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Love: The Essence of Christianity

Thursday, October 03, 2013

 

By: Mark Mayberry

 

Love is a misunderstood and misused word, partly because in our language it is a “catch-all” expression. It is used to describe everything from the lofty nature of God to illicit and even perverted sexuality. The Greek language was much more precise. It had a number of words to describe the various types of love: Eros is the Greek word for sexual love. Storge is the Greek word which describes the natural affection within a family. Phileo is the love of emotion, and has to do with those warm feelings that arise within us in response to the good qualities of another. We have a special affection and friendship for those we are close to. This love is directed toward our family, friends and brethren. Agape is the highest form of love. It is not simply an emotion which arises unbidden in our hearts, but it is a principle by which we live. It involves seeking the highest good of another. Such love is to be directed toward God, as well as all mankind.

 

Agape love is a multifaceted jewel. This is demonstrated by the discussion of its qualities in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. It causes us to be patient with others, and not quickly retaliate against their shortcomings. Love results in active kindness. It causes us to shun evil attitudes such as resentment and envy. Love doesn’t allow us to become puffed up with pride; nor does it act in a boastful, rude, or unbecoming way. Instead, we treat others in a courteous and respectful manner. Love is not self-seeking. Selfishness is to be laid aside, and replaced with genuine consideration for the needs of others. Love doesn’t allow us to become easily angered. If we truly love others, we will not keep a running ledger of their mistakes. Love produces a genuine morality. Whereas the world takes pleasure in sin, he who practices biblical love delights in the truth. Love is steadfast: it bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. Agape is the summation of godly conduct.

 

The primary focus of our love is the God of heaven. We are to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37–38). How does this love control our actions? It causes us to realize that sin brings shame and dishonor upon His name. If we love God, we will live in such a way as to glorify Him. We show our love for God by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).

 

We should express this love toward fellow Christians. It leads us to edify and encourage our brethren. Unfortunately, petty differences sometimes arise and we lose sight of the principle of love. Then we “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15). We should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24, NASV). This should be our constant aim.

 

Love should be practiced at home (Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4). Husbands and wives claim to love each other, but sometimes take each other for granted and even treat one another with contempt. When this happens, the home becomes a place of conflict. Love should be enshrined in the home. Its expression should go far beyond occasionally mumbling a few words. Partners in marriage should be positive influences on each other, realizing that they will greatly affect the destiny of the other.

 

We should love those who are lost in sin. Our hope of salvation is based on God’s love for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). We should be willing to share the blessings of Christianity with others. Sometimes, we fail to teach others the truth for fear of hurting their feelings or losing their friendship. A true concern for their eternal welfare will overcome such hesitation.

 

Finally, the Bible tells us to love our enemies. We may not always appreciate their actions, and their sinful ways may keep us from having a close emotional attachment to them. However, remember that agape is not simply an emotion. Even toward our enemies, we should conduct ourselves in a way that seeks their highest good. We show love by not returning evil for evil, but rather by doing good (Romans 12:17–20). By conducting ourselves as Christians in such circumstances, we show the reality of our faith, and will perhaps lead them to the Lord. This should be our aim in the first place.

 

Acting in love should be the basis of all our dealings with God and man. This is the essence of Christianity.

 

Originally appeared in the October 1984 issue of Christianity Magazine.

True Love - Objective and Controlled

Thursday, October 03, 2013

By: Dee Bowman

When asked what is the greatest command of all, Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” He further affirmed that “the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Finally, as if to clinch the proposition, He said, “On these two hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).

Love is the supreme commandment, the highest “thou shalt.” It is the one true motive, the first good reason. On it rests all that God has done, all He has said, all He expects of us. Law without love is profitless. Love without law is ludicrous.

Love is more than sentiment, greater than mere feelings. It seeks ways to express itself. Even Puppy Love—perhaps the lowest form of love—will seek some way to express itself. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). We love Him, so we express our love by doing what He says. It is not our expression in words, but our translation of the words into action that shows our love. Love is not silent. Nor indeed can it be.

Paul portrays love as a person in 1 Corinthians 13. He says, “Love seeketh not her own” (verse 5). True love looks out, not in. That is, it is objective. Sure, there is a subjective feeling to love, but it does not stop in the heart. It seeks an object toward which to extend itself. Real love does not expend its energies seeking its own things, it looks outward—toward the needs of others (Philippians 2:4).

Love is involved with the needs of others. It encourages, ennobles, emboldens them. Sometimes it exhorts, gracefully agitating others to greater faithfulness. Other times it offers gentle discipline, considering itself, and in the spirit of meekness (Galatians 6:1). Love spends its time helping, not being helped. It looks for the opportunity to bear another’s burden and “so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

A young mother knows this other-directed love. She stands before the crib and mops the fevered brow of her little one while she prays God to transfer the fever to her. She is willing not only to share, but to bear. Not part of it, mind you, but all of it. It’s love that causes that. Love does not seek to be comfortable, it seeks to serve.

Shirley Baulch’s brother was in serious condition. If he didn’t find a new kidney, he would die. When she heard about it, she did not hesitate, but immediately volunteered one of her kidneys. Oblivious to the risk involved in even the surgery to remove her own kidney and without regard for the risk she now takes since she has but one herself, she gave. Because she gave, he lives.

Because He loved, He gave (John 3:16). Because He gave, we live. Oh, glorious love!

Paul continues. “Love is not easily provoked,” he says. It is easy—sometimes even enjoyable—to become exasperated with people. But true love will fight against the tendency. Love is temperate, in control.

Control is such an integral part of love. Love manages situations, it does not allow situations to manage it. It will exercise proper restraint in the midst of controversy, and retain propriety, even in the face of ill treatment. To hold yourself back in the middle of intense criticism or angry rebuke is a sure indication of love. To return malevolence with benevolence is control in its purest form. To return provocation with kindness is indicative of mature love. It’s hard to do, sure. But love demands it.

Genuine love will control the amount of time it gives to anger. It will not let the sun set on its wrath (Ephesians 4:26). True love will be angry short. It will even return good for evil (Romans 12:21).

“On these two hang all the law and prophets.” To love God supremely and to suit unto our fellows the highest good is the measurement of genuine love. True love is what God’s law is all about. God’s law is what true love is all about.

Originally appeared in the May 1991 issue of Christianity Magazine.

The Transfiguration of Jesus

Monday, September 16, 2013

Written By: M. Thaxter Dickey

Jesus was transfigured on a mountain, and we are like Peter, who requested the building of three tabernacles because “he knew not what to say.” There are remarkable things about this incident which ought to cause us to fall silent; however, the incident is recorded for our benefit, so let us respectfully consider its meaning (Matthew 17:1–13; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36)

The Occasion

To understand the transfiguration we must understand its timing. It is connected to the earlier announcement of His death by all three evangelists. The clearest account is in Matthew 16 where we read of Peter’s confession that the Jesus is the Christ and the revelation following it that even though He is the Messiah He must suffer and die. This is so traumatic that Peter denies it, “God forbid!” and is rebuked by the Lord. This connection to the transfiguration is even clearer when we note that the theme of the discussion between Jesus and Moses and Elijah is His death.


Luke tells us that Jesus’ purpose in going onto the mountain was to pray. He prayed, then He was transfigured. Was the transfiguration an answer to the prayer?” Did the prayer concern His death? The circumstances are very similar to those in the Garden of Gethsemane: He was alone except for three disciples. He was thinking about His death. He prayed. The apostles, who should have prayed too, were heavy with sleep. (How many times did it happen that Jesus prayed and they slept?) There follows a heavenly ministration. Thus the transfiguration serves to strengthen Him for what is to come. But perhaps it is as much for the disciples as for Him. Did He not pray for them as well?


The Transfiguration

While He prayed He was transfigured. The writers struggle to make sense of it. His countenance was changed, but how? The best they can do is speak of the light. His face shone like the sun. His clothes are white and glistening, whiter than any launderer could get them, whiter than snow. All the cliches are used, but none match the reality. Whatever it was, its impact was tremendous for it is this incident that Peter recalls years later when he argues that we did not follow cleverly devised fables but were eye witnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16–18).


The Visitors

Two men talk with Him. Moses and Elijah are, respectively, the representatives of the law and the prophets from which we learn of the Christ and of which He is the culmination. And what is the theme of the discussion? His death. There were other possible topics of discussion: ancient days, the celestial heavens. But it is the work of redemption that Jesus was about to accomplish that they discussed. And what greater theme than that? Indeed angels desired to look into it (1 Peter 1:16). With what trivialities we fill our days, when we could discuss this theme as well.

The Purpose

The transfiguration provides three aids to the Son of Man as He faces His self-sacrifice:
1) A foretaste of glory divine (Hebrews 12:2).
2) An assurance that heaven is interested in these things.
3) The approval of the Father.

But perhaps more importantly it strengthens the apostles who were having difficulty adjusting to the idea of a suffering Savior. Even if the three apostles were not permitted to tell of the event (and probably they couldn’t have communicated it accurately if they’d tried), the change in their demeanor brought about by this event would encourage the others as well.

Peter’s Response

Peter answered, but no one had said anything to him. He is the kind of person who always has to say something. “It is good to be here,” he says. What he means is that it is better to be here on the mountain of glory than at the cross of suffering. He almost implies again what he had said on the plains of Caesarea. “God forbid,” he had said then and now he says, “Let us build three tents.” “And stay here longer” is the implication. He expresses what they all feel. We long for the moment to continue. Who would not?

God’s Answer

But they are overshadowed by a bright cloud. The cloud is always a symbol of the divine presence, especially this bright cloud, which is reminiscent of the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day that preceded the Israelites in the wilderness. No wonder they feared as they entered the cloud. God speaks, “Hear Him,” and they fall over. How long till they were raised by the reassuring words and touch of the Lord and started down the mountain?

The Aftermath

They cannot remain on the mountain of glory. There will be no tents. But the apostles can’t let it go: “Don’t the prophets say that Elijah should come first and restore all things?” They expected him to come and stay and transform society. They looked for an easier way. But the work of salvation is not easy and we cannot grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). Even the Lord was so tempted when He came down and said, “How long shall I bear with you” (Matthew 17:17). But strengthened by the transfiguration, He pressed forward to accomplish His work. So did the apostles. And so must we.


Originally appeared in the July 1996 issue of Christianity Magazine.

Is Only One Church Right?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Written By: Sewell Hall

Probably no charge creates more prejudice against a group of people than the charge that they think there is only one church that is right. This fact clearly indicates that most Americans consider all churches right. Is it possible that only one church is right?

At least three other questions must be answered before this one can be answered intelligently.

1. Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Many who complain so bitterly about such a claim do not believe that anything is absolutely right or wrong. If there is no right and wrong, then obviously any claim to be the only right church would be ridiculous. However, if there is a God and if He created us, then He is the standard of right and wrong (Romans 3:4). His word is truth (John 17:17).

2. Is there a right and wrong in religion? Some who accept the concept of right and wrong in the realm of morals exclude it from religion. They seem to think that God is so loving and good that He will accept anything man may do and dedicate to Him. But Jesus warned of false teachers who would come in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). He stated that worship was made vain by teaching the doctrines of men (Matthew 15:9). Paul informed the Galatians that anyone who preached any other gospel than what he had preached would be accursed (Galatians 1:8), and Peter predicted that there would be false teachers among us (2 Peter 2:1). So religious teaching can be false and religious practices can be wrong. Jesus also said, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13). This is equal to saying that churches not planted by the Lord will be rejected.

3. Has God designated any exclusives in religion? Consider Ephesians 4:4–6. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. “The “one” in these verses obviously means “one and only one.”

These verses do not allow for our modern broad-mindedness. Such broad-mindedness, however, is not really new; it existed in the first century among the Ephesians to whom this was written. Paul became the focus of a riot because he insisted “that there are no gods made with hands” (Acts 19:26). To put it another way, he preached there was “one and only one” God. The Ephesians were tolerant of many gods, but intolerant of anyone who said there was only one.

Most of us would agree that there is one and only one God. But the same verses say “there is one body.” What is this one body? The same writer says in Ephesians 1:22–23 that God has given Christ “to be head of all things to the church which is His body. “So if there is one body and that body is the church, this is saying there is one church. If one God means only one God, then one body means only one body or only one church.

What was the one church? Without doubt, the one body (church) referred to in Ephesians 4:4–6, was the church that Jesus promised to build (Matthew 16:18). It was to be founded on the fact that He was the Christ, the Son of God. That church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), when Jesus was first publicly proclaimed to be the Christ, based upon the fact of His resurrection from the dead. Those who believed asked, “What shall we do? Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’.… Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.… And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:37–38, 41, 47).

Please note that all who were saved were added to the church. It included all who were saved, for the Lord added all who were saved to it. But if it included all who were saved it was not a denomination, for a denomination by definition is only one part of a whole. Neither was it a combination of all denominations, nor even an association of local churches known as “churches of Christ.” The one body was made up of individual members, not of local churches. It was the one true church to which all who were saved were added. It was that one body described in Ephesians.

How can this church be identified? Jesus said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). It must be in existence today. If it is, it has Jesus Christ as its only Lord and the gospel as its only faith. It is entered by the one baptism, it still includes all who are saved, and it is not one of many. It is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18), the church of God (Galatians 1:13), the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). It is the one and only church that is right.

Originally appeared in the August 1995 issue of Christianity Magazine.


Is Only One Church Right? (continued)

Is Only One Church Right? (continued)

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Written By: Sewell Hall

On this page last month, we observed from Ephesians 4:4–5 that “there is one body … one Lord, one faith and one baptism.” That one body is Christ’s church (Ephesians 1:22–23; Colossians 1:18), composed of all persons in all the world who have been saved by Jesus Christ. He adds all who are saved to His church (Acts 2:47).

The one church is not a denomination, nor is it a collection of denominations. It is not even a collection of local churches; it is the body of all saved individuals, and it has no earthly organization. One does not have to investigate all of the churches in the world to find the Lord’s church. Any believer in Jesus Christ who follows the simple instructions of Acts 2:38 will be saved and added to it (Acts 2:41, 47). He has no other decision to make or joining to do.

Membership in a local church is another matter. The Ethiopian who was converted on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8) was surely saved and added to the church. But he was not a member of any local church; he had left Jerusalem and there was no local church in Ethiopia at that time.

The examples in the book of Acts clearly indicate that the Lord intended for saved individuals in a community to have fellowship in a local church. Such a church (assembly) was invariably organized when several individuals in a community were saved. In this sense there were many churches—we read of seven in the province of Asia (Revelation 1–3). Local churches were identified as “churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16) and “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). They were, however, independent of each other, each exercising autonomy over its own affairs.

Are All Local Churches Right? If you should ask the leaders of most local churches, regardless of the name they wear, if theirs is a church of God or a church of Christ, they would say, “Yes.” But sadly enough, more questions must be asked before we affiliate with such a church. We must be careful not to compromise our membership in the “one body” by affiliating with a local group that would make substitutions for the “ones” of Ephesians 4. That passage not only states that there is one body; it also says, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (vs. 5). In view of this, it is important to ask the following questions:

Who is the head of this church? If we are informed of a president, general overseer, archbishop, superintendent, pope or any other human being or legislative assembly exercising authority over the faith of that congregation, we must avoid that church. There is “one Lord” (Ephesians 4:5), and that one Lord is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6). “He is the head of the body the church” (Colossians 1:18). To acknowledge any other head or religious lord is to be guilty of disloyalty to Him. Religious titles of any kind violate the unique position of Jesus who said, “Do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8–10).

Show me a copy of your creed. If a manual, catechism, discipline, confession of faith, or any other book written by a mere man or group of men is offered, that church must be rejected. There is “one faith” (creed) according to the same verse (Ephesians 4:5). That faith is the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). No clergy class is authorized to hand down official interpretations of God’s word.

What baptism do you recognize? If the answer is: “We will accept just any baptism—immersion, sprinkling or pouring,” you will need to avoid that church. Ephesians 4:5 says that there is “one baptism” and according to Romans 6:4, it is a burial. If the answer is: “Any baptism administered by one who has been ordained or licensed by our church,” then you can know you are in the wrong place because the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 is baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38), not by the authority of a church—any church.

Is this church affiliated with any denomination or association of churches? Again, if the answer is “Yes,” you are in the wrong place. Jesus did not establish a denomination. A denomination, by the very definition of the word, is a division; and Jesus prayed for unity of all believers in Himself and in the Father (John 17:20).

Do you believe there is more than one church? Although it is considered arrogant, narrow-minded and bigoted to say that there is only one right church, anyone who says otherwise contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture. Anyone, referring to anything other than local assemblies, who says that there is more than one right church is speaking of something other than the church which Jesus established. Any “church” other than the “one body” of Ephesians 4:4 is a plant that the heavenly Father did not plant, and it will be rooted up (Matthew 15:13).

Originally appeared in the October 1995 issue of Christianity Magazine.

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