Dear Friend in Christ:
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I seek to unfold what I believe the Lord is saying to me now as it is very consequential to know how we respond to our current culture. Ephesians 4:15 teaches us that we grow up into Christ by speaking the truth in love. People can say they love, but not speak the truth. People can speak the truth, but not love those to whom they speak. The God Whom we worship is both truth and love. For us humans, keeping the two together is a challenge.
God is good and He is just. For some there is Heaven and to others there is Hell. The same God gives both. 1 Corinthians 10 and Romans 11 teach that biblical Israel is an example to us. In Israel, God demonstrated wonderful miracles, blessings, and prosperity. But He also demonstrated devastating punishment. Because God is God and very complex to our natural thinking, His ways are beyond our comprehension.
I do not understand God (no one does), yet I believe God. I don’t just believe in God but I believe what He says in scripture by the Holy Spirit. So, I am encouraged, and I am also warned. We must embrace both. Good parents both encourage and warn their children. One without the other warps the child’s growth to maturity. Children want the positive but react to the negative. They need both, and we do, too. One without the other warps the truth. Love is the bridge over which difficult truth travels.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
In 1964, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and in my personal prayer life, I spoke in tongues. As the years passed, I became extremely controversial among my Southern Baptist friends. For some good reasons, Baptist feared fanaticism and confusion. I had been secretary of the local Baptist Pastors’ conference at age 27 and had a local television program. There were numerous pastor meetings around this ensue of “Pentecostalism,” though I was not Pentecostal.
In 1965, about 80 or more Southern Baptist pastors in our area gathered to discuss the issue. There was a retired official of the Southern Baptist Convention living in our area and he arose to speak. In his statements he said, “Love is the best gift,” then went on to downplay the other gifts. There was no love in his voice. Of course, he was addressing me without calling my name. When he concluded, another pastor asked, “If love is the best gift, where is it?” It became quiet. I will never forget that question, where is it? There was some truth in the earlier remarks but no love. We can hear much better when truth comes with love.
The Apostle Paul was supremely educated and intelligent having been mentored by Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrin. However, Paul was severe in his application of the law as he consented to the stoning of Stephen and persecuting Christians. But when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, everything changed! His enemies became his friends. Later, he wrote much of the New Testament,including that great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13. He closes that chapter by listing the three great characteristics: faith, hope and love. Then, Paul says, “The greatest of these is love.”
FAITH AND HOPE
Faith is vital to our salvation and healthy spiritual journey. Faith is believing and moving toward what is yet unseen (see Hebrews 11:1). By faith, our forefathers and mothers accomplished great things! Of course, Paul himself was saved by faith and told others about saving faith (see Acts 16:31). When someone loses faith, they are lost and disillusioned; they can become cynical and nihilistic. Yet, the Apostle Paul was inspired to say that love is greater than faith. That is an amazing statement!
Hope is essential to endurance and endurance is essential to obtaining the promises of God (see 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Those who lose hope quit and come short. In Luke 21:19, Jesus said in the last days we would need endurance (see also Matthew 24:13). The return of Jesus and resurrection of the dead is called “The Blessed Hope.” Hope is not a minor issue, but Paul says that love is the greatest. Amazing!
Paul is not minimizing faith and hope as he writes much about both. He is maximizing and elevating the necessity of love. Jesus told his disciples that they would be known as His disciples by their love for one another (see John 13:34-35).
WHERE IS THE LOVE?
John is called the “Beloved Disciple” because he was so close to Jesus. 1 John 4:16 tells us that God is love. He does not only love, He is love. John also gave us the Gospel of John and John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….”
Love began and continues to begin in God; the nearer we get to Him, the more we love like Him. He loved all mankind. Jesus said to love our enemies and persecutors. He summed up the law by saying “thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” When asked “who is my neighbor,” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans, but Jesus loved them; they were “His neighbors.”
The more we love God and know His love, the more we love others who may be difficult to love.
My all-time favorite song is “The Love of God” by Fredrick Lehman. I encourage you to look up his story online. That song has a miraculous history of how it came to be. My brother, sister, and I used to sing it in church as we grew up, and our parents loved it too. My brother, and sister are now with the Lord.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
The last verse is so powerful!
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
DESCRIPTION, NOT DEFINITION
That song is a powerful description of God’s love, but it cannot define His love. None of us can define it. Love is better demonstrated than told. God demonstrated His love by sending Jesus, who died on the Cross for our sin (see Romans 5:8).
The Apostle Paul demonstrated his love, as other apostles did, by giving his life as a martyr. In First Corinthians 13, Paul wonderfully describes love: He says gifts without love are mere noise. Love is longsuffering and kind, does not envy, parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not easily provoked, does not keep a list, does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in truth, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It never fails. Only God could have and give such love to us and that is how the world will recognize us as Jesus’ disciples.
So, the source of God’s love is God. We don’t merely seek love, we seek God. Great revivals become revivals of love. They spread because love spreads. We desperately need God’s love in our divided culture, shattered families, and dying churches. Debate and name calling will not spread the Gospel, but love will. As I said previously, “Love us the bridge over which truth travels.”
We must become bridge builders. That does not mean we become passive or compromisers; we must hold fast to the truth and tell the truth. We should defend the faith of our fathers but love us the bridge! We are losing “civility,” the basis for civilization. Only God can “civilize” us again.
Now lest you think that I am just a “nice guy,” a holy preacher, I want to share a small part of my story. In my teens, I lead a gang and fought with people I did not like. I carried a switchblade, which fortunately I only drew once. I drove a truck when I was 13 and learned to butcher at the same age. I was a boxer, and eventually had to decide whether to box or to preach when I heard the Lord calling me into ministry.
Even so, I got in a fight at a basketball game after I was licensed to preach at 18. The cops were called, and the game was stopped. I could go on. I am not trying to project a tough image; I am saying that I had a bad temper and little love–except for “my group.” It has taken too long for God’s love to grow in me. I thank God for those who did not give up on me! Don’t give up on those who at present seem unlikable! God can change people, even us, by His love.
I am praying for a transformational Holy Spirit-led awakening worldwide! Will you join me in this prayer? Gypsy Smith said, “If you want a revival, draw a circle and get in it and pray for revival in that circle!”
At the beginning of this letter, I said this is what God is saying to me. What is He saying to you? I’d love to hear from you this month!
Brother Charles Simpson
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Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.