(Presented in church Jan 20th 2018)
As we look around the world today, and see the events that occur on an almost daily basis. We see world leaders who propagate hatred against others just because they believe in a different philosophy. We see people who are willing to die, as long as they kill others who do not share their views. The world is in a very sad shape and I only hope that Jesus will return soon to take us away from these terrible events. With that in mind, we all need to learn a little about love!
One of my favourite chapters of The Bible is known as the Love Chapter, 1st Corinthians 13. When I was in jail, I read it over and over. I had it posted (hand written) in my cell, and even sent a copy of it to Judy for our wedding anniversary. While I know that the church likes to read from the King James Version of The Bible, I find that the Contemporary English Version is the most poetic to me:
What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, then I would be nothing more than a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.
What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing unless I loved others.
What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing unless I loved others.
Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.
Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails.
Everyone who prophesies will stop and unknown languages will no longer be spoken. All that we know will be forgotten.
We don’t know everything and our prophesies are not complete. But what is perfect will someday appear and what isn’t perfect will then disappear.
When we were children we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways. Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror.
Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.
For now there are faith hope and love. But of these three, the greatest is love.
If you repeat something often enough, it begins to take on real meaning and strength. In the King James Version of The Bible, the word LOVE appears more than 300 times! God is trying to tell us something! We just need to learn to understand what He is saying!
Matthew 28:19-20 states “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”
This is commonly know as The Great Commission and is among the final words that Jesus Christ stated prior to His accession to heaven. Previous to that in Matthew 22:36-39, Jesus answered a very important question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and 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 neighbour as yourself”
We know that we need to love God, and in return God loves us. In fact, God loves us whether we love Him or not because according to 1 John 4:8 “God is love.” It is not within God’s character to not love someone, therefore it should not be within our character to not love someone either, because in Genesis 1:25 it states: Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” So if we are made in God’s likeness, then we share God’s character.
The greatest gift we get from God is the ability to love. In 1 Corinthians 13:13 the Apostle Paul states: “And now abide in faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
So, the question becomes, who, or what do we love. We love each other, especially our spouses and our children and families. We also love our friends and those who are closest to us. But there are other loves in our lives, some good and some bad. We often hear people say they love their house, their car, their TV, a certain food, a sports team, their pets, the weather. Some people love their jobs, the scenery, or any number of inanimate objects. Are these the things that God wants us to love? I am certain that He wants us to love people, including our friends and family, and He did give us dominion over all the animals, so I think He also wants us to love our pets. But should we be loving inanimate objects? For many a car or truck is a necessity, but is it an object that we should be giving the same amount of love to that we give to a person, or more importantly, is it appropriate to put that love on the same level as our love of God?
In allowing our love for objects to overtake our lives, have we not lost the real meaning of love? In Matthew 5:43-44 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states: “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you.” Its very difficult, and I am a living example, to love your enemies. Its much easier to ignore them or hate them, but this goes against everything that Jesus teaches us.
So who are our enemies? In my opinion, our enemies are people who do not share our ideals or beliefs. People who choose to worship another entity or not worship at all. People who curse my God or tell me that my God does not exist, and all creation occurred due to some cosmic accident that somehow caused life to happen. Our enemies are people who tell me that The Bible is lie, a creation of man to justify a false belief in a greater power. There are people who worship animals, money, precious metals, or multiple unseen or unheard from entities. We know of people who worship alien cultures from far off galaxies. We have people who worship Satan or other evil characters. Our media is full of various reports of people committing vile acts in the name of some farfetched religious entity. In the recent past we’ve had cult leaders who have claimed to be God’s representative or a reincarnated Jesus Christ, who have gained fame and followers to disastrous results. I can think of two recent examples of Jim Jones in Ghana and David Koresh in Waco, Texas. All of these people and more could be considered as our enemies, but also as our neighbours.
If we are true Christians, followers of God’s Word, then we need to change our thinking about these people and how we deal with them. We many not agree with what they stand for, what they believe in, or how they act, but it is not our place to judge them. Matthew 7:1-2 states, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
So if we’re making a judgment on people, God is using that judgment directly back to us! We’d be much better Christians and followers of God’s Word, to embrace these people, educate them, inform that and hopefully change their actions and beliefs to more reflect the ideals and beliefs that God wants us to portray.
Its so easy for us to live our lives as good people and let others see how we live, but in some ways we also choose to close ourselves off from those around us who do not believe the same things that we do. Jesus and His followers chose to be with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, and all sorts of undesirables. He did not meet with the church leaders because they thought, rightly so, that He was a threat to them. How would we handle it if a prostitute, a murderer, or other undesirable person walked into our church? Would we embrace and love them, or would we close the door on them? If a Muslim approached us, would we talk to him or put him into a corner and hope he goes away? If we see our enemy broken down at the side of the road, do we stop and help, or do we drive by?
Unfortunately, I feel that most of us, myself included, would not be so quick to love our enemies, even though Jesus has told us that is what He wants from us. It is very easy to read The Bible , quote scripture and be a good loving person to those we share the same ideals. It is much harder to walk down a dark downtown street and embrace the lowest members of our society. These people could use a little love, and it may make all the difference in the world to them.
While I was in jail, I met a very devout man who took the time to sit and talk with me over many hours. For the first few months that I was in jail he helped me to turn to God in my times of trouble. He answered my Bible questions, and pointed me to places in The Bible where I could find strength to keep going. We used to walk the perimeter of the unit we were housed in for hours at a time, talking and and supporting each other. He was the first person I told after I had committed my life to Christ. We had vastly different opinions on life, and were in jail for vastly different offenses, but we shared a common bond in the love of God. Unfortunately just prior to his release, we had a disagreement over a foolish thing, and our friendship was broken. Sometimes you wish you could go back in time and make changes, and I would love to be able to that to resolve that issue. I did, however, use his example and reached out to others in our unit. I remember a couple of examples, where a small seed was planted, and although I will never know the final result, I am hopeful that I was able to lead others to following Jesus, just by the words I used or the actions that I showed. I know that the change in me was noticed by those around me, because I was told on a number of occasions that I looked happy. Being happy in jail is not an easy thing, but with God’s love, anything is possible!
On the day of Pentecost, Peter and the other disciples were hiding in an upper room of a house, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. By the end of the day, more than 3000 people were converted, because the disciples realized that they needed to be among the people if they were to fulfill Christ’s commission! We need to follow their example. We need to grow our church and bring as many people to Christ as possible before He returns. We don’t know when that will happen, but if we don’t follow His Words, then we are not ready for His return! We may feel uncomfortable and meet up with difficulties, but Christ Himself warns us in John 15:20 to expect to be persecuted as He was also persecuted. In fact if we are persecuted, we should consider it as a badge of honour, because the enemy sees us as a threat to him.
Maybe it is difficult for us to step out and embrace others. Maybe our lives do not allow us to take such actions. Maybe our own fears prevent us from moving ahead. Not all of us are comfortable around strangers, especially when it could mean a threat to our own well-being. Although we should always be able to turn to God for strength, maybe sometimes that is just not enough. I do not think that makes someone any less a Christian, because we all have strength and weaknesses.
But sometimes it is our not actions that are most important, but our words. If we speak words of hate against others who do not follow our ideals. Are we not then guilty of breaking God’s commandments? If instead of offering words of encouragement to others who are trying to make the world a better place, we instead speak of misguided hatred due to past experience or exposure to similar ideals, then we have fallen in to Satan’s trap and we need to rethink our actions. Throughout history, we have seen world leaders who have spoken words of hatred against one group or another. In the 1920s and 1930s, in Germany, Adolph Hitler rose to power on a platform of hate and fear. Even those around him who didn’t necessarily agree with his ideas were too scared to speak against him, and instead helped and supported his misguided ideals. In the end, millions of people died due to Hitler’s words of hate. Many more millions were scarred for life, either by the things they had seen, the people they had lost, or by the actions that they were forced to take. Hatred is a very strong emotion that Satan feeds on. Our only defense is love!
I was born in England about 20 years after the end of World War II. Canada was no where near affected by the war as the European countries were, and even 20 years later, the signs and feelings about the war were still evident. I spent the first 8 years of my life in England, and those feelings were strongly ingrained into my life. One that I remember quite vividly is the intense hatred for the German people that still remained in the late 1960s. As kids we fought wars against the Germans, in the same way that Canadian kids played Cowboys and Indians, which are both politically incorrect in today’s society. When I arrived in Canada, we moved to the northern section of Winnipeg, which is very culturally diverse. I was surrounded by kids of French origin, English origin, Ukrainian origin and even German origin. I was amazed to find that the German kids were just kids like myself and were not the evil monsters that I had been raised to believe. During that time in Winnipeg, I had friends of all cultures because our prejudices don’t show up when we’re kids, they only arrive when we are misguided by hate!
A story from Our Daily Bread devotional: When war broke out in 1950, fifteen year old Kim Chi-Kyung joined the South Korean army to defend his homeland. He soon found, however, that he wasn’t ready for the horrors of combat. As young friends died around him, he begged God for his life and promised that, if allowed to live, he would learn to love his enemies.
Sixty-five years later, Dr. Kim reflected on that answered prayer. Through decades of caring for orphans and assisting in the education of North Korean and Chinese young people, he has won many friends among those he once regarded as enemies. Today he shuns political labels. Instead he calls himself a loveist as an expression of his faith in Jesus.
The prophet Jonah left a different kind of legacy. Even a dramatic rescue from the belly of a big fish didn’t transform his heart. Although he eventually obeyed God, Jonah said he’d rather die than watch the Lord show mercy to his enemies. (Jonah 4:1-2,8)
We can only guess as to whether Jonah ever learned to care for the people of Nineveh. Instead we are left to wonder about ourselves. Will we settle for his attitude towards those we fear and hate? Or will we ask God for the ability to love our enemies as He has show mercy to us? (Our Daily Bread-December 19th 2016)
Personally I have spent many years hating people from other cultures, mainly because I didn’t understand them. But it does not matter what my personal prejudices may be, God’s instructions are clear and indisputable, “Love your enemies!” We cannot argue with Jesus, He is “the way, the truth and the life!”