Optimistic Living

Optimistic Living

Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011

Anyone can seem cheerfully optimistic when everything seems to be going well. The problem is: those times are very rare. There’s always something that isn’t quite what it ought to be. God made us so that even after the infection of sin took hold of his creation, there is hope that brings joy to the hearts of those redeemed by grace.

We regularly face troubling challenges. At the root of all our hard struggles is the guilt of the principle of sin at work in us. When Adam sinned in Eden corruption spread to the souls of every one who would descend from him. This corruption is the foundation for physical as well as spiritual adversity, sickness, and death.

Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”

God summarized the corruption that sin would bring after the fall of the human race in Adam. He told Eve that there would be a struggle between her offspring and Satan. Then God said to her in Genesis 3:16, “… I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”

After that, God said to Adam in verses 17-19, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

These far reaching effects of sin, both in our world and in our hearts, are why people constantly struggle against temptations and become morally confused. We see a society flooded with crime. Neighbors often find it easy to justify breaking the law, or lying in circumstances which they think are minor or unimportant. Justice is often perverted into injustice, and immorality becomes the treasured ethic of a fallen world. Even believers often find it hard to cope with calamities such as natural disasters, disease and death itself.

God never promised that believers can escape these kinds of things in this life. But he has given us a way of rising above the agony and discouragement that can accompany such troubles.

Those who have a negative outlook are often called pessimists.
Those who have a positive outlook are usually called optimists.

Optimism is a huge topic with many vast territories to explore. Our mind-set as believers, and how we respond to adversity, involves the whole issue of sanctification and spiritual maturity. Therefore, this study only attempts to be an overview to help us along to a more optimistic way of living.

You have all probably heard the standard jokes, stories, and classic sayings about optimism and pessimism. I did a quick search of the Internet about these two mindsets using the google search engine. In less than half of a second it returned 1,350,000 web sites containing both “pessimism” and “optimism”.

One of the most posted examples was the old poem written by McLandburgh Wilson (with variations) Between the optimist and the pessimist,

The difference is droll.
The optimist sees the doughnut;
The pessimist the hole!

There were many web sites with either that whole quote or variations of it, including a few that identified themselves as Jewish humor sites where they substituted a bagel for the doughnut.

The old tired saying about seeing the glass either half empty or half full appeared 728,000 times. But there was an interesting update of that one for our computer age …

An optimist would say the hard drive is half full.
A pessimist would say the hard drive is half empty.
A true computer geek would upgrade regardless.

These examples point out a clear difference in outlook. They show what we see in people, and they are classic illustrations of humor, but none of them really gets to the heart of the issue.

There is an optimism the world invents,
which is a counterfeit of the biblical version.

There is a head-in-the-sand optimism.
This form of optimism just tries to ignore negative things. It refuses to face problems or admit to things not going well. It is nothing less than lying to self, or at least a denying of the truth to one’s self. Christian optimism should not be unrealistic, or willing to overlook unwelcome truths.

There is a false optimism that pretends to be Christian, but is not.
It says that it expects things to work out for good by faith. That sounds good, but what is meant by faith is only wishful thinking. It doesn’t mean finding encouragement according to what God has actually promised. It believes something to be so,simply because it is believed to be so. Faith becomes the creator of hope, rather than a gift of God which must be anchored in Christ, the ground of our hope. Faith needs to be in something. It is a trust in something trustworthy. Faith in faith itself is just empty deception. This false optimism is pure existentialism and New Ageism. It is not biblical Christianity.

Christian optimism begins by seeing things
with a God-centered perspective

Everything fits in with the bigger picture, as God directs his universe. Shorter Catechism question 7 says, “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

There are some key parts in that answer:
1. God has an eternal purpose
2. His eternal purpose is according to what he desires, according to his perfect will
3. He directs all things without exception, for his own glory

That means that sin, disappointments, failures, defeats, crime, persecutions, and eternal judgments all fit together into the large plan of God. And all of it promotes his glory.

Therefore, as we try to understand things around us, both the things we like and the things we dislike, we need to keep this main principle in mind: God’s sovereign power and infallible decrees move all things toward his own glory.

God in his word clearly explains his sovereignty over all things: It is a teaching found in every section of the Bible. For example …

Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”
Nahum 1:3 “The LORD has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm”
Matthew 10:29-30 “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Revelation 4:11″You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”

If we knew nothing more than this, we would still have the most important encouragement a person could ask for. Since God is absolutely in control of all things there is no reason for discouragement.

Of course we still sometimes get discouraged, but in Christ we know it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to hide our heads in the sand and pretend nothing bad will happen to us. And we don’t have to fool ourselves with wishful thinking. God rules over all things and moves them toward a glorious end.

Nothing is left to chance in God’s universe. Calamities don’t blindly stumble our way. They are part of something bigger than our own expectations and understanding.

God never has to change his eternal plan, though our understanding of it changes because he reveals it to us in stages. There is no enemy that can force God’s hand, or derail his plans.

Even the wicked, when they strike out against God, only serve him though ignorantly. The unbelieving hands that nailed Jesus to a cross for execution meant to silence him. Instead they became the tools in God’s hand that finished the work of Salvation. Peter explained speaking of our Savior in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”

God didn’t excuse this most horrible sin. But he turned the diabolical scheme around.

Though we might not appreciate their importance, even hard times have a good purpose. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

A few examples from the Bible can help us apply this important principle:

In the time of Habakkuk there were
serious threats against God’s people.

The prophet Habakkuk had become discouraged, so he asked God to explain. In chapter 1 he prays for understanding …

2. O LORD, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save.
3. Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises.
4. Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.

14. Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them?
15. They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad.

Because of his discouragement, Habakkuk waited for God to explain. In chapter 2 verse 1 he said, “I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected.”

In verse 4 God gave a different kind of answer than he expected, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.”

God pointed him toward his duty instead of toward his obsession with the problem. The redeemed, those made righteous, are to live by trusting what God has made known. What God has not revealed should not be our concern.

This brings us back to that verse we quote so much …

Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to find out all than can be known about God and his creation. But it does mean that God’s reasons behind things should not be guessed at beyond the boundaries of what has been made known.

As children, there are many things we should leave up to our Father. When we worry about things we can never control or explain, we show a mistrust in our Father. We trouble ourselves unnecessarily with unfounded anxiety about God’s secret work, often to the neglect of our own revealed duties.

King David also became discouraged
by the seeming success of the heathen.

In Psalm 2:1-3 he asked why the heathen nations get away with being so bold and wicked?

Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed: “Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!”

Then the Psalm reminds us who is in charge …

He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury: “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

It is a superficial delusion to imagine that what we see in the wicked is really success . The discouraged heart doesn’t look far enough to see things as they really are.

Part of David’s life was spent being hunted by armies of kings trying to kill him. Through it all he remembered that the kings who tried to kill him were never beyond the control of God. He wrote the so often repeated words of Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (KJV).

Joseph knew God’s sovereign assurances too.

When his brothers conspired to kill him and sell him into slavery Joseph later said…

Genesis 45:7-8, “And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

So God uses even the sins and selfish attitudes of his creatures to accomplish his decrees. This doesn’t excuse the sin. But it shows that evil is employed to accomplish God’s wonders.

Paul was a very optimistic prisoner.

From his captivity in Rome he wrote the letter to the Philippian Church. In the fourth chapter of that letter his words teach us a clear lesson …

Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Christian optimism responds to negative things
with confidence, peace, and resolve.

We leave the success of things to God. We accept the things that are beyond our own responsibility. In place of confusion we should have a sense of duty and promise.

Noah was not a pessimist simply because he expected a calamity. It wasn’t a sense of impending doom that drove him to start making an ark long before there was a flood. He understood that it was not his responsibility to stop the flood. He turned his attention to the duty God had called him to perform. He made an ark. He was confident in God’s promises.

We need to remember this when we go about our duties too. When we explain the gospel to others, or stand up for God’s truth and moral principles, some may not believe. Some may ridicule us or think we are foolish. Some may even persecute us. Our duty is to represent Christ and his grace which has been shown to us as sinners. It is God’s work to change hearts. It is our duty to tell others about the good news he has provided. We trust God’s promises and assignments. We see the bigger picture and have confidence that all things are working together to serve that higher purpose.

Remembering the Sovereign hand of our Loving Heavenly Lord should give us a positive attitude as we look for our duties, and appreciate his blessings.

We may have lost a job, or an election campaign. We may get sick, see pain in someone we love, lose our house to a storm, or realizing that our car spends more time in the repair shop than in our drive-way. In whatever circumstances that come along we can rest joyfully and securely knowing that the hand of God employs all things for good.

God is glorified even in a sinner’s rebellion, or in a nation’s fall and corruption. These will one day dramatically display his attribute of justice and holiness. Such things humble us, knowing we deserve the same wrath, yet we see his grace and love. These things work together in the larger good plan.

Our mind-set is the key. We need to see things with a God-centered perspective. Everything fits in with the bigger picture as God directs his universe in the most perfect way. His sovereign power and infallible decrees move all things toward his own glory.

This brings us back to a familiar verse. Instead of fixating on the problems, or on trying to figure out the pain, there is a better way …

Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”

The right cosmic perspective is to see all things as the unfolding of God’s wonderful plan.

Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

Learning Compassion

Learning Compassion

Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011

In the Presidential campaign of the year 2000, George W. Bush was able to win some of the support that gave him his slim victory by calling himself a “compassionate conservative”. Voters were very hungry for a type of politics that responded with sincere concern for the people being governed. Of course all the candidates claimed to be the real “compassionate” ones, and accused each of the others of using the word compassion while they were really being oppressive and opportunistic.

In a world guided more by impressions than by God’s word, ideas like compassion are hard to define, and even harder to sort out from the self-serving motives that often lie behind people’s words and actions. Though it is often confused by our fallen hearts, it is the common testimony of all sorts of people that sincere compassion is an important quality.

Compassion is obviously an important attitude
if we are to live together in any kind of civility.

We need to be truly concerned for the well-being of others. People need encouragement, companionship, sympathy, advice, and help in times of calamity.

God created us, and redeems us, to be his earthly kingdom, his family, his flock, his church. We are called the human race. That doesn’t mean we are all racing against one another to beat one another. We are made in the image of God and justified by the death of Jesus Christ so that we can represent God’s love, mercy, and compassion among one another. This means living in community with other people. The difficulty is the sin problem we all have in common.

When our brothers and sisters in the Lord have needs, we are called by God to help them. This mandate from God is summarized in Colossians 3:12-15

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

Notice that compassion is something we are told to “put on” like our clothing. It is our duty, something we are commanded to do. We don’t just assume that because we are Christians we somehow have all the compassion we need. If it’s there it has to show itself.

Compassion isn’t like a condition without symptoms! When you’ve got it, those around you ought to be able to see its evidences. It is our job to work on those evidences by making sure the cause that produces them is really there in our hearts.

Our fallen nature counterfeits compassion
with something quite its opposite.

What is mistaken for compassion is often just a concern to ease a person’s own troubled conscience. It can show itself as superficial gestures that appear to show concern, but it’s done for the benefits it brings to the person’s own reputation. That does little to really help. Insincere compassion may actually hurt the person more.

The other extreme is when someone condemns superficial gestures in others to appear superior to them. Again, it does nothing to help those in need.

We need to learn how to follow God’s mandate. False compassion doesn’t do what is really good for people. It may look good, and feel good, but in reality it may cause more harm and hurt to those we say we are helping.

    True compassion is not …

  • telling someone whatever makes them feel good even though its a lie.
  • giving a person everything he thinks he ought to have.
  • giving children all the sweets they crave.
  • helping someone ignore their conscience when they have done wrong.
  • paying others to do good in our place, and then think we’ve done our part.
  • leaving our neighbors to the care of government agencies or charities.
  • spending money on solutions that really only prolong a problem.
  • paying able people to stay unemployed when they could be helped to find work.
  • allowing babies to be aborted, when we should be helping the child’s parents deal with challenges. They need to be encouraged to love their babies, and to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
    It’s harder …

  • to tell the truth in tough situations.
  • to help a person understand that what he craves may be harmful to him.
  • to help a person face his faults when he would rather find excuses or blame others.
  • to befriend our disabled neighbors, and to help them with housework, yard work, or to get to the store.

It is not surprising that a society made up of unsanctified souls tends toward false compassion. Fallen people define compassion by what they believe it ought to be. God’s word shows us what true compassion is, and how we can put it on.

God’s method of compassion can be divided into four lessons. I will quote several portions of God’s word here. He says it much better than I can. By reading through these passages it makes it clear that this is God’s method, not one dreamed up by us fallible humans.

Lesson One: We need to understand that
true compassion is only possible in the redeemed.

In our fallen condition, no one is capable of sincere concern for others and for God’s honor.
Romans 3:12 “… There is none who does good, no, not one.”

The First Epistle of John is a detailed study of how love manifests itself in God’s children. It makes the point that true God-honoring compassion can only be found in those who are redeemed by Christ.

Showing compassionate concern for others is one of the marks of a true Christian. If there is no compassion, a person should be very concerned about the reality of his salvation.

1 John 2:10-11, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

1 John 3:10-11, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,”

A lack of compassion weakens our own confidence that we belong to the Lord.

1 John 3:14-17, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

If a person is redeemed by Christ, then love and compassion should evidence itself.

1 John 4:7-13, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

Our own compassion is the seal of God’s compassion upon us.

1 John 4:16-21, “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”

So the first step in learning to be truly compassionate, it to make your salvation sure. Regeneration alone enables us. There is no other cause for true compassion. All else is a false compassion moved by selfish concerns, needs, and desires.

If we expect to see true compassion expand in our neighborhoods, country, and the world, we need to evangelize with the gospel of Christ.

Lesson Two: We must know how God defines compassion.

God’s word is filled with help about how we can show true care for others. When we know the truth about God and about others as his creatures, and when we remember that all the redeemed are our brothers and sisters by grace, then we will have a foundation for learning to appreciate what is really best for others.

Colossians 3:12-15 describes the elements of that compassion. It must include mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. To be compassionate we need to put up with one another, and be forgiving to each other with love, peace, and thankfulness.

2 Corinthians 1:4 explains how God’s mercies enable us. It is our Savior who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in affliction. We offer the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

1 Peter 3:8-9 puts it this way, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”

The love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, shows how this kind of compassion is part of love. In verse 4 it tells us that love is kind. In the next verse Paul continues saying that love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;” When self is our center, our compassion is just a means to making us, not others, to feel good.

Paul, in Philippians 2:3 writes, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

These verses show us that true compassion not only puts up with rudeness of others, it also responds with kindness. Instead of treating them the way they deserve, compassion treats them as God commands us. This means that the best thing we can do for others, is to help them live by the principles God gives us in his word, and by helping them with their needs inwardly and outwardly as they struggle along.

Lesson Three: Learn what biblical compassion looks like.

It is good to know how the Bible describes compassion. As humans, it also helps us to have examples to follow. The Bible is filled with them. We have examples of compassion and godly models for us to see.

In captivity, Daniel didn’t refrain from forbidden prayer to avoid getting people upset with him. He didn’t disobey God to show what some would think was “compassion” for his captors. He knew it would not be good for them if he hid his prayers to make the pagans feel better about him. Their only hope of real blessing was if they learned God’s ways. True compassion is to humbly and kindly remain a faithful example of godliness. He put that duty above seeking comfort for himself.

Paul didn’t tell the Thessalonians to keep giving food to those who were out of work if they were able to do their part. In sincere and godly compassion he told them in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “… if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” It was best for them to help the habitually dependent to learn the importance of work and personal responsibility.

Aquilla and Priscilla were thanked in Romans 16:4 because they risked their lives for Paul. They could have just prayed and minded their own business. They could have just repaired tents and lived quiet lives. But that would not have been the compassionate thing to do.

Jesus is of course our greatest example. His whole life is an example of compassion. But he didn’t hide the truth to draw more followers. In John 6:65-66, Jesus said,”… ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

He knew it was best for these people to hear the truth. He cared for them so much that he knew it would not be compassionate to keep hard to accept things from them just to make them feel better about themselves.

There are many other examples that could be drawn from Christian history and from the Christian community.

One Christian writer tells of the time when he was riding a subway on a cold Chicago day. An elderly woman shuffled into the subway and took a seat. Her clothes were ragged, barely able to protect her from the bitter Chicago winds. She hunched herself against the cold gripping a worn shawl around her. He said her hands appeared to be white, cracked, and bony.

In contrast a healthy looking young man energetically got on the train. He noticed the pain of the old woman sitting in quiet misery. Three stops later the man left the train leaving his pair of brown leather gloves in her lap.

The writer then says, “He saw her need and responded with compassion while I just sat there. It never occurred to me to give her my gloves. That young man showed compassion in a way I’ll never forget.”

Lesson Four: We need to live by
what we learn about compassion.

Compassion isn’t defined by just a set of facts. It is a way of life. It is true kindness toward those God created to bear his image. It is good intentions put into practice. The Bible says that we must “put it on.” We need to slip into the clothing that honors Christ as we reach out to really help others to see the transforming power of what our Savior accomplished on the cross for his lost and otherwise hopeless people.

In practical terms here are 4 steps that might help us develop Christ-like compassion in our lives once we have been regenerated by his redeeming grace.

1. Become aware of needs in those around you. Pay attention to where they might benefit from your help and encouragement. Perhaps as you pray for each friend and family member this week, you could consider where they would benefit from your personal encouragement and support.

2. Think carefully to know how God would be honored by your help towards them. That means not just doing what they expect from you, or what will cover their pain for the moment. It’s what in the long run will encourage them to develop in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Your help should not be given in a judgmental or superior manner. That is arrogance not love. Look for ways that will help, not discourage (Galatians 6:1).

3. Keep studying God’s word prayerfully to fill your thoughts with godly examples. What we occupy our minds with is what we will become (Philippians 4:8).

4. Pray that God will enable you to show true compassion in your life. Once your basic needs are met, set aside your own extravagances, so that you can build up the whole kingdom of God in this world.

Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

Living Thankfully

Living Thankfully

Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011

It’s encouraging when people remember to thank others for what they have done for them.

“Thank you” is a very important expression.

It can be a sincere way to show appreciation for a kindness done. Sometimes words don’t even need to be spoken. It can be said with a smile, a hug, or a shed tear of gladness. Yet it helps to say what’s on our hearts so that our gratitude won’t be missed.

Sadly, a “thank you” can also be said in a mechanical or hollow way.

We’ve seen children prodded into thanking someone when it is not in their hearts to do so. They look down at their shoes, fidget with their hands, and mumble the words quietly. Of course it is all part of the process of learning how to treat others with respect. Our hope is that our children will develop this as an important natural habit in their lives.

Sometimes the words can be said in a sarcastic way. Someone not appreciating what somebody else did may say “Well, thanks a lot!” They say it so the person knows they didn’t do good when they should have. Leave it to our sin filled hearts to turn a good expression into an insult.

As Christians we should learn another dimension to giving thanks.

A “thank you” should be an acknowledgment of a person’s part in God’s blessings toward us. Living gratefully ought to be a characteristic of every Christian’s life.

Tragically, in our fallen nature, self replaces God as the center of what concerns us most. Fallen souls pervert thankfulness into its opposite. The absence of gratitude is an attitude of presumption or entitlement.

In 1 Corinthians 4:6 Paul warned the believers that no one should become arrogant having received something. He then asked in verse 7, “… why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

People often act as if they deserve all they get. Good things are taken for granted. Warren Wiersbe once told about a ministerial student who was part of a life-saving team.

In 1860, a ship went aground on the shore of Lake Michigan near Evanston, Illinois. Edward Spencer waded again and again into the ice cold waters to rescue 17 passengers. In the process, he damaged his own health permanently. Years later at his funeral, it was noted that not one of the people he rescued ever thanked him.

A good deed is often spoiled by seeing its flaws instead of its intended good. One devotional booklet tells the story of an old man who approached a young stranger in the post office and asked, “Sir, would you address this postcard for me?” The young man gladly did just as he was asked, then offered to write a short note for the old man. Finally the stranger asked, “Now, is there anything else I can do for you?” The old man thought a moment and said, “Yes, at the end could you add, ‘Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.’ ”

Fred De Witt Van Amburgh once wrote: “None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”

Henry Ward Beecher said, “Pride slays thanksgiving, but an humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.– ”

Thankfulness begins with knowing what we have to be thankful for. It is an appreciative acknowledgment of a benefit received from another

Originally the English word “thank” come from “a think” it was “a thought”. It was a consideration of a kindness received.

In Old Testament Hebrew, ‘thanks” is todah (תודה). It comes from yadah (ידה) meaning “to throw, to cast”. It is the casting of praise or gratitude toward someone.

In New Testament Greek, it is eukharisteo (ευχαριστεω) meaning a good favor or grace offered to someone.

Our first thankfulness ought to be for what we receive from God

This is the most obvious, and foremost duty of gratitude. Ultimately every good thing we receive is from God.

James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Paul pointed out to the ungodly pagans at Athens that God deserves the thanks of all men;

Acts 14:17, “… He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

Therefore, we should always thank God for all good things we receive.

  • for his amazing and beautiful creation,
  • for his merciful and full preservation of all that he made, including us,
  • for a gracious salvation (forgiveness from our sin and guilt, and the promise of eternal blessing)
  • for our daily provisions and the abundance we enjoy beyond our basic needs.
  • for our opportunities, and our ability to take advantage of them.

The Bible is filled with the giving of thanks to God. For example …

Psalm 116:17, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD.”

But, while not detracting from God as the cause of the goodness done by others …

we need to remember to thank the people God uses
as his means by which we are blessed.

There are many biblical examples showing that it is right and good to thank people for the kindnesses they show to us …

There was that one leper in ten who returned to Jesus to thank him for healing him.

Luke 17:11-19, “Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ So when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.’ ”

Notice that the first direction of gratitude was toward God. But the thankful leper also wanted to thank the means God used, the person of Jesus. So rather than being satisfied with just a private thanks to God in prayer, he was commended for turning back, going out of his way, to thank the agent of his blessing.

The Apostle Paul remembered to thank those who had helped him. He sent his thanks to his friends in Rome whom he had known when they were in Corinth and Ephesus. He thanked them for their help in risking their lives for him. He saw them as true, responsible agents in the hand of God.

Romans 16:3-4, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”

He showed his appreciation for their goodness to the church in Philippi.

Philippians 1:3-6, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”

When Paul was teaching the believers in Colossae about Christian character he said in Colossians 3:12-15 …

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

Paul listed these 7 important attitudes and behaviors they should develop. Beyond all the specifics he mentioned, they should put on love, the sum of the other attributes. He told them in verse 15 to let the peace of God rule in their hearts, then he ended by telling them to … “be thankful.”

These examples show us how important it is
for us to thank others for their goodness.

When neighbors, family members, or friends act as God’s agent to do something good for you, even the smallest kindness, you ought to show gratitude, and not take it for granted. It is important to let them know you appreciate what they did, and that you recognize them as God’s honored means.

We need to notice the good that others do and how God uses them. Not just thanking them for gifts or cards they give us on birthdays and holidays. But for their daily kindnesses, encouragements, and fellowship. Learn to treasure these little things, and build others up in the Lord because of them.

This is something we can do everywhere:

  • In the home: between husbands and wives, children and their parents, brothers and sisters.
  • In the extended family: including the parents of parents, cousins, uncles, and aunts.
  • In the church: all who are both members, and leaders of our spiritual family.
  • In the community: all who work together, support one another, and do business with one another.

In our imperfections we often do more complaining when we should be appreciative and thankful.

Years ago a magazine told the story of a young man named Ben. He was a complainer. He grumbled about the weather, found fault with his family and friends, and let the littlest things upset him. But his life was changed by a little rhyme he read:

“When you have truly thanked the Lord for every blessing sent,
then you’ll have very little time to murmur or lament.”

He realized that in his discontent he had overlooked the gifts God showered on him daily. Ben determined to overcome his habit of complaining, with God’s help. Whenever he became irritated or started to complain, he would stop and thank God for the many good things he was enjoying. Soon, by centering his attention on praising rather than pouting, he found it much easier to avoid his grouchy mood. He found thankfulness by following the principle of Philippians 4:8.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”

I like this simpler rhyme which might help:

“The humble don’t grumble, they think on the good.
They thank for each kindness, because God says they should.”

Our thanks as children of God should not be vain flattery or mechanical thanks . They should be real attempts to honor God, and to encourage those who are God’s instruments by the good he does through them.

In situations this week …

Look for good things that others do. Make sure you appreciate it, and tell them so. Learn to see others as agents of God in bringing his blessings into your life.

While you direct all the glory to Christ, remember to thank the person God has used, and encourage them in their good. Help them understand the honor they have in being used by God to do good.

Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

Living Lovingly

Living Lovingly

Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

There are specific characteristics that should be seen in the life of every Christian. Our interest isn’t just to define them, but to learn to do two things:

1. to develop these attributes in our own lives
2. to encourage them in those around us.

A good way to begin is to look at
what it means to love one another.

Love is the first item in the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Jesus himself said that love was the summary of all the law and prophets. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus was asked what was the foremost of all the commandments. His answer, quoting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, was this …

“Jesus said to him, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love is so important in Scripture, it would require a whole series of studies to do it justice. Love is the word the Bible uses to summarize the way believers should live. We we need to look at what exercises will strengthen the love Christ put in us by his grace.

There is a divine command that God’s children should learn to love.

Jesus said that loving one another was a mark of discipleship. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

If all men know we are Christ’s disciples by our love, then we need to know what it means to love, and what love looks like when we do it.

Love has many meanings the way we use it generally. We should define it the way God uses the word love in his word. I suggest this definition:

“Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.” (Pastor Bob Burridge)

Obeying God’s desires as to how we should behave toward him and toward others involves a lot. We need to know how to be loving at home, at school, at work, at play, in worship, socially, shopping, and while we are fixing things. We need to know what it means to love in every situation. It needs to become a part of what we are, and of what we do all the time.

Love is described in some depth in 1 Corinthians 13 (we will use the New King James translation). The old KJV uses the word “charity” instead of “love.” In 1611 AD charity meant love at its noblest.

This chapter doesn’t tell us everything about love, but it is a good summary of what our lives should be like when we love.

If love is a fruit produce by the Holy Spirit working in us, we should know how to nurture this fruit. We need to know the seed that begins the growth of love in us, the labor needed to cultivate it to its fullest yield, and the good harvest our labor can reap from this important seed.

What is the seed that makes love begin to grow in us?

Biblical love as a disposition is alien to our fallen human nature. Left to our inclination at birth, human love lacks an essential quality. It does good to others so that it can improve it’s own situation.

The self-centeredness of fallen human love is obvious. It wants companionship, help, sex, and opportunity. For those reasons it focuses on what it can do for others to get these things for itself.

It loves other people as long as it gets what it wants. When hurt comes along, or when the companionship is strained, what the world calls love produces accusations, arguments, and fightings. Sometimes it leads to infidelity, gossip, divorces, law-suits, and defamation. In extreme situations it even leads to perjury and violence. This kind of love isn’t just artificial, it is a cruel costume for selfish evil.

Biblical love begins when the seed of spiritual life is implanted in regeneration. Only when the fallen creature is restored by grace through Christ can anyone begin to realize love as the Creator intended it to be.

The Bible says, “we love because He first loved us.” If God hadn’t first sent his Son to redeem us, love as God reveals it would be completely unknown in our world.

Love is an essential evidence of our belonging to Christ. That is why Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

When you grow a plant, its life is in the seed. But to make it grow to its fullest, there are things you need to do. It needs water, soil, nutrients, proper lighting, and protection from disease, insects and hungry animals. When God implants this love in us there are things we are called upon to do.

What labor is needed to cultivate love to its fullest yield?

The Bible speaks of love as an action. It is a command. God says you should love your neighbor as yourself. He tells husbands to love their wives, and he commands us all to love one another. So when people say “I just can’t love that person”, they imply that God makes unreasonable demands of us. Love is first an obedience before it becomes a feeling. This is good news. It means there is something we can do when love doesn’t seem to be there.

God doesn’t say, feel love for your neighbor, or husbands feel love for your wives. He doesn’t say fall in love with others. He tells us to love them. It’s a direct command. Do you have trouble loving others? Then here is a message of hope. You can do something about it.

God’s word tells us specific things to work on to nurture love to grow in us. It defines what we do toward God when we love him, and toward others when we love them. This seed implanted in us by grace requires these obediences as it grows. The same grace that implants love enables and moves us to grow in our obedience to God’s word. We need to do loving things while trusting in God’s promises to succeed.

Paul presents 16 qualities of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. …”

Notice that this love isn’t presented in some abstract, ideal environment. It is shown acting in the real world, a world where bad things happen. It responds to being provoked, wronged, and generally attacked. We see how love bears up in the midst of adversity and selfishness.

People who are loving in these ways, show that its seed has been planted in their heart. Love is directly defined in the Bible as doing what God has commanded toward others:

John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
John 15:17, “These things I command you, that you love one another.”
1 John 5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

This is what we need to do when there is a lack of love in our lives. We need to learn God’s moral law, and determine by Christ’s enablement to obey the biblical commandments toward God and toward our fellow humans.

When the seed of love is implanted in regeneration, and when it is cultivated by the means of obeying God’s instructions, we will enjoy the full harvest of this fruit of the Holy Spirit.

What good harvest can our labor reap from this small seed?

When we do what God commands, he blesses us with that feeling of love. The general form of his covenant promises is this: “Do and be blessed.” This does not imply that God waits for our efforts. It means that God uses the power of his word and the work of the Holy Spirit to produce our efforts. It is all by his grace. When we are made aware of the need, and of the way God has ordained for the need to be met, and when we obey lovingly with confident expectation of success, we discover the work of God active in our hearts. As we then do what we are moved to do, the full blessings of love in our marriages, homes, communities, and church family will be realized. We will feel the love God promises that we will experience.

It is this effect of love, the feeling, that the world craves. But fallen man wants the feeling without faith, without the obedience. So he becomes frustrated at the work of conjuring up a feeling. He runs from church to church, from job to job, from marriage to marriage, community to community, club to club … looking for love and finding no reward.

Our duty before God is without dispute.

First: We need to make sure we are made alive by Christ, and that we are humbly thankful for that work of grace. By faith, lay hold of the promises God makes, and trust in his enablement. If the seed is not planted, love cannot grow to what it ought to be.

Second: We need to cultivate implanted love by obedience to God’s word. We must learn to keep God’s commandments toward one another, and toward God himself. Without the evidence of obedience, there is no reason to believe the seed has been planted. Of course all of us are imperfect in our obedience. So another part of our obedience is to help others to love, and we should forgive their failures as we are forgiven by our God.

Third: We need to expect God’s blessing when we obey him, and treat others as he says we should knowing that God will give the increase.

When we are patient and kind, and are not envious, braggardly, arrogant, rude, or self-seeking, and are not easily provoked, or take wrongs into account, and we do not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rather we rejoice in truth, bear all things, believe all things, hope in all of God’s assurances, and endure all things, and when we do all this persistently, then God will bless us with all the rich feelings of love in our hearts.

Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

Words of Love

Words of Love

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

In John 21 Jesus and Peter had an interesting conversation. Two different words in the original text are translated by the one English word “love”. To understand the main point of this important passage it is helpful to look at the setting in which the conversation took place, and to find out how the original words were used in that place in history.

The setting was the shore of a lake after the resurrection of Jesus. He appeared to his disciples after a disappointing night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus told them to lower their nets on the other side of the boat they miraculously caught more fish than they could haul in.

After a breakfast Jesus had prepared for them, Peter was asked a series of questions. The conversation is recorded in our Bibles in John 21:15-17.

1. Jesus asked, “… do you love (agapan, αγαπαν) me more than these?”
Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philein, φιλειν) you.”

2. Jesus asked, “… do you love (agapan, αγαπαν) me?”
Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (philein, φιλειν) you.”

3. Jesus asked, “… do you love (philein, φιλειν) me?”
Peter replied, “Lord; You know all things; you know that I love (philein, φιλειν) you.”

The events at the time of the death of Jesus left Peter with an awareness of his own weaknesses. At the Passover supper Jesus predicted that his disciples will all be offended by him. The word translated “offended” is the word from which we get our English word, “scandalized”. Peter objected and said that he would never fall away (Matthew 26:33). Jesus then told Peter that before that night was over he would deny him three times. Peter pridefully contradicted the Lord and said, “I will not deny you”. Of course we know that he did. Proverbs 16:18 reminds us that, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”

That background is important because Jesus started off by asking Peter if his love was greater than the others. The Apostle seemed to believe he was stronger than the rest on that night when Jesus was arrested.

The fact that two different words for ‘love” appear in the original text has caused some to focus upon the synonyms without a good understanding of what they meant at that time. This has caused a misunderstanding of the main point Jesus was making.

Clearly John had some distinction in mind when he translated the Aramaic conversation into Greek under the oversight of the Holy Spirit.

First it needs to be pointed out that these words are not as far apart as some well meaning interpreters have said.

The New Testament often uses these two primary Greek words for love to refer to the same thing. The following chart is helpful to see the similarity of these synonyms.

Both are used to express philein, φιλειν agapan, αγαπαν
God the Father’s love for God the Son John 5:20 John 3:35
God’s love for his people John 16:27, 1 John 4:19 Galatians 2:20
The disciples love for God John 16:27 Mat. 22:37, Romans 8:28
Our love for one another Titus 3:15 Matthew 22:39
Both are used of misdirected love Matthew 6:5, 10:37 2 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:15

It is clear that these two words were used to refer to the same kind of love, but they also have some subtle differences. They were not used in a completely interchangeable way in common speech at that time.

The word philein (φιλειν) describes the tender concern and care we have in our close personal ties. It’s a very personal and heart felt compassion. The Greek word for “kiss” (philaema, φιλημα) is derived from this word. This is the warmer and more intimate word for what is in a person’s heart. For example it was used in the Bible to describe the love between parents and their children (Matthew 10:37). It was used by John in his Gospel to describe God the Father’s love for us and our love for Jesus (John 16:27).

The word agapan (αγαπαν) is the more common word for “love” in the Bible. It is used many more times than philein. It’s the word used in the Bible for commands to be loving. The focus is upon the outward behaviors that our love produces. It’s the word used when we are told to love our neighbors, to love God with all our hearts, to love our wives, and to love our enemies. The Bible also uses this word when we are told not to love the world.

The Bible never uses philein (φιλειν) for a command to love. Commands are always agapan (αγαπαν). An action or behavior can be commanded, a feeling or inner devotion cannot be.

It confuses the point when some have imagined that Jesus was asking if Peter loved him with a higher love (agapan, αγαπαν), and Peter kept lowering the standard to use a word for a lesser love (philein, φιλειν). That’s not what the words mean. Nor is it consistent with the character of Jesus to keep lowering the standard to accommodate Peter’s lesser love.

So often we hear well meaning but poorly instructed Pastors and teachers speak of “agape love” as if it is a far superior kind of love than “phileo love”. Aside from the fact that they usually use a noun form in one case and a verb form in another, their understanding of the Greek language spoken at the time of Christ is sadly lacking. The Bible itself does not support that kind of distinction.

Jesus used the more general and common word for love when he first asked Peter “do you love me?” Peter probably felt the sting of the question since he had boasted that though the others might fall away, he would not. His failure that night exposed his underestimation of his own imperfections and corruption. So his answer was to point deeper to the tender and devoted love he felt for his Master. Peter used the word that meant that inner compassion.

Jesus again asked Peter if he loved him, but this time he didn’t make the comparison. He didn’t add, “more than these.” Peter again persisted in pointing to that inner devotion he believed was in his heart for his Lord. He seemed to think this answered the question. However, instead of responding about this general and inclusive type of love, he kept assuming that the devoted love in his heart would satisfy the Lord that he would be obedient. That was the same assumption he made at the Last Supper when he could not imagine that he would turn away from the Lord, but he did.

Finally Jesus revised his question using the same word Peter was using. He asked Peter if he really had the inner-affection he was claiming. Without that, the love of obedient devotion and action would be unstable. Peter was grieved at this third question. Perhaps he did not grasp the totality of what Jesus was asking. Likely Peter was deeply convicted about his past assurances and failures, so he persisted in his affirmation of tender affection.

After each question and answer, Jesus commanded Peter to do something. He told him to feed his people. The command was worded in a slightly different way each time.

After the first question in verse 15 Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου).
After the second question in verse 16 Jesus said, “shepherd my sheep” (ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου).
Finally, after the third question in verse 17 Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου).

This is the focus, the reason for the questions: the obedience to which Peter was being called.

Feeding the sheep is the prime task of shepherding. When Paul wrote to Timothy about the work of the Elders he repeatedly emphasized the work of teaching God’s word. This is how God’s sheep are fed. It’s how heretics were to be silenced. It’s how hurting sheep would find comfort. It’s how sin in the church would be handled. We are all lambs in the sense of being dependent children of God. We are all sheep in that we are members of his flock.

Love is the foundation of all godly obedience and service. That is why the Bible says,

John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:14 “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

1 John 5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

So love isn’t just a feeling. It is a disposition that compels us to real moral obedience. In each of these verses just quoted the word used is agapan (αγαπαν). This is a love that evidences itself as legitimate because it acts in ways that honor God. It is what can be commanded of us. It does what we claim is in our hearts. It shows that it is really what we think it is. Peter needed to be reminded that his devoted love and affection for his Lord should motivate him to action. He must feed the sheep, the people redeemed by grace.

This is a good question to ask ourselves. We say we love God, but does our love for him authenticate itself in our actions toward our neighbors, toward our spouses, our children, our enemies? Does our presumed “love” do the hard things God calls us to do? Do we love God sincerely so that we seriously abandon the things that we know are wrong in our lives? Do we love so much that we set aside time every day to search God’s word? to pray? to encourage other believers? to worship faithfully and to engage in all the elements of worship with all our heart?

Note: The Greek words, agapan (αγαπαν) and philein (φιλειν) are used here in their root verbal infinitive form. The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.

Love in the Bible

Love in the Bible

by Bob Burridge ©2011

We hear the word “love” used in so many ways. It can be used in a casual way when we speak of how much we love pizza or a good movie. It is used of that special devotion and care that unites a man and woman in marriage. It can be used profoundly when we express our devotion to our God as Creator and Redeemer.

It’s popular to talk about God’s love and our love for one another without a good definition of what it means. To some God’s love means that he could not hold us accountable for our sins, or that he would not uphold justice in the eternal punishment of those of us who remain unredeemed by the work of our Savior. Some believe that loving your neighbor means being easy on law breakers, but shows a disregard for their victims.

1 Corinthians 13 contains familiar words, but it teaches a profoundly different kind of love than what the world understands.

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus was asked what was the foremost of all the commandments. His answer, quoting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, was this …

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

If Jesus said that love is a summary of all the law and prophets, then we need to know what it means to love, what love looks like when it is present, and how to develop love in our lives.

Some years ago I was challenged to piece together the main elements of love in the Bible. To summarize what I found, I put together this definition of love as it appears in God’s word:

“Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.”

As fallen creatures, the disposition of legitimate love is missing from our souls. It needs to be implanted in us by a work of God’s grace. As fallen people we are separated from God’s fellowship by our guilt. In this alienated condition love is replaced by selfish attitudes and behaviors. Until we’re changed by the work of Christ, we do things that offend God, harm ourselves, and take advantage of others.

Even passing civil laws can’t keep us from doing unloving things. Laws don’t stop law breakers. Crimes continue even though there are statutes against them. Laws can’t make us love, or stop us from being unloving. We need them to restrict lawlessness, punish crimes, and to protect victims, But laws haven’t ended racial bigotry, theft, lying, pornography or other vices. Laws and national policies don’t stop bad people from doing horrible things. It’s our fallen nature, alienated from God, that makes us do unloving things.

Biblical love begins when spiritual life is implanted in regeneration. The Bible says, “we love because He first loved us.” If God hadn’t first sent his Son to redeem us, love, as God reveals it, would be completely unknown in our world. The only thing that can change the way people behave is by a change of heart that impels them to do right rather than to do wrong.

Galatians 5:22 says that love is a fruit produced in believers by the Holy Spirit. In fact, love is the first item in the list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Only when the fallen creature is restored by grace through faith in Jesus Christ can anyone begin to realize love as the Creator intended it to be. Unless a person in born again, regenerated by grace, he can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit. What he calls love is a tragic imitation.

Even after the Spirit implants love into our redeemed hearts we need to nurture it the way God tells us so that the fruit grows. The same grace that implants love enables us to grow in our obedience to God’s word. This means that the redeemed have to know what God tells us is right. They need to act trusting in his promises as their only hope of success.

The Bible tells us that the disposition of love produces obedience. Obeying what God’s desires toward himself, and toward others involves a lot.

In one word, love summarizes the way the Bible says believers should live. We need to know how to be loving at home, at school, at work, at play, in worship, socially, while shopping, and when we’re fixing things … in every situation. It needs to become a part of what we are and what we do all the time.

The Bible directly defines love as doing what God has commanded:

John 14:21 Jesus said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me”
John 15:12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
John 15:14 “You are My friends, if you do what I command you”

So love isn’t just a feeling. It’s a disposition that compels us to real moral obedience.

1 John 5:2-3, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.”

God’s word tells us specific things to work on to encourage love to grow in us. It defines what we do when we love God and our neighbors.

In the next section of this chapter, in verses 4-8, Paul mentions 16 qualities of love:

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; Love does not brag, and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; It does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things Love never fails.”

People who are loving in these ways are bearing Love’s fruit. They show that it has been implanted in their hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit.

In God’s covenant promise he tells us that when redeemed people obey, he will bless them richly with inward satisfaction and joy. The general form of his covenant promises is this: “Do and be blessed.”

It is this effect of love, the feeling, that the world craves but can only imitate. They want the feeling without first having a changed heart. So they expect that the feeling comes first, then the obedience. When they feel love, they decide to act lovingly toward a particular person.

But that’s backwards and self-centered. It confuses love with our normal sexual urges, with the emotion involved in romance, with the benefits a person gets from being with certain people. It’s no wonder then, that when the benefits fade away, and when challenges come, the feelings a person thought was love also disappear.

This kind of love only lasts as long as the person gets what he wants. When challenges come along, or when the companionship is disrupted, there’s no inner cause producing kindness and patience so it ends.

This is just an imitation of the love lost in the fall of Adam. It’s the artificial substitute that can be experienced in broken fellowship with God. Until that sin barrier is removed by trusting in Christ, a person is isolated from the source of real love, he’s separated from God.

So fallen man tries to replace the real thing by conjuring up feelings. He runs from church to church, from job to job, from marriage to marriage, community to community, club to club — looking for love, but finding only disappointment.

Outside of what God provides for his redeemed children, love is only an illusion, it’s not real. But this kind of love isn’t just artificial, it is a cruel costume for selfish evil.

Love isn’t just an added benefit believers in Christ hope to find in their lives. Jesus said in John 15:17, “This I command you, that you love one another”

It is a necessary obedience that either shows that a person is redeemed by grace, or the lack of it makes us doubt that our faith in Christ’s work is sincere. It is an essential evidence of regeneration Jesus spoke of in John 13:35 when he said, “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He commands husbands to love their wives. He commands us all to love one another.

If love is implanted by the work of the Holy Spirit, it’s fruit can grow in us. This is good news! It means that for those who trust in Christ, they can grow in love.

The excuses used by the world fade into meaninglessness. You can’t say, “I just can’t love that person”. — Yes, you can. But you need to love them in the way the word love is used in the Bible.

Maybe you can’t accept some of their rude and sinful ways. Love doesn’t mean you have to approve of every imperfection you see in others. No one is perfect. But you can treat them in a way that honors God. You can understand the sin that holds them captive. You can discover the peace that God gives you when you obey him in how you treat others.

First the disposition of love needs to be implanted by grace through Christ. Then it needs to be prayerfully and diligently nurtured into obedience by the means God has given us, and enables in us. It can not be just an outward obedience. It needs to be one that comes from a changed heart. When we treat others so that they are helped to benefit from God’s promises, we also receive the blessing of inner joy that only a true and active love can bring.

There’s a moral crisis in our world today. It does not come from the music industry, or from the drug peddlers, or from pornographers. Those businesses wouldn’t be profitable if there was a change in the consumer’s hearts.

The real crisis underlying the moral crisis is a deficit of the real biblical kind of love. Without a love for God and a true love that does what pleases God toward our neighbors, there are no laws or political solutions that can stop the disease of immorality.

We have a gospel that can implant love and obedience into fallen souls. We who say we’re born again in Christ can stop that crisis at our own doors. If our love for God is genuine, we will be impelled to do something about it. If we don’t care, then we should first of all make our own salvation sure. We need to diligently work on nurturing the love Christ puts into us.

Note: The Bible quotations in this syllabus are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.

Trashing, Bashing and Gnashing

Trashing, Bashing and Gnashing

by Bob Burridge ©2011, 2018

We have seen tragic events where the lives of victims have been ended violently by terrorists, deranged minds, and people very frustrated with circumstances in their lives or in the world they live in. Few could fail to see the horrors of such crimes.

Sadly, we often see some take advantage of these tragedies to attack groups with whom they disagree politically, or religiously, or who hold to a different view of the world. They play the “blame game” hoping to rally their own followers to hate those they see as opponents in issues not directly related to these disgusting crimes. They use these appalling incidents to trash, bash, and gnash out at those who might cost them votes in elections, or who hold different convictions about what they personally cherish as standards to live by. It’s equally sad when we see those attacked lash out personally against their accusers which is often just more trashing, bashing, and gnashing all over again.

There is a better way to deal with these horrible events that take place in our fallen world. Rather than attacking one another personally we are better off to go after the actual perpetrators of these atrocities and the twisted convictions that motivate them.

Drugs are not to blame for the addictions that destroy people’s lives. Trucks and cars are not to blame for those incidences where pedestrians are targeted and violently run down. Guns are not the problem in the mass shootings that take place. Knives are not to blame for criminal stabbings, and the banking industry is not the cause of robberies. The problem is in the abuse of these things by those with no regard for the law or for the lives they are willing to snuff out.

There is a common inner cause for both the violent crimes, and the gnashing out personally against people who hold different views. A poisoned root yields bitter fruit. It’s what’s in the human heart that lashes out either criminally or rudely.

The real cause is uncomfortably buried in us all. We would rather not admit it of course, but that’s part of the self-deception that makes us see the evil in others while we excuse it in ourselves. Long ago the Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Roman believers quoted from Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:3 to remind them about the real moral condition of the fallen human heart. He said in Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ ”

We all got this way because we as a whole human race were represented in Adam when he sinned in Eden. When he ate the forbidden fruit he became spiritually dead, separated from fellowship with God his Creator. All those naturally descending from him inherit that fallen condition and the total inability to do what’s truly good and God honoring aside from the work of God’s grace. Romans 5:12 summarizes this relationship, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”

For the sake of advancing his eternal plan, and for the benefit of his redeemed children, it’s God who holds back the depravity in humans at times. Any good that we do is produced in us by God’s work in our fallen hearts. Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” When God peels away his restraint that holds us back from being what we all would be aside from his governance we get an ugly glimpse of just how depraved the fallen heart is aside from the tempering hand of a Sovereign Creator. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”

In Romans 1:22-28 Paul explained how God at times gives the rebellious over to their depraved urgings. In their behavior we see what it would be like in our world if it wasn’t for that restraining hand of God and his redeeming grace that can set us free from the overwhelming grip of rebellion.

Therefore there is nothing in any of us that can justify pride or feeling superior to others in those times when by his merciful restraint we aren’t engaged in evil. It’s God’s restraint that keeps us from becoming psychotic criminals or self-serving opportunists. We also give him all the glory when we avoid the rudeness and blame-shifting that demeans others personally. Our attitude should be one of humble gratitude to God for when sin is restrained in us. We need to understand where all the depraved behavior around us is coming from.

The root cause of vicious “blame game” attacks is not fully grounded in faulty parenting, the influence of various political movements, anomalies in the human brain, or changes in body chemistry. These may be contributing factors that promote aberrant or mean behaviors, but they are not the primary cause. Understanding such things may guide us in our attempt to correct negative influences. However, if that’s all we treat or blame, we are missing the real culprit that keeps corrupting while we tweak the little things that keep us distracted from the underlying disease.

Rather than look for excuses that help us explain the state of the mind severed from fellowship with God, we need to remember what lies at the root of both criminal behavior, political opportunism, and personal rudeness. This underlying cause is what comes out during squabbles in the home, gossip in the coffee break room, cutting remarks in social media, and inflammatory remarks made by those who influence us in the mass media.

God has placed us in this lost world as our current assignment. What we see happening here should stir us to diligent prayer, bow us in humble worship, instigate us to sincere evangelism on the personal level, and deliver us from the shallow, uninformed, and rude game of blame. Taking a firm stand for truth and morality doesn’t mean we can’t be kind. God’s word makes it clear that the love God desires us to pursue is not arrogant or rude. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”

The crucifying of Jesus Christ was not just a moral lesson drawn from the tragic death of some moral teacher. It was the fulfillment of the ancient promise that God himself would come to redeem his people by dying in their place. He was the representative of his people just as Adam represented the human race in Eden. Jesus paid the debt that separates us from our Creator. Those unworthy sinners whom he redeems by grace, he clothes with his own righteousness making them accepted in God’s sight again. That’s the only hope that delivers us from what we would otherwise be.

Rather than trashing, bashing, and gnashing out at those who evidence our fallen condition, we need to do our part as Christ’s representatives here in God’s world. Honor the King of kings, and thankfully serve the Savior who suffered and gave his life to redeem such rebellious creatures as ourselves. He calls us to be restored as the much loved children of our Creator, and to show that love he puts in our hearts as we deal with the challenges and evil around us. This does not mean we ignore the demands of justice, or that we never challenge behaviors and attitudes that are wrong. But we carry out our assignment here with patient kindness without arrogant rudeness or irritable behavior.

[Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]