Reflections on Love: Asking Too Much, or Giving Too Little?

1 John 3:16-17 (ESV)

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

Knowing Love

In the first part of verse 16, we are given the essence of what love really is:

“By this we know love…”
Q: By what? What is “this”?
A: “He laid down his life for us.”

Jesus. Son of God. Anointed One. Perfect. Sinless. Beautiful. Glorious. God in flesh.

Abandoned. Mocked. Beaten. Scourged. Flesh ripped from his body. Crucified.

For us.

Jesus on the cross, dying for us, us the ultimate picture of love, and without this, humanity would have no true experience of divine love.

Overflowing Love

The remainder of verse 16, and verses 17, 18, and 19 expand that fundamental essence of love and gives its natural outworking: Overflow. Love naturally overflows!

What does that overflow look like?

“…we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

How amazing is it that John says, “…he laid down his life for us…” and immediately concludes from that statement that we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

In other words, if we are Christ’s, we ought to do as Christ did.

One demonstration of love is that, just like Jesus, you and I would willingly deny our own physical care to accommodate the need of our brothers and sisters in the Lord, even if that would cost us our very lives.

This is a staggering conclusion that John makes. It left me turning inward. I began to ask myself, “How often does the thought of even possibly needing to give my life for another believer cross my mind?” In all honesty, it never does unless I run across this verse and it causes me to think.

So I thought. And what I thought hit me like a ton of bricks.

Love and sacrifice: Asking too much, or giving too little?

If we should so-mimic our Savior that we ought go to the extreme of dying for our brothers and sisters in Jesus, how could we possibly be unwilling to do something for them that would require less of a sacrifice.

In other words, if the most extreme sacrifice we should ever make for another believer is to die for them, shouldn’t we be able to make any other sacrifice requiring less of us on their behalf?

You and I can give nothing greater than our very lives. That, it seems, is the greatest sacrifice we could make for another person. Therefore, if those who are in Christ should go to that extent if the situation required it, all other sacrifices being less severe, should also be within the realm of “oughtness” as well.

Perspective Prayer

This puts verse 17 into incredible perspective, doesn’t it?

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

Your brother is in need. He’s not asking for your life… just a helping hand. Just a few dollars. Just a friend. A meal. Some time. A smile. [insert need.]

“Oh Father, how meetable are so many needs. You have shown us clearly that following your Son in self-sacrificial love is a beautiful way to treasure him. Yet our brothers and sisters rarely ask us for our last breath. May the overflow of joy in you that would empower us to lay down our lives also move us to glad-hearted, need-meeting generosity.”

Simple words. Powerful cross.

1 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV) — 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Whenever the topic of faith in Jesus enters a conversation, my attention is immediately heightened to what I’m saying.  Do I sound “intelligent”?  Is my “credibility” as a “rational person” at stake when I start talking about the gospel?  In a world permeated with the need to be found reasonable, I often react in one of two ways when God comes up in a conversation:

  • Shrink back and say nothing.
  • Present my case for the gospel in a way that attempts to maintain the right perception that I’ve “researched” and “studied” and “am compelled by” the historical and factual nature of the New Testament’s account of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (ie, sound as eloquent and intelligent as possible).

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 1:17 this morning leads me to believe that both reactions are inappropriate because both deny the power of the cross.

Silence

By the very structure of the sentence, Paul says that he preaches the gospel, and he doesn’t preach the gospel without words.  There is no such thing.  He qualifies how he preaches by saying that he does it without words of eloquent wisdom.  Shrinking back and saying nothing wordlessly conveys the message that the cross was not and is not powerful in my own life.  A cross of Christ that’s not powerful enough to compel me to communicate its saving power is apparently a pretty weak one.

Eloquence

What about the other end of the spectrum?

To that comes Paul’s qualification that while he preaches the gospel, he does it without words of eloquent wisdom, arguing that if he were to augment the message of the gospel with eloquent wisdom, that it would strip the cross of its power.  This struck me big time, because I never considered that by attempting to come across with sophistication and intelligence when preaching the gospel, I’m effectively diminishing the intrinsic power of the cross.

Paul seems to think that the hearer ought to be compelled by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit partnered with the message of the cross of Christ to take what would normally be a stumbling block or a message of pure foolishness (v 23) and transform it into the saving power of God.

Challenge

Let the cross be what it will be.  Leave both silence and eloquence behind.  Don’t empty the cross of its power. Trust God to take the simple words you speak and bring out the deep-rooted power of the cross of Christ.

Is God's "God-ness" Enough?

Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

“I am with you”, says God. “Therefore, fear not.”

“I am your God”, says God. “Therefore, be not dismayed.”

In righteousness God promises strength, help, and upholding. “I will”, God says. “I will.”

Faith sees these words and embraces them as reality. It looks and says, “Jesus bought that for me with his blood!”

Jesus bought God’s “God-ness” as I’m terming it. Because of this amazing reality, God is with me. God is my God, and he promises to be my strength and help, and to uphold me. God’s righteous right hand is on my side. All of this. For me (and you). In Jesus. Is it enough?

I’m asking God to persuade my heart at every inkling of doubt to trust and believe this solid ground as I face the uncertainty that is every single day of 2014. Join me.

Review of "Love to the Uttermost"

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As a dad looking for a way to lead my family in devotions for Holy Week, I was thrilled when I heard that Desiring God had released a daily devotion guide for this week leading up to Easter. Courtney and I (and Silas, though he was still preparing for his big day) really enjoyed reading the Advent series during Christmas, so I was excited to see the Holy Week counterpart, “Love to the Uttermost”.

And I was not disappointed. I cheated… I read all of it already. I highly, highly recommend this simple, yet powerful book. It’s designed to ignite our joy in Jesus by causing us to pause and reflect on his love for us, most visibly demonstrated and felt when he laid down his life and took it up again, so that undeserving sinners can be happy in God forever.

The devotions are

  • Clear and concise
  • Eye-opening
  • Joy producing
  • Jesus-glorifying

If you don’t yet have a plan for this week, it’s not too late. The devotions are short but powerful. You could even catch up if you don’t see this recommendation until mid-week. Head over to Desiring God’s site and download this free eBook today. For your joy!

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you… What?

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart“, the Psalmist writes in chapter 37 verse 4.

Question:

What is the promise of this verse?  What exactly does “give you the desires of your heart” mean?

Confession:

I am so caught up in myself and in the world I see.  Sadly, my vision of true worth and true beauty is far from 20-20.  My senses just don’t pick up on what really satisfies – I’ve become desensitized…  dull…  I feel like I’ve entirely missed the point of Psalm 37:4 for the majority of my life.

I have come upon this sentence multiple times.  Each time, the Psalmist’s words have met my heart in varying but similar ways:

  • “Really?  Delight myself in the Lord and he’ll give me whatever I want??  Awesome!  Done deal!”
  • “I’m pretty sure I was wrong before – this probably doesn’t mean I get whatever I want if I delight myself in the Lord.  BUT, maybe if I start to want things that God wants he’ll grant me those wants.  And maybe some of these wants I have can sort of become ‘godlified’ so that it’s less greedy…but in the end I still get some of what I want…”
  • “Maybe this delighting in the Lord thing has more of a shaping effect on my desires than I thought before – maybe God means that he’ll put the actual desires in my heart as I focus on him.  Maybe that’s how I start to want the things that God wants.  And maybe he’ll give me some of the same wants that I’ve wanted before, only now they’re really what God wants for me because he wanted me to have the want and stuck it in my heart!”  (my brain… I know…  this happens all day…)

The Trend:

Did you notice a trend in each of those themes of thought?  If I could pick a key word to describe all three of those, I’d choose the word self.  Sure, the latter two were a little less obviously selfish.  But don’t let the spiritual mask over the face of my idolatry fool you – at the core, I kept hoping that God was in some way promising that if I’d just delight in him, he’d be the supplier of all that I’ve ever wanted.  In fact, he was promising something far different (and far greater) if I had eyes to see.

Breakthrough:

The promise of this verse as I see it now is quite simply this:  “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you [himself].”

Recall that the psalmist wrote that he will give you “the desires of your heart”.  Why do I believe you can safely replace “the desires of your heart” with “himself”?

My reasoning is quite simple:  Delight presupposes desire.  In other words, if you find yourself pursuing your delight in something or someone, it must be true that you first desire the object of your present delight.  You cannot truly delight in something or someone that you despise.  Otherwise, the “delight” is a ruse.  It’s hypocrisy.

So if that’s true, then my delighting in the Lord is a result of the fact that I desire him.  The promise becomes something so much greater than God giving me the stuff I’ve always wanted.  As my heart is changed to desire God, delight in God rises, and as I’m delighting in the Lord, his promise comes:  “I will satisfy the desires you have for me by giving you myself.”

In fact, would it not be cruel and unloving of God if he was promising something other than this?  Think about it… “I desire God.  Therefore I delight in him.  God then responds by giving me [money], [a great job], [some other substitute] instead of what I actually desire (namely, God, himself)???  No!  No, no, no!  

I’m not saying that God doesn’t bless his people.  I’m just saying that’s not necessarily the point of this verse!  This verse is saying that your heart’s abundant desires can not merely be met by God, but, more incredibly, can be satisfied fully and completely in God.  As desire for God produces authentic delight in him as the supreme Treasure that he is, he promises to satisfy you by giving you himself.

Thrill or Disappointment?

I can’t say this has always been true in my life, but when I read this and thought about it, it thrilled my heart (which spurred this blog post).  I can think of how this promise would have met me in the past – sadly, I would have probably been somewhat disappointed that my “old” desires aren’t even in the picture.  Tragically, I’d have viewed God as the inferior substitute satisfaction, rather than the other way around.

So how does this promise meet you?  I’ve tried to be transparent in my assessment of my own life.  Can you be transparent with yours?  God is promising himself to you.  Does this land on you with thrill, or with disappointment?

Who’s Who? Commentary on Psalm 37:23

Psalm 37:23-24 was this past week’s Fighter Verse.  As I worked through memorizing these verses, I lingered on verse 23 for some time.

“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way.”

I say “I lingered” – actually, I got stuck on the grammar.  I kept asking, “Who is he?” and “Who is his?” in this verse .  A natural reading of the text suggests a solution, but in typical Andrew style, I over-analyzed it and my mind spun for a while trying to figure out if I was really right about the conclusion or not.  (Perhaps that series on pronouns and antecedents would have been helpful to pay attention to in 8th grade English class)…

Ah, but alas, when grammar skills fail, just apply a little logic and math.  Rather than thinking of this dilemma in terms of a sentence diagram, I started looking at it in terms of possible pronoun-antecedent outcomes.  2 pronouns * 2 antecedents = 4 possible pronoun-antecedent outcomes:

1. “he” = “a man” , “his” = “a man”:
(“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when [a man] delights in [the man’s] way.”)

While it is true that man is exceedingly good at approving of himself and his own ways, the Bible is clear that self-approval does not stand as anything close to the primary ground for right standing with God.  In fact, the Scriptures teach us much about our fundamental sin condition, leading to wickedness and moral fallenness.  From Psalm 37 as a whole, we know that the LORD does not establish the ways of the wicked.  Option 1 seems highly unlikely.

2. “he” = “the LORD” , “his” = “the LORD”:
(“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when [the LORD] delights in [the LORD’s] way.”)

Make no mistake – the LORD delights in his own way.  This is fundamental right-ness.  For the LORD to be God, he must supremely delight in his own way.  He must uphold the infinite value of himself, his name – there is no one greater or more supreme to delight in.  However, it doesn’t seem that this is the reason for which the LORD would establish the steps of a man either.  While his establishment of man’s ways is could be seen as an overflow of his delight in himself, it is probably not what the Psalmist is referring to as he constructs verse 23.

3. “he” = “a man” , “his” = “the LORD”:
(“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when [a man] delights in [the LORD’s] way.”)

I’ll tip my hand and admit that I believe this to be the correct, and perhaps most natural reading of the verse.  Here, it would be understood that the reason a man’s steps are established by the LORD is because the man delights in the way of the LORD.  I gain a confirming clue from v. 4 of the same psalm:  “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart”.  Well, here the pronouns are quite clear.  To use language from v. 23, “a man” is doing the delighting in the LORD, and in reply, the LORD gives the man the desires of his heart.  Nearly the same sentence structure leads me to believe that delighting in the LORD is the precursor to the LORD’s acting on behalf of the delighter.

4. “he = “the LORD” , “his” = “a man”:
(“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when [the LORD] delights in [the man’s] way.”)

I believe that #3 is the correct pronoun-antecedent mapping, but I found it interesting to ponder the implications of this reading.  Could it be that the LORD delighting in a man’s ways is why the man’s steps are established?  Well, if this is true, one would naturally ask a second question:  “What state of a man does the LORD delight in?”

I believe it can be well argued from the Scriptures and from Psalm 37 (v. 4 again?) that it is when a man delights in the LORD that the LORD delights in the ways of that man.  When the LORD is the supreme delight of a man, the LORD is happy in the ways of that man.

The careful eye will observe that, if conclusion #4 is the correct one, we’re right back at #3 as the ultimate correct conclusion.  When a man delights in the way of the LORD, the LORD delights in the way of that man and the result of that series of delighting is the establishment of the man’s steps by the LORD.

It may seem like it was round about, but I loved thinking out the implications of each alternative reading.  And my joy was increased knowing that “though [I] fall, [I] shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds [my] hand.” (v 24) … when I delight in his way.

Think About These Things…

…What things?

According to Philippians 4:8 (ESV), the things to think about are those that are

  • true
  • honorable
  • just
  • pure
  • lovely
  • commendable
  • things that are of any excellence
  • things that are worthy of praise

I have several questions that come to mind from the list above, but I have a main one that has gripped me for the past few weeks.

It makes sense to think about things that have the qualities in Paul’s list above.  It seems to me that if I can find something that is true, it is good to think about that – why would I want to expend mental effort on something that is false?  It seems right for me to spend my time and mental energy on things that are honorable or pure or excellent or any of the things above.

So wouldn’t it follow that if I find something that is both true and honorable, that makes it a better thing to think about than something that is only true?  If there is something that is true and honorable and lovely, wouldn’t that put it on an even higher level than anything that has fewer qualities than it?

A second angle to view it from is this:  What if something was only lovely sometimes.  What if it could change its qualitative nature?  What if I find something that was honorable a year ago but now is dishonorable?  So it seems right to conclude that things which have many good qualities from Paul’s list and retain their good qualities for longer are better to think about than things that have fewer good qualities and fleeting or changeable characteristics.

So the question that gripped me was this:

What one thing in the universe is all of those, all the time?

I am convinced that the answer to my question is:  It isn’t a “thing” at all.  He is a Person.

May Jesus give us eyes to see His surpassing worth in far greater measures.

Who Delivered Him Up?

…”who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  – Romans 4:25

Something amazing was drawn out of this verse for me as I listened to John Piper (www.desiringgod.org) preach through Romans 4:25 this week.  The observation was essentially this:  Jesus was delivered up to be crucified.  The verb “delivered” is passive, meaning the action was performed by someone else.  So the question then became, “Who delivered him up?

My mind immediately answered “Herod.  And Pilate.  And the soldiers.  And the Jewish crowd.”

That answer is not incorrect.  They did deliver him up and were responsible for the murder of the Son of God.  But as Piper continued, he observed something very key when interpreting what Paul meant when he wrote those words in Romans 4, namely:  none of the above named people or groups of people delivered him up for our trespasses.  Only God had that in mind when his Son went to the cross.

I was stunned with joy when I heard it.  Like a lightning bolt, my mind was immediately flooded with Acts 4:27-28:  “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”  [emphasis added]

The design of God is overwhelming to me.  The reason I am stunned with joy is because this gospel is simply amazing!  When I read in Romans that I can have the wrath that I deserve removed and absorbed by Jesus (because that’s what God intended to do by delivering up his Son because of my sins and not his own), and be wrapped up in Christ’s perfect righteousness and not put forward my own (as if that was worth anything), I am simply floored.

This is my only hope.