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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Revelation 6 – Vindication is Coming!

Welcome to the beginning of the end of the book! Well…sort of. This is the beginning of the center of the book that builds towards the end. It is hard to lay out a definite structure to the book because each section is deeply connected to its surrounding context. Trying to break the book down into major and minor sections always proves hard to uphold because the book as a whole flows well from one section to another. Revelation can be broken down into basic themes but I’d stray away from any rigid organization of the book. Chapter 6 flows naturally from chapter 5 where Christ is the one who is “worthy” to open the seals. This transition begins the central section of the book – the seals, trumpets, and bowls.

The first four seals center on the depravity of mankind. The progression of the horsemen goes from conquest (the first seal) to civil war (the second seal) to famine (the third seal) to pestilence and death (the fourth seal). This is the natural progression of man’s inhumanity to man. Simply put, God allows human sin to come full circle, turn upon itself, and self-destruct.

The cosmic scene in the next two seals to come follows the four horsemen. The fifth seal moves from the devastation of the earthly scene caused by total depravity and focuses on the heavenly scene of the martyred saints who cry out for vindication and vengeance for the torment that has come on them from their oppressors. In the first four seals the sinners destroy themselves while the next three seals (the seventh being in chapter 8) the saints have been destroyed by the sinners. The focus of these chapters is quick to point out that the plea for vindication is quickly answered. When going through persecution, keep your faith because vindication will come.

At the end of this chapter there is a great scene where everyone goes into hiding trying to try and flee from the wrath that is coming. There are two mindsets in which to read this chapter and the wrath that is to come. You can read it in fear because you have been worshiping the wrong god and wrath is coming or you can read it with hope knowing that vindication is coming to the righteous who have been oppressed. One of my mentors summed up the Book of Revelation as this, “God wins! Pick a side. Don’t be stupid.” Depending on which side you stand determines whether or not this is a book of hope or a book of fear. Take heart! God is greater than those who oppress! Vindication is coming!

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Bible Blog, Revelation

 

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Revelation 5 – One Who is Worthy

When John sees that there is a scroll with seven seals and learns that there is nobody in heaven or earth who can open it, he begins to weep.  We don’t know much about the scrolls yet, although we will later learn they have to do with God’s judgment and wrath being poured out on the bad guys.  For now, we are just witnesses to this great throne room scene.  John is devastated and without hope because this scroll cannot be opened.

But wait…just when all seemed lost, there emerged one who was worthy to open the seals.  And it sets off a huge celebration.  John rejoices.  The angels all gather to rejoice.  All of creation praises the one who is worthy.  They sing a new song because the old ones just don’t capture the grandeur of this moment.  And the descriptions of Jesus are powerful as well.  The root of David.  The Lion of the tribe of Judah.  He was a lamb that had been slain.

The image of lambs that were slain goes all the way back to the Passover in Egypt where the Israelites spread lamb’s blood over their doorposts and when the Lord passed over Egypt only the firstborn of Egyptian families were killed.  When the Lord saw the lamb’s blood it passed over those homes.  This led to Israel being set free from Egypt to then become a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  In Revelation 5, these echoes come forward and we hear the heavenly crowd singing about how Jesus’ blood purchased people from every tribe and nation for God.  This kind of freedom is not just away from slavery, but into something greater.  Jesus’ sacrifice has created a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, just as the Exodus created Israel to be those same things.

There are also a lot of things in this chapter that we are told there are seven of.  Seven horns, seven eyes, and seven spirits.  In Revelation, numbers are figurative symbols, not mathematical quantities.  This is known as numerology.  For example, the number seven indicates totality of perfection or completeness.  So when something has seven horns, it has complete power and seven eyes indicates perfect vision.  Later we will also see that when a symbolic number is multiplied by itself, it increases meaning, much like bold font or exclamation points.  Also, if you multiple it by another number, you combine the meanings.  Four, like Ryan mentioned yesterday, signifies the earth or the world.  So the four beasts worshiping the lamb that was slain indicate that the entire world is worshiping Jesus.

This chapter begins with the despair of nobody being worthy to open the scroll and ends with a grand celebration.  It’s clear that Jesus’ sacrifice has taken all of this heavenly audience from hopelessness to confidence and joy.  This letter to a people preparing to go through persecution would make it clear that Jesus has the power to make it right.  And we are getting ready to find out how exactly he’s going to do that.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 4 – Which Throne is at the Center of Your Worship?

There is a door in heaven standing open in which John is able to walk through and see what heaven is like. We need to stop and remind ourselves that these things are not to be taken as literal but as metaphorical. This door is there to demonstrate that John has been invited into heaven to gain information to then convey. We often think of heaven as being a place of location, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we also need to understand heaven to be a reality. John has been called into the reality of God’s reign. John looks and sees a throne. He wasn’t invited to see a piece of furniture but a reality much greater.

The throne has great theological importance. The throne represents who reigns. The Christians reading Revelation would have been bombarded with the image of the throne of Caesar all around them. They would have continually been reminded of his reign. John points them to a greater throne; The Throne of God. The lamb sits on this throne, we will find out, which demonstrates the oneness of God. Twenty-four other thrones surround The Throne showing the co-reign with God. These thrones are not in competition with God because those who sit on them lay their crowns before The Throne.

The Throne is encircles by a rainbow, the symbol of God’s mercy after the flood. This is the symbol of the covenant-keeping God. In front of the throne were flashes of lightning, rumblings and pearls of thunder. This is the presence of God seen in Exodus 19 on Mount Sinai. God is present there! The seven lamps were blazing like those in the Tabernacle that burned in the holy place before the holy of holies. These light givers made all things visible. They represent the Holy Spirit who is the Revealer who makes all things clear. The sea separated the Throne from everything else demonstrating God’s holiness.

There are four living creatures, which McGuiggan describes as the cherubim who are the defenders of God’s holiness. They are covered in eyes, which makes them all seeing. He likens them to the angel who stands between Adam and the tree of life in Genesis 3. Another view of the imagery that should be pointed out, that McGuiggan doesn’t point out, is that these creatures represent the apexes of God’s creation. “Man is exalted among creatures, the eagle among birds, the ox among domestic animals, the lion among wild beasts; all of them have received dominion.” These creatures participate in God’s own sovereignty over the creation and exercise some responsibility for the creation, but they themselves are still creatures and join in the praise of the Creator. These beings might also represent the mythological animals found in Mesopotamian and Canaanite mythology who acted as guardians of the throne of both heavenly and earthly kings. If this is the case, John is demonstrating that God’s reign is greater than the other gods and kings of the world.

What we need to hear out of this chapter: All around us are thrones competing for our worship. Nation. Culture. Image. Relationships. Expectations. Etc. These thrones constantly bombard us desiring and demanding our worship. We all worship something. John reminds us in this chapter that all of creation is subject to the Creator and He is worthy of praise. Worship of anything else falls short and is idolatry. Which throne is at the center of your worship?

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Bible Blog, Revelation

 

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Revelation 3 – Letters to Churches

Sardis is interesting in that it’s the only letter that begins with the bad news and ends with the good.  Among ancient cities, Sardis had long been known for its great wealth and for its mountainous location that made it a stronghold against enemies.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a well located city to prosper in times of peace.  In the letter to Sardis they are essentially told that they are total fakes.  They might have a reputation for being alive, but inside they are dead.  This reminds me of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees that they were white-washed tombs and cups that are only cleaned on the outside.  Fortunately, this fake faithfulness wasn’t everywhere and there were a few faithful in Sardis.

When it comes to the letter to Philadelphia and the Synagogue of Satan and the Jews who say they are Jews but are not, its a little tricky knowing what John is talking about.  McGuiggan suggests that Jews who are descendants of Abraham but not believers in Christ fit this description.  That doesn’t feel quite right to me.  I can’t help but think of the Jews who Paul is so often struggling with because of their excessive adherence to legal matters while neglecting heard matters.  Regardless, what we do know is that the church there has little influence but remains faithful in the face of daunting opposition.  For this, they will receive a great reward.  But don’t think it’s a get out of jail free card; the same conditions apply to Philadelphia as the other churches, that they hold on to their faith and hear the word of the Lord.

Laodicea is the church with lukewarm faith.  I wish you were either hot or cold, but you are lukewarm so I spit you out.  This verse is misused often.  Somebody has become apathetic in their Christian walk and so they drop out of Church altogether, citing this verse.  ”If I am lukewarm then Jesus would rather spit me out, so I am just going to be cold.  Being cold is better than being blah.”  That’s not at all what Jesus is saying.  I’ve heard that Laodicea was famous for its cold water rivers and hot springs.  Both had great value, whether for drinking or healing purposes.  You could be either hot or cold and both were good.  Hot doesn’t mean passionate and cold doesn’t mean lifeless.  What he is saying is that if you are hot you are good and if you are cold you are good, but this church has reached a point where they are nothing and so Jesus is going to spit them out.  The entire message is to get off your tookus and be something of value.  Don’t be lazy and lousy.  Be diligent and turn from your indifference (not turn further into your indifference).

Certainly the instructions given to each of these churches is relevant to churches today that often struggle with many of the same issues.  I wonder what Jesus would say to the churches today when he looks at our lampstands?

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Revelation

 

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Revelation 2 – Whoever Has Ears to Hear…

Yesterday, Kent said that he and I are known to say that Revelation doesn’t matter (yes…I do read Kent’s part of the blog from time to time). I think more accurately is that I don’t think the way most people read Revelation matters much for us today. Kent and I were actually talking about this earlier. My/our frustration about Revelation stems more from other’s abuse of it rather than the book itself. All that said, I want to continually remind us/myself that when those interesting passages come up we need to remember to take a step back and make sure we’re looking at the forest and not just the trees. I’m glad Kent and I are using a resource to guide our discussion. I look forward to the dialogue that I am sure will spring up in the next month.

Ephesus

A word of praise is given for the Ephesian church for the hard work and perseverance they have given. They do no tolerate wicked people. They have undergone hardship and have persevered! All for his name! BUT they have forsaken their first love. They abandoned the Christ who is the bases of the persecution they are persevering over. They run people away who present a false doctrine but they have forgotten the one who is the foundation of their beliefs. They have fallen in love with the idea of Christ and not Christ Himself.

This is still a struggle today. In many ways we have made Christ an object for our personal salvation voiding ourselves from a relationship with Him. We too easily go through the motions of a life of worship disconnected from the one we worship. We become quick to debate about correct doctrine and fail to see the person we are debating through the eyes of Christ.

If they/we do not repent, it is promised that the lampstand will be removed. This is something the leaders at Northwest often pray about and I think rightfully so. We want to continue to be a light in the Northwest part of Oklahoma City. We continually evaluate that we are keeping sights on our first love.

Smyrna

Smyrna was the center of the worship Tiberius. Roman emperors were often deified during this time and Smyrna won the right for building Tiberius’ temple. The Christian’s that lived in Smyrna not only had to deal with the eastern gods and the worshipers of Tiberius but also hostile Jews who did what they could to survive. They did what they could to survive. This meant that when persecution came on the Christians it was going to come from the Romans who could bring down punishment for not worshipping Tiberius but also from the Jews who were responsible for the martyrdom of Polycarp. The ten days of persecution they will suffer is not to be taken as “only ten days” but “ten days” was an expression for a period of trial by hardship (Polycarp was martyred in Smyrna in 155). Persecution is promised to the church in Smyrna and they are encouraged to be faithful, “even to the point of death” and they will receive life as the victor’s crown.

Pergamum

Satan has his throne here as he does in many places. Pergamum sat on a hill like a throne overlooking the valley around it. It was the center of the original Augustan Temple. Who sat on the throne there? Rome! Throughout Revelation, Rome will continually be equated with Satan in different regards. Jesus says he comes with the sword. He is the one who has the power; the power that Rome claimed as ones who carried the sword. Those who hold true to what the Spirit says will receive the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name on it. Names are very important throughout scripture and receiving a new name is receiving a new status.

Thyatira

Thyatira is a gateway town to important areas of Asia Minor, such as the capital. It was a town where trade was important and trade guilds (unions) ran the market. To do anything in the business of Thyatira, one had to participate in these guilds and play the games they played. This is a problem for Christians who, in their desire to do well in business, would have to sacrifice their beliefs to pay homage to Caesar or the gods. Tertullian, a Christian in the second century, wrote against the Christians of this town who proclaimed Caesar as Lord for the benefit of doing well in business. The compromisers justified their actions by saying, “A man must live.” The famous quote from Tertullian is, “The usual complaint is, ‘I have no other way of earning a living.’ The harsh reply can be, ‘Do you have to live?’” Tertullian reminds us that it is better to die than to compromise our loyalty to Christ.

Those who have followed Jezebel have done just that. They have compromised their loyalty to Christ. If they do not repent, she and her children will be struck dead. Satan will try and get you to change your direction slightly, drawing your dedication from Christ to other things. Hold fast to Christ and destruction will not come on you; victory will come.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Revelation

 

Revelation 1 – The Beginning of the End

Of course, when I say that this is the beginning of the end, I mean the end of the Bible and not the end of the world.  Despite popular opinion, I don’t think that Revelation tells us much about the end of time.  I think it does tell us about events that took place two thousand years ago that involved the victory of Christianity over Rome.  But before I go any further I want to acknowledge that Revelation is a challenging book.  Perhaps more than any other New Testament book has been open to a vast array of interpretations.  Because of this, Ryan and I wanted to find a good resource that would guide us through our reading of this particular book.  After considering several options, we agreed to use Jim McGuiggan’s study on Revelation.  We will be depending heavily on this book throughout our study of Revelation.  This will hopefully keep our discussions here consistent, informed, and beneficial.  If you would also like to get this book you can get it through Amazon here.

Jim McGuiggan is a preacher in Ireland and has worked in churches and the academy on many occasions throughout his life.  Many of you might know him from some of Bill’s stories since Jim was one of Bill’s teachers at the Sunset Bible Institute.  I want to share the first paragraph of the foreword from Jim’s book on Revelation in hopes it will excite you as much about this study as it did me:

“Revelation has one grand thrust.  Comfort in the knowledge of ultimate triumph!  It has an historical setting and deals with historical events.  It is Rome against the Church – it is Satan against Jesus!  The principles involved in the book – principles of good and evil – are timeless.  Truth will triumph whether in the first centuries or in these.  Evil will wage an unceasing war with truth.  The record of the victory of the Church of God over Rome stands for all time as a token of its deathlessness!  Of the supremacy of its Lord; the truth of its doctrines; the strength of its hope and the reality of its joys.”

Now, we need to go over some important first principles that will guide us through our reading of Revelation.

  • The book is written by John who is receiving a vision from Jesus while John is exiled on Patmos.
  • At the time John wrote the book of Revelation, he clearly stated at the beginning and end of the work that the events contained within “must shortly come to pass” and that they were “at hand.”  John says this four times in the book (Revelation 1:1,3 and 22:6,10).
  • These events that would soon pass tell of the struggle between the Church and Rome.  Using McGuiggan as a guide, we are placing the writing of the book during the later years of the Roman Emporer Vespacian to comfort the Church and deals with the triumph of the Church over Rome in two areas: 1) The destruction of Domitian (the beast out of the abyss) and 2) The ultimate destruction of the Roman Empire.
  • The book is written predominantly in apocalyptic speech.  This means that the book is written in symbols.  The numbers are symbolic.  The monsters and images are symbolic.  This was a common way to present prophetic writings, especially that involved judgments, as can be seen in Daniel, Ezekiel, or Zechariah.
  • The usual rule for interpreting scripture is to understand it literally unless forced to do otherwise.  This is reversed for apocalyptic literature where the rule is to understand it figuratively unless there is a good reason to do otherwise.
  • The book is not meant to bring terror to Christians.  In fact it is written expressly to provide comfort to the Church of God.  So if you are a Christian and Revelation scares you, then perhaps you’ve missed something in the past.

It’s tempting to say that Revelation doesn’t matter (as Ryan and I have actually been known to say).  But the truth is that it does and we are looking forward to honestly and fully considering the text and what it meant and means.  If you feel like it simply can’t be understood so shouldn’t be bothered with, then you question both God and the Church for including it in the Bible, since that decision was made long after the events in Revelation had transpired.  If they thought it was knowable and valuable, then who are we to disagree?  And if you think that if the book is about events that happen thousands of years ago, then what does that have to do with me?  Well, God delivered his people Israel thousands of years before even Revelation was written and certainly the events of the Exodus are valuable and meaningful for us today.  So hopefully our study of Revelation can help us to find meaningful, valuable lessons that will bring comfort and joy to us today.

Now that I’ve said all of that…we get to spend the next two days reading the only non-apocalyptic (literal) part of the book in John’s letters to the churches.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Revelation

 

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3 John – Encouragement for Gaius

Welcome to the shortest book in the New Testament! This very traditional letter was addressed to “Gaius” which is a fairly common name and it is unlikely that we know much about him with any certainty. Whoever he is, he and John shared a warm relationship, mutually bound in Christian love (v 1,6). They are also bound by the truth (v 1, 3, 4, 8, 12).

The person carrying this letter to Gaius is possibly Demetrius. He would have arrived with a packet of at least two epistles and handed them to Gaius. When John wrote, “I have written something to the church” (v 9), Gaius would have understood it to be 2 John.

Third John is written to warn Gaius of Diotrephes, who opposes John (v 10) and who may cause problems when Second John is read to the church. If Diotrephes does in fact cause problems, Gaius is encouraged by John to take heart and stand his ground (v 11), for John will come quickly to sort things out (v 10, 14).

What we get out of this letter is not what we get out of most others. We do not gain any new insights about Jesus Christ or the Spirit. It isn’t likely that you will receive a card from someone where they would quote a verse from this letter. So, what do we get out of this letter?

This is a letter written from one seasoned minister to another. The reality, identity, and expectations of the God they both serve is not the issue. This is a note of encouragement written to a trusted and well-grounded coworker. There are times in ministry when there are potentially hard situations ahead and I’ve had ministers give me a call or write me a note of encouragement when I’ve gone through some of those times. It is encouraging to me that this same kind of encouragement happened then between those who are working in the faith. “I know this is going to be hard but stand firm in what is right.” It is always reassuring to know there are others standing with you when it seems so many are standing against you.

Third John also shows us potentially how some of this correspondence took place. I picture Demetrius handing Gaius Second John, telling him it is to read it to the church, and then handing him Third John and telling him it is addressed to him. Gaius is now prepared for the potential conflicts he might have with Diotrephes and knows that John is with him in this conflict and will be by his side soon.

Third John makes the early church come to life a little bit more for me. There isn’t a lot that is overly profound but what it does reveal about the early Church reminds me that we are part of something real that has been going on for two thousand years.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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2 John – A Lot Like 1 John but Shorter

There is a lot of speculation as to who this “elect lady” is. Some take this literally as a specific individual. I thought I’d read through the letter this time with the mindset that “elect lady” is a metaphor for the church and “her children” as those who are in it. This type of language wouldn’t be uncommon and the “you” at the end of the letter are plural. This would also mean that “the children of your sister” are referring to their sister church, who are chosen by God.

This letter dates around 90 A.D. and persecution of Christians in Asia Minor was on the rise. This is my speculation but it could be possible that John is writing with this kind of language in order to not draw attention to where community of believers might be meeting. Persecutors might not pay as much attention to a woman and her children. John has more to say to them but wants to speak to them in person. Writing too much about Christ could draw unwanted attention. Like I said…this is my speculation.

Truth about Jesus coming in the flesh is essential for Christians. John warns not to accept any teaching that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh and not to accept the teacher. Jesus had to come in the flesh in order to die. He had to die in order to be resurrected. He had to be resurrected for us to have any hope that we too will have death conquered and be resurrected ourselves.

From the very beginning Christians were called to walk in love. Have we deviated from this command? How can we go about loving one another more so than we do now? John says this is what has been taught from the beginning. Let’s put this command into practice more fully each day than we have the day before. This is how we become the first century church more and more.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in 2 John, Bible Blog

 

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1 John 5 – This is Love For God

Reading through 1 John has made realize how overly simple what John is calling us to is…yet how much we struggle with it. We want to personalize Christianity and make it about whether or not I do “Christian things” and do them correctly. John places the Christian walk in community and gives the simple commands of “love” and “quit sinning.” As God’s Children, those who have faith, we are called to love God and to love our siblings. In addition to this, God wins. We are his children; we win. In faith, because of Jesus, we now live out our lives fully. We relive our baptism daily. We live in love. We live in obedience. The victory has been one…so act like it!

John reemphasizes the importance that Jesus came both in water and in blood. He did come in the flesh, as man. He did humble himself to become like us in every way. Jesus had to become human. He became like us and showed us how to live. He demonstrates what it looks like to live out the love that John has called us to in this letter. We follow him, not just in salvation, but in life.

The letter ends in an odd way but it ends with a strong message that we need to continually remember: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” I like the way Kent captured this command last time we were in 1 John: “Dear Children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” In a world that bombards us with things we “need” and images they want us to take one, we have to constantly examine our hearts and see who/what is sitting on the throne. When something else has been placed on the throne it is time to do some cleaning. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in 1 John, Bible Blog

 

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1 John 4 – The Example is the Command

We take for granted that Christians are supposed to live like Jesus.  Many of us have worn jewelry or clothing at some point that actually said WWJD…What Would Jesus Do?  The implication of course is that we should try to discern what Jesus would do and then do that thing.  This is not a normal way of thinking.  I had several great teachers when I was growing up and in school.  They taught me, mentored me, and were significant influences on me; but I never considered that I should try to live like them.  

Throughout the Bible there are people who are worthy of emulation.  We should all strive to have faith like Abraham.  We should seek to have the missional focus of Paul.  We should seek the voice of justice heard from the prophets.  And yet nobody really asks, “What would Paul do?”  Jesus set a standard of living that is not only worthy of trying to replicate, but the things that Jesus did are in many ways the equivalent of commands.  What’s also important is that the most identifying characteristic of Jesus that so many try to live by is his love.  For Christians, loving and living like Jesus are as much or more a part of their active faith than the 10 Commandments or any other rule for Christian living.

This is the major focus of John in this chapter.  Let us love one another.  Why?  Because love is from God.  Also, everybody who loves is born again of God and knows God.  If you don’t love, then you don’t know God.  How does God love?  By sending his son Jesus to die on the cross for us (the fact that this is said twice in a row means that it is super true.  Biblical repetition amplifies meaning).  So we should love one another.  God’s example in Jesus is as good as a command.  God loved through Jesus’ love so we should love.

Perfect love, John goes on to say, drives out fear.  When you love somebody enough to give anything for them, what do you have to lose?  If your love is complete, then you share in Jesus’ love and know that even death cannot overcome your love.

Two conclusions:

  1. As John says, he who claims to love God but hates his brother and sister is a liar.  Can you imagine telling God that you love him and having him look back and you and simply say, “You lie.”  If you have a grudge between a brother or sister…work it out.  The example is the command.
  2. The essence of God is love.  We were created in his image, and thus our essence should be love.  When we fail to show love, we are living counter to God’s will and counter to our own humanity.  Additionally, if we are baptized and clothed in Christ, how much more should we love as he loved.
 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in 1 John

 

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