“. . . but have not love . . .

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“…but have not love…” 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, 3

I am committed to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 – “The Love Chapter” – because I want to be better at loving others. I want to love like Christ loved – deeply, tenderly, attentively and unreservedly. I want to love others because they, like me, are made in the image of God. Most of all, I want to love others because Christ gave His life out of love for me and you and every person, past, present and future. So I am “storing up” this wonderful thesis on love in my heart.

Yet, I know, loving others requires more than words. This is what Paul was teaching in 1 Corinthians 13. Listen to these first 3 verses:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. It I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

When we consider this chapter, we tend to go right for the “Love is patient, love is kind . . .” (v. 4f) and it is good to know what love looks like in action – what is does and does not do, because love that stays in the mind and heart has no impact on the beloved. But in verses 1-3 I find a core truth that I must always keep in focus: the greatest spiritual gift requires the most humility.

The Love Chapter comes in the center of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, very appropriately placed because he has looked at and will go back to those abilities and callings that make the church a functioning Body. Some of these gifts put people in the forefront of ministry, where pride can get out of control. So he tempers the ego with this discussion about love, calling it “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). And the most demanding.

In the calling of a teacher, it is very easy to get “the big head,” and if, in the future God allows me to become an author, I know the temptation will be greater still. Eloquence of speech, knowledge, Scriptural understanding can all get in the way of service. If love is not my motivation, then I am being driven by my ego.

Yet Paul also shines the spotlight on what we see as the most Christian behavior: self-sacrifice. He equally says that if we sacrifice all that we have, including our very lives, but are not motivated by love, our actions gain us nothing of eternal significance. But oh, how we will be remembered in history.

What the apostle is saying is that we may be able to impress men with our great words and actions, but God knows the heart where the true motivation lies. And the heart is what he measures: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). That which is done for ego’s sake has no standing before God, only what is done for the sake of love will come forth out of the fire as gold.

Love and humility are the twin sisters of the Christian life – you truly can’t have one without the other. Jesus gives us the perfect example in John 13:1-5, as he humbled Himself to wash His disciples’ nasty feet. Verse 1b says: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the extent of His love.” The NASB says it so beautifully: “He loved them with a perfect love to the end.”

I want to love with as near to “a perfect love” as is humanly possible. But that’s the problem – it’s not “humanly possible.” So how do I do the impossible? John has the answer: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). The only way I can love like Christ is if I allow God’s love to flow through me to those around me. That’s why anything done for the sake of appearance is “a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.” It’s a lot of attention grabbing noise – but it’s not love.

Holy Father, You are love – Your Word declares it and You proclaimed it loudly from the Cross. You call me to love others, in my home, my church, my neighborhood and the world. I can only do it if You love them through me. Let me be Your conduit of love Lord. Amen.

In my Prison of Fear

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4

 

God forced me to face one of my biggest fears today. Against all my arguments, I attended the funeral of the 28 year old son of a dear friend. I wanted to go for the family’s sake. But I didn’t want to go because I knew I would have to stare my fear right in the face. And I think that was the point God was making, because He is determined to break me out of my prison. My prison of fear.

Fear has been my constant companion. For as long as I can recall, I have lived with fear. There are the usual ones: fear of rejection (which has happened), fear of failure (which has also happened), fear of the unknown, fear of heights and snakes and fire. Since the attacks on 9/11 the world has become a fearful place – enemies are all over the world, hiding in plain sight – why my next door neighbor could be plotting some heinous act.

But many of the fears that have imprisoned me are not so common, often irrational, and hard to break free of. They are fears that have affected relationships, have kept me from following my dreams, fears that keep me awake at night, and drag me into the pit of despair. I don’t know exactly when I became so fearful. As I was growing up, fear kept me from playing in the marching band or on a sports team or trying out for a part in the school play or the solo in the youth choir. Fear kept me from making friends with people I admired, and kept me bound in relationships that I should have walked away from. It caused emotional and physical health issues and straining even good, healthy relationships. Afraid of making (another) mistake, the running joke is “I don’t have to always be right, as long as I am never wrong.” It sounds funny, but the truth is, fear has often paralyzed me from making any decision at all. I am so afraid of looking foolish, I don’t even try. Fear has eaten away at any peace and joy in my life.

But it was when I became a Mom that fear kicked into overdrive and took control. After seven years of waiting and praying and hoping, through a difficult pregnancy and delivery; after my newborn son spent a week in the NICU at a medical university, by the time we came home I was determined to protect him at all costs. I became an expert “smother-mother.” I parented largely out of fear. Yes, and out of love too. Certainly I love my son with all my heart. But it is a fear-filled heart, and so often what began as caring and love morphed in actions motivated by fear. It was fear that caused me to pull him out of public school and start home-schooling. If was fear that questioned his friendships and relationships, fear that had to know where he was all the time and who he was with. And when the inevitable battles came as he got older, I pulled the reigns in even tighter. Out of fear. Mind you, like every teen/young adult he has given me reasons to be anxious, and times it was necessary and reasonable to pull those reigns a little tighter. In love, I want to keep him safe, but I often go into hyper-vigilant mode, and reasonable goes right out the window. I am just beginning to realize how much of my parenting has been influenced by fear.

God revealed something important – life changing – to me this morning through a passage that is, ironically, my son’s favorite Bible verse: 1 John 4:18 – “Perfect love casts out fear.” In those five words, God showed me what my life has been all about, and what I have been missing. Because I live in such fear, I cannot receive the love that God is offering to me. And because I can’t grab hold of His love, I live in fear. And because I I don’t claim His love for myself, I am trying to love others out of an anxious heart. The truth is, my fear-filled heart can’t really even love God-who is the fullness of all love. You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate, as we might think. It’s fear. The Word didn’t say “perfect love casts out hate,” because the root of hate is fear. Just as pride is the root of all sin, fear is the root of everything that is counter to love. Fear makes me judgmental. Fear keeps me from reaching out to others. Fear keeps me from accepting another’s hand reaching out to me. Fear keeps me isolated and lonely, even in a crowd. And as strange as it sounds, fear keeps at arm’s length the people I love the most. It’s a paradox really. I draw them so close I smother them, yet keep them just far enough away that they can’t hurt me; because in the end, that’s what my heart fears the most. Pain.

I don’t want to let fear rule my life anymore. I am praying that God will somehow break through all the fear that has built up around my heart and let me receive His love – His perfect love – so that I can love Him, myself, my family, and others out of a healthy heart. I am asking God to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I am praying that He will “give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me and remove from me this heart of [fear] and give me a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, personalized). I am asking Him to set me free from my prison of fear so that I can experience fully His amazing love. I’m sure He is more than willing. You know, I think He’s been waiting for me all along.

God, I need you.  Lord Jesus, lead me out of this prison. Holy Spirit, be my counselor and comfort. Father, take this fear-filled heart of mine and give me a heart to receive Your love, and then enable me to give it away. Amen.

The Fear of the Lord

“Be sure to fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.”  1 Samuel 12:24

 What are you afraid of?  What fills you with fear, makes your heart pound and sets your nerves on edge?  Spiders, snakes, lion and tigers and bears? Oh my!  Or a lonely life, financial hardships, sickness, or a wayward child?  In our day and time we are fed a steady diet of fear by the media.  Children are learning to be afraid of things I never even thought about when I was young. This world can be a very frightening place – so maybe I’ll just stay inside my house.

No one likes the feeling of fear, yet multiple times in the Old Testament we hear God saying to His people, “Fear the Lord your God!”  Isn’t He known as the God of love and peace and joy?  Yes, without question – God is full of love, peace, joy and so many other wonderful attributes, but the command to “fear the Lord” is not a contradiction.  Let’s look a little closer at “fear” in the Holy Scriptures.

When God says that we are to “fear the Lord” it means that we are to regard Him with the reverence and awe that is due Him.  He is worthy of every person’s respect and submission – He is God – high and exalted, seated on His righteous throne with the earth as His footstool.  Psalm 95: 6 tells us “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God.”  We owe Him reverence and worship because He has created us and He has redeemed us.   When we give Him the honor that he deserves, we will find that there are many benefits and blessings for us.

Psalm 25:14 offers one of the benefits I love the most: “The Lord confides in those who fear Him.”  The fear of the Lord opens the way for an intimate friendship, the kind that allows for confidential conversations.  Note that this verse says that The Lord is the one who confides; He takes us into His confidence and shares wonderful truths with those who fear Him.  God says in Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” This means that He will reveal to us things we would never think to ask Him about.  I don’t know about you, but I want to be God’s intimate friend and know what’s on His mind.  Imagine that.

We also find that “those who fear Him lack nothing.” (Psalm 34:9)  The Scripture is very clear in Psalm 111:5: “He provides food for those who fear Him.” Do you have a need? Come before God with humility and reverence and seek His provision.  Out of His great abundance, He has promised to meet the needs of those who fear Him.  And He has promised to meet more than just our physical needs; “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3) He will give us everything we need the godly life He has called us to.  As a matter of fact, God goes even a step further. Psalm 145:19 says “He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him.”  He will meet the needs, and fulfill the desires of those who fear and reverence Him.

In Proverbs we learn that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom [and] knowledge.” (Proverbs 9:10, 1:7) Would you like to lead a wise life?  Do you desire knowledge?  These come as a result of reverence before God.

Fear of the lord is life-giving and life-enriching. Proverbs 19:23 tells us “The fear of the Lord leads to life;” Proverbs 14:27 says: “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life;” and Proverbs 10:27 promises that “The fear of the Lord adds length to life.”  When we life in the fear of the Lord who is Life, we are blessed with life.

One of the most important benefits of living in the fear of the Lord is found in Exodus 20:20, “The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  One aspect of “fearing the Lord” that we fail to talk about today is fear of the Lord because He is holy, and His holiness is an awesome thing.  You may be thinking of “awesome” as something dramatic and wondrous, but by definition it means to be afraid, be frightened, and be filled with dread.  If we really understood the awesome holiness of God, we would be frightened as well as awed.  Consider John’s account of Jesus’ arrest.  “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am He,’ Jesus said.  When Jesus said ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:4-6-emphasis added) The terminology used here tells us that Jesus’ arresters fell to the ground as if to die; for the weight of Jesus’ deity and holiness was thrown against them in those three words: I am He.” The fear of the Lord will keep us from sinning, because we cannot bear the wrath of a God who is both holy and awesome that will fall on the unrepentant sinner.

What can we do, we who are steeped in sin? Are we doomed forever? Is there hope for us who live under the fear of the Lord?  We look to the cross of Jesus, and here we find love, awesome love, divine love, perfect love.  1 John offers us this hope: “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives our fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”(1 John 4:16-18-emphasis added) Jesus Christ took the full wrath of this God who is both holy and awesome, and gave us love instead – perfect love.  This is why we no longer fear the awesomeness of God, but we regard this awesome One with reverence and awe.  For He has cast our sin from us and bathed us in His blessed and pure, perfect love.

Holy, Awesome Lord God, in love You came and in love You gave, and by Your love I am saved. What more can I say but “thank You.”  Amen.