I was having a conversation with my husband the other day, and I said, “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it is the absence of love. It is indifference.” He pondered that for a moment, and then did what every good techie does: he googled it. It turns out that, even though I was processing that thought for the first time, others had said it before, most famously holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.
So, how do we know whether we are truly being loving or not? It’s not about feelings; it’s about conscious decisions. It is a choice. I John 5:2-4 tells us that we know we are loving others when we love God and keep His commandments. His commandments as summarized by Jesus are to love God and love others. (Matthew 22:37-40) Jesus also said that obeying his commandments is a natural progression of love for Him. (John 14:15) Later in the Gospel of John we read that if we obey Christ’s commandments, we will remain in Him just as He has obeyed His Father’s commandments and remains in His Father. (John 15:10) One assists the other: If we love God we will obey His commandments, and if we obey His commandments His love will remain in us.
These days, we use the term “love” quite loosely. I love chocolate. I love blue skies. I love my husband. These are examples that represent emotions and expressions of enjoyment. The kind of love discussed in these verses is unconditional, from the Greek word agape. A good summary of what that means and how it can be demonstrated practically is found in The Love Chapter (I Corinthians 13, particularly I Corinthians 13:4-7 ), but in general it means that we choose to love. Our love is not based on what we can get out of it, or even what we can give (and then feel good about). It is about loving others because God commands it, whether we particularly like them or not. That is something that is not easily done even if we really want to. It is only possible if we let the love of our Heavenly Father flow through us.
John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the Bible. Lots of children have memorized it in Sunday School, perhaps because it sums up the whole gospel so succinctly.
God loved the world so much that in order to redeem the world, He allowed His only son to die as a sacrifice for us. That kind of love is hard to fathom. And it was for the whole world. When Jesus spoke these words, the people of the time thought that the Messiah was coming only for the Jewish people, and that the Gentiles would be condemned. They expected judgement, but John 3:17 clarifies for us that Jesus did not come to condemn us, but to save us. All we have to do is believe in Him. It is our choice. The creator of the universe could choose to make us do whatever He wants us to, but He doesn’t. He loves us so much that He lets us do whatever we want. When we do choose to believe in Him though, we are rewarded with eternal life. The Greek word used here for life represents not only life after death, but life here and now, and it represents the quality of life as much as the quantity—the more abundant life that John 10:10 describes.
I think this sounds like a great offer. There is no need to perish. The gift of life has been given; all we need to do is accept. Why is it that there are people who don’t want to accept? Fear, maybe? Fear of losing control of their own lives? Ironic when you think about it because God has given us so much freedom. (II Corinthians 3:17, Galatians 5:13-14)
I chose this verse for today because I think of it as a Valentine verse. I will share the Valentine with you here just in case you have never received it in an e-mail. Happy Valentines Day everyone!
Today’s verse continues the theme in my last post (January 5, 2011) from John 1:1, where we learned that Jesus was referred to as the Word. After John 1:14, John no longer uses the term Word to refer to Christ, perhaps because this is where John tells us that Christ became a man and took up residence on earth. This is an incredible thought. Think about it. What in this plan could be of benefit to Jesus? He gave up every good thing to come to earth, not to live in a palace with all the blessings of great riches, but to live the life of a nomad, one who was pursued by both the most needy people and the self-righteous haters of the day. The term that is here translated as “took up residence” comes from a Greek term that means to pitch a tent. He left heaven to live in very lowly conditions for us. He did this because He loved us. He did this because He knew it was part of the bigger plan, the one that the Father has to redeem us.
So, there was Jesus, the only Son of the Father, living among the people. The Message paraphrase of this passage says that He “moved into the neighbourhood”. How would that change your life if Jesus moved in next door? What if he moved in to your spare room, and joined you at your dinner table, or more significantly on your sofa as you watched TV? Would you do things differently? Many people of that time didn’t recognize Him as God, just as many people today don’t. But He is still here with us today, no longer in flesh but in Spirit. He is there with you at your dinner table, while you watch TV, while you surf the Internet. And He still loves us just as much as He did when He put on flesh to walk among us. Amazing!
Jesus is referred to as the only Son of God, unique because He is in fact God. When we receive His gift of grace, we also become children of God. (John 1:12) We are adopted into the family. God the Father has just as much love for us as He does for Jesus. Because of Jesus, John and others of his day were able to see God’s glory, His grace and truth. Jesus was the personal revelation of God. He still is today. He still represents the goodness and love and light and life of our Heavenly Father.
When I was young I had trouble understanding John 1:1. I didn’t really get what word was with God. Finally I figured out that “Word” represents Christ. It makes so much more sense now. Christ has been with God since the beginning; He is with God, equal to God, and is in fact God. It is interesting that this verse begins in the same way as the account of creation, but Genesis 1:1 goes forward from that point and tells us of creation. John 1:1 goes back from that point and tells us that Christ existed with God before God created the universe. Ah, but you might say, “Wait a minute! Didn’t Christ come as a baby, born in Bethlehem, in a manger? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?” Well, yes, but that is exactly what helps us to figure out the “word” part. Why did John call Christ the “Word”? Christ is God’s representation of Himself to humanity. Christ is how God chose to reveal Himself to us. Christ came not only to redeem us and bring us salvation, but He came to show us the Father and how much He loves us. So God has given us His word in two ways—through His son, and through the words of the Holy Scriptures. The latter will help us to know the former, and both will help us to know the Father for Jesus says in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.” That’s all the more reason for us to look at Memos From God together.
Now that I’ve committed to studying the messages that God sends to us, the next question is where to start. The first thing that came into my mind was, “In the beginning…”. I know of two verses in the Bible that start that way: Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. I will look at Genesis today and John in the next post.
As I see it, Genesis 1 is the whole basis for faith. If we don’t believe that God created the universe, and us, there would be no reason to believe anything else in the Bible, or that we have any relationship to God, let alone that we could have a relationship with Him. Conversely, if we do believe that God is the creator of the universe, it allows us to believe that He is all-powerful, and therefore we can have confidence in what follows in the rest of the Bible.
Interestingly, the account of creation assumes the existence of God; it doesn’t try to prove it. It is more concerned with telling us who created the earth and everything in it than with how it was done, or how long it took. There is no exhaustive explanation of creation, so whatever you believe requires faith. Not understanding how it happened actually makes it easier for me to believe that a higher power was involved.
The reassuring fact here is that we didn’t happen by accident. God chose to create us, and He chooses to have a relationship with us. From the very beginning God has been involved with His creation. He interacted with Adam and Eve, and He gave them freedom. They had the choice to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not. He interacts with us today, and gives us the same freedom. We can choose to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not.