I dedicate this post to the memory of my mother, Rosemarie Lynch, who went to her eternal rest on November 6. Mom overcame many challenges in her life, but still found ways to be a blessing to others.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
Jesus told His disciples that the mark of a true disciple would be love for others. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”: not if you have great theology, preach to a lot of people, can quote the Bible in your sleep, listen to gospel music, etc. Love for other people, especially other Christians, proves our love for Jesus. (A sad indictment of many Christians is their eagerness to say “They’re not real Christians” about people they disagree with.)
Romans 12:10 says the following:
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor….”
Genuine Christian love places the needs of others above oneself, particularly above one’s wants and convenience.
Christian love is sacrificial. Jesus said we should love one another as He has loved us. How did He love us? Most notably, by dying for our sins. He gave everything for us. Our need for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life superseded His desire for earthly comfort. We do not show our love just by enjoying the company of others when it is convenient. True Christian love demands that we go out on a limb, care for the needs of those who are hurting, even when it means we may have to forego some of our desires. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, provide clothing to the naked, care for the sick, and visit prisoners. Are we answering His call with loving action, or do we just pray for these people, hoping God will send someone else to make real sacrifices?
Christian love upholds the dignity of others. Some people obsess about power, control, and authority in relationships. One person is “higher up” than another. Too often, sermons about family focus on a hierarchy: The husband is the head of the wife, the parents are over the children, and so on. The Bible justifies some of this. However, it is an incomplete perspective. Without love, it can be dangerous. Husbands, love your wives; wives, love your husbands. Love your children; do not embitter them. Give preference to one another. Show compassion.
Love, respect, and dignity should guide our relationships, not control. Such guidelines should govern all of our relationships, whether in the family, the church, or elsewhere.
Christian love is not always easy. Jesus does not call us to love those who are easy to love; almost anybody can do that! We are called to imitate God and His Son, Jesus Christ. This calls us to love others as Jesus loved us: completely, sacrificially, imparting life and hope to others.
I would like to hear from you. How do you seek God when He seems distant or it looks like He is allowing you to suffer? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
God’s love is eternal. God’s love is infinite. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Some days may make us doubt that truth. Have you ever gone through a time in your life where you felt like every imaginable crisis was hitting you at once? Perhaps you felt like screaming at God, “What is going on? Do I have a ‘kick me’ sign on my spirit’s butt? Why don’t you just leave me alone?” Job probably said it with a little more class:
“What is man that You magnify him, And that You are concerned about him, That You examine him every morning And try him every moment? Will You never turn Your gaze away from me, Nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle? Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself?” (Job 7:17-20).
When life seems out of control, God is still with you. Even when He seems most distant, He walks beside you. Many are going through hard times over the last 19 months as the pandemic has continued and social, economic, and political turmoil has raged.
Even when we experience injustice, the just and righteous God loves us and stands beside us. When we endure hatred or bigotry, God loves us because He is the one who made us. When we experience droughts, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, or other natural disasters, God is only a prayer away, ready to bless, heal, strengthen, and restore us.
The forces of hell cannot overpower us. If you are a disciple of Jesus, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). God is greater. The political powers of this world cannot overpower the love of God, no matter what they think, secular society demands, or the media proclaim. We should not live in fear of anything or anybody that stands opposed to the love of God.
Even if we think our sins caused our problems (sometimes that is the case), we should not flee away from God. He still loves and forgives us. It is at these times, when life is difficult, that we most need to cling to God. He will not reject us.
Nothing and nobody can separate us from the love of God. Hold on, believe, and trust Him, and He will bless us through our hard times.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I would like to hear from you. How do you seek God when He seems distant or it looks like He is allowing you to suffer? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
God is love. Entire books declare God’s love. Some preachers have based all of their theology on this statement. It is true, but it can be distorted, especially if we assume that it is the only attribute of God. Many people, even ones who claim to be born-again Christians, think so. They say “God judges nobody,” despite numerous Bible verses that speak of a final judgment. They say “love wins,” or even “love is love,” without defining love.
Biblical Greek had several words that are usually translated as “love.” “Phileo” describes the kind of love between friends. “Eros” often speaks of romantic or sexual love (think of our English word “erotic”). The word most frequently used for the love of God is “agape,” which Thomas Aquinas defined by saying “to love is to will the good of another.” Agape love seeks the best interests of another person regardless of reward to oneself.
Psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) coined the phrase “unconditional positive regard” to describe the attitude he believed a therapist should express toward his client. Being strongly secular, he avoided biblical terminology, but his definition is worth considering when we ask how we, as imperfect humans, can express agape love. One writer describes unconditional positive regard like this:
“According to Rogers, unconditional positive regard involves showing complete support and acceptance of a person no matter what that person says or does. The therapist accepts and supports the client, no matter what they say or do, placing no conditions on this acceptance. That means the therapist supports the client, whether they are expressing ‘good’ behaviors and emotions or ‘bad’ ones” (Kendra Cherry, “Unconditional Positive Regard in Psychology”).
Everyone we come into contact with will have weaknesses, shortcomings, and failures. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; everybody needs forgiveness. Everybody has needs. Everybody needs help sometimes.
I share Rogers’ terminology here partially because it has seeped into many Christians’ thinking. Many believers seem to be following Rogers when they speak of love. However, the Bible gives a detailed description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
“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” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
I suspect Dr. Rogers would agree with many parts of this passage but disagree with a very significant point.
Love is patient. It does not lose its patience with those who make mistakes or are not growing “quickly enough.”
Love is kind. When love sees someone in need, it tries to help.
Love is not jealous. Love is happy when someone else succeeds, prospers, or excels. It does not get upset because somebody has done or received something you have not done or received.
Love does not brag and is not arrogant. It does not tear others down to make itself feel better about itself.
Love does not act unbecomingly. Many translations (including the NIV, NRSV, and ESV) translate this by saying that love is not rude. It is polite and respectful.
Love does not seek its own. It is not self-centered or greedy. Instead, it seeks to bless and help others. The King James Bible frequently translates “agape” in 1 Corinthians 13 as “charity.” We usually use that word to describe freely giving to people or groups in need, even if we do not know who they are or if we will receive no personal benefit from the act.
Love is not provoked. In the words of the NIV, it is not easily angered. It does not lose its temper every time things do not go its way or people do not do what it wants.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. It does not hold grudges. It does not seek revenge.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. Here, Carl Rogers and the Bible part ways. In the name of unconditional positive regard, Rogers would encourage a person to seek “self-actualization” even if it meant making choices that contradict the Bible. When personal choice and Scripture conflict, a sincere Christian will side with Scripture. True biblical love does not celebrate sin. Instead, it desires the repentance, restoration, renewal, and redemption of sinners.
Love rejoices in the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” Love rejoices in Jesus. It does not betray or deny Him. Love conforms itself to God’s will, not to the ways of the world:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
If God’s love lives in our hearts, we will not conform ourselves to the world. We will be transformed by the renewing of the mind—through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Love bears all things. It would rather suffer than sin. It accepts challenges and difficulties that God allows in our lives.
Love believes all things. It especially believes that God can accomplish His perfect will in the lives of those around us.
Love hopes all things. It waits with patient expectation for God to accomplish His will in the lives of others. Christian hope is not an “I hope God does what He said He would do” attitude. It is a confident patience that waits to see every promise come to completion.
Love endures all things. It never gives up.
Whenever you see the word “love” in 1 Corinthians 13, you can substitute the names “God” or “Jesus.” Can you substitute your name, though? First John 4:8 says that the one who does not love does not know God. Do you truly know Him? How often can you honestly substitute your name in place of “love” in 1 Corinthians 13?
True biblical love seeks the glory of God and the blessing of those around us, whether they deserve it or not. It does not ignore God’s other attributes, such as righteousness, justice, and holiness. However, God’s love provides a foundation on which those other attributes can stand.
I would like to hear from you. How do you define love? How does this affect your perception of what God is like? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“Incomprehensible and immutable is the love of God. For it was not after we were reconciled to him by the blood of his Son that he began to love us, but he loved us before the foundation of the world, that with his only begotten Son we too might be sons of God before we were anything at all” (St. Augustine of Hippo).
All St. Augustine quotes are from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
August 28 is the Feast of St. Augustine in some churches. The following thoughts commemorate him while also providing an introduction to a forthcoming series about God’s Love.
St. Augustine (born November 13, 354; died August 28, 430) is arguably the most influential Christian author since the apostles passed away. His writings not only influenced Roman Catholicism, but also perhaps the two most significant Protestant reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin. If you follow the teachings of Luther or consider yourself a Calvinist, you are a de facto Augustinian.
Some may find his theology heavy-handed; his views about morality were strict, perhaps legalistic. Raised by a Christian mother and pagan father, he spent his youth as a rebel. During early adulthood he sought truth: followed Manicheeism (sort of a proto-New-Age fusion of Christianity and Eastern mysticism), had a son out of wedlock, became a professor of rhetoric, and eventually became a Christian. Interested readers may want to check out his biography, the Confession of St. Augustine. Although he lived over 1600 years ago, it is easy to relate to him. His Confession reminds us that times may change, but people are essentially the same.
In the coming weeks, I will share a few thoughts about the love of God. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8); it is one of His most important attributes. If we do not have the love of God in our hearts, our faith is not genuine.
I would like to close with a few more quotes by St. Augustine about God’s love. Reflect on them and rejoice in the incomprehensible, unchangeable love that God has for you!
“O Love ever burning and never extinguished caritas, my God, set me on fire.”
“God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.”
“People are renewed by love. As sinful desire ages them, so love rejuvenates them.”
“The single desire that dominated my search for delight was simply to love and be loved.” (Augustine sought satisfaction in several premarital sexual relationships before surrendering his life to Christ. Like many people today, he found that he was “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as a popular song from the 1970s said.)
I would like to hear from you. Does one of Augustine’s quotes really speak to you in a special way? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
From time to time, I like to share some thoughts on this blog related to a saint’s day on the traditional church calendar. So, for this day, Happy St. Valentine’s Day!
A few years ago, a friend posted a rant on Facebook about people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Part of his argument was that he thinks Christians should not celebrate saints’ days, because (in his opinion) it means we are giving people the worship that belongs to God alone.
I could have answered him on the subject of whether we actually worship the saints. I admire St. Patrick. I find a blessing looking at the lives of great men and women of God, seeing what I can learn about following Jesus from them, and using their lives as a means to draw closer to the Lord. But, instead, I reminded him that only about five weeks earlier, he had posted an enthusiastic post about his wife, referring to her as his “Valentine.”
He could not see the connection. Most people, including my friend, have forgotten that the day is Saint Valentine’s Day. My desk calendar refers to it simply as “Valentine’s Day.” On the other hand, it has not dropped the “saint” part from the holiday that occurs on March 17.
Sadly, much of the world has dropped saintliness from St. Patrick’s Day, even if we kept the name. A feast day to commemorate the “apostle to the Irish” became a celebration of Irish culture, which has devolved for many into an alcoholic drinking orgy with a smattering of pre-Christian paganism (leprechauns, for example): I suspect the real St. Patrick would not have liked how his name is commemorated. Patrick is forgotten in all of the shenanigans. Personally, I usually read St. Patrick’s Confession and Letter to the Servants of Coroticus and pray the Breastplate of St. Patrick on that day. (By the way, I do enjoy an Irish dinner on that day, but I usually commemorate Patrick by eating shepherd’s pie instead of corned beef and cabbage.)
We may have dropped “Saint” from Valentine’s Day. Let us not forget what the man stood for. On Valentine’s Day, most of us celebrate love. We devote extra time to our spouses or other romantic partners, along with our families and friends. We should be able to connect the God that Valentine served to our celebration:
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, ESV).
Not too much seems to be known about St. Valentine. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop who was martyred on February 14, 269. Beyond that not much is known. Some accounts claim he was executed for performing weddings for Christian couples despite laws prohibiting it. Christian biographer James Kiefer wrote:
“There are several stories making the rounds that try to explain the connection between valentines and Valentine. Every one that I have heard sounds like an explanation made up after the fact, probably by a Victorian clergyman lecturing to children. There are other explanations attempting to connect it with various pagan festivals of the early spring. Again, I am not impressed. That young men should send romantic messages in the springtime both in 90 BC and in 1990 AD does not require a conspiracy theory to explain it.”
We may know little about St. Valentine, but we can know a lot about the love of God. If Valentine was a priest or bishop, and if he died as a martyr for the faith, we can make the following assumptions: (1) He loved God and (2) his love was a sacrificial, self-surrendering love. He is also considered the patron saint of epilepsy; I have not studied why this is so, but it is a good reminder that God calls us to love those whose health problems can be a challenge not only to them, but to those around them.
Let us show God’s sacrificial love to all, not just on February 14 but every day:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV).
PS—This post is dedicated to my wife Joyce, who is my Valentine every day!
A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).