Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Love (page 3 of 3)

Blacks, Whites, and Greys

It’s a funny thing to me how lessons seem to weave themselves into our lives at seemingly ‘random’ points in time (which, of course, shows me that they’re not random at all). Over the past eight weeks or so, as I’ve been preaching through James, I’ve been amazed at how clearly he contradicts our contemporary worldview and way of looking at life. In our culture there are no black and white issues, only greys. Members of PETA, who say it’s wrong to kill for food, probably still smack mosquitoes. What’s wrong in one situation may be okay in another. There are all kinds of greys.

James, however, continually teaches by setting up worldviews as opposed to each other. Either you’re steadfast or you waffle, either you are a doer or a hearer only, either you have a pure religion or a worthless religion, your source of speech is either a fresh spring or salt water, your wisdom is either from God or from Satan, and so on. You’re one or the other, black or white. There is no middle ground, no fence to sit on.

The funny part about all of this is how I’ve been growing in my understanding of the many issues where thoughtful, biblical, Jesus-loving Christians disagree about moral issues. Do you drink or not? Do you do home-school, public school, or Christian school? What kind of language is okay and what is not? What type of guidelines should we use when we dress? These things are anything but black and white, and real Christians really disagree.

So what do we do? Do we respond with insisting that there is a ‘black and white’ answer for every issue? Do we argue incessantly about it until people see it our way? Do we just stress privately because everyone else is wrong?

I think the answer of humility is found in a passage like Romans 14:

Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 

In other words, your brother or sister who sees things differently than you isn’t your servant, and you’re not his or her judge. They do have a master and a judge, but you’re not him. To judge them as if they need to give an account to you is to contend for supremacy with God. It’s pride.

Not judging is only the beginning, however. More than not judging, we must also be careful to be proactive in love:

Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 

To flaunt your freedom is the opposite reaction to judging and condemning, but it’s equally unloving. ‘If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.’

The admonition comes again: ‘Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.’ What Paul is saying here is that when we value our freedoms so much that we’re not willing to give them up for the sake of loving a brother or sister and ‘not grieving’ them, then we’ve valued our own freedom more than we’ve valued one of God’s children.

The humble, Christian response to the ‘greys’ is to lovingly refuse to judge, and then to lovingly resist the urge to flaunt our freedoms in front of others who don’t enjoy the same freedoms.

This calls for love and humility all around. On different issues I’ve found myself sometimes being the one tempted to judge, and sometimes being the one tempted to stumble. I can say from experience that neither side is easy. But Christian community is a beautiful thing when, by the power of the Spirit, Christians are walking in this kind of self-denying, self-sacrificing love, living out humility. It’s been a delight to see it in action at GFC, and I can only pray for more.

Overwhelmed

There are benefits and drawbacks to preaching large portions of text. The benefits are too numerous to get into, but one of the drawbacks is that you don’t get to stop and to meditate for as long as you’d like on a single thought expressed in your passage, because there are so many other things to get to.

Yesterday I preached on James 4.1-12. As usual, I talked too long and said too little, but the text itself is absolutely amazing. The thought that gripped me the most, personally, as I laboured through the text last week (and even while I preached) was verse 5:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 

That thought absolutely blew me away.

How could this be? The God of the universe not only puts up with me when he should obliterate me, but ‘yearns jealously’ for my devotion to him? He yearns with a jealousy of a husband for his bride (according to the analogy of the passage).

What an absolute shame that we take so lightly the thought that God loves us. Of all things in Scripture, this should be the thought that amazes us the absolute most.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.8) 

And again,

By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us (1 Jn 3.16). 

In our chapter (James 4), James does something amazing: He contrasts our desires (which are at war within us, and bring quarrels and fights) with God’s desire for his people (which is singular, faithful, loving, and brings peace). This truth ought to humble us, amaze us, and increase our love for him.

Where the church’s desires are many, and illicit, and have grieved our groom, his desires are single, and faithful, and pure, and have brought our joy.

Where his one desire produces peace, our many desires have yielded enmity between God and us, and fights between us all.

And yet, he loves us still. And he ‘yearns jealously’ for our affections… what an overwhelming love! What an amazing God!

Things I Love

Aside from my Saviour, my greatest love is for my family. So, of course, this post brings me great delight.

My wife, Stacey, has been blogging for a few months now–and I love it! This post is just reciting a few of our favourite memories of our kids from over the past few weeks. They grow up so fast… it’s so much fun to think of all the different things they’re learning.

Hope you enjoy it half as much as I did!

Read the full article here: Precious Moments

Love, Part 2

In my most recent post on love, I offered this working definition of love:

that affection or passion which motivates me to pursue another’s ultimate good, regardless of the cost to myself. 

After that post a friend commented on the use of the words ‘affection or passion’ and just wondered if maybe love might be more about doing than feeling.

Many of us, I think, have been in Christian culture circles long enough to remember the DC Talk song Love is a Verb (if you don’t know it, you can get the lyrics here). As a younger person that song had me reevaluate my definition of biblical love, so that I’d see that love isn’t what culture says it is… too often, when I read of love in the Bible I used the world’s definition (something roughly equivalent to warm-fuzzies; something that you can ‘fall’ into or out of on a whim, without your control).

But as I matured (at least I hope that’s what I’ve done) even more, I came to understand that there is much more to love than mere ‘verbing’. In other words, love is more than ‘doing’, although doing is definitely involved.

I think there’s a balance somewhere here: Love the (outer) action is motivated by love the (inner) affection.

So that when Jesus teaches about love at the end of Matthew 5, for example, he shows that God’s love is a love that involves action (he sends rain & sun). Now, are we to assume that such loving actions come from a heart that is not in a favourable disposition to the people being loved? Absolutely not. And we are called to be like the Father. Jesus teaches here that to love someone (like your enemy) means to pray for them. How can you pray for someone without any affection for them? However small, it must be there in some measure if you are going to intercede for them before the throne of grace. You are asking God to bless them with life, forgiveness, the alleviation of their troubles. Why would you ask this if there was no root for it in your affections? Surely Christ is looking for more than rote obedience devoid of heart-affections when he says ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

Again, if we examine a passage like 1 Corinthians 13, we find the same thing. Love is that which bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. It is hard indeed to picture how these things could genuinely come about in a heart devoid of affection for the person being loved. In fact, the only way I find I can genuinely love someone in these ways is to ask God to produce affection for them in my heart, so that my actions of love will be true–not faked or forced.

This is why I’ve thought it best to say that love is that affection or passion which produces… . In other words, love is not merely a feeling, but a God-wrought ability to have some of the same affection in my heart for one of God’s creatures that God himself has. And just like God’s love moves him to action, so this God-wrought affection in me will always motivate me to action.

Of course, this is always done absolutely imperfectly in my life. Sometimes life calls for us to just do what is right even before there is genuine affection in me. That’s just because of my hardness of heart and slowness to be affected by God’s truth and God’s heart. Where I need to grow is in my continual experience of God’s affections (his love for people, his hatred for sin, etc.) so that when situations come, the first affections to arise in my heart are God’s own, so that my impulse will ultimately be genuine love.

Love

I love our church. So does my pastor. A while ago he posted 34 things he loves about our church.

One Sunday night, when the weather was nice and the service had been over for more than an hour, and people were still hanging around talking to each other outside (because those of us responsible for locking the building had kicked them out), I began to wonder to myself if a church could ever get to a place where her people love each other too much.

I suppose in one sense, that could happen. If our love for each other ever superseded our love for Christ himself, or if our delight was in people, rather than in the God whose image is displayed in those people.

But when I thought about it more, the silliness of such a thought became apparent rather quickly. One can never love another person too much. No one could ever love more than Christ has loved (since this is how we know what love is) and clearly, Christ did not love too much.

But that got me to thinking that I needed a clearer definition of love. You see, when we think of love for another, we think of something which could supersede our delight in Christ, or something which could be taken too far, so that it is not in the other person’s best interest. But really, at that point, it’s not love at all… it’s selfish delight in another person for the gratification of my own fleshly desires for entertainment or companionship or a sense of belonging or whatever else.

So here’s the working definition of love that I came up with to help me evaluate whether I’m really loving someone, or whether I’m just having nice thoughts about them for my own benefit.

Love is

that affection or passion which motivates me to pursue another’s ultimate good, regardless of the cost to myself. 

Feel free to comment on that, if you like. I’m hoping to elaborate on that some more in the days to come.

Augustine’s Love for God

My love of you, O Lord, is not some vague feeling: it is positive and certain. Your word struck into my heart and from that moment I loved you. Besides this, all about me, heaven and earth and all that they contain proclaim that I should love you, and their message never ceases to sound in the ears of all mankind, so that there is no excuse for any not to love you. But, more than all this, you will show pity on those whom you pity; you will show mercy where you are merciful;[1] for if it were not for your mercy, heaven and earth would cry your praises to deaf ears.

But what do I love when I love my God? Not material beauty or beauty of a temporal order; not the brilliance of earthly light, so welcome to our eyes; not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes, and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is not these that I love when I love my God. And yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self, when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away; when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes food that is never consumed by the eating; when it clings to an embrace from which it is not severed by fulfilment of desire. This is what I love when I love my God.[2]


[1] Ro 9.14

[2] Aurelius Augustine, Confessions (translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin, © Penguin Books, 1961), 211-212.

Doctrine and Love

This morning I was blessed in my reading of 1 Timothy. I was quite refreshed to read Paul’s words to Timothy:

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

When Scripture records for us Paul’s letter to this young pastor (the first generation of non-apostolic church leaders), and gives us the apostle’s commission for the ministry, I think it is wise (to say the least!) to heed his words.

Paul has told Timothy already that he is to stay at the church in Ephesus and minister there. And what is the aim of that ministry? Love. Paul does not need to go on any more about love… Timothy has been with Paul long enough to know what an essential role love plays in the thought of Paul, and the life of the church.

For example, 1 Corinthians 13, the passage everyone likes to cite about love, comes right in between chapters 12 and 14, which are all about church life. What is it that is to be the governing rule in the life of a church? Love.

Why love? Because love is the fulfilling of the law. Love for God, first and foremost, and then out of that love flows love for brothers and sisters in Christ, and then love for the rest of the world. This all, of course, comes as no real surprise to us.

What I did find interesting today, however, was to ask myself as I was reading, ‘How is it that Timothy is to fulfill his charge, so as to bring about love in the life of the local church where he ministers?’

The answer is not what we would expect.

Timothy is to fulfill his charge to stir his people up to love by protecting sound doctrine.

In our day, in our part of the world, you don’t hear that kind of thing very much. Either you get the loosey-goosey kind of theology where we’re told ‘doctrine divides’, so we shouldn’t think about it, or else you might get trendy ‘re-invent, re-think, revise’ camp that is more interested in asking questions and pointing out errors than getting answers.

This is not the logic of man, but the logic of God from his inspired word. The verses immediately preceding Paul’s statement quoted above insist that Timothy charge people not to teach false doctrines or to focus on side issues, but to stick to the gospel as it had been taught.

Throughout the rest of the book of 1 Timothy (and then again and again in 2 Timothy as well), Paul exhorts Timothy to protect doctrine, to guard the deposit, to rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine, to always preach, always teach the word, always protect the gospel that Paul had taught him.

Why? Why must he protect doctrine? The goal of all that he does is love in his people. There are no fewer than 3 major lessons I need to learn from that.

  1. I need to stand fast against all false doctrine.
  2. I need to make love the end goal of all ministry.
  3. If love is not the result of the doctrine, then either the teaching, the teacher, or those being taught are in the wrong, because the goal of gospel teaching is always love.

In contrast to whatever the pop church culture of our day tells us, it is correct doctrine that will unite God’s church, and correct doctrine that will stir Christ’s bride up to love in increasing measure. It is only in the true gospel that true love is shown, and only when the true gospel is preached with conviction, and believed on with resolution will men come to love God and love one another from a pure heart.

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