My dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I seek for my work.
Sometimes we think of Paul as a grim, determined adventurer who kept going no matter what dangers and obstacles he encountered. Certainly, he was fiercely dedicated to the cause God had given him, but from time to time, he give us a glimpse of another side of his personality. As he concludes his letter to the Philippians, he tells them that they mean the world to him. How does he communicate his heart? Twice in the same verse, he shares that they are “dear” to him, and he says they are his joy and crown. They were his joy because their faith in Christ and their generosity to him delighted him, and they were his crown because on the day Paul stands before Christ to give an account for his life, he can point to them as evidence of his faithfulness.
What are the messages we give those around us? Some of us communicate warmth and affection, but many of us feel uncomfortable telling people we love them. Paul, perhaps the toughest guy in the New Testament, exuded affection for people. He wasn’t the least bit threatened by displays of love.
Statements of love, though, have to come from the heart. If they’re fake, they result in resentment, not trust. We need to focus on God’s love for us and for people around us, asking God to give us His eyes to see them, and then we can take steps to communicate the love He gives us for them. That’s not phony. It’s the real thing, and it changes lives.
Christians are like the flowers in a garden, that have each of them the dew of Heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishes of each other.
Perhaps one of the most misused and misunderstood words in the English language is the word love. Far too often it’s used in a manipulative manner. How many times have we heard, “If you love me, you will…..” and the blank is filled in with some demand, often by something we either shouldn’t do or don’t wish to do. Uncaring, selfish people use the word “love” to force or guilt someone into doing what they want them to do.
We hear that any time we talk to people about how the Bible says we ought to live, we are judging them and don’t love them. How many children have thought and believed their parents didn’t love them if they didn’t let them have their way? How many teachers are accused of being mean when they push children to do their work, even though it only benefits the child?
It’s as though love’s definition has somehow morphed into the idea that unless you let me live like I wish, do what I wish, give me what I wish and work to provide everything I want then you don’t truly love me.
There are those who question the love of God especially when He doesn’t do what they demand, never mind that they ignore Him until they are in crisis. Or how about those who attribute blame when God doesn’t keep them from adversity or when some calamity occurs. Insurance companies have even coined the phrase, “an act of God.”
But let’s pause for a second and think about what true love is. Would a parent who loves their child permit them to engage in activities that could very harm them? I think not. I think that parent would risk the anger of that child for the moment because their love outweighed everything else. Love moves us to act fully in the best interest of those we love even at great cost. That’s what God did.
When you think about the love of God and the laws He gave to us in an honest way, you can see how everything He tells us to do is for our good and everything He prohibits lead’s ultimately to destruction. Paul says that “the wages of sin is death.” Everything that God calls sin ends there, without exception. Oh, we may not experience immediate results anymore than Adam and Eve did in the Fall, but just as death came to them it also comes to us. God in His love provided us a way of escape. Paul continues, “but the gift of God is eternal life.” Receiving this gift from God only has one requirement: once we accept that gift, we belong to God and everything we do must meet His standard. When we see how much He loved us- to the giving of His own Son- we can hardly question that love, yet many do because God won’t operate under their conditions.
We, especially as Christians, must love so strongly that we are compelled to speak God’s truths and call people to righteous living even if it makes us unpopular for the moment. Why should we do this you may ask? Because we love them too much to leave them practicing the sins that will lead to death- the second death of eternal separation from God and all that’s good. In the same way we would intervene if we saw someone engaged in dangerous and destructive behavior that could end with losing their life, we must be aware that those held captive by sin are in danger of losing their souls.
Jesus taught us how to love in the story of the woman caught committing adultery. When her accusers brought her before Him, He listened to their charges. There’s no indication that He accepted her lifestyle, but there is no question that He loved her. As He looks up at her accusers, He speaks powerful words: “Let the one who has no sin cast the first stone.” Those holding the stones dropped them and one by one left. Truthfully, the only one who could have rightfully thrown the first stone chose not to do so. Instead He asks a question, “Where are your accusers?” “They’re gone,” she replies. “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus says. Many people stop reading here and wish to say that since Christ didn’t condemn, neither should we which is true for none of us have the power to condemn or judge others. However, saying an action is a sin isn’t the same as condemning the sinner anymore than the doctor who diagnoses a disease is a killer. In both cases, recognizing wrong conduct or diagnosing a disease is more for our benefit than the one who makes it known. Like disease, unless we become aware of sin, it will continue its course of destruction and death unless we seek a remedy. What Jesus concluded the conversation with are these words: “Go and sin no more.” No condemnation to the person but no acceptance of the sin. With those words Christ provided forgiveness but instructed the woman to change her behavior. That’s the power of true love. I’ve coined a phrase that I say often: God loves you just the way you are but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.
So go ahead, don’t be afraid to love so strongly that you are willing to speak truth in love and save a soul from destruction. If you’re on the receiving end of correction, consider that God loves you and more than likely the person who has confronted you does too.