“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV)
Isn’t it great that Peter says love should be “above all” – should be our top priority – while Paul says that the greatest of the three pillars of Christianity (which are faith, hope and love) is love. Love is above all.
Why is this true? Because God is Love.
Even better, Jesus tells us that the world will know we are Christians by the love we show one another.
Yet, today we Christians bicker among ourselves, arguing about the relative spirituality or lack of spirituality of each other which only shows the world that we are no closer to God than it is.
So, how do we love?
We choose to do so. We put aside pettiness and one-up-manship and holier-than-thou attitudes and we look to our common ground.
What is our common ground? This should be obvious. Our common foundation is Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected, glorified.
So, let us love one another for our love of each other covers a whole load of awful stuff — our rebellion, our pride, our self-hatred, our envy, our jealousy, our self-righteousness, our stupidity.
10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Salvation is exclusive, not inclusive. Jesus deliberately keeps the secret of God’s plan from “those on the outside”. He reserves full understanding of His stories — His parables — to those “on the inside”. His disciples and others who are with Him are the only ones to whom Jesus explains Himself.
He asks His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” He desires for His followers to grasp the bigger picture, to know He is God, the great “I AM” of their Jewish heritage. He does not appear concerned about those who are excluded.
I like to think those who are excluded from understanding Jesus are those who can’t understand Jesus; unfortunately, this is errant thinking for no one is capable of understanding Jesus unless God the Holy Spirit gives understanding. In other words, we are all blind, all deaf, all stupid when it comes to comprehending God. God Himself gives us the ability to see Him, hear Him, understand Him, follow Him.
So, we come to the election of the saints.
Yes, God did choose — before the foundation of the world — a select few for salvation; or at the very least God saw ahead of time who would choose Him. Either way, the election stands.
The parables — the mystery of Jesus’ stories — proves the Son of God died for those in the Book of Life.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look on the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall grow old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner; but my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. (Isaiah 51:6, DARBY)
The message here isn’t — of course — that the created dies but that the Creator lives forever and that His purposes never fail. The heavens above us — the sky, the other planets, the stars, the galaxies — will vanish one day like a puff of smoke. And the earth will just wear out. So will we. We will grow old and die. Some translations go so far as to say we will die like gnats or like flies — like insignificant insects.
But God — who is not insignificant — will never die. And His holiness and His method of salvation will last forever.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
God exists outside the limits of time and space (except for a brief stint here on earth as an infant, child, young man). Since God is not limited in His point of view (since He is omniscient, that is) He is able to know ahead (and outside) of time who is “to be conformed to the image of His Son”. That’s easy. Once something is known (ahead of time) and is not then changed by the all-powerful God, then that thing known ahead of time becomes what we refer to as “predestined”. So much for free will. That’s easy, too.
So, God knew us before time, predestined us before time, called us before and inside time, justified us inside time, and glorifies us inside and beyond time. Time, in other words, does not and can not limit God.
Because of His unlimited power and knowledge about our fate, God “is for us”; and because He is for us, nothing can be against us. Nothing. Why? Because God did not spare His own Son. He gave Him up to Death for us. Therefore, He will keep us (those whose names are written in the Book of Life) — forever.
2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”
James probably does not mean to set aside poor motivations for what we desire, what we see our neighbor owning that we want to own as well when he says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” Most readers would agree since James just mentions killing, quarreling and fighting over things.
So what do we need from God? James begins his letter by reminding us to ask God for wisdom rather than for things. Seems many have forgotten this truth, asking and expecting personal wealth, so much wealth that it’s hard to understand the subsequent lack of generosity.
The so-called prosperity gospel promises that as long as we are generous to God, He will be generous to us. We give the whole tithe to the storehouse — supposedly the physical church we attend — and He will give us so much we will not know what to do with it all. Even if this is true, why then do we find so little giving to those outside the church, to the poor? Why is keeping up with the Joneses so prevalent in the wealthy megachurch?
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38, NIV)
The final portion of Jesus’ comment about generosity seems downplayed by the very rich megachurch. Jesus says that the measure we use is what is measured to us. His comment seems a warning to me, not a promise. Jesus is calling us to unmeasured generosity rather than giving as a calculated risk. Hence His use of the words, “pressed down, shaken together and running over”. He asks us to give so much that we are spent from that very giving. God calls us to give the “good measure.”
And James tells us to ask God for the wisdom to do what is right at all times. No one fights over wisdom.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Jesus tells His listeners — those who attend to His Words — to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, and to pray for those who mistreat them. He does not tell His listeners — those who follow after Him — to hate, curse, or mistreat their foes.
The love Jesus calls us to is not lip-service. Love is not saying, “Oh you didn’t hurt me with your cruel words” or “you didn’t damage my life with your unfair actions against me”. Rather love recognizes the harm done and calls on us to turn the other cheek. Love demands we go out of our way to do good in response to evil.
Love does not hide. God tells us that perfect loves literally drives out fear. And, perfect love keeps no record of wrongs, reminds Paul. Love never fails, never angers, never gives up.
We are to persevere in the face of mistreatment. We are never to return an insult with an insult of our own. We are never to be bitter when evil appears to succeed. Rather we are to pray — and we are not to pray for our enemy’s demise, but we are to pray for our enemy’s benefit.
Love desires what is best for the other — always.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul had a fine example of how to become all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some. Of course his example is our example — the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ first transformation was in becoming an infant and growing up into a full-fledged human male, becoming like us, in other words. A slightly later transformation was in becoming a well-educated religious scholar ready to debate and educate His elders in the temple. Yes, Jesus became a Bible Scholar! A later transformation was in becoming like a sinner by joining in the revelry of sinners inside the home of a tax collector — no, He did not sin, but He was not afraid or leery of being seen with sinners. Yes, Jesus became a partygoer!
Paul took Jesus’ example to heart. Paul deliberately did not disassociate himself from others. He did not shun people because they were not Christian, or because they did not fully understand their freedom under Christ, or that they were Jews in lock step with the law, or that they persecuted him for being different from them. Rather he associated himself with all types of people and made himself similar to them in order to gain their respect, their trust, perhaps even their friendship and so save some of them.
We ought to do the same.