“Comparing the Degrees of Agapē Love”

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As I have been reading through the New Testament, I was jolted the other day by a series of “Love Statements” that our Teacher made. Throughout His ministry our Lord Jesus would state or be asked, “What is the greatest commandment.” His answer was simply, “Love the LORD your God…, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Sermon on the Mount He addressed this and expanded this Love to our enemies. This is a difficult Love. And then in the Upper Room Discourse, our Master raises the bar from “self” to “as I have Loved you”—an even greater Love….

As I pondered these three different objects (or expressions) of Love, as I said, I was jolted. For some, Loving oneself is the most challenging, let alone Loving ones neighbor. And their self-loathing comes out in rather harsh tones as they interact with their “neighbors”—both near and far.

For others, Loving our neighbors is easier than Loving our enemies. To them, Loving their enemies is the ‘greater,’ more difficult Love.  Still for others the “greater Love” is laying down our lives, preferences, desires for a friend—literally as well as figuratively.

Why this did jolt me? It appears to me that our Lord is deepening our understanding of Love (before I continue let me say that I capitalize Love to = the Greek, agapē that unconditional, sacrificial Love) by raising the bar of the object of Love.

Let me see if I got this: Loving our neighbor as ourselves, even sometimes out of self-interests, is nonetheless a rather elementary form of Love. This bar is rather low. Then Jesus raises the bar by changing the object of this Love from neighbors to enemies. Though a much more challenging Love than the elementary Love of ones neighbor, it is still not the greatest Love. The greatest Love is laying down ones life for a friend—and not an enemy or a neighbor! Right?

And this is what jolted me. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b), and then a couple of verses later, St. Paul continues: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life” (Romans 5:10 NIV84)!

Does our Master merge these latter two Loves? Are they distinct in degree or merely in the object of Love?

Forgive the apparent headiness of this, but I am coming to realize that my Love is rather shallow. Oh, yes, I can say I Love my neighbor, even beyond convenience and ease. I can even say I Love my friends with some mild delusion that I will indeed lay down my life for them, but what of my enemies? Oh, I tolerate them, but do I Love them—as Jesus Loved them—and me!?

Perhaps you are like me and rely on His gushes of Grace to do what we cannot do? Care to share?

Main Text— John 15:12–13 (NIV84)— 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NIV84)

Let all that you do be done in love.1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB95)

 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.— Ephesians 2:4–5 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, reduce me to Love. In Your Name, Amen. 

iu

Pastor Mike

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“Substantial Love vs. Syrupy love”

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If you’ve ever had a dessert, or a cookie or a drink that is just too sweet, you know what I mean when I talk about syrupy “love”. It is gooey and shallow and often pretentious…, or at least one of these three.

The problem is not the word “love” in and of itself. The problem is the lack of deeper words for Love in the English language. (Many of you know that Greek has four words for love, and in one sense, this helps distinguish the various levels of commitment and emotion…but sadly not English.)

We use “love” for everything from the food we consume to cars we drive; to ideas and, yes, even relationships. And I have observed that to say, “I love you,” is still something rather profound and endearing in any stage of any relationship….

However, often what is meant is, “I’d really like to consume you for my own personal pleasure,” and not “I’m willing to sacrifice my hopes and dreams and, if necessary, even my life for you.” Obviously, syrupy love is the former. It’s the “I really ‘love’ how you make me feel and what you can do for me,” love. Substantial Love, however, is the Love that says, “I want the best for you” Love. “I am willing…”: This goes beyond feelings to a commitment of the will. Yes, as the old vows say, “in sickness and in health; for better, for worse; to death do us part” kind of commitment. Syrupy love evaporates when the hard times come, when it is inconvenient or no longer interesting.

But Substantial Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes,” and “[It] never fails.” (See 1 Corinthians 13:7-8.)

So when someone says, “All we need is love,” ask them to define what they mean by the word “love”. Is it syrupy or substantial.

Oh, and while your at it, join me in asking ourselves, “Do I really Love with a substantial Love…as Jesus did?”

I know that the only way I can do this is to yield to the Lord Jesus in my Life as my Love  so I can truly Love as He did.

How about you? What is your source of strength to Love like this? Your thoughts?

Main Text— John 15:13 (NIV84)Love Substantial Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

No one takes [my life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.— John 10:18 (NIV84)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all … will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.—John 13:34–35 (NIV84)

   We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.— 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4 (NIV)

Husbands, love your wives as the Messiah loved the church and gave Himself for [her], so that He might make [her] holy by cleansing [her], washing [her] with water and the word.— Ephesians 5:25–26 (ISV)

Heavenly Father, I put the Lord Jesus Christ on as my Belt of Love. Continue Your transforming work in my Life by the power of the Holy Spirit as He makes me more like Your Son, Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Shepherd Like this”

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What does it mean to “shepherd” a flock? Perhaps many think of the ultimate sacrifice: Laying down ones life for the sheep. And this is noble and good and best. However, what does it mean to shepherd the flock in the “in-between time”?

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Before we address this, I’d like to note: I do believe our main text directly applies to those who have been entrusted with the flock of the Church; to pastors (elders, leaders, bishops, overseers) who are to shepherd the Lord’s people with such devotion. However, I think you would agree that this can also apply to heads of families who have been entrusted with precious sheep to shepherd as well. With this in mind, let us look at what it means to shepherd such a flock….

We guard them from predators; feed and clothe them; provide a safe nurturing environment in which to grow and mature; dress their little bodies, their bumps and bruises and their hurt feelings. We are a hand when they need help up, an ear when they are confused or learning, and a heart when they are hurting. We are there for them….

Basically, we do all the “things” the Lord Jesus does for us as He shepherds us. But why does He do this? Why do you do this? Because He is madly in Love with us! Francis Chan calls this “Crazy Love,” and it is! It doesn’t make sense. Why would He Love us? Yet He does!

And when we emulate—model—this “crazy” Love, we pass it on to our flock. They may not get “it” at first, but keep it up. Why? Because we are “madly in Love with them.”

Your spouse, your children, your grandchildren will feel safe, nurtured, comforted when they are hugged with a “Crazy Love”!

What are some ways we can demonstrate that we are madly in Love with our flock?  Your thoughts….

Main Text— Acts 20:28 (NIV84)— 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.— 1 Peter 5:2–3 (NIV84)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.— John 10:11, 14 (NIV84)

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.— Ezekiel 34:2b–4 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, be the shepherd in my Life so that I might demonstrate Your Crazy Love and Kindness to the flock You have entrusted to me. In Your Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike