ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – LOVE

Scripture says that God is love. 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8

We know that there are three primary words for love in the New Testament that enrich its meaning in Scripture beyond what our English translation can provide.

First is Eros from which we derive erotic, or romantic love, sexual and physical; it is a love that desires to possess for personal benefit.

Second is Phileo from which we get Philadelphia and philanthropy, words that mean companionship and friendship.

Third is Agape love.  This is the New Testament Greek word that describes God’s love for us.   Agape love is the result of a decision that commits itself to the well-being of the beloved regardless of the condition or reaction of the one who is loved, and it is the type of love that comes from God.

God loves His creation, and more than the creation generally, God loves His people.  Moses expressed it like this:

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

In other words, God’s love is not dependent on anything that we have or any action that we have taken.  It is not dependent on our position in society or the status of our bank account.  Indeed, we have nothing that God has not given us, and we can give Him nothing that he needs … He loves us because He is love.

The amazing aspect of this attribute is that it is complete, unconditional and everlasting love.  A. W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) said this about God’s love:

God’s love is measureless.  It is more.  It is boundless.  It has no bounds because it is not a thing but a facet of the essential nature of GodHis love is something He is, and because He is infinite, that love can enfold the whole created world in itself and have room for ten thousand times ten thousand worlds beside.

The Apostle John elaborates on this incredible attribute of our marvelous God when he says:

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. … We love because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:9-11, 19

And now we come to the crux of the matter.  John said it well – “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”  This week, known by many as Passion Week, we have prepared for Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  It is truly a day of joyous celebration for the Christian. 

But, before we can properly arrive at Sunday’s celebration we need to ruminate upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, the Friday night when sin thought it had triumphed over mankind.  This is the supreme example of God’s Agape love.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinnersChrist died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6-10.

We, who were wallowing in our sin and were deserving of nothing but death and judgment from a holy God, were granted righteousness and full pardon from the judgment that our sin surely deserved when Christ died for us.  His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His powerful resurrection from the dead provides us with His righteousness because He took our sin and paid for it with His precious blood on the cross.

That, Beloved, is Agape love.  We don’t have to get clean before God will love us.  We don’t have to do anything before God will love us. The Holy Spirit said it through Paul’s writing: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the example of divine, Agape, love for a being that can offer nothing … it is supreme love that is contingent not on the person being loved but on the nature of the One doing the loving.

This is the love that our Lord exhibited when He took our place on that cross.  It is the love that is evident when Jesus, suffering mightily on the cross, prayed for the soldiers who, even as He spoke, were dividing His clothing among themselves:

“”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

Luke 23:34

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion.  It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party.  It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them.

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 182.

This love that has been extended to us deserves our response in love extended back to God and then to others.

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a Puritan theologian, pastor, and devout Calvinist, whose conversion centered on his coming to the realization that God is sovereign over all things.  In the book Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards calls love the “sum of all Christianity”.  And he renders the following exhortation:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God… If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming [to] Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

May we relish in this glorious attribute of our holy God – Love.  And may we honor and glorify the embodiment of that love in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who endured unimaginable horror on the cross as He absorbed all our sin in Himself so that we could be called the children of God, all on the day we call Good Friday.  And may we live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we glorify God through compassion and loving kindness as we share the good news of Jesus Christ and the glorious message of hope through His resurrection which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Sovereign God, I praise You and glorify You as only You are worthy of adoration.  Thank You for the love that has been expressed through the sacrifice of Your Son so that my sin has been paid for and my debt extinguished through His righteousness.  I bow in humble obedience to You, my Lord and Master.

A TRAGEDY OF OUR TIMES

Newborn
Newborn child, wrapped in hospital blanket and cap; sleeping soundly in the cocoon of the blanket.  But, not all newborns are healthy and comfortable … some are born addicts, a tragedy of epic consequence!

 

A newborn baby is a gift from God.  See Genesis 33:5 and Hebrews 2:12.  They are to be loved, cared for, protected, nurtured, and taught of God and His Word.  This is not the future that many of our young ones have, however.

 

A while ago, the Knoxville News Sentinel, ran an article under the headline “East Tennessee Children’s Hospital treats drug-dependent babies”.   Most of these precious babies became dependent on drugs due to abuse of painkillers or anti-anxiety medications used by their mothers during pregnancy.  The article spoke of a two-week-old child that exhibited the “telltale signs of a baby agitated and in pain”.  The little boy had an open sore on his face from rubbing the skin raw; a scratch on his left cheek; tremors so severe that he was placed in a special area where nurses can watch him 24/7 in case he has seizures or stops breathing.

 

This little guy is experiencing untold horrors placed upon him by the actions of his mother prior to birth.  The article states that the pain for these infants is excruciating.  The medical personnel who treat them say the infants suffer from nausea, vomiting, severe stomach cramps and diarrhea that is so severe the skin can blister like a severe burn.  And the babies are inconsolable.

 

I cannot judge this child’s mother for what she did or did not do.  I don’t know what circumstances she found herself in other than that she was going to have a baby.   I can only pray for this woman, her little baby and his recovery from an addiction that he did not cause but which will likely continue to plague him for the rest of his life.

 

It would be bad enough if this little tyke was the only child so afflicted.  But the numbers show that the club into which he was born is not exclusive to him.  Tennessee statistics show that in 1999, drug dependent babies were hospitalized 55 times.  In 2011 that had figure skyrocketed to 672 infant hospitalizations due to addiction.  In 2015, the Tennessean newspaper blog advised that in 2014 there were 921 drug dependent babies born in Tennessee.

 

And, these numbers have not gone down.  In an April, 2016 news article about the end of a Tennessee law related to incarceration of mothers of drug-dependent babies, USA Today discussed the status of Tennessee’s fight for these helpless babies and stated:

 

“Roughly 1,000 babies suffering from drug dependence have been born every year since 2013, when the state began requiring all hospitals to report them to the health department.”

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, as cited in a USA Today article entitled Born into suffering, the number of drug dependent babies admitted to intensive care units nearly quadrupled from 2004 through 2013, from 7 to 27 per 1,000 hospital admissions.  Vanderbilt University researchers said in the Journal of Perinatology that one affected baby was born every 25 minutes in 2012.  That figure is likely higher now.

 

We cannot continue to harm the unborn generation by killing babies through abortion or by rendering infants incapacitated because of drugs ingested by their mothers.  This must stop; but we must recognize that both actions are merely symptoms of the underlying spiritual war raging in our world.

 

I don’t have any pill, plan or panacea that would stop this travesty.

 

But I do believe in God and that His Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of our souls.  I do believe that He came to earth and died on the cross for my sins and for the sins of all who would repent and claim Him as their Savior.

Used Easter in Canterbury (C)
Easter display at Canterbury Cathedral, in Canterbury, England

 

I do believe that the power of sin and evil was defeated when Jesus rose from the dead, the event we celebrate as Easter.  I do believe that He will come again and that He has already won the cosmic struggle which is evidenced by the depravity that we see in our world today.

 

And, I do believe that He can reverse this tide if we repent, seek His strength to withstand the pull of addiction and utilize all the tools He has provided for support, withdrawal assistance and reintroduction of mothers and families into a drug-free existence.

 

Jesus used little children as living examples when he taught His disciples:

 

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:36-37. (NIV)

 

He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Mark 10:14-16. (NIV)

 

I look at my own grandchildren and praise the Lord that they are healthy, growing strong and in loving, supportive families.  They remind me that I must come to the Lord with the same open, trusting and loving heart that they exhibit when they come to me.

 

Children swinging
Children swinging at the campground playground.

 

They also remind me that there is a dramatic contrast between their lives and so many children for whom a loving and supportive family is a mere dream, and for those children my heart weeps.

 

In humble obedience, I believe that we all must pray for these little children.  I believe that we must take part in caring for these little ones, trying to give them as much of a life as we can.  We need to work with the mothers during pregnancy to stop abortions and the use of drugs.  And I believe we must work toward addressing the situations that create the desire to abort children and abuse drugs in the first place.

 

Above all, we need to point the mothers to the Savior who loves them and their unborn child more than they could ever know.

 

Father, this horror is too big for me.  I feel helpless against its magnitude.  But You are all powerful and all wise, and I believe that You are the answer to the problem of addiction of any type.  Guide me and give me strength to follow Your lead in doing what I can to help these precious infants who are suffering so upon their birth and to help their mothers understand that drugs are not the solution to any problem.

 

WHERE IS THE PEACE?

Our world is so frenetic, we often feel that we are penned in by so many obligations that there is no way out. We have the calendar calling our name when the alarm rings in the morning. We have the cell phone buzzing to tell us people need our viewpoints immediately, whether we are ready or not. We have the children calling for our attention even as we are trying to work or fix breakfast. We have our spouse who seeks our attention even as we are preparing the evening meal. We have the iPod clanging that we have new emails that have not yet been read, and when we break into our activity to attend to the emails we find that they are advertisements for products we don’t need. The telephone distracts our attention with a recorded message for the politician or for the survey that some marketing company wants. Then there are the charities that call, the handicapped, the symphony, the church, the various ministries that we support … EVERYONE wants our attention on a daily, hourly, minutely basis! Peace is a desired characteristic of our daily, personal life but it often seems to be an illusion of the highest order in the reality of daily duties.

But then the news wreaks havoc on any semblance of peace that may otherwise have survived the daily distractions. Something extraordinary is subject of “Breaking News” and our mundane disturbances are brought into sharp focus as being what they are, relatively minor inconveniences.

Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC

Indeed, we have become aware of such “Breaking News” this past week when hatred interrupted a prayer service by barging into the walls of a beautiful, historic church in Charleston, South Carolina when a gunman opened fire and killed nine innocent people.   (Picture of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, taken from the church website.)

Because of the cell phone videos and the media coverage swarming the area, we who are miles away from the scene participate in the shock and sickening disgust at the carnage the actions of a lone gunman can cause. The actions were particularly malevolent given the place in which they occurred; the sanctuary of a church where people go to pray and seek solace from God and their brothers and sisters in the Faith. Such evil is almost impossible for us to contemplate.

Clearly chaos was released into that building that day. But, the gunman’s actions did not kill Christ’s peace notwithstanding the havoc wreaked on the victims’ physical bodies. The Spirit of peace, of love and of forgiveness was brought into dramatic contrast to the spirit of evil when the victims’ families told the gunman that, despite their profound grief, they forgave him and were praying for his soul.

Such love and peace is impossible on our own. Jesus commanded that love was to be the primary characteristic of His people. John 13:35. The Apostle John said:

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

I John 4:16.

Jesus further instructed that He would give peace, even in times of extreme distress. One such time recorded in Scripture was when Jesus told His disciples of His imminent betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Needless to say, His disciples were confused and afraid.

After telling them that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to them, He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:17.

Then just before His crucifixion, Jesus told them:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The empty tomb is evidence that death has been overcome; Satan and evil have lost the cosmic war. Although in the short-term it may seem that evil is winning the contest, Jesus is the final victor. In other words, no matter what happens, we can have peace because, as He promised in John 16:33, He has overcome the world, including the evil therein!

Without a doubt, hatred won the headline for the day – but, those believers who were praying at the time of the shooting won the war.  Through Christ, they were victorious over evil on that dark day in Charleston.  They are with their Savior and are beyond any pain, tears or grief.

Because Jesus has overcome evil and death, His believers can have peace …

  • a peace that is resident within them through His Holy Spirit;
  • a peace that overcomes the evil in the world;
  • a peace that enables the victims’ families to forgive in the midst of their grief;
  • a peace that is truly beyond understanding. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7.

This peace was on display when the victims’ families expressed love and forgiveness for the one who had inflicted this unutterable loss on them.  No one was hiding their grief — this peace was transcendent over their grief.  This is the peace that is available to all who believe on Jesus’ Name and repent from their sins, accepting Him as their Savior.

Do you have this peace?