Posts Tagged With: love

God Is Love: Biblical Love and the Secular Perspective

“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).

Photo by Wingchi Poon, under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Image created with YouVersion Bible app.

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.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, Love of God | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts on the Love of God by St. Augustine

“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).
A young St. Augustine with his mother, St. Monica. Painting by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), photographed by Johann Dréo from Chartres, France, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Happy SAINT Valentine’s Day

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!

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

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!

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas: The Love of God Revealed To and Through Us

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Merry Christmas to all of my friends and followers of Darkened Glass Reflections! There is a popular seasonal song that proclaims “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” I usually find myself thinking it is the most busy and stressful time of the year. It is easy to lose sight of the birth of Jesus when your attention is drawn to the commercialized elements of the holiday.

As I write this post, my wife and I are preparing for friends and family to arrive, so this will be a brief post. In my devotions today, I came across this passage worth reflecting upon:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12, ESV, emphasis added).

The entire life of Christ—from conception, to birth, His earthly life and ministry, to His death, resurrection, and ascension—revealed the love of God. It was an invitation to unite the life of God with the lives of mankind. It is easy to view passages like this one as simply “Jesus came and died so we would not go to hell.” But, it is more than that. In Christ, God has revealed Himself to us and shown us what a true man or woman of God is like. This passage goes on to speak about how God sent us His Spirit (v. 13). The Spirit-filled life of a Christian is one filled with the life of Christ and the love of God in our hearts.

What does this love look like?

  • It is active. When mankind fell into sin, God did not merely throw up His hands in frustration and mumble, “Well, you guys screwed up; you’re on your own now.” Instead, He launched a plan to redeem us from the wages of sin. That plan demanded that Jesus take action to live and die as one of us.
  • It is sacrificial. It cost Jesus everything to come to earth (Philippians 2:5-11). He thought our souls and eternal lives were worth the price. He stepped down from his comfortable exalted throne to be born in a manger and die on a cross.
  • It is merciful and gracious. We did not deserve God’s love, but He loves us anyway. He does not hold back His love because we do not deserve it; instead, His love compels Him to raise us up above our sins and shortcomings.

Let the love of Jesus guide us as we celebrate His birth and life. Let our love be active, seeking opportunities to bless those around us. Let our love be sacrificial, seeking to bless others even if it costs us time, money, or comfort. Let our love be merciful and gracious; let us love others, even when we think they do not deserve it. Instead of letting the commercialism of Christmas interfere with the spiritual part of the holiday, let the active, sacrificial, merciful, and gracious love of Jesus motivate our gift-giving and gatherings.

Most of all, let us keep the message of Christmas in our hearts year-round. May the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace rule and dwell in our hearts through His love every day.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Nature and Personality, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Godly Sorrow—2 Corinthians 7:10

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

We all know the repeat apologizer. Over and over, he or she disappoints us, breaks promises, or does things to hurt us (accidentally or intentionally). He or she then apologizes and promises to stop doing it. However, before long, they make the same mistake and repeat the same apologies and promises. He or she might be a friend, spouse or other family member, or co-worker. If we are honest, we are probably that person to somebody else, in some area of our lives. I think all believers, at some point, are such repeat apologizers towards God.

The apologies and promises sound sincere, but after a while one loses faith in them. Is that person truly sorry, or just trying to manipulate feelings?

St. Paul contrasted two kinds of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7. The King James Version refers to one of them as “godly sorrow” (or, as the NASB puts it, “sorrow according to the will of God”), which produces a true repentance leading unto salvation. “The sorrow of the world,” on the other hand, leads to spiritual death.

In many cases, the sorrow of the world is primarily being “sorry that I got caught.” From time to time, a politician or celebrity gets caught in a sex scandal. Initial rumors are usually followed by protests of innocence (the alleged adulterer accuses others of false accusations or blackmail), but once the evidence mounts, he publicly apologizes for his wrongdoing, often praising his wife for being such a wonderful woman whom he never intended to hurt. In far too many cases, the cycle is repeated soon thereafter.

It is not only sex. Many people are never sorry for other misdeeds until they are caught: Think of the person who drives while intoxicated until he is finally pulled over by the police, or the co-worker who steals office supplies until the boss figures out where all those pens and reams of printer paper went.

Others may be sorry for the consequences of their actions. A young woman may be sorry that she got pregnant with that guy she just met. Or, the drunk driver is sorry that he totalled his car in the accident.

It is so easy to get angry or frustrated with those people. Yet, how often are we like that with God? We confess our sins during prayer, and it is the exact same set of sins we confessed yesterday. The time, location, circumstances, and other affected or involved persons have changed, but we did the same thing. We tell God we are sorry, but we will probably do it again tomorrow.

Being sorry for getting caught will not bring repentance. It will just train us to find more elaborate ways to avoid getting caught the next time.

Being sorry for suffering consequences may change us for a little while. A few years ago, after a severe gall-bladder attack, I took drastic action to improve my diet: No more doughnuts; no more candy bars; cut back on coffee; avoided fatty foods. However, not long after I recovered from gall-bladder surgery, I was back to my old eating habits. Painful consequences might deter us, but if we can find our way around them, we will go right back to our old ways.

Jesus tell us that the two greatest laws in Scripture are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What kind of sorrow will produce true lasting repentance? Only a sorrow that connects with love. If we love God and love our neighbors, we will lay a foundation for godly sorrow which will lead to true repentance.

  • Love the Lord your God: Recognize who He is and all He has done for you. Acknowledge that His will for your life, especially as revealed in Scripture, is better than anything you can come up with. Then, seek to do His will and live the kind of life that will leave no obstacles between you and Him.
  • Love your neighbor: Biblical love is not just good feelings. It is a sacrificial active pursuit of the other’s best interests. It involves caring enough to seek to improve the other person’s life or situation. (Read 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 for a more detailed explanation.) Do we think about how our choices will affect the person we love?

Repentance is the starting point for pursuing a new way of life, and it usually begins with the right kind of sorrow.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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