Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 1999
Dear Friend in Christ:
I hope you are well this month. In this letter, I want to share about a word that is much misunderstood in our modern society: the word is “love”. Words are the currency of culture. What I mean by that is this: the value of our word determines the worth of our culture. Dictionaries are written to standardize the value of words. When Noah Webster wrote the original American dictionary, he said that he was led by the Holy Spirit to do so. The Holy Spirit is very interested in the value of our words.
The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible and it is the standard for word values. As our culture has gotten away from the Bible, we have watched the value of our language decline. More and more people seem to exchange overvalued words, or words that lack integrity.
“Love” is a prime example of a very important word that has been greatly devalued. Love is what binds a culture together; it binds families, churches, and communities together. When the word “love” is used, but real content is lacking, the results can be separation, disintegration, and devastation. It is vital that we communicate true value if we are going to build lasting relationships.
Family, community, and Christ’s Kingdom are built upon love. The problem is that when many people use the word “love,” they are often using an inferior measure…a lesser content. Recently, I ministered at a church, and a love offering was received for me. One of the staff members jokingly said that it would be more of a “like-offering” than a “love-offering.” In fact, it was a very generous love offering. However, I have received “love offerings” that should have been called “like offerings.”
THE TWELVE-INCH RULER
Suppose I said, “You should see my house; it is 150 feet long and 75 feet wide!” Then, you came to see it and it was no larger than an ordinary house. You would be disappointed and say, “Why, your house is no larger than mine.” Then I might say, “I don’t care what you think. It is 150 feet long!”
Your next question might be, “What kind of measure are you using?” Then I would show you a six-inch ruler that reads “twelve inches.” When it comes to love, everyone carries his or her own relative measure.
Fortunately, when you go to the store to buy a measure, there are no six-inch rulers that read “twelve inches.” When I was a boy in school, the Coca-Cola Company would send representatives to our school to give every student a ruler, a pencil, and a blotter. The rulers were all twelve inches long; it is the standard.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a standard for love? Well, there is; God’s love is “the twelve-inch ruler.” The Greek language, in which the New Testament is written, gives us a word for divine love that is different from the words for brotherly love and erotic love. Agape´ is the word for divine love. The Hebrew language, in which the Old Testament is written, uses the word chesed for divine love…and more. Chesed is very difficult to translate. We have no English word for it. That tells us that we have no concept of it in our culture.
Chesed is translated into our language many ways; love, kindness, goodness, loving kindness, mercy, kindly, bounty, good deeds, pity, favor, and various combinations of words. Proverbs 20:6 says, “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty (chesed), but who can find a trustworthy man?”
In Psalm 63, David says, “Thy lovingkindness (chesed) is better than life.” God’s love is more valued than life itself. A love that is more powerful than love of self, is divine…it is the twelve-inch ruler.
Deuteronomy 7:7-9 tells us that God’s love (chesed) forms unbreakable bonds. Psalm 89:30-34 tells us that even when we are unfaithful, God’s love (chesed) remains faithful. He makes the promise, and even when we fail, He pays the price. God doesn’t have love; He is love.
John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that He gave His “one-of-a-kind” Son. The word for love there is agape´. But if the New Testament had been written in Hebrew, the word would have been chesed. He gave His Son to keep a promise (see Genesis 3:15). And He gave His Son so that we could know what divine love really is. Jesus is the revelation of covenant love.
If we are going to build families, churches, and communities with twelve-inch rulers, they must be built with God’s love, not ours. The Apostle John said, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Beloved Son. If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (See 1 John 4:10-11; see also Romans 5:5-11.) God sent His Son to die for us, and thereby showed us the standard of love; a love that is better than life.
- Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness.
- He took our judgment and gave us His justification.
- He took our death and gave us His life.
- He took our sickness and gave us His health.
- He took our poverty and gave us His riches.
- He took our ashes and gave us His beauty.
- He took our sorrow and gave us His joy.
- He took our anxiety and gave us His peace.
- He took our fear and gave us His confidence.
- He took our hatred and gave us His love.
- He took our evil spirits and gave us His Holy Spirit.
Divine love takes our worst vices and gives God’s greatest graces. Divine love is what is left when everything else has forsaken us.
UNITED IN MERCY
1 Peter 2:10 says, “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (emphasis added). Peter is telling us several vital things. One thing is that once we were fragmented and scattered (many still are). We lived as selfish individuals. We were not one people. But because we have received God’s mercy, we are now His own people. It is mercy that makes us one. If this were in the Hebrew language, I believe that the word for mercy would be chesed…God’s covenant love and grace.
Peter is not simply telling us that we have received it – He is telling us to give it. He is telling us that we have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, in order to show forth the “excellencies” of Him.”
In the first verse of 1 Peter chapter 2, Peter says, “Put aside all malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and slander” (emphasis added). These are the opposite of selfless love. In verse 3, he says, “If you have tasted of the kindness of the Lord and coming to Him…you are being built up into a spiritual house” (emphasis added). It is the kindness of the Lord that makes us a house. Again, I believe if this was in Hebrew, the word for kindness would be chesed. It is the love of God_love that is faithful, merciful, good, loyal, trustworthy, kind, and compassionate, even when we are unworthy of it – that holds us together. Lesser love will fail.
Lesser love not only fails to hold us together, it fails to communicate Christ to a world that sees a lesser love in the Church. Some would say that our greatest problem is that there is sin in the Church, but that if we all repent and become “holy” in our lives, everything will be all right. Then we can tell the world about its sin.
I disagree. Yes, there is sin in the Church and we should repent. But the Pharisees thought holiness was the answer to the problem. They thought that they were holy, and of course sinners were not. Their approach to sinners was to proselyte them and make them Pharisees…lawkeepers.
Jesus’ response to that was that the Pharisees only made their converts “twice the child of Hell.” Jesus’ approach was to love sinners. He hated self-righteousness. Self-righteousness produces pride, not love. Pride is the root of contention, division, and separation.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not what lies behind us or what lies before us, it is what lies within us.” Jesus told the Pharisees that they were like whitewashed tombs; they looked good outside, but were corrupt inside. They had no mercy inside. They loved the law…not realizing that it was their own judge.
I believe strongly in the unity of the Body of Christ. Without it, evangelism is diminished, and our testimony to the world is at best a flickering candle. In Jesus, they see something unique, but in the Church they see something all too familiar. How can we make some steps in the right direction? Well, you and I cannot change the whole Church, but we can do some positive things:
- Re-examine what you believe that love is.
- Take another look at how God has loved you.
- Find someone as unlovable as you were, and love them as Christ loved you.
- Ask God for the grace to bear someone’s sin-burden, who has trespassed against you.
- The next time you say, “I love you,” think about it.
We have received mercy, loyalty, kindness, and goodness…the nature of God. It is ours to give…it is what brought us to repentance…It will bring others as we give it…one-to-one.
Scripture references: 1 Peter 2:10; Psalm 63; Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Psalm 89:30-34; Genesis 3:15; 1 John 4:10-11; Romans 5:5-11