THE GIFT OF LOVE

Jesus followed by disciples, James Tissot, c. 1890
Jesus followed by disciples, James Tissot, c. 1890 (from here)

The Pretext For This Post

At an excellent post by altruistico, What is the gospel?, I had a little exchange withArkenaten. likes to amuse him by trying to torment Christian bloggers with questions to which we have no answers. What was his question?

In your own words, please explain why an omnipotent deity who can do anything needs to have a blood sacrifice to avert his ”wrath”? (from here)

Since I am not God, and God did not choose to give an answer to that question, I do not know the answer to ‘s question. It is a good question, but all I can say is that God required the sacrifice as the price of our disobedience. I can also say that the penalty for disobedience, death, has something to do with our failure to love God.

The Gift And The Burden Of Love

We usually think of love as a beautiful gift, and it is. Love is the greatest of gifts, but love is also a stern taskmaster.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 New King James Version (NKJV)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

It is easy to receive love, but giving love requires enormous effort. Yet the gift of love is the ability to give love, not receive it. For the sake of those we love we must be virtuous. We must not sin. We must not choose fleshly pursuits and be indifferent to or hateful of our Creator.

Consider what God demands of us. He commands us to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind (Matthew 22:34-40). And what is our reward? We get to know God, our Creator, but who is God? How can we love someone we do not know? In truth, I do not think we can. So even if we could be as virtuous as love requires we have a big problem.

Fortunately, we have clues as to the nature and character of God. We have His Creation. We each have His moral law within our heart. We have His Word, the Bible. We have each other, human beings made in the image of God.

So how can we strive to know God and learn to love Him as He rightfully demands?

Creation

We can diligently study His Creation. If we want to learn about the talents and the character of a craftsman, we can study what he has created. Consider then, all the names you know of human craftsmen, the furniture makers, the painters, the movie makers, the musicians, the dancers, the athletes,… We all make and remake things. Some of us make objects. Some of us pour ourselves into our children. Others produce art, and some rework their bodies into instruments of grace and power. Because God made an entire universe for us to observe, we can study what He has made and learn about Him endlessly.

The Moral Law

We can each examine our own lives. We can learn what makes us happy and what makes us sad. Eventually, because of that moral law within each of our hearts, we may learn something that will surprise us. As Aristotle observed in his work on ethics(THE ETHICS OF ARISTOTLE), it is the pursuit of virtue that brings happiness.

Many think riches bring happiness. So they buy a lottery ticket and dream, or they work aggressively and horde every dollar they earn. Others drink and party. Others have sex. Still others strive for important positions. Yet such efforts always fail to produce happiness.

When he wrote Ecclesiastes,  King Solomon, fabulously rich and wise, explained what he had learned from his varied and diligent efforts to find happiness without God. Solomon failed. So Ecclesiastes is very much a dismal work. It is about all the ways a man can waste away his life. Without God, King Solomon, the Preacher could only exclaim:

Ecclesiastes 12:8 New King James Version (NKJV)

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“All is vanity.”

Therefore, here is how he summed up how one should live.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 New King James Version (NKJV)

13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:

Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
14 For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.

The Bible

In our day the Bible is much maligned, especially by some of those who call themselves Christian. In his post Number please, ColorStorm provides us with an an example of Christian who does not believe the Word of God is true. His post earned this biting comment.

insanitybytes22
January 15, 2016 at 11:27 pm

Thank you for having these discussions, Colorstorm. I live in a place where first we start saying the bible is not the literal word of God, is is just full of metaphors and myths. Then we proceed to saying, “there are many paths to the Father.” Next comes, “there’s no need for conviction or recognition of sin, Jesus Christ just loves us all unconditionally.” And lastly we have, “His very name offends some people and we wouldn’t want to offend, so let’s just edit His name out completely.” It’s like dinner with no meat and vegetables or trying to fry ice or something. I’d laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, but the results are so tragic. I suppose one could struggle with scripture or be unable to accept certain parts, but the bottom line is what happened on the cross and when that Truth goes by the wayside, all is truly lost.

Occasionally, I run into or hear of people who have read the Bible, actually have a fairly good idea of its contents, and still don’t believe Jesus walked the earth as God made man. Thomas Jefferson was one such soul, but he respected the Bible’s moral teachings. Almost everyone who has read the Bible does that much.

Today we have a different problem. Few read the Bible, but amazing numbers still think they know what is in the Bible. I would say such people have to be dumber than rocks, but I use to be one of those people. So comparing them to rocks seems a bit extreme, squirrels maybe.

The Bible is a fairly complex book. Much of it is difficult to understand, but the wisdom it contains is invaluable. That is why people still risk their lives trying to get a copy so they can read it. That’s why people still give their lives over to the cause of telling others about the Gospel and the good news the Bible contains.

Still, we abhor what seems like work. So the Bible is read by too few, and many now suffer from misconceptions. Here are several examples.

  • The Old Testament and the New Testament describe different versions of God. No. Because Jesus came to establish a new covenant — to die for our sins — He displayed little of the wrath of which our Lord is capable. Yet the Book of Revelation makes it quite clear the God of the New Testament, like the God of the Old Testament, hates sin with a holy wrath. Why does God hate sin? He hates it because sin harms us, His children.
  • We don’t need to read the Bible. We just need to love each other. This idea only make senses on the surface. Once we realize that the gift of love is not the same as wisdom, it falls apart. Love only motivates us to do what is right. Love does not enable us to discern the difference between good and evil.  In addition to helping us understand the nature of God, the Bible teaches us wisdom, wisdom we need to distinguish what is good from what is evil.
  • The Bible lacks clarity.  The Bible is actually a collection of 66 books written by about 40 different authors over a 1500 year period. Few people can still read the different languages used by the Bible’s authors. Nevertheless, the Bible is actually the most carefully studied book ever written, and there are dozens of translations and a great many commentaries. Therefore, if we want to understand what the Bible is saying just as the people who first read each book once understood those words, we just have to make the effort. Then we can legitimately decide for ourselves whether the Bible is a bunch of myths and metaphors or the story of our redemption by Jesus Christ.
  • Christians must obey all the laws in the Old Testament. The apostles expended considerable effort (especially the Apostle Paul) to make it clear that Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to become Christians. Peter actually had a vision that justified the elimination of all the dietary laws (Acts 10:9-16). Because Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection eliminated the need for all further sacrifices for sin, the requirement to perform animal sacrifices ended with His death and resurrection (Hebrews 9:23-28).
  • So long as we love each other, sinning doesn’t matter. Even though we are freed from the Law (Romans 7), we still need to understand and read the Old Testament. What the Old Testament made emphatically clear is that God hates sin, and Jesus’ death and resurrection did not end or ameliorate that hatred. A Holy God cannot tolerate sin and still remain Holy. As Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount, He still wants us to obey the Ten Commandments. He wants us to do better than just obey them. He wants us to turn to Him for help in doing what is good. He wants us to ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit in doing what is right.
  • The Bible encourages government-run charity. What the Bible encourages is giving to those in need cheerfully.

    2 Corinthians 9:7-9 New King James Version (NKJV)

    So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written:

    “He has dispersed abroad,
    He has given to the poor;
    His righteousness endures forever.”

    Is there anything more rare than someone who pays taxes cheerfully?

Made In The Image Of God

We can guess the reason why God gave us each other to love. There is this clue in Genesis 2. Because we have so much trouble relating to our Maker, even in His presence Adam felt alone.

God wants us to love Him. We need to love Him, but even Adam failed to know God and love Him. Out of His pity, God gave Eve to Adam, and Eve gave birth to many children. So now we have brothers and sisters.

1 John 4:20-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

Obedience by Faith

20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

We were each made in the image of God. What we see of God in each other, we must love, and with the gift of the Holy Spirit we can begin our journey and follow Christ.

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “THE GIFT OF LOVE

  1. Then we can legitimately decide for ourselves whether the Bible is a bunch of myths and metaphors or the story of our redemption by Jesus Christ.

    What Christian, however liberal, do you imagine believes the Bible is merely myths and metaphors?

    If you enter with compassion into the different views of others, you might find us easier to understand. I resent any suggestion that I do not respect the Bible.

    And- “Government run charity”- there are some things people do better together. One of these is the organised, sufficient provision for the poor, which England has attempted since the reign of Elizabeth I. Individual giving simply does not match it. So, do you prefer for people to starve, or government provision?

    Like

    1. @Clare Flourish

      My post says what its says. It says nothing about you in particular. I don’t even know your views.

      The Bible says what it says. It says nothing about giving us permission to change the text just because we think that might be compassionate. In fact, if we do respect the Bible, then we ought to expect the existing text is already more compassionate than any changes we might make.

      Your argument for government-run charity is based upon a false dilemma. Supposedly, if the government does not steal money from the rich, the poor will starve. Given the general lack of prosperity in social economies, that is a silly thing to believe.

      Like

    2. @Clare Flourish:
      Thomas Jefferson might fit your first criterion. He respected the Bible, thought its teachings highly valuable, but also considered it “myths and metaphors.” He re-wrote the New Testament omitting all reference to miracles — which he considered nonsense. The result, the “Jefferson Bible,” is now readily available on-line. I am a lifelong non-theist, non-believer, non-Christian (as well as non-eight-thousand-other-religions) who has had as a decades-long hobby promoting the understanding of evolution. But I respect the wisdom and teachings that can be found in the Bible, and am readily familiar with it, and some call me a crypto-Christian as a result.

      This would not help in certain Islam-run countries, where there is some limited tolerance (in theory) for appropriately subservient Christians and Jews, but to be a non-believer merits the death sentence.

      And I would agree with Citizen Tom’s assessment when you wrote:

      And- “Government run charity”- there are some things people do better together. One of these is the organised, sufficient provision for the poor, which England has attempted since the reign of Elizabeth I. Individual giving simply does not match it. So, do you prefer for people to starve, or government provision?

      This is, indeed, a false choice. The federal and state governments were not in the business of providing their perverse notion of “general welfare” for the first century of the country’s existence, and we had hundreds of thousands of volunteer charities set up for the purpose, almost entirely by Christian and some Jewish groups.

      Now government takes your assets by force to give to others, with famously fraudulent results. And they don’t care about the level of fraud, as the more money that goes through their hands the more power, prestige and influence they obtain. But in order to justify their existence, they must either put existing charities out of business or subvert them by becoming major donors. They’ve done both, in gigantic scales.

      Perversely, sort of, in my professional life I write grant requests for charities seeking this money from the government taken by force to feed the ever-growing and insatiable maw of the artificially inflated “needy.” I am keenly aware of all of the conditions that come with that subservience by non-profit groups, and what they must promise the government. Much of this is aimed to cut religions out of the picture.

      But the key difference in the previous and current approaches to feeding the poor is the personal evaluation. Charities used to work directly with the needy, and encourage the ones who could to gain their own two feet again. (I say this with some irony, as I am wheelchair bound.) There was also some shame associated with being “on the dole” for people who could work their way off of it. Now, we’ve erased the stigma, encouraged the fraud, and promoted the idea that living at the expense of others is a “right” you are entitled to.

      Poverty was declining, at the rate of approximately one percent per year, until the government launched massive charity programs in the 1930s. At that moment, the decline ended, and has now reversed, with more on government welfare roles than we’ve ever previously had. And we invite more in, advertising our welfare benefits on Mexican billboards. All of which is to be supported by an ever-declining working population, who are themselves being pushed into part time work or welfare by the incentives set up by federal and state governments. There is no future in that way of thinking.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      Liked by 2 people

      1. @Keith

        Very few would know enough to write a comment like that, especially the part about our government’s relentless effort to exterminate of religious charities.

        Why is so difficult for people to believe that the best cure for poverty is a free market and a limited government? Even now we still teach that people came to this country to get away from tyrants? Do the kids in high school think a welfare state was waiting the immigrants who came here two hundred years ago? But I suppose they don’t realize that even two hundred years ago the United States was a rich land. Either that, or they think the settles took everything from the Indians.
        🙄

        Like

      2. ‘crypto christian.’ Ha, Keith, many of us who claim believership are that, more than we admit, but for one to cite you as such, would be quite a compliment…………or insult. I would take the compliment, but wherever that dub came from, i like it.

        Good comment btw.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Citizen Tom must accept some blame here, if that’s the right word. Some time back, he nominated me for a blog award — and here was the first of a series of Sunday musings on Bible verses:
          http://level-head.livejournal.com/593523.html

          (Level Head is an anagram of DeHavelle.)

          One of my Christian readers noted that he would have been proud to receive such a nomination. I responded:
          ————————————————
          Thank you. I am flattered, of course, and conscious that a very devout Christian has risked a bit of his reputation in nominating a non-religious person for what is essentially an award for Christians.

          I can’t pretend to be what I am not. But I have tried to approach the topic of religion fairly and respectfully, and I am annoyed by (and have taken to task) people who lump Christianity and Islam together as “equivalent evils” — or who refer to Christians in office in the US as “the American Taliban.”

          Such accusations are absurd, it seems to me, and do not represent reality. Moreover, by spreading the blame for the killing of gays and women and minorities of race and faith, they avoid serious criticism of the real crimes against these people that take place in Islam-dominated regions. Sadly, such regions are now an ever-expanding part of Europe, and have a strong foothold in Asia as well.

          To say “they’re all fundamentalists” means, in essence, they’re prepared to do no more to defend innocents from jihadists than they will to defend innocents from the local pastor. In fact, the Left is more likely to hold protests against the local pastor.

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Tkx LH, the context is helpful; still a compliment though.

          I suppose if a believer were named a’crypto,’ that would be cause for concern, but as to your not being christian today, there is always tomorrow. 😉

          (and yep, that is quite the toast to be recognized by a man such as CT, knowing your background)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. You observed the bible is complex. Yet, the more we study and wait….the difficulties seem to diminish. what we once thought were impossible consistencies, prove to be reliable and beautiful truths; maybe we are not just prepared at the time to appreciate that which has always been,

    One example is the cherubim of glory hinted at way back in Eden. Reading of them for the first time we must ask: what are these? because there is really no context, yet, we get a bit more insight, then more, then more, then lo and behold they appear finally in the Revelation, many moons later.

    But your creation, law, and love here, are intertwined, and our ‘answers to hard questions’ rely on the whole, thus answers are not ‘easy.’

    Some time ago a man gave a sermon and was lauded for the power and truth and how his audience was moved. When asked how long it took to prepare, some were expecting ‘a week or two,’ but nope they heard this instead: ‘about forty years.’

    Great answer, as the message was an accumulation of learning, worship, study,experience, and faith. In the context then of questions asked, without a framework needed to understand this or that, no answer will ever be satisfactory to a heart looking in the other direction.

    Good stuff as always here CT.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I concur with your comment that King Solomon focused mainly on wisdom and human failings rather than love. The New Testament focuses on Love. Both Wisdom and Love are blessings to give guidance in life if only a person would take time to study the Bible and discerned the contents,

    The reward for their time and effort will benefit a person with love and wisdom. Both are indeed blessings to bring about success, inner peace, strength and contentment in life, in my opinion.

    My brother used to say, “we are the masters of our own disasters.”

    Regards and good will blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your comment.

    There is surprising amount about love in the Old Testament, but most people seem to focus upon the wrath of God. God’s wrath is hard to miss.

    I suspect the rejection of the Old Testament is somewhat peculiar to our time. We don’t read the Bible, and lots of preachers choose to focus on the New Testament. With respect to the Old Testament, few get pass the books of Genesis and Exodus. We all want to ignore God’s wrath, reject Hell, and pretend He is all about love and forgiveness. So we focus on the nice stuff in New Testament and adore Jesus’ sacrifice for us. We forget the fact Jesus endorsed the Old Testament and clearly explained that Hell is real.

    That makes your effort to popularize the wisdom of King Solomon important. To be wise, we need to know that both good and evil exist, and we need to read the Bible. Once people read a few Old Testament books they may get curious about the rest of the Bible.

    Like

  5. What an outstanding post Tom, I can tell a lot of good thought went in to it and it helped clarify a number of things for me that I struggle with about the Bible. It is so true too that God leaves clues for us everywhere as to who he is; in nature, in other people, in emotions, it’s almost too amazing to accept.

    One thing I would add is that God wants us to be able to both give and accept love freely which is not always so easy for some and hinders greatly the relationship God is trying to build.

    Lots of good stuff here!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. (Arkenaten) likes to amuse him by trying to torment Christian bloggers with questions to which we have no answers.

    I believe this sentence tells the reader everything they might wish to know about Christianity.
    A real gem, this. A keeper in fact.

    Like

Comments are closed.