Be Holy, because God is holy, 1 Peter1:15, 16
• Be Perfect, or mature, 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be Still, and let God be God, Psalm 46:10
• Be Sober, keep your eyes open, 1 Peter 5:8
• Be faithful, even in hard times, Revelation 2:10
• Be clean, or pure, Isaiah 52:11

Each of these “be’s” is a direct command.  None of them are suggestions. They are not casual statements but imperative directives from the Lord. They represent what God wants us to be or to become. Our lives as believers would be so much easier if we would only live as God wants us to. So many blessings hinge on our obedience to these “be’s” and others, because there are many, many more “be’s” in the Bible. Our final “be” is found in Ephesians 5:18 –

Don’t drink too much wine, for many evils lie along that path; be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him. (Ephesians 5:18. TLB)

Of all the “be’s” we’ve looked at in this series, this is arguably the key one. This “be” might be the most essential, because when the Holy Spirit pervades your whole being, you will be in the presence of the Lord continuously and He will give you the strength and the desire to “be” all the things He wants you to be.

Let’s take a look at the context of this final “be” in Paul’s great letter to the Ephesians.

Historical/Spiritual Contexts

As you know, there were no chapter divisions or verses in the original manuscripts of the Bible. Usually it’s best to ignore them, especially the chapter divisions. In Ephesians, while there may not be chapter divisions, there are definite “sections” that contain topics or themes Paul wanted to cover. Our “be” verse, 5:18, is part of a section that begins back at 4:17, which begins this way –

Let me say this, then, speaking for the Lord: Live no longer as the unsaved do, for they are blinded and confused. Their closed hearts are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds against him, and they cannot understand his ways. (Ephesians 4:17, 18 TLB)

So at the beginning of this section, Paul wanted to make sure his readers understood that what he was about to tell them came from the Lord; they weren’t his ideas. Christ Himself was the authority behind the things he was going to write. Paul was no mere moralizer here, he wrote his letter, and especially this section, under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He was the Lord’s spokesman. This is important to take note of because some of what the apostle wrote might have been a little hard for some of these Ephesian church members to swallow. But this is why the great doctrine of inspiration is so vitally important!

The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone. (2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 TLB)

The Ephesians were urged by Paul to stop living like Gentiles, which the Living Bible refers to as “the unsaved.” The church at Ephesus was full of both Jews and Gentiles but was surrounded by a heathen, pagan, Gentile population. So this advice was timely for this congregation but also prescient. It’s definitely applicable to the church as it exists today. The Ephesians were not to walk as Gentiles – that is, their lives should not have been conformed to the standards of the pagan world around them, but should have been marked by the new life they received in Christ. We’re not in Ephesus, and we’re some 2,000 years removed from when Paul wrote this letter, but we’re in essentially the same situation as the Ephesians were. We’re in a church that is surrounded by a godless, corrupt, morally confused culture and there’s always the temptation for us in the church to adopt the characteristics of the world around us instead of manifesting the characteristics of Christ. This was a big concern of Paul’s and he wrote about to another church –

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you. (Romans 12:2. TLB)

The problem with copying the ways of the world (the ways of the Ephesian Gentiles), is that you are copying the ways of people who are “blinded” and “confused”; people who, as the Greek suggests, are full of pride yet devoid of purpose; people who are living aimless lives, going nowhere and accomplishing nothing of lasting value. These “unsaved people” in Ephesus may have been smart and intelligent people. We all know non-Christians whose minds are full of highly developed thoughts; who have acquired great amounts of knowledge, but they are spiritually ignorant. And that’s the problem. Because the unsaved don’t know God, they don’t acknowledge Him and they have no spiritual understanding. That’s dangerous because we are spiritual beings and we live the life God wants us to live by the Spirit. Those who live apart from God are in a state of utter spiritual darkness. So much so, in fact, they can’t comprehend the evidence for God all around them.

For the truth about God is known to them instinctively; God has put this knowledge in their hearts. Since earliest times men have seen the earth and sky and all God made, and have known of his existence and great eternal power. So they will have no excuse when they stand before God at Judgment Day. Yes, they knew about him all right, but they wouldn’t admit it or worship him or even thank him for all his daily care. And after a while they began to think up silly ideas of what God was like and what he wanted them to do. The result was that their foolish minds became dark and confused. Claiming themselves to be wise without God, they became utter fools instead. (Romans 1:19 – 22. TLB)

That’s the Lord’s estimation of those who don’t know Him. So why would we as Christians think it’s a good idea to copy what they’re doing? Why would we want to bring their ideas and lifestyles into the church of Jesus Christ? That’s Paul’s point here, and it’s a negative one.

But then we get to the first couple of verses of chapter 5 –

Follow God’s example in everything you do just as a much loved child imitates his father. Be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved you and gave himself to God as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, for Christ’s love for you was like sweet perfume to him. (Ephesians 5:1, 2. TLB)

That brings us to the positive side of Paul’s admonition. It’s never enough to stop ungodly behavior, it must be replaced by godly behavior. The first sentence, “follow God’s example in everything you do,” brings to mind another “be” –

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48. TLB)

The Greek of verse 1 is preferable to the Living Bible’s “Follow God’s example,” because it reads “be imitators.” Interestingly enough, this is the only time in the whole New Testament were we are told be imitators of God. Some people may think imitating God is an unreasonable ambition, yet it really isn’t. Christians are born again as God’s children. We are partakers of His divine nature. We are objects of His love and compassion. Surely we ought to be manifesting a “family likeness!”

In particular in the matter of loving one another, we should do what Jesus did. This wasn’t the first time Paul admonished people to love each other. It was a common refrain for the apostle because loving other people doesn’t come easy for most of us because it’s not natural. It’s preferable to ignore people we don’t know than it is to love them. Christian love is all about action, not thinking. It’s not necessarily Biblical to run around declaring your love for strangers, but it is Biblical to do good things for them. That’s what Biblical love is. That’s the love that God has for sinners –

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8. TNI)

God didn’t just say that he loved us, He demonstrated that love in a way that would mean something to us. That’s how we are to live. The love God demonstrated and the love we should demonstrate is agape love – the self-giving love that asks for nothing in return and that wishes only good to whom is is given. Agape love is not a love that is native in man. God puts it there by His Spirit.

While in prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

No one knows what love is except in the self-revelation of God. It is only the concrete action and suffering of Jesus Christ which will make it possible to understand what love is.

Bonhoeffer is right. Only Christians are capable of understanding, experiencing, and manifesting true love. Those outside the church can’t because, as we already learned, the unsaved are incapable of grasping spiritual truths and realities. So, the love they experience and give is a pale, shallow version of the love Christians experience and give.

This is yet another good reason to NOT walk like the world but rather imitate God! Imagine if all Christians actually took Paul’s admonition seriously. No believer would want to wander back into the world! And sinners would be clamoring to get what we’ve got!

The Spirit makes it possible

The temptation for Christians to be worldly is great. Worldliness has been a problem that has plagued the church for 2,000 years. It’s not easy to live righteous, holy, and obedient lives. The Christian can’t let life just happen to him. Like an earlier “be,” “be sober,” we need to live life with our eyes wide open.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16. TNIV)

In order to live wisely, we need what James referred to as “wisdom from above.” We need God’s wisdom. In fact, wisdom is a derivative of faith in God, all we have to do is pray and ask God for it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 TNIV)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17. TNIV)

That kind of wisdom doesn’t come from a college education or from the latest self-help book and course. It comes from the Lord and it’s for the Christian, all he has to do is ask for it. As we live wisely, we will “make the most of every opportunity.” Without knowing the context of this verse, we’re left asking, “Opportunity for what?” Paul had been writing about imitating God and not the unsaved, especially in terms of our our behavior and how we treat one another. The wise Christian, then, looks for ways to: (1) live righteously – he isn’t caught of guard, wondering what’s right or wrong; he knows because he’s looking for ways to live like Jesus did; (2) love each other with God’s love. Paul acknowledges that they days are evil – love and righteousness are in short supply and what people desperately need is an accurate representation of Jesus Christ, both inside the church and outside.

And that brings us to seventh and final “be” in this current series:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5:18. TNIV)

This is not a verse about abstaining from alcohol and it’s not a verse about being baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is the most practical verse for living righteous lives because it tells us how: we live righteous lives, imitating God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian doesn’t look to the things of the world to meet his needs, because, like getting drunk to feel good or forget about your problems, the things of the world never deliver what they promise. The wisdom of the world always comes up short. The Christian needs more. He needs what the Spirit can give him. That’s why this “be” is so essential, “be filled with the Spirit.” The present tense of the imperative verb tells us that being filled with the Spirit ought to be our continuous state – a continuous obligation. Nowhere in the Bible are believers commanded to be baptized in the Spirit or indwelt by the Spirit. Both of those things are done for us by God as part of our salvation experience and when we desire a deeper walk with Christ. Yet, here, we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit.” What does this mean? Christians are always in possession of the Holy Spirit simply by virtue of their faith in Christ. So what is Paul getting at? Simply this: To “be filled with the Spirit” is to allow the Spirit to control you and to influence how you live all the time. Alcohol, and anything of the world, may help you temporarily; may energize you for a while, but all the things of the world will let you down and lead you in the wrong direction. That’s why you need to be continuously filled with and led by the Spirit.

“Be filled with Spirit” is not a suggestion; it’s a command that will make living the Christian life not only possible but a positive experience for you and those around you.

The Art of Loving One Another

A study of 1 John 3:11-18

As we begin our look at this group of verses, it is noteworthy to mention some of what John had previously written.  Knowledge of God is evidenced by conduct.

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  (2:4)

If you claim to be a Christian, you obligate yourself to conduct yourself as Christ would conduct Himself if He were in your stead.  Furthermore, John taught that being “born of God” is evidenced by our love for other believers.  In fact, the command to love other believers is actually the test of whether one is “walking in the light” or not.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.  (2:9-11)

This is the acid test of one’s confession of faith:  do they love the fellowship of other believers?  Of special note here is John’s emphasis on the word “brothers,” or “brothers and sisters” in the TNIV.  The proof of our relationship with Jesus Christ is how we treat others in the body of Christ.  Here John is not presenting a social gospel; of loving those outside the church.  Christians, of course, are not taught anywhere to hate the unsaved, but we are admonished many times in the New Testament to treat those within the church with a kind of special love and attention.

1.  Hatred of the world, 3:11-15

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

John begins his contrast of love and hate by first giving the command of mutual love within the body of Christ, followed by an example of hatred.

(a)  Love, verse 11

As noted by almost ever Bible scholar, love is not the application of the Gospel, it is the goal established from the beginning.  Believers experienced the love of Christ “from the beginning” of their relationship with Him, and they are to show that kind of love to others within the body of Christ.  It is to be a mutual love:  the command is to love one another.  Mutual love between Christians and the world is impossible, according to verse 13, since the world must hate us.

(b)  Hate, verse 12

When John mentions Cain, he points back to something he mentioned in verse 8:

He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  (3:8)

It’s sad but true, but just as love was “from the beginning,” so also is hatred.  And Cain, who murdered his brother, is the perfect antithesis of the one who loves his brother.  Cain is representative of all who are not born of God; they hate their brothers and do not want fellowship with them.  While we know Cain murdered his brother, Abel, the Greek here literally says “Cain…cut his brother’s throat.”

Jesus said a similar thing to some Jews who opposed Him and exhibited the same kind of hatred toward Him that Cain expressed toward Abel.  The story is recounted in John 8:37-47, and there Jesus says to them that despite their claim to be children of Abraham,

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”  (vv. 39-41)

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning.  (vv. 42-44)

Cain proved that he did not belong to God by murdering his brother.  In fact, in the next two verses, John indicates that Cain’s hatred toward Abel was motivated by Abel’s righteousness!  We prove whether or not we belong to God by how we treat our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  This is John’s reasoning.

(c)  Hatred, verses 13-14

It should be natural, if not always evident, for Christians to love one another.  It is just as natural for those in the world to hate Christians.  It is always surprising when Christians are taken off guard by opposition from the world.  Yet this is, according to the teachings of Scripture, the normal reaction of a godless world to the Church.

At this juncture, we might have expected John to admonish Christians to love the sinful world.  He did, after all, pen the words of John 3:16, which were in response to the world’s hatred of the Christian.  Because he doesn’t, and this has led some to assume that Christians should hate the world.  Naturally, this is not what John is teaching at all.  John’s subject, and the point of this teaching, is the evidence of Christian character rather than the evangelistic concern which the Church should manifest for the salvation of the world.  Mutual love in the body of Christ is simply a better piece of evidence than love for a sinful world.  The reason is obvious:  if a Christian cannot love “the children of God,” how can he love “the children of the devil?”

(d)  Judgment, verse 15

In no uncertain terms, John says that any believer who lacks love for other believers has a heart filled with hate; there is no middle ground, and hatred will eventually end with its manifestation.  In Cain’s case, it was manifested in the murder of Abel.  Is John here saying that every single Christian who “hates” a fellow believer is a murderer?  Does hatred always lead to murder?  John Calvin’s observations provide some balance:

If we wish an evil to happen to our brother from some one else, we are murderers.

But John was not the first to link hatred with murder.  Jesus Himself said this in Matthew 5:21-22,

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Glenn Barker observes:

To hate is to despise, to cut off from relationship, and murder is simply the fulfillment of that attitude.  Cain, because he murdered his brother, was cut off from the covenant community.  He received no promise.  So no murderer is within the community, nor anyone who “hates his brother.”

If you have hate in your heart, you have no place in the Church.  J.B. Phillips in his translation of this verse puts it like this:

The man without love for his brother is living in death already.  The man who actively hates his brother is a potential murderer, and you will readily see tat the eternal life of God cannot live in the heart of a murderer.  (vv. 14b-15)

2.  Love for each other, verses 16-17

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

John, as a pastor, uses the phrase “we know” in the perfect tense.  This means that “we,” members of the body of Christ,  have knowledge of a historical event, namely, the death of Jesus Christ.  How are we to love each other?  We look at the supreme example of this agape love:  Jesus, who willingly gave His life for others.  But John’s point is that we know what love is because we have heard the Gospel message.  Hearing the Gospel, knowing what Jesus did of His accord, what then is the believer’s obligation?  John writes that we “ought” to give our lives for our brothers.  In other words, love that costs nothing to give is not real real love.

John scorns mere talk about loving and demands the deeds and truth of love as evidence of spiritual life.  (White)

This passage of Scripture forces all who read it to examine their earthly relationships within the realm of the Church and to ask themselves this:  What am I willing to risk to love my brother?   According to Jesus, the chance of losing your life is an acceptable risk.  Is it so in your life?

For those of us find that question difficult to answer, it seems like John anticipates this and so adds that, perhaps losing your life won’t ever happen, but there are other ways  to show love to a fellow believer.  For example, we can be compassionate to him in his time of need.  But there are conditions for this.  John indicates that if we are in a position to see with our own eyes his need, then we must act to help alleviate that need.  This is an immensely powerful verse, because if we can deny a fellow believer help when we know for certain he needs it, then we deny the presence of God’s love in our hearts.

Kistemaker writes:

The command to “love the Lord your God” can never be separated from the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  These two go together at all times.

Conclusion, verse 18

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Without question, this is tough teaching!  Even from someone as tender-hearted as John, what he said would have been no less a big pill for his readers to swallow than it is for us, two thousand years later.  Perhaps John sensed this, so he addresses his readers as, “little children.”  He does not want his readers to throw up their hands in defeat, as though he were giving them an impossible admonition, rather, he wants to get a heart-felt response from them.  Love, real and genuine love is more than mere words.  It demands simple acts, from one person to another.

Must believers really give their lives for a fellow believer if need be?  Must a Christian render aid to another Christian when he himself is in dire straights?  Should a Christian buy shoes for a brother’s child when his own are in bare feet?  How far does a believer take this?  John Wesley, in answer to these kinds of questions, wrote this:

Give and lend to any so far (but not farther, for God never contradicts Himself) as is consistent with thy engagements to thy creditors, thy family, and the household of faith.

Truly, mutual love in the body of Christ is an art.

Jude, Part 2

The Appeal

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (NIV)

In just a few words, Jude gives his readers the reason why he is writing to them. Characteristic of this entire, compact epistle, these two verses are packed with meaning and significance, both for those in the pew and those who stand behind the pulpit.

1. Concern from one believer for another, verse 3

Jude is on the verse of exposing “ungodly men,” false teachers, who have stealthily infiltrated the Church and are promulgating their heresies, destroying the faith and morals of the congregation. False teachers are expert at that; pushing their brand heresy on unsuspecting believers; they don’t have to be behind a pulpit. They can be right beside you. And if a believer succumbs to false teaching, they will find their faith withering. This is why, as you read the twenty four verses of this letter, you can “feel” an atmosphere of judgment. Yet Jude writes under a canopy of “love.” Even administering church discipline, it should be done in love, agape love. He has already written about God’s love, but now he will talk about it personally.

First, Jude calls his readers “dear friends.” This is more than a form of greeting; it’s a way of distinguishing his readers from the false teachers skulking in the background; they are not his friends, dear or otherwise. The Greek word is agapetoi, and literally translated means “beloved.” Notice the word looks a lot like agape. This kind of love “unconditional.” The agapetoi might be considered “friends through thick and thin,” it’s a term of extreme endearment Jude uses, and he doesn’t use it lightly. The recipients are his “unconditional friends.” This is a special kind of relationship believers can have only with each other because they are bound together by a common faith, which Jude will write about, but also by a common Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Canfield wrote:

[Agapetoi] sums up the central motif of the Christian life, indicating at the same time the love of the speaker or writer for his brethren, and behind that and more important, the love of God in Christ for all.

Second, the phrase although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, indicates that Jude changed his mind and his letter took a different direction than he intended. Apparently, he wanted to write about “the salvation we share,” or as it is literally translated, “our common salvation.” That’s a curious expression and is unique to Jude. Given the context of the letter, Jude must be referring to the Christian faith. All believers share the same faith in the here and now; believers are saved. It is a glorious experience we all have in common. Salvation has a three-fold aspect to it: past, present, and future.

  • Past: [H]e saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

  • Present: Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. (Hebrews 6:9)

  • Future: [S]o Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)

The fact that he uses the word “share” is also noteworthy. Throughout this letter, Jude suggests that this bond believers have in common helps them to withstand the false teachers who do not possess this salvation.

The next phrase, I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith, is translated in the NEB this way: It became urgently necessary to write at once. Jude felt divinely compelled to change the contents of the letter. This gives us an insight into Jude’s thought process: he had an interest in the spiritual lives of his friends. So much so, that he felt compelled to write to them, to warn them to be on guard. In fact, Jude exhorts the believers to brace themselves as they face a critical situation. Bengal writes that Jude appeals to his friends to do not one, but two things:

  • Fight earnestly in behalf of the faith, against the enemy;

  • Build up one’s self in the faith.

In order to not be taken in by false teachers, you must be secure in your own faith. If you don’t know what you believe, you won’t be able to resist the heresies of the false teachers. That’s why the second thing is so important to the outcome of the first.

This “contending” for the faith is a never-ending struggle. It comes from a Greek word that occurs only here in the New Testament and describes an intense wrestling match. It is so intense, that the idea is to exert oneself without distraction; it also suggests self-denial and single minded determination. It’s in the present tense, suggesting the Christian struggle is a continuous one; believers are never to let their guard down, even for a moment.

The “faith” refers to the Gospel, the body of objective truth preached to them, the facts of Christ and of salvation. Sometimes “the faith” is used subjectively, “I have faith in Christ.” Given the context here, though, it seems clear Jude is referring to the objective faith of Christian teachings or doctrine.

Finally, the last phrase of verse three tells us about this faith: it was was once for all entrusted to the saints. The “saints,” of course, refers to members of the Church. That is a common designation for Christians, the Greek phrase tois hagiois, means “the holy ones.” It’s a title all Christians bear, but Jude also uses it here “as an appeal to the brethren to stand fast against the teaching and practice of…the unholy ones.” (Mayor) Those who teach or believe things contrary to what’s in the Bible are not holy, but unholy, and corrupt those who are holy.

Notice what Jude says about this faith, and remember Jude is not talking about your faith, but rather the “body of recognized truth” (Blum) we call the Word of God: it was entrusted once for all to the saints.

The word “entrusted” refers to a deposit made. Romans 3:2b says–

[T]hey have been entrusted with the very words of God.

God delivered His truth to Jesus Christ, Jesus committed God’s truth to the apostles, who in turn entrusted it to the believers.

2. False teachers: dangerous and deceptive, denying and distorting, verse 4

Verse four gives us the “why” behind verse three.

Ungodly men had “secretly slipped in.” The Greek word, pareisedysan, and very descriptive. These deceivers has “crept in unawares.” The prefix, “para” means “come along side” and perfectly describes how false teachers sneak into a church: they come in alongside genuine believers, pretending to be one of them. Paul encountered false teachers often, and in Galatians 2:4 he makes a similar statement:

This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

And Peter also had occasion to warn his people about false teachers–

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

False teachers creep in secretly and the secretly spread their dangerous ideas. Like a virus, they spread from member to member until the whole congregation is infected.

The question we ask ourselves is who are these false teachers? Where they ministers of the Gospel? Where they itinerant preachers, traveling from community to community, from church to church? Or where they just people, who seem to happen into your church? We may never know exactly who Jude has mind, although many reputable scholars seem to favor the notion that Jude has in mind the same kind of traveling preachers as did Peter. My own thoughts are that, even if that is who Jude had in mind, this warning is easily applicable to both the pulpit and to the pew. False teachers take on many forms, but the result of their teachings is always the same: a wake of destruction, from ruined lives to fractured churches.

One thing is certain, however, and that is the motive of these false teachers: since they teach in secret, what they’re teaching can’t be good.

Another thing certain is that these “certain men” were already living under condemnation. The NIV says, whose condemnation was written about long ago, while the KJV reads, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation. Peterson’s The Message paraphrases a difficult Greek sentence like this: our Scriptures warned us this would happen. The difficulty with this view is we aren’t sure what Scriptures Jude is referring to. We would naturally think of the Old Testament, but there are no specific references to the doom of false teachers in the Old Testament. Gottlob Schrenk believes that the term “written about” metaphorically refers to a list that is kept in heaven, and as believers are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life, so there is a list of false teachers kept. Peter hints at this:

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

What are these men teaching? There are two teachings Jude hones in on two, and there is no doubt how deviant it was: (1) [they] change the grace of our God into a license for immorality. A couple of observations about the godless men. First, they may be godless, but they are acquainted with the grace of God, since they were changing it. This suggests they may have, at one time been genuine believers, but no longer. They could be individuals who have some belief in God, but are not committed to Him in any way. Second, that they are godless in evidenced by their conduct; they not only teach God’s grace allows them to sin, but they indulge in it.

This false teaching says believers can indulge in all manner of sexual sins and merely ask for forgiveness because of God’s grace.

(2) deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Jude doesn’t say exactly how these men were denying Christ, other than by their conduct. Yet this is enough: actions speak louder than words. Titus 16–

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

3. Lessons for all in the Church

These two verses contain enough principles, applications and lessons for two sermons.

  • The job of the Pastor is first and foremost to feed his people the living Word of God. Vance Havner once said of the Bible: “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” The most urgent need in the Body of Christ is a knowledge of God’s Word, rightly applied.

  • The Pastor’s role is to counsel, exhort, and encourage the people to hold fast to their faith. He is to uphold the centrality and authority of the Bible, while opposing any person who attempts to inject their own notions in the lives of his congregation.

  • We are all to guard the Truth that has been entrusted to us. God’s Word has been deposited into our hearts. May we always strive to live by its dictates and honor it’s admonitions, giving it the highest place of respect in our lives. Higher than our own ideas or opinions, higher than the thoughts of your Pastor, and higher than the teachings of any man or church.

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