The Cost of Loving Your Neighbor

It’s easy to say, “I will love my neighbor as myself,” but it is quite another thing to do that. Read on to meet two contrasting examples.

Today’s reading

Judges 18-19; Luke 10:25-42

Selected Verses

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. Judges 19:25

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37

Reflections

The value of human life is emphasized throughout the Bible.  When asked about how to obtain eternal life, Jesus showed that loving God and loving our neighbor are the two key elements of a righteous life.  The first two chapters of the Bible show that humanity was specially created by God, male and female, in His image and according to His likeness and given life by His Spirit.

The fall soon introduced alienation from God and between the first humans.  Their son was the first murderer, his victim being his own brother (Genesis 3,4).

God in the Bible holds all people responsible for how they treat one another.  The command is simple, but it is not easy.  Alas!  Loving your neighbor as yourself can mean standing up against some serious opposition in society.

The old man in Judges 19 tried to protect the traveler in his village from the abusive men, but his neighbors stormed his house.  He foolishly tried to placate their evil desires by offering them his daughter and the visitor’s concubine.  In the end, it cost a woman’s life and started a civil war in Israel.  The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable reached across a huge racial divide to care for a wounded man.  It’s fairly easy in theory to say, “We should all love our neighbors as ourselves,” but it is quite another thing to actually act consistently with that concept.

Think about it

Those who read the Bible and profess belief in it should be among the most caring of all people, willing and ready to pay a price, if necessary, to preserve and value life.

Look for opportunities to show mercy and kindness toward others today, but know that you may not be appreciated for it.  It could even cost you more than you thought.

To Love God and Enemies

Believers are commanded to love their enemies.  But does that include marrying the enemies of our God?  The Scriptures are clear on this.

Today’s reading

Joshua 23-24; Luke 6:27-49

Selected Verses

Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.  Joshua 23:11

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 is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Luke 6:35,36

Reflections

Joshua urged the Israelites to love the Lord their God and to flee marriage entanglements with their enemies, the pagan natives of Canaan. He knew that, if they intermarried with pagans, they would be drawn away from faithful and sincere service to God. At the same time, there were notable examples of Gentiles coming into the covenant people of God. Rahab and her family were protected from destruction in Jericho and admitted into the lineage of Judah and Jesus (Matthew 1:5). So the intention of Joshua’s command was not to deprive Gentiles of blessing and salvation but to protect the Israelites from apostasy.

Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies, demonstrating godliness reflective of the Father who is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and evil. Jesus was not teaching a relativistic view of morality in which everything that is good to you is good. He specifically showed that there is good and evil and that these are not the same. Good and evil fruits come from good and evil trees. But Jesus sent His disciples to show mercy to their enemies, the ungrateful and the evil.

Think about it

Why does God patiently pour out blessings on those who rebel against Him? Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). In due time, the evil will face the judgment of God, but meanwhile, we who believe in Jesus show our faith by an obedient, godly life including loving our enemies.

The prohibition of believers marrying unbelievers continues (2 Corinthians 6:14). Marriage is not one of the ways believers show love to unbelievers. This may be misunderstood by them, but that is the risk we must take to live a life of obedience. Of course, unbelievers are not prohibited from marrying one another.  In fact, they should marry if so inclined.

Love God. Love your enemies, but love them as God does by doing them good and telling them of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Enduring Love

In our reading today (Ecclesiastes 11-Song of Solomon 8), we conclude the poetic books of the Old Testament.  Tomorrow we begin the Prophets, seventeen books in all.

In our English Bibles, the poetic books are arranged so that they end on the note of romance with the Song.  In my book I focused on a verse in the final chapter:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
    jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    the very flame of the Lord.

Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
    all the wealth of his house,
    he would be utterly despised.  Song of Solomon 8:6,7 (ESV)

How strong is human love?  Some find it powerful enough to last till the grave.  But not all do.  Jesus said there would be no human marriage in heaven, but the Church, called His body and His bride, will be married to Him (Luke 20:34-36; Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:6-10).  Human love at its best is a faint picture of the eternal marriage of Christ and His bride.

It is of little consequence that you have not found lifelong love here on earth, as long as you have by grace through faith become part of Christ’s Church.  You will be part of His bride in a love stronger than death.  If you have this hope, rejoice in the coming marriage of the Lamb.

Respect for Women

Today’s reading: Ruth 2:1-1 Samuel 1:20

Some husbands show wonderful love and respect for their wives.  It is a delight to behold.  But there is One whose love for His bride is unparalleled in all of history.

We celebrate that love during the Easter season.  Have a blessed Easter!

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The Bride’s Dress

The true worship of the saints is more than merely acceptable. It is the glorious attire of the Church, the Bride’s dress.

Today’s reading: Zechariah 7-9; Revelation 19

5 “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? Zechariah 7:5-6

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:6-8

Do our good deeds, done for God on earth, matter in heaven? The answer may surprise you.

Zechariah was sent to confront Judah about her unacceptable service to God. Oh, she had fasted and mourned. She had put on an outward show of brokenness and repentance, but the Lord saw through the phoniness and hypocrisy. True service to God is performed with fear of Him, not some kind of self-serving motivation. It is done by “small and great” since no one is exempt from responsibility before Him (Revelation 19:4). It is futile to attempt to perform outward acts of service to God that are not matched by inward piety.

John relates his vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb. What a joyous occasion it is! There is nothing quite like a wedding celebration where bride and groom are filled with love and hope for their future. They commit themselves fully to one another “till death do us part.”   But no matter how splendid the ceremony, the banquet, or the couple, nothing compares to the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.

At weddings, the big question is always, “how will the bride look? What will she wear?” Through John’s vision we are allowed the rare privilege of seeing the bride before the ceremony. Are you, like me, surprised by her attire? We expect it to be fine linen, bright and pure, but on closer examination we see that this linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. That is what she is wearing.

Fellow disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, never underestimate the eternal significance of your righteous deeds done in fear of and love for Him. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). You and I are creating the bride’s dress.

A Time to Love; a Time to Hate

To hate what God hates is good, but not if we do not love what God loves.

Today’s reading: Hosea 9-11; Revelation 2

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.                                                     Hosea 11:8-9

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.                                                                                         Revelation 2:4-6

God’s love for His people is relentless, though He reveals in His Word how His heart recoils with the sinfulness of His people. Ultimately, God restrains His justice against His people and does not destroy them.

Hosea was sent to warn Judah and Israel of her impending judgment. This intervention by the Lord was another act of His patience and mercy. He gave them a chance to repent. He showed them through the sad, painful marital relationship of Hosea and Gomer, how God saw the unfaithfulness of His people toward Him. They repaid His goodness and blessing with idolatry and worship of false gods. Even after all that, God’s compassion toward them was aroused. As He said through the prophet Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” ( Ezekiel 18:23).

The Lord gave the Apostle John messages for seven churches of Asia Minor. Most of them contain warnings of impending judgment for their sin. In the letter to the church in Ephesus, He commends them for several qualities including their hatred of an heretical group called the Nicolaitans. While it was good to hate evil, they were also found to have abandoned the love they had shown earlier. Jesus tells them to repent of this attitude lest they lose their standing as a church completely.

Let this be a warning to us as well. Do not let hatred of evil drive out the love of God for those He is graciously calling to Himself. There is a time to love and a time to hate. (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

 

Defying Authority

The solution to abusive authority is not to question the concept of authority but to reject authority which defies God.

Today’s reading: Daniel 11-12; 3 John 1

36 “And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.           Daniel 11:36

9 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.

11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.                                                                3 John 1:9-11

As we see in today’s readings, the problem of defying authority is prevalent down through history and in all areas of life, political and ecclesiastical.

Daniel had a vision about a self-exalting king who lifted himself up above every other god and spoke against the true God of Israel. He would seem to be invincible for a time conquering kingdoms and amassing wealth, but in the end he would fall with no one to help (11:45).

In John’s time there was a man named Diotrephes who had a similar defiant attitude. He disregarded the apostle and spoke against him. He was inhospitable and excommunicated those in the church who attempted to be hospitable. He was a picture of selfishness and pride. No wonder John tells his readers not to imitate evil but to imitate good. A person like Diotrephes can influence many to follow his wicked example.

“Question authority” may be a popular bumper sticker but the solution to abusive authority is not to question the concept of authority. We need to submit to God’s authority and to duly instituted authority in the civil sector. Beware of defying authority (Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 13:7,17).

Everyday Persecution

God’s people, living in a fallen world, must not be surprised if they are unrecognized, at best, and targeted for persecution and death, at worst.

Today’s reading: Daniel 3-4; 1 John 3

28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.                                                                          Daniel 3:28

The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1b

The Jews living in captivity in Babylon faced serious trials. Their faith and practice got them into trouble at times but the message of Daniel is that God always saw them through vindicating their faith and His power.

Nebuchadnezzar needed repeated evidence that the God of Israel was the God Most High. When he mandated worship of an idol, the three friends of Daniel refused to bow. They were given one more chance. Once more they stood their ground and were thrown into the fiery furnace. Yet even that fire could not destroy them. They came forth without so much as the smell of smoke. Nebuchadnezzar was forced to honor God and reward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The Apostle John instructs his readers about the life of one who has fellowship with God. There will necessarily be a qualitative difference in the person who loves God. It affects his relationships with others and his attitudes toward the trinkets of this world. He practices righteousness and loves his brother. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you, he tells them” (vs. 13). Why? Because the world did not know God.

Daniel and his friends experienced severe tests of their faith. They were prepared not to be vindicated, although they were, quite rapidly (Daniel 3:18).  Others, like John, may not have seen vindication in this world but were prepared to endure until they saw Him “as he is.” Be ready for everyday persecution, but also expect to be transformed by Him when you see Him.

The Man Who Stood in the Breach

Those who trust in the Man who stood in the breach must show mercy and not partiality toward others.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 22-23; James 2

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.”                                                                                                        Ezekiel 22:30-31

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.                                                                                                                    James 2:1

In Ezekiel’s day, the walls of the city were broken open to invaders. The false prophets did not risk their lives to close these breaches or to stand in them (Ezekiel 13:5). God looked but there was no one who would do this. My study Bible notes refer to the contrast with Moses, who as a true and faithful leader stood up in the spiritual breach for Israel when they crafted and worshiped a golden calf. Moses pleaded with God to spare Israel their just punishment and God heard him. [1] Now the so-called prophets ignored this need. God poured out His wrath on the nation.

Finally, God Himself took on flesh and lived among us to bring atonement for sin and mercy to God’s people. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Man who stood in the breach against our enemy. He is the Good Shepherd who did not flee when danger came. He bore the pain of death for us. [John 10:7-18]. James calls all who hold the faith in Him to reflect that faith in our actions and attitudes toward others. There should be no partiality based on socioeconomic classes. There should be no favoritism toward the rich nor discrimination against the poor. Those who have received mercy must be merciful or they show they deserve judgment.

Be sure your relationships show mercy and not partiality. You have been saved by the Man who stood in the breach for us. Pride and haughtiness has no place in our lives.

[1] Reformation Study Bible p. 1415 note on 22:30-31

Use and Abuse of Authority

All authority comes from God, but it must be used in God-honoring ways.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 36-37; Philemon

23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. Jeremiah 36:23-25

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. Philemon 8-10

There is a stunning contrast between King Jehoiakim and the Apostle Paul when it comes to their use or abuse of authority. Notice the differences. There are lessons to be learned.

Jeremiah received a message from God for the people of Judah. By God’s instruction, he had Baruch, his scribe, write the message down on a scroll. Since Jeremiah had been banned from the temple area (by order of the king?), the prophet sent Baruch to read the message to the crowd gathered to worship on a fast day. Word came back to the king’s servants about this reading and they investigated further. As these officials of the king listened to Baruch read, they were gripped with fear (Jeremiah 36:16). They knew the king needed to hear the message, so they arranged to take the scroll, send Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding, and have the scroll read to Jehoiakim.

The king listened to the reading, but had the scroll cut into sections and burned. Such was Jehoiakim’s abuse of God-given authority. He would pay for it with the end of his royal lineage and a shameful death without so much as a pauper’s burial.

Paul, on the other hand, shows great restraint in the use of his authority over Philemon. He appeals to his friend to take kind and forgiving action toward his slave, Onesimus. In God’s providence, Onesimus had met Paul and, through him, met Christ. Paul wrote to the Colossian church, possibly about the same time, as to the proper attitudes of a master toward a slave (Colossians 3:22-4:1).

As king, Jehoiakim discouraged his officials from what appears to be an initial desire to obey God’s word. Paul encourages obedience to his friend but without being heavy handed.  Beware of ungodly authorities. Beware of the abuse of authority. Submit to God and, when appropriate to His authorities. Use your authority with grace and restraint.