Sunday, May 28, 2017

Love Wins and Jesus

The Christian Mommy Blogger is back in the news again. Glennon Doyle Melton isn’t making the current headlines because her husband cheated on her, she divorced him, or because she then began to date former Olympic female soccer player Abby Wambach. No. This time, she’s causing a stir in Christian communities because she married Abby Wambach.

Though these actions are becoming more and more common in today’s moral climate, biblically speaking, they are not normal. They are not the way God intended for us to interact with each other.

Melton, however sees things differently.

She wrote in a 2013 post, “I know my Jesus, I love Him, and I think if he needed me to believe that homosexuality was a sin, He would have mentioned it. … And even the Gospels… well, even though they are gospel to me, I accept that they are also interpretations of what Jesus said and did and meant -we don’t have a single written word directly from Jesus. He could have left us something – he could have left another list of rights and wrongs when He came to Earth, but he chose not to.”

Notice a couple of things about these statements. First, in these words we see humanity’s propensity to fashion a god in our own image. Melton’s Jesus is obviously okay with homosexuality because, to Melton, her Jesus must explicitly state the things he is for or against. And, according to that stance, Melton’s Jesus must be okay with the rape of minors because her Jesus doesn’t explicitly say, “Thou shalt not rape minors.”

Next, Melton’s view of the Scriptures is not surprising. She claims that the simple words of Christ are not even His words; they are only interpretations of Jesus’ actual words made by His disciples. Following her train of logic, we would then be free to appeal to the authority of our feelings when interpreting these supposed interpretations of Jesus, which Melton has a clear propensity to do.

However, the words of Jesus in the New Testament are not merely the interpretations of His disciples, and Jesus absolutely spoke out against all sexual sin, including homosexuality.

For instance, in Matthew 5, Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it. In other words, Jesus meant that He came to interpret the Law correctly so that it can be lived correctly. And, in the gospels we see Him both affirm and amplify the sexual morals of the Torah.

Second, in Matthew 15, Jesus expressly declared that all sexual acts committed outside of marriage defile human beings. The term He uses is porneia, which is a general reference to the sexually forbidden behaviors listed in Leviticus 18.

Paul fuses together two words from the Greek translation of Leviticus 18:22, also known as the Septuagint, to coin the term homosexual in his first letter to the Corinthians. Arsenokoitai is actually a combination of the two words, Arsenos and Koiten, which roughly translate as man-bedder. Here in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul echoes Jesus’ words in both Matthew 15 and Revelation 21:8 saying that no arsenokoitai, or anyone who unrepentantly commits any form of porneia, will enter the kingdom of God.

Finally, in Matthew 19 Jesus quotes the Torah again by saying that marriage as God created it is the union of one man and one woman for life. There is not a single positive example of homosexual conduct in the Bible or place it is blessed. And, every single time homosexuality is mentioned in Scripture, it is expressly spoken against.

The early Church clearly spoke out against homosexuality. They also made distinctions between what we would think of as common homosexual practices and more deviant forms such as pederasty and sex cults. These are all unchanging facts that we have to deal with.

This, however, is more than a blog about homosexuality, this is a blog about love.

I realize that some folks may believe that what I have written reads more like hate speech than love. But please, please hang with me a little longer before writing me off as a hate and fearmongerer.

On May 15, Melton wrote her Instagram followers, "My beloveds – please never give up on love. Life could surprise the [expletive] out of you. Trust me – you might just wake up one morning and find yourself smack dab in the middle of heaven. I love my wife. LOVE WINS." 

Just as there is a culture war being waged over sexuality, there is a war being fought over the definition of the word love. So, what does it actually mean to love God? Let’s look at a couple of passages.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

What you just read is basically a summary statement of the entire book of Deuteronomy. This message is repeated over and over: If we love God, we keep His commands. But surely Jesus, who embodied love would see things differently, right?

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. – John 14:23-24

John 14 is just one of an overwhelming number of places that Jesus identifies Himself with the Lord God of the Old Testament. He and the Father are one. If we love Jesus, we will obey His commands.

How many of Jesus’ commands are we called to obey? He made that crystal clear in His parting words. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).”

Last week I wrote that God’s love language is obedience to the commands of Christ. Based on the Great Commission, if we love Jesus and others, we will teach people the truth about what He said, and then help them to follow Him. And I am confident that you can demonstrate the same obedient love toward Him as the early Christians did because the same Holy Spirit that empowered them empowers followers of Jesus today.

Jesus loved us enough to deny Himself and carry His cross. The early Christians willingly laid down their lives out of devotion to Jesus' commands. May we love Him enough do the same. 

Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love bears all things, is long-suffering in all things. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love … without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls. … Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. – Clement of Rome 95CE, ANF Volume 1, p. 36-37 [CD-ROM]

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Love, Grace and Truth

Generally, when we hear messages on the subject of Biblical love, we are told that there are three different words for love in Koine Greek, the primary language of the New Testament. We are told that agape is God’s unconditional love, phileo is the love shared between friends or family, and eros is a sexual or surface-type of love.

However, if you truly begin to research these words, you’ll soon find that the most current edition of Strong’s concordance never uses the word “unconditional” when defining agape. Agape in its verb form (agapao) also does not contain “unconditional” in its definition, and is more nuanced than most people have been taught. Basically, the biblical verb form of agape means choosing God’s choices by His power. Pretty different, huh? Yet, it perfectly parallels the way Jesus Himself defined how we demonstrate love for God in John 14:15-17.

Another interesting fact of Scripture is that eros is never used in the New Testament. Not a single time. And finally, there is actually another New Testament word for love, philostorgos, which occurs once in Scripture. This form of love refers to a special affection shared between members of God's family, specifically, people born-again and serving the same heavenly Father.

I bring up these facts about biblical love because I believe that similar distortions often take place concerning the subject of grace, yet on a much larger scale.

Frequently, the Koine Greek word for grace (charis) is defined as: Getting what we don’t deserve. We often call this unmerited favor, and a prime example of this definition of grace is found in Ephesians 2:8-9. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Jesus lived, died and rose for us. It is His blood that saves us and His powerful Spirit that transforms us. You can see why people say grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

A famous acronym of G.R.A.C.E. has developed along similar lines, where we are told that grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. And, that acronym works very well with the Ephesians 2 passage.

However, did you know that the Bible uses the word charis in seven other ways? Let’s look at those right now.    

Favor – “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor (charis) with God and men (Luke 2:52).” Here, we need to ask ourselves: Is this verse suggesting that Jesus grew in God’s riches at Christ’s expense? Clearly, that question is absurd, which is why Biblical translators simply use the word favor here.

Thanks – “Thanks (charis) be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25)!” Again, does God the Father need God’s riches at Christ’s expense? Of course not. Acronyms can definitely be helpful tools, but forcing the truth of the God-breathed Scriptures to bend to man-made acronyms will eventually get us into trouble.

Kindness – “Let your speech always be with grace (charis), as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:6).” Though the NASB translates charis here as grace, the idea Paul is trying to get across is that we need to speak kindly to everyone. 

Credit – “If you love those who love you, what credit (charis) is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit (charis) is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit (charis) is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:32-35).” 

Though God owes us absolutely nothing, Jesus explains that God has chosen to reward some actions and not reward others. When we graciously and lovingly act like our heavenly Father, we are credited and rewarded by Him for doing so.

Help ”But He gives a greater grace (charis). Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace (charis) to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:6-8).”

Do you need extra help from God today? The Scriptures give you the steps to receive that divine help. Humble yourself, draw near to God and resist the devil. God is very generous, and loves to give greater grace to the humble.

Gift – “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace (charis) of God (1 Peter 4:10).” If you want to see the way God can use the spiritual gifts in a man that is totally surrendered, do a study on the life of the Apostle Paul. Look at the spiritual gifts as listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, and try to determine which one doesn’t show up in his life at least once in the New Testament.

Empowerment – “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8).” To me, this definition of grace is the most neglected of all: Grace empowers us to walk as Jesus walked.

So often, grace is referred to by Christians as freedom from the consequences of sin, when Biblically, that is only a small aspect of grace. The greater aspects of grace we see highlighted in the New Testament are our freedom from the power of sin and a new empowerment to obey Jesus out of love.

Jesus tells us that obedience is God’s love language. And God has richly blessed us with the grace and empowerment to walk as Jesus walked out of love for what Jesus did for us. Just as it was the true testimony of the early Christians, it can be the witness of your life as well because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

All our power is of God; I say, of God. From Him we have life, from Him we have strength, by power derived and conceived from Him we do. … If you keep the way of innocence, the way of righteousness, if you walk with a firm and steady step, if, depending on God with your whole strength and with your whole heart, you only be what you have begun to be, liberty and power to do is given you in proportion to the increase of your spiritual grace. … Let our heart only be athirst, and be ready to receive: in the degree in which we bring to it a capacious faith, in that measure we draw from it an overflowing grace. Thence is given power, with modest chastity, with a sound mind, with a simple voice, with unblemished virtue, that is able to quench the virus of poisons for the healing of the sick, to purge out the stains of foolish souls by restored health, to bid peace to those that are at enmity, repose to the violent, gentleness to the unruly. – Cyprian 250CE, Volume 5, p. 490-491 [CD-ROM]