If You Keep His Commandments You Will Abide

John 15:9-10(NKJV) 9“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

This week we are studying Jesus’ words from John 15. In this chapter, he points out that there is no greater love that a human being can have for another than to lay down his life. That is exactly what Jesus did for us. In relation to this action on Jesus’ part, we are called to glorify the Father. We do this by reflecting the Lords nature in our earth walk.

Jesus tells us that to glorify the Father we must produce fruit. God desires us to live fruitful lives. To produce this fruit we must learn to abide in Jesus’ love for us. If we abide in the vine, we have the life of the vine flowing through us and we will manifest that life by bearing the fruit it produces. An apple tree produces apples because apple life flows through the tree. We will produce manifestations of eternal life if the life of the vine is flowing through our spirit to the world.

How can we abide in the vine? We must abide in the word of God and allow the word of God to abide, or live, in us. We must abide in the love of God. We must allow the love of God to change us. We must be conformed to the love of God. This means we begin to see ourselves as God sees us through his love. It also means we must begin to see others though the eyes of the love of God. As we abide in the love of God, we will find that this love is a supernatural force that is bringing change to each of us in very real and personal ways.

How do I know if I am abiding in the love of God? Jesus gives us a simple test. If we keep his commandments, we are abiding in his love. If we do not keep his commandments, we are not abiding in his love. It is that simple. We have spent a great deal of time in this space point out the fact that all of the commandments and the prophets can be summed up in two commandments. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. If we make these two commandments a priority, we will keep the rest of the commandments. Does this mean we can ignore the rest of the law? No, it does not.

In the book of Romans, Paul gives us some insight into this question. Paul was a grace man. He understood the grace of God deeply because he was a recipient of that grace. Paul, who had been known as Saul, persecuted the church. He caused believers to be imprisoned and even killed. He did those things thinking he was serving God.

When he found that he was wrong and that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah promised in scripture, he was crushed by his behavior. He understood that it was the grace of God that had cleansed him of such deep sin. He understood it was this grace that brought him into personal relationship with the God he had studied his whole life. He knew that if God could forgive him, God could forgive anyone.

As a result, he said a number of things that, taken out of context, could indicate that it did not matter if we kept the law or not. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul says that all things are lawful to him. If you take this statement out of context, you could conclude that there is nothing sinful and behavior does not matter. In Romans 14:14 he says that he is convinced nothing is unclean of itself. Again, a person so inclined could conclude that grace means we can sin without consequence. However, that is not what Paul is saying at all.

The true revelation of grace is not that we can sin without consequence. The true revelation of grace is that Jesus died for us no matter how great the sin. It is not that we excuse ourselves of wrongdoing; it is that we forgive others as he forgave us. That is what Paul is talking about. In both of these situations, he tells us that it is love that must rule. We should refrain from certain behaviors because of our love for others. We should forgive them because Jesus by grace forgave us.

Here is another quote from Paul that is in response to the accusation that Paul preached that a Christian could do sinful things without consequence.

Romans 6:1-2(NKJV) 1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

We are not excused from keeping the rest of the commandments if we keep the commandment of love. It is by keeping the commandment of love that we are able to keep all other commandments. If we are not keeping those commandments, we are not abiding in the love of God.

Let me share one more scripture with you today.

Romans 13:8-10(NKJV) 8Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

If I love my neighbor, I will not sin against him. If I love God, I will not do anything that would displease him and go against his nature. The Ten Commandments in particular are the expression of God’s nature. Love is the fulfillment of the law, not permission to break the law.

I am not abiding in love if I am committing adultery. I may say that I am free in the grace of God but I am not free at all. Grace is an aspect of God’s love. I cannot be walking in grace if I commit adultery because I am not abiding in the love of God. The same can be said of murder, thievery, fornication, or coveting. In some way, all of those things will hurt either another person or God himself. If I keep the two great commandments, I can do none of these things.

Love is not the exclusion of the law. It is the perfect fulfillment of the law. It is absolute freedom because there is no greater freedom than to know in your heart that you owe no one anything but love.

Examine your life today. Are there areas of sin still hanging on to you? Apply the law of love. Ask the Lord to show you how that area is hurting God or someone else. You will find it is much easier to put that thing out of your life if you let the love of God rule in your heart

Advertisements

Abiding

John 15:8-9(NKJV) 8By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. 9“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.

We have been looking at Jesus’ words in John 15. He tells us that we should glorify the Father by producing fruit in our lives. God is love and everything he does in us or through us is motivated by that love. We should respond by placing glorifying God at the top of our list of priorities. We glorify God when we live in such a way that allows his characteristics to be reflected in our daily living.

The fruit that glorifies God is primarily the fruit of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5. We might also include the fruit of outward manifestations of God’s power. When people are saved, healed and delivered through our life and ministry, God is glorified. If we want to see an outpouring of his glory in our day, we need to make glorifying him a priority in our lives.

How can we be sure that we live a life that glorifies God? Jesus gives us the answer in verse 9. We must abide in his love. I want to take some time talking about the word “abide” today, but first let me point out something else in this verse. Jesus says he loves us in the same way the Father loved him. Think about that for a moment.

Jesus was perfect. He never did anything that would hinder his Father from loving him. Yet Jesus says to us that he loves us in the same way that the Father loved him. I know I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I even sin at times and yet the Lord loves me with the same love the Father loved him. I must add that if Jesus loves us that way, so does our heavenly Father. Think about this great love for a moment and see if the thought will not do something for you.

Jesus says the key to producing fruit and thereby glorifying God is to abide in that love. The word abide has two basic meanings. First, it means to remain. We are called to live in Jesus’ love for us. We are not called to visit his love. It is not sufficient for us to think about how much he loves us every now and then. We are called to set up housekeeping in the love of God. We are called to let our lives rest in the reality of that love.

Have you ever thought of how much of who and what you are is determined by where you abide. I am going to travel to Kenya, East Africa in July. If I made my abode there, my whole perspective on life would be different. I would see the world differently. My reality would be different than it is now simply because of where I live. If I lived in New York City instead of rural upstate New York, I would have a totally different life than I do now.

I am married. I lost a great deal of weight and now my original wedding ring, which had gotten too tight, fits again. We bought new rings because of weight gain. The new ring fits on my right hand. I wear them both. I tell people I am so married I wear two wedding rings. I am married!. The woman I abide with has a great deal to do with who I am and what my life is like. The bible says, “It is better to live on the roof than to live with a contentious woman.” I live with a wonderful woman and she has helped the Lord form me into who and what I am. I hate to think of who I would be if I had married the wrong wife. The one with whom we abide makes all the difference.

We need to live with the love of God. We need to think about his love and act according to his love for us. It is important to love God, but our love for him will never be greater than our acceptance of his love for us. (1 John 4:10)

The second aspect of the definition of the word “abide” is to be completely conformed to the one with whom we abide. Love, in the case of God’s love, is not an emotion it is a person. God is love, so to abide in Jesus’ love for us is to abide in and with God himself. We need to allow the Love of God and thereby God himself to conform us so that we look and act like his love.

To be conformed to the love of God is to first to accept that love. We must believe that he really does love us as the Father loved him. When we fully accept his love for us, we will change how we think about ourselves. We will begin to see value that we did not see before. How could God love someone who is worthless? That sense of value will begin to change our thinking and our thinking will affect our actions. The love of God is a supernatural force that will change our lives if we believe it and accept it.

In the first seven verses of John 15 we read a more familiar passage about abiding.

John 15:1-7(NKJV) 1“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He £takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you£ will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

We cannot produce the life of God unless we are joined to that life. Jesus’ illustration of the vine and branches is very powerful. I must be joined to the vine to produce life. I cannot be joined to the vine part of the time. I must abide in the vine to produce life. I trimmed some trees recently. The branches I cut off still had green leaves on them, but it did not take long for them to turn brown. The branches began to die immediately because they were cut off from the life of the tree. If we do not abide in the vine, we cannot produce life.

He gives us another key to abiding in verse 7. To abide in the vine of Jesus love for us we must abide in the Word of God. When his words live in us, we live in him. He gives us a powerful promise. If we allow his words to abide in our hearts and thereby abide in his love for us, we can ask anything we desire and the Father will do it for us. Of course, we must understand that our desires will change when we are conformed to the one with whom we are abiding. Our desires will begin look more like his desires.

We must recognize how important this is. In verse 6 Jesus says that anyone who does not abide in him is cast out and eventually burned. He says earlier in the chapter that those to whom he is speaking are already clean because of the Word of God. We are clean if we respond to the Word of God and are born again.

I do not believe Jesus is talking about those who are unsaved here. I believe he is speaking to those branches who do not abide in him and his love. Because they are not abiding they end up on the trash heap of life and are burned. I do not believe he is talking about hell. I believe he is talking about our lost potential. I believe he is talking about never fulfilling our destiny in God. I do not want my life to end up producing nothing. Look at the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3.

1 Corinthians 3:15(NKJV) 15If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

I want my works to abide. Paul says that our works remain if they are built on gold, silver and precious stones. For that to be the case, I must learn to abide in the vine. To abide in the vine is to abide in His glorious love for me.

Glorify God

John 15:8(NKJV) 8By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

Yesterday we looked at 1 John 4:8. This scripture makes a simple statement that has become something of a cliché in the world. God is love. We have heard this phrase many times but do we think about the implications of this statement. God does not just love. God is love. It is at the heart of what he is. Love is the source of every action God has ever taken toward man. Love is the source of every action God has taken toward you.

Today we return to the words of Jesus himself in John 15. He begins by saying, “in this is my Father glorified.” As I read this, it struck me that my priorities need some adjusting. I had to ask myself a question. What priority do I place on glorifying God in my life. I am not sure I can say that doing so is in the proper place on my list of priorities.

For many years, we have been praying for a manifestation of the glory of God. What is the Glory of God? One definition is “the power and presence of God in manifestation.” God’s power is always there. He is everywhere present. Those are his characteristics. However, when we speak of his glory, we are speaking of those things manifesting in a way that we can see them, feel them or hear them. The glory of God by definition is when his power and presence invade our natural world.

One way this occurred in the Old Testament is in what we call the “Shekinah.” The Shekinah glory was the cloud that manifested during the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This cloud could be seen with the physical eyes. It was said that as the cloud came into contact with the priests they could not stand up in its presence. They physically fell to the ground as they were touched by the divine presence.

Physical healings or miracles are also manifestations of God’s glory. Any time we see his affects in the physical world, it is the glory of the Lord. We need these kinds of manifestations today more than we ever have. What will it take for God to pour out his glory in the earth?

There is another definition of “glory” that I think is relevant here. This word can also mean the “defining characteristics of someone.” There are many people we can think of who have one particular characteristic that defines them. They may be very tall or thin. They may be intelligent. In the case of celebrities, it may be their voice or their ability to do something that entertains us. Athletes are defined by their abilities in a particular sport. This is not always correct or fair to the person, but it is so anyway.

What are the defining characteristics of God? He is all-powerful. He is everywhere present. He is all knowing. However, there are other things as well that define him. He is holy. He is righteous. He is just. He is love. How can we help bring the Glory of God to the earth? I believe we must glorify God. If we glorify God, we will open the door for the manifestation of his Glory. How do we glorify God. One way is to manifest his defining characteristics in our own lives.

We are not going to begin by manifesting his power. We will never be everywhere present, although through his body he can be. We will never be all knowing. However, we can walk in holiness and righteousness. We can manifest the love of God in our everyday living. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.” Can we say, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen Jesus.”

If we want to see a manifestation of the glorious power of God in our world, it is up to us to glorify God in our daily living. I do not think we can have the one without the other. The Holy Spirit lives in each one of us. Although he is certainly in heaven and everywhere else, I do not think we look to heaven for an outpouring of the Spirit of God so much as we have to look inward at our own lives. Look at the words of Jesus.

John 7:37-39(NKJV) 37On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus was speaking to us. Out of our heart, the KJV uses the word belly, shall flow the rivers of living water that will touch the earth. It is out of the church that the glory of God must flow. How can God’s glory flow out of a body that does not glorify him? It is counterproductive to pray for the one and give no priority to the other.

What does it mean to glorify God? We often think it simply means to say good things about him. It is better to say good things about God than to say bad things. Doing so can be a part of what it means to glorify him. However, if that is all we do, our words are empty. Let us look at some definitions.

Thayer’s Bible Definitions gives us two basic ideas from the Greek as to what this word means. First, he says that to glorify means to make renowned or render illustrious. The word “renowned” means to have a widespread and especially good reputation. Illustrious means glorious, as in deeds or works. What in my lifestyle will give God an especially good reputation? What in my daily living will make the great deeds of God known to my friends and neighbors? Is my lifestyle giving the Lord credibility to those around me or is it damaging his credibility?

The second element of Thayer’s definition is to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged. When people look at me, my actions, my words or my family, do they see the dignity of the Lord manifested there? Do they acknowledge that I am blessed because God is in my life? On the other hand, do they wonder how I can say I am a Christian and act the way I do.

It is not my intent to make anyone feel condemned. I do not believe that there is any condemnation in this. There may be some conviction, but that is a different thing. The truth is that all of us fail in glorifying God sometimes. However, my aim is to convince all of us, myself included, that glorifying God needs to take a higher priority in our lives.

If we have to lay down some pleasure or treasure in order to glorify God, we must be willing. If we have to make some changes in our behavior or our language to glorify God, so be it. I believe we cannot be satisfied with refraining from known sin. I believe glorifying God takes a higher standard. If we want to see his glory, we are going to have to reach for that standard.

Jesus said that we glorify the Father by bearing much fruit. We talked about this fruit yesterday. I believe it is God that will bring forth the fruit. I believe that the fruit itself will glorify God, but I believe that part of that fruit is in lifestyle.

Look again at Galatians chapter 5. You will see two lists. One is the fruit of the spirit and one is the works of the flesh. Look at the fruit. The Holy Spirit is in you so this list is in you. Make a decision to allow this fruit to come through your everyday living. I believe as we increase in bearing these inward kinds of fruit, the outward kind will follow. We will see the Glory of God in our world as we make a commitment to glorify him in our lives.

God Is Love

1 John 4:8(NKJV) 8He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

This week I want to look more deeply into the nature of the love of God and how it affects us personally. Today’s scripture is another one that is very well known. It is also a phrase that has become a Christian cliché. To say God is love is acceptable even outside Christian circles. However, I wonder if we have any idea how important and far reaching a statement this is.

Some time ago, I got stuck on another scripture. Hebrews 11:6 makes the statement that anyone who comes to God must believe that God is. This seems obvious, but the significance of it weighed heavily on my mind. If God truly exists, with the implication that he is the God he says he is in the bible, everything in life changes. God’s existence makes impossible things possible. Any circumstance or trial takes on a completely different perspective if God exists. The thought is revolutionary if we really grasp it.

God is Love is another one of those phrases. Of course God is Love. Everyone knows that. However, what are the implications of this phrase? Let us consider them today.

When we read or hear “God is love”, what we understand the words to mean is “God loves.” That is our experience. However, God does not just love. He is love. I do not “human” I am human. Not only am I human, I am a human male. That is my nature. It affects everything I think and everything I do.

There was a time when the world and the media tried to tell us that the only difference between men and women was physical. However, in the last number of years science has discovered that men and women’s brains are different. Their perspectives are different. The way they see life is different. I am a male and my wife is a female. We could have told the would be experts that we were fundamentally different all along!

In the same way, God is love. Love is at the heart of everything he thinks and does. Everything that God has done, is doing or will do in your life is motivated by love. It is impossible for God to do anything that is not motivated by his love. All of God’s dealings with humanity, either on a corporate or personal level, are motivated by God’s love. Even when we cannot see how this could be possible, we must accept it as the absolute truth.

Many times things happen that we do not understand. Sometimes those things are a product of the attack of our enemy, Satan, and his forces. Sometimes bad things happen because of our own bad actions or decisions. However, everything that happens to you or to me that comes from the hand of God is motivated by his love. Sometimes that means difficult things. Sometimes it means hard things and things that we will not understand. If we know something comes from God, we must decide to see it as love working for our good.

That is part of the problem. God’s love is always motivation for the highest good in our lives. We often are not concerned with the highest good. We want a solution to the current problem. We want relief from the pain. This pain may be physical, emotional or spiritual, but we want it to stop hurting. God’s love is not based in emotion. God’s love is based in decision and he cannot accept anything less than the absolute best for us.

Since this is the case, God will not simply give us relief. He will look at the root of the problem and dig until he gets that root out of our lives. He will give us relief when we absolutely need it, but he will never stop there. He will always go on to complete victory, healing or deliverance. Sometimes that just does not fit with our agenda.

God is a God of fruitfulness. He wants us to bear fruit in every area of life. The problem is that fruit cannot grow in the midst of weeds. Look at Mark.

Mark 4:18-20(NKJV) 18Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, 19and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 20But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

Here Jesus is speaking of the fruitfulness of the Word of God in the hearts of men. When the seed of the Word falls among thorns, it cannot produce because the thorns will steal the life from the seed of the Word. It is the same in all areas of life. God wants us to produce fruit, but we have too many weeds in the way.

Have you noticed how easy it is to grow weeds. I have many of them in my yard. I do not have to cultivate them. I do not have to water them. I do not have to do anything to them to get them to grow. All I have to do is nothing. They grow all by themselves. The problem is getting rid of them.

Fruitful things, such as flowers, take work to grow. I do not think that is a coincidence. I believe it is God’s way of showing us this truth. We tried to grow flowers next to our garage. Neither my wife nor I have any interest in gardening. She wanted some pretty flowers so we planted the seeds. Soon we had many plants in the flower patch. We had no idea which were flowers and which were weeds. It became clear very soon that the weeds had the upper hand.

If we wanted flowers, we were going to have to dig out the weeds. We were going to have to find out what the flowers looked like at various stages and we were going to have to watch over them until they were developed. To have weeds we just left the patch alone.

God’s love is always moving us toward being fruitful. He will never settle for anything less. He will keep weeding us, turning our soil and watering us until we begin to produce the fruit he knows we are capable of producing. That can be a difficult process for us, but we must remember God is working toward our highest good.

We need to take a little time this week to see what weeds we have growing in our lives. What fruit do we need to cultivate right now. It will take time to get the weeds out and the fruit growing, but God’s love is working with us. He wants the best for you and only the best. Yield to his wonderful love and see what God will do.

No Greater Love

(This week’s message at Living Word Christian Center turned out to be a review message in many ways. Since this blog follows the message, this will be a review time as well. Sometimes the reviews are even better than the originals.)

John 15:12-15(NKJV) 12This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

As I was praying about what to preach last week, this scripture kept coming up in my heart. When I looked it up there were a number of things that struck me about the context in which it was set. He makes this statement after he tells his disciples that love for one another is not an option for them, but it is a commandment.

As we have already discussed this week, Jesus has summed up all of the other commandments in two commandments. The statement in verse 12 is a specific application of the commandments Jesus points to in Matthew 22. We are to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. There is no greater expression of neighbor than my brother or sister in Christ.

In verse 11 Jesus makes another interesting statement.

John 15:11(NKJV) 11“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Jesus gave us these commandments so that his joy would remain in us and our joy would be full. When we choose to keep the love commandment, life is more full of joy than if we walk in strife and unforgiveness. When we are at odds with people around us, we are not happy with ourselves. We will find that we are dissatisfied with life in general. We will not have good relationships because people will sense that we do not walk in love.

When we do walk in love, we have peace with those around us even if they are not at peace in their own heart towards us. We reach out to others and help others. We care about people and this leads us to minister to them out of the love of God. When we do that, we find a sense of fulfillment that few things can match.

The problem with walking in love is that you must be willing to become vulnerable. When you love people, a connection is made. Your heart is open to them in a way that enables them to hurt you if they so choose. However, if we truly walk in love, the power of God will be there to bring healing to you and to them as. Since you are loving with God’s love and not just your own, God will ultimately protect you.

Still, there is the opportunity to be hurt by those you choose to love. I started pastoring a local church at the age of 25. I am now 58, so you can do the math as to how many years I have been doing this. In those years it is the ones that I have given the most to who have hurt me the most. How do we deal with that? We must remember that it is God that they are rejecting and not us. It is tempting to stop being vulnerable, but we have a commandment. If we reject the commandment, we will not have the fullness of joy.

Love is also the antitheses of selfishness. I cannot walk in love and serve myself so I must deny myself. I must consider others more important than myself. Why should I do this for others? What validates this commandment?

I believe the statement that is the central thought of this scripture is what validates his commandment to love. Jesus led the way by walking in the greatest love it is possible for a human being to show. He laid down his life for others. In this verse, he says he laid down his life for his friends.

We know that Jesus did not only die for the twelve people he was talking to in this scripture. Why did he say he was laying down his life for his friends? We do not really understand the word friend as Jesus was using it. We have many friends. It is interesting that social media uses this term to apply to people with which we are connected. I have hundreds of “friends.” Most of them are people I do not even know, but according to social media, they are my friends.

I was talking to a young man who is the son of a minister friend of mine, and he said, “Our generation is more connected than you guys ever were. We have all kinds of electronic connections.” That worries me a bit. I like the technology and I use it, but it does not take the place of personal interaction.

This young man’s father and I are friends. We do not talk as much as we probably should. We live hundreds of miles apart. How can I say he is my friend? I can say it because I know that if I call on him with a need he will do whatever he can to meet that need. I would do the same for him. I do not have that trust and confidence in my “Facebook friends.”

Jesus says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants because I am telling you what I am doing.” Jesus let them know that what he was about to do would elevate them in their relationship with him. What was he doing that would change their relationship? He was going to make covenant with them. The term friend in this context does not mean a casual acquaintance. It means a covenant friend. One with whom you share everything. What is his is yours. What is yours is his. He is going to shed his own blood to seal a blood covenant between him and the Father God. They will be part of that covenant as his friends. He was going to have to die to open this door for them.

Every culture accepts that the sacrifice of your own life for another is the greatest love a human being can express. In times of war, a man may fall on a grenade to save his buddies. Most parents would sacrifice their life for their children and men or woman would sacrifice for their spouses. This is always the greatest form of love. Jesus died for his friends. He was talking to twelve men, but he was not dying for those twelve alone.

Jesus was opening the door to anyone who wanted to enter into the covenant his blood was about to provide. All who partake of salvation in Christ become his covenant friends. Thank God for the revelation that we are children of God, but we are also friends of God in Christ Jesus. All we have is his and all he has is ours because of the blood of Jesus that purchased the New Covenant.

Why is all this important to our love walk? How does this help me love that difficult person I work with? How does it help me overcome the irritating things my husband or wife might do? How does it help me love my brother or sister in Christ when they do not walk in love toward me? The answer is simple.

My covenant friend showed me the greatest possible love any human being can show another. He laid down his own life that I might live. Jesus is not asking us to die for our “friends.” He is not asking us to die for those who have yet to partake of his covenant of friendship. He is asking us to become living sacrifices. He wants us to lay down our selfishness and comfort to minister to them. He wants us to forgive them when they hurt us. Why should we do that? We should do it because, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

We are Jesus friends because we are in covenant with God through his blood. He gave his all for us. Can he ever ask too much of us?

Do I Love God With My Whole Life

(This week’s message at Living Word Christian Center turned out to be a review message in many ways. Since this blog follows the message, this will be a review time as well. Sometimes the reviews are even better than the originals.)

Matthew 22:37-40(NKJV) 37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The first scripture the Lord led me to as we began to listen to his words on the love of God was the one above. I have spent much time in this space commenting on it, but I want to take a few minutes today to express something the Lord has been dealing with me about in my own life.

The term “soul” in this context means life. In Mark’s account of the same story, Jesus adds the word “strength.” This is an indication of what he means by life in Matthew’s account. We must place all that we are at God’s disposal. We can hold nothing back from him. Loving him means our time is his and our money is his. Loving him means our talent is his and our resources are his. All that we are belongs to him.

I have been meditating on that as I examine my own life. I have had the privilege of knowing some people who went through severe persecution and war. Many of them were driven from their homes. Most of them lost relatives to violence. Although their Christianity was not the main reason for the violence, their faith was challenged in these times.

One of my friends speaks of a prayer meeting held in their home. The rebels knew they had a prayer meeting there and decided to attack the meeting. They came the night after the believers had met for prayer. My friend’s wife and small daughter left the country on the last flight available. My friend left a few days later by car. They found themselves in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few pictures. I have never been challenged in that way.

While in Armenia last year, I was teaching in a pastor’s conference. A number of pastors and leaders attended from Iran. These men and women were on fire for God. They believe that God is going to give them their nation. One of them was going back to Iran after the meetings even though the secret police were likely to harass and possibly arrest him. They put twelve pictures on the wall and asked us all to pray for these people. They were pastors who were still in prison for their faith.

As I looked at those pictures and talked to these wonderful people, I was deeply challenged. I have never had to choose between my faith and freedom. I have never suffered the loss of a loved one to violence. I say I love God with my whole life, but what does that really mean to me?

We are blessed to live in a nation that was founded on Christian principles and religious freedom. I thank God for that every day. I believe it is imperative right now that we pray for the preservation of that nation and those rights. I do not know how I would react if I were challenged as the people I have spoken of have been challenged. I suspect that God would give me the grace to deal with it. I believe most of you would rise to the occasion as well. I pray we never have to find out.

I am not comparing their experience to ours. That would not be wise. I am using their experience to ask myself, what does it mean to me to love God with my whole life? We do not have to worry about people in uniforms carrying guns breaking into our Sunday morning meeting. We do not have to worry about losing our jobs because we are Christians. Once again, I say, “Thank God and may it ever be so.” Sometimes I wonder, with so much blessing and freedom in my life, what do I give for my love to God?

As I look at myself and at the church in America, I have to say that blessing has, in some ways, made us soft. We complain about so many things. We feel so “put upon” if we are asked to do more than what is comfortable. We do not have time for prayer or bible study or extra church meetings.

We still invite people to come to our church for three-day meetings. Sometimes our people do better than other times when it comes to attendance, but I believe it is healthy to set three days aside in our schedule for the things of God. Often when I travel, pastors just do not even try to have multiple services any more. They will have me speak at the regularly scheduled meetings, but that is all. If they have special meetings, people just do not come. It is too inconvenient.

I have to wonder if we would have church at all if it meant secret meeting places that had to be hidden from the government. I suspect we would. I suspect they would be fully attended and growing. In most parts of the world where the church is underground, people come to the meetings in great numbers. Those are the places where the church is growing the fastest.

Maybe this is because people think the Word of God is worth more if it costs more. In America, it does not cost much to go to church. It costs some time. It costs some effort to get there and then you have to sit through a message. If it cost prison, would we be more on fire?

I am reminded of an incident in the ministry of Jesus. He went to a rich Pharisees’ house. The man did not have a servant there to wash his feet when he came in. It was customary for a host to do so. A woman came and began washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. The rich Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet he would know this was an unclean woman.” Jesus said to him, “You didn’t provide me with the customary foot washing, but she has not stopped washing my feet with her tears nor drying them with her hair. She has been forgiven much, therefore she loves much.”

I do not intend to put what we used to call in the 1970s, a “guilt trip” on any one. I am simply thinking about myself. In Revelation 2:1-7 Jesus speaks to the church at Ephesus. He has many good things to say about them. He commends their works and their attitude. They have persevered in trial and resisted evil He says to them, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

Do I love God the way I once did? Do you? Am I willing to make my whole life available to the Lord? I do not have to risk death to do so. Am I willing to risk time and pleasure? Am I willing to go out of my way for my neighbor? Am I willing to seek God for his power to touch my family, my city or my nation?

Do I walk away from the church or even the Lord himself when things get a little tough? Do I feel that I am being persecuted when someone pressures me because of my Christianity? Do I just give in and take the easy route? How valuable is my relationship to God through Jesus Christ? If you ask me, I would say it means everything. Nothing in my life is more valuable than the Lord and his presence. However, do my actions agree with that?

I cannot answer these questions for anyone but myself. I am not completely satisfied with my answer. I am not trying to answer them for you. I do encourage you to ask them. I do encourage you to examine you love for God. I pray we do not have to experience the things that others in the world are experiencing in order to find out what the state of our love for God really is. If we examine ourselves now and make the necessary changes, I believe we will not have to find out the hard way in the future.

The Love Commandment

(This week’s message at Living Word Christian Center turned out to be a review message in many ways. Since this blog follows the message, this will be a review time as well. Sometimes the reviews are even better than the originals.)

John 15:12(NKJV) 12This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:17(NKJV) 17These things I command you, that you love one another.

I want to spend time this week emphasizing the importance of the walking in the love of God. Paul places love at the center of Christianity in 1 Corinthians 13 as well as many other places in his writing. In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul points to the big three of our Christian walk, Faith, hope and love.

I believe both faith and hope are vital to any Christian’s victory. Without these two forces functioning, we will be at the mercy of the devil and limited in our walk with God. However, as important as these two forces of the spirit are, Paul says love is the greatest of all. Love is the source. Love is the motivator. If the love of God is flowing in our lives, faith and hope will follow. If we do not have love, even the faith and hope we have is tainted.

I have a number of teachings on the love of God. When I choose a topic, it is sometimes difficult for me not to default to those structured teachings. When I started to look at my existing outlines, the Lord said, “Just walk with me through the Gospels. See what I have to say about the love of my father.” That is what I am doing and it is very interesting.

One of the things that come through the teachings of Jesus is that love is not an option for a believer. The Jews lived under law. The Law of Moses was the only way they had to maintain their covenant relationship with God. As time went by, they lost the heart of God behind the law and made the law the central thing. If you did not keep the law exactly, you were condemned and cast out. In some cases the penalty for breaking the law was death.

Jesus understood how they thought. However, he wants them, and us, to see that the purpose of the law was not just to govern behavior. God loves man. Man was separated from God by sin. Sin dominated man’s behavior. God had to deal with sin in order to have any kind of fellowship with God. He made covenant with Abraham to establish this fellowship, but to maintain it with a nation of people there had to be a vehicle to deal with ongoing sin. The mechanism God put in place was a system of laws that would govern behavior and control sin as much as possible. To provide a way to pay for breaking these laws, he provided a system of penalties and sacrifices.

This was never intended to be a permanent solution. God was moving towards a permanent solution to the sin problem, but he needed a people through whom he could move in the earth. The Law of Moses and system of sacrifices that was included in it gave him that solution. However, the point all along was God’s love for man, not the Law itself.

When Jesus came, he was going to introduce a completely new system. This system would be possible because of the sacrifice Jesus was about to offer. His sacrifice would take care of the sin problem once and for all. No more sacrifices would ever be necessary to pay for sin. Hebrews gives us a vivid picture of what God was about to do in Jesus.

Hebrews 10:11-14(NKJV) 11And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

The blood of Jesus has dealt with sin. The only requirement is that each individual receive this sacrifice for himself. No other sacrifice will ever be necessary to pay for sin. God is now free to reveal to man what he has wanted him to see from the beginning. The issue now is not how to deal with the separation sin created between man and God. The issue for God is to communicate to man the depth, breadth and height of his love for all humanity. The issue for us is to grow in acceptance and understanding of that love and communicate it to as many people as we can.

Jesus took all of the Mosaic Law and boiled it down to the one thing that motivated it in the beginning. He made love a commandment. He did not do away with the original Ten Commandments. He did not even do away with the Mosaic Law. We are still required to keep them all. He simply showed us how to keep them. If we keep the commandment of love, we will keep all the rest.

What should govern your behavior? I believe that there is too much loose living accepted in the body of Christ today. Compromise kills spirituality. Compromise makes us vulnerable to sin. Compromise causes us to accept things that we should not. Some behavior that does not start out as sin, will become sin as compromise does its work. How can we get rid of this compromise?

Make no mistake. I believe we need to discipline ourselves to live right before God. I believe we need to make good choices. I believe we need to decide to obey the Word of God in every way we understand it. Any disobedience to the word is sin. Romans 14:23 says anything that does not proceed from faith is sin. Both Jesus and Paul are very clear that our behavior must be in line the commandments of God.

However, both Jesus and Paul make something else very clear. If we give the Love of God a place of dominance in our lives, we will keep the law. If I love God with my whole heart, soul and mind I will do nothing that will hurt him. I will seek to please him because I love him and the result will be that I will keep the commandments in his word.

If I love my neighbor as myself, I will do nothing against my neighbor that I would not do to myself. The famous golden rule is simply a statement of the love commandment. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If I love the other members of the body of Christ as Christ loved me, my behavior toward them will be as it should be.

Love is a commandment. It is the only commandment given to us by Jesus himself, yet it carries within it all other commandments and the means to keep them. The blood of Jesus has dealt with sin. Now, I am required to keep the commandment of love towards God and towards man. If I do, my behavior will be pleasing to God. However, we must remember, it is a commandment. It is not a choice. It is not an option. Your only choice is to obey the commandment of love.

How can we do this? We do it by decision. Remember, the love of God is decision based. Feelings will follow, but decision is the key. I decide to love God because he saved me. I respond to his love for me when he sent Jesus to die for me. I decide to love you because his word tells me to. When this decision governs my actions, I will keep all the other commandments.