There Has Got to be a Better Way
55 commands to love in the New Testament, it was on Godâ€™s mind.
Talk about hard stuff to chew; Paul goes to the nitty-gritty in Romans twelve: â€œBless those that persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those that rejoice; mourn with those that mourn. Live in harmony with one anotherâ€¦Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyoneâ€¦If your enemy is hungry feed himâ€¦.Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with goodâ€ (14-21). In a world where secularists are sure that all religionist terrorists (that is usen) are determined to kill off all the pagans, and destroy all enemies, this must seam like a vision from some ancient cult that is no longer viable in the real world. After a disaster such as the California fires, the Gulf Coast Katrina and Rita, or some horrible school shooting, someone is sure to ask, â€œWhere was your God?â€ Well God is where He always is, on his throne in heaven. He is a Spirit, and all that worship him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4). So that is really the wrong question for the secularists to ask. The correct question to ask is â€œWhere is His Church?â€
In this world, the church is the body of Christ, the family of God (Colossians 1:15ff). The church is designed to be the hands, feet, heart of God here on earth. We become the Holy Father that works through the night to dig out a tunnel to rescue a small child that has fallen in an abandoned well. We may have never seen the child, we may not know her parents, we may have a thousand things to do, but suddenly none of that matters; the only thing that matters are the cries for help from fifty feet down an 18 inch abandoned well casing. It makes no difference if the man digging next to you is Roman Catholic, Jewish, Baptist or an alcoholic. You have banded together to rescue a child of the Father God. There is no time clock to punch, no overtime, just dozens of helpers that carry buckets of muck as you dig with all the vigor that you can muster. Someone on top shoves a sandwich and a cup of coffee into your hands as you hand another bucket of muck out the hole. You could care less if that lady was Presbyterian, Methodist or Muslim, a ten minute break and you are digging again. Somewhere in the middle of the night someone cries out, â€œShe is okay, we are hoisting her up.â€ Rejoicing, dancing in the muck, hugging and tears flow arm in arm as the thankful parents are holding, kissing and praying over a tearful child that just had a thousand man and woman hours donated; no one is counting the cost right now. That is how God visions His family, the body, coming together to do things a better way. For God so loved the whole world that he in agape love purchased them back at the cross of Calvary, and sanctified them with the open tomb three days later. From the beginning of time God envisioned His family being a loving bunch. I want to take a few rabbit trails in the scripture to figure out just what God wants of us.
The New Testament uses four different words for love. There is Eros, or
erotic love. This word, though not used in the New Testament, was exampled when Sampson was cruising the Philistine territory and spotted a hot chick with whom he fell madly in love (Eros) and had to have her for wife. This is the Hollywood type of love that we call romance. Then there is Skorge love that represents love of children and family; phileo love that is love of a friend and associate. Then there is the word that the New Testament introduced to the world, agape love that comes from the Father and is unmerited love. When reading the New Testament in English, it is hard to always tell from context which type of love is being spoken about. For example in John 21 at the breakfast by the sea, Jesus asks Peter twice if he loved (agape) him; twice Peter answered back, â€œYes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you;â€ meaning, yes Lord you are a friend that I love. On the third time Jesus changes his word and asks Peter if he loved (phileo) him and Peter answered back, â€œLord, you know all things, you know that I love (phileo) you.â€ Peter was not ready, even standing and talking to the risen Lord, to go all the way with agape love.
Now letâ€™s look at the greatest commandment and the second unto it. The lawyer came and asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, and Jesus turned the tables on him and said that he was a master of the Law, to tell him. The Lawyer did not hesitate, â€œLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). You remember that Jesus complimented him on getting the answer right, and then the lawyer asked the right question again, â€œWho is my neighbor?â€ The story that Jesus told, concerning the Good Samaritan, forever blew away the ability to be selective about whom you may love.
To this day, most Christians, when asked about the most important law and directions about loving, quote this scripture. In the industry world we understand the word â€œsupersede.â€ On the night that Jesus was betrayed He gave a change in this law that superseded the Luke 10 statement. It took the statement of the law of love up by 1000%. The trouble with the Luke ten law, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Now we know that neighbor was inclusive of the whole world. The problems, some folks donâ€™t love themselves all that much. In fact, we deal with a lot of self hate in the world stemming from everything from false humility and self depredation to considerable anger and sense of worthlessness. The neighbor really gets a raw end of that transaction. You see, Peter fell into this category; he could love Christ as a friend, and love his sheep and lambs as a friend; that was the level he was able to muster toward God and man. That next step to agape was, for Peter, a killer at that point.
Jesus wanted to ratchet the law of love to a new and never before heard of degree. Paul understood this when he was penning Romans twelve. Jesus is cramming his apostles as he is heading for the finals at the cross. He makes it plain, â€œIf you obey my commands, you will remain in my loveâ€ (John 15:10). He is being deadly serious, and is not worrying about whose systematic theology he is tossing at this point. Then he drops the bomb that Peter just did not quiet get, and most Christians today have
not got, â€œMy command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friendsâ€ (John 15:12, 13). Come on, gang, from nearly two thousand years on this side of the cross we should be able to see this clearly. The template for our love to our loving birth family, our expanded church family, our heathen family is the love that sent Christ to the cross for the sins of the whole world. The only conceptual equivalent for this word agape is selfless sacrifice. There is no one too dirty; no one too stupid; no one too sinful; no one too wrong politically, socially, racially, morally to be loved by Christ at the cross; and no one that we are not to love with sacrificial love. Now Letâ€™s flesh that out in our daily lives. There are fifty-five commands in the New Testament to love.
In that Olivet discourse about the end times, Jesus speaks of doing good to the least of these my brothers of mine. Then He punches it home with â€œYou did it for meâ€ (Matthew 25:40). I had an Elder who was very into â€œCharity begins at home,â€ argue with me that the only ones that we were to feed, clothe, visit, pray for were blood or church family. No one else could be a brother of Christ. This kind of stinking thinking has hobbled the church for centuries. Go back to the lawyer and his question, â€œWho is my neighbor?â€ God and Christ is the father of all, those in the family and those that are potential members of the family; that is 100% of mankind.
Another sophomoric remark, â€œI will love everyone, but I donâ€™t have to like them.â€ You can eros someone, copulate with them and leave them, and most likely you will not like them tomorrow, or respect them. The love of family and friends can be on our good side today and on our bad side tomorrow; we may or may not like them very much on any given day. But when it comes to agape love as Christ has demonstrated at the cross and commanded us to love with, and understanding it requires sacrifice, there is no way to love someone this way without liking them as well.
I contend that the reason that we donâ€™t get to liking people is that we donâ€™t bother to get to know them. That once we know them, we relate to them and rapidly fall in love (chose to love) with them.
A couple of years ago, Melba was going through one operation after another, she was drugged out and having terrible hallucinations. She feared going to the operating table again, and I was holding her hand in pre-op. The anesthesiologist came in to do prelims. He was a tall Latino, handsome and about the age of Dean. He was going over his memorized spiel, and Melba was getting more and more anxious. Melba told him of her fears to wake up on the operating table, and he assured her in clinical tones, â€œIt wonâ€™t happen.â€ I asked him what part of South America he was from. He had that Germonic/Latino accent that is prevalent in Argentina or Southern Chile. He was quiet for a second, then with a smile he shared that he was from Argentina, and we had about a five minute talk about family, the hospital in Guatemala, and friends in Chile, Buenos Ares and Colombia. It was time to go into the operating room. The handsome, tall Latino, reached over and patted Melbaâ€™s hand and said, â€œDonâ€™t you worry, Mrs. Melba, I will take very, very good care of you, my friend.â€ It was her smoothest operation of that period. Often times the difference between dislike, ambivalence, a nodding acknowledgement, and love is a five minute conversation from the heart. It is not rocket science; it is what the Father has in mind, a better way.
From this point on, understand, no one said it was the easiest way. Letâ€™s go back to Paul and Romans twelve.
One of my favorite books from the high school reading assignments and later a favorite movie was The Yearling. The theme was missing love because of the fear of getting emotionally involved. You cannot love people without getting emotionally involved. There is an emotional roller coaster that perhaps bankrupts more ministries than any other. Paul alluded to it in Romans 12:15; â€œRejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.â€ Being in agape love requires empathy and a constant roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. Many ministerâ€™s go into burn out trying to keep up with all the emotions of folks in the congregation and ministry family. They emphasize and hold on to all the emotions, and go into emotional overload. This causes the minister having to share his heart with someone that shares with someone else and soon the minister is not trusted with secrets. In 54 years of marriage and ministry I have never shared my counseling load with Melba, not because I do not trust her, but because I do not want to overload her with emotional baggage.
On any given day in the ministry you may be planning a wedding with all the joy of an excited bride and groom at 10 AM, and by 11:30 get the call to rush to the hospital to pray with a family concerning a child that suddenly took ill and the doctors are still seeking an answer, and at 2 PM get the call that a wife needed to talk to you about a husband that has just confessed an affair. By 7 PM you may be sitting in the hospital lobby with an elderly lady whose husband just went home to be with the Lord. If you can love with agape love like Christ loved, your empathy that day ran the gamete from high joy to despair to sadness, to fear. Each person and each family that you were with suffered from or were blessed by one major emotion that day. You, as their pastor, swung hourly from one high to a low to a lower low and back. Some days it is not as drastic, others it is far worse even in a small congregation and missionâ€™s ministry. In my world I can swing from guerrilla attacks, political intrigue, to death disasters, to hospital crisis, to excited good news about victories and much more everyday. Melba told her Covenant class last week that when she hears of a prayer need, she prays with the person about the problem, shares it with the prayer network, and puts it out of her mind. A good program to keep from getting overburdened with problems. Turn it over to the Lord and move on. I was asked when I got back from South Carolina, by one of our widow ladies, â€œDid you miss me while you were gone?â€ The answer was â€œno.â€ In truth, I didnâ€™t miss anybody while I was gone. I was involved in the people of the moment, and the tasks at hand at that time, and that did not allow me anytime to be melancholy or to dwell on what was not happening in my life at that time.
There are two great dangers in loving as required in â€œrejoicing and mourningâ€; one is as the mother in the Yearling, totally unable to get emotionally involved any longer. Having your guard up and never really loving. The other is to get so involved that you allow all the tragedies, joys, problems, crises to pile up in your mind till you have a mental breakdown from an emotional overload. Neither are what God wants or expects. There has to be a better way.
I believe that Paul with the Holy Spiritâ€™s help hit on the better way. The very next verse is â€œLive in harmony with one another.â€ I happen to love four part harmony of barbershop quartets and southern gospel. I figured out that I canâ€™t sing tenor and bass at the same time. However, when the music is in harmony, the tenor, baritone, bass, lead singer all blend together to make beautiful music. I go to hear a hundred piece orchestra play an hour long concert; I often donâ€™t remember the tenor saxophone part, but, I remember the beautiful melody and harmony. Over the past fifty plus years I have tried to allow all the emotional highs that I experience, and I sure do rejoice with the great victories of my children, church family, and extended family. I have long ago learned I am not the poorer because of their blessings. In fact, I become richer by their being blessed. I have learned to empathize with the hurting, crying, dying, lonely, abandoned, and desperate of my daily walk. I unashamedly cry at funerals and in hospitals and as I hold an abandoned husband or wife in my arms. In some strange way the Lord has taught me to make a harmony, to make a melody with all these emotions each day, to accept the high notes and the low notes as a balance of life in the Son. One of my favorite writers Gibran, in the Prophet wrote, â€œThe deeper the sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your refreshing drink, the very cup that was burned in the potterâ€™s oven? And is not the flute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.â€ And again, â€œYour pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And if could keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; and you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.â€ Understand what Gibran is saying; death is as joyous as births, and pain is the knife that hollows your soul so you can hold cups full of joy. The Christian life is to be lived in harmony; the highs and lows are just notes that bring out a beautiful melody. It is a better way, but not necessarily the easy way. There are days that I break out crying in my office, and folks that happen in and catch me all teary eyed wonder what is wrong with the old man.
Living out agape love is living so that every breath is breathed in and out with love. You cannot isolate love from work, religion, relationships, art, music, drama, entertainment, or sports. I want to quote from The Prophet one more time. You see, it is totally impossible to love without loving your work. The TGIF man or woman never knows agape love. If work is a curse and labor a misfortune, you can not experience the tremendous joy of loving your work and those with whom you work. Work is life, â€œYou work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of lifeâ€™s procession, that marches in majesty and in proud submission towards the infinite. When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering hours turn to musicâ€¦and in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving lifeâ€¦And to love life through labour is to be intimate with lifeâ€™s inmost secretâ€¦All knowledge is vain save where there is work, and all work is empty save when there is love; and when you work with love you bind yourself to your self, and to one another and to God. And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit. It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spiritâ€¦Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, â€˜He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil. And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man is more than he who makes sandals for our feet.â€™ But I say, not in sleep, but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass. And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving. Work is love made visible.â€
The secularists worried about terrorists that kill and mangle their enemies will never comprehend the verse twenty of Romans twelve. When Jesus told us in the sermon on the mount to love our enemies, he expected that love to be visible, and visible love is love that is encased in work and works. Paul put it, â€œIf your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drinkâ€¦ do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.â€
Elder Polycarp, in the church east of the Agean Sea, was caught in a Roman crack down on Christians. He was eighty six, had known John the Apostle in his childhood, and worked with Onesimus the converted slave that Paul sent back to Philemon. He was a renowned Christian; the Roman soldiers arrived to arrest him and take him to be burned at the stake. He greeted them at his door, invited them in and fed them a noon meal then went with them to his death. The solders begged him to renounce Christ so they would not have to light the fire at his feet; he would not and burned to death singing a hymn.
The only enemies list an agape Christian should keep is the prayer list. In the world of religious ideas, nothing will have an impact on the secular society that is going to hell in a hand basket as quickly and deeply as the New Testament challenge to love as Christ loved. There is no better way. In the marketplace of religious ideas and competing ideologies, we are not to compete being the most moral; it leads to legalism. We are not to compete in being the most intelligent. Believe me, the Muslims, Hindus, and other religions have some really intelligent people. We cannot out kill them; we cannot out shout them. We must out love them; that means learning to do good to those that despitefully use you. That means really turning the other cheek and learning to live at peace if at all possible, as long as it depends on you. It means having no idea of taking revenge, knowing for us, revenge belongs to the Lord. It means learning to be comfortable associating with street people as well as the educated and wealthy. It really means that we must truly learn what is important as we deal with other people. We have one great commission given by Jesus Christ. It is to disciple the world. Now understand that the only fishing hole in which to catch great saints is the cesspool of sin. Now a sinner is a sinner and they are all hell bound without Jesus, so there is not a dimes worth of difference in their value, and not an ounce of difference in how badly they stink. Our job is to disciple them, convert them from their sinful ways, whatever that may be, teach them to go to work to earn a living instead of stealing on the street, and teach them to be philanthropists (Ephesians 4:28). We are to capture those that are overwhelmed by sexual sins and collar their misdirection and focus them to a biblical lifestyle. To do that we deal with a lot of people that are living together without a state marriage license. We deal with a lot of folks that are into homosexual lifestyles. We are called to disciple them, and in so doing, teach them all that the Lord taught on the subject and in the process change them to be what God wants them to be. We can never get to the change if we verbally abuse and condemn them before we even get a chance to love them and to know them and begin a process of taking them by the hand and leading them to where the Lord wants them to be. Love puts up with a lot of crap on the long road toward heaven where love covers a multitude of sins and we are speaking the truth in love, as we grow up into Him that is the head; that is Christ. It sure is the better way.