Publication: Pastoral Letter, March 2006
Dear Friend in Christ:
We have all seen someone change because they fell in love with a girl, a guy, a goal, or even a game. Love has the power to cause us to change. The love of country or freedom has caused many people to give their very lives for others. There is no greater love than for a person to lay down their life for another person.
There are many kinds of love and varying degrees of love: The greater the love, the greater the power to cause change. The following example is a case in point.
THE APOSTLE JOHN
John is unusual, if not unique among the disciples. He and his brother worked for their father as commercial fishermen. John and his brother, James, had bad tempers; Jesus called them “Sons of Thunder.” John’s model for ministry was Elijah: “If they will not receive us, call down fire and burn them up.” Jesus rebuked him for that—and other issues.
James and John wanted to sit on the right hand of Jesus when He came into His Kingdom. John made lots of mistakes, but … he was called the “Beloved Disciple”. He was closest to Jesus at the Last Supper and knew Judas would be the betrayer. And, he did not run away on Crucifixion Day.
John stood by Mary, mother of Jesus, only a few feet from the Cross. As the sacred blood poured down, John looked up and saw and heard a revelation of God’s love beyond what he had ever known. He heard Jesus forgive His torturers and the thief, and he heard Jesus commit His Spirit to the Father. Among the last words that Jesus spoke was to entrust Mary to John’s care.
With the release of Christ’s Spirit, the temple veil was torn, the earth shook, and the sun hid. John felt the cold wind as the Light of Life was extinguished. John’s world was shaken; it would never look the same.
John might have been in his late 20’s when he witnessed the Cross. Approximately sixty years later, he wrote a small epistle that we call “First John.” He calls the ones to whom he writing, “Little Children,” and tells them to love one another.
Fathers want their children to love each other. My father and mother prayed that my brother, sister and I would always stay close. We have. We have the same prayer for our children. And thank God they also are close. We are all part of one another.
But John does not use the term love loosely; he defines it so that there would be no misunderstanding.
THE LOVE OF GOD
In 1 John 4:10, he writes, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His only Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The love of God is defined in Jesus Christ and what He did for us. Jesus’ life and death on the Cross in our place is what Divine love is. Such love—the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb on behalf of guilty mankind, had never been so revealed.
The disciples had seen the love of God in Christ as He showed compassion for the poor, the sick, the afflicted, and those under the control of evil Spirits. But at the Cross, He gave it all.
John would say, “No, it was not the way that we loved Him; it was the way that He loved us. That is how we should love one another, because that is how He loved.”
If you ask John, “Did He ever speak harshly to you?” “Oh yes,” he would say. “He rebuked our wrong attitudes, our lack of faith, and our foolish ambition. He loved us enough to speak the truth. But we could ask any question and accept His correction because we know security in Him. But the Cross…that was a level of love I had never seen.”
There was no fear in Jesus; He was secure in the Father and in His own Sonship. So He could love lepers whom others feared, tax collectors who others hated, prostitutes who others abused, and even the thieves with whom He was crucified. The only ones whom Jesus seemed to dislike were the religious leaders who misrepresented the Father—who loved the law, but not the needy.
The love of God in Christ was never given from weakness but always from confidence. His love came from the power of God—the power to change. He knew that manifest love and mercy would triumph over judgment and condemnation. So He loved with confidence. The disciples saw it and were changed. They had been zealots, crooks, profane, and in some ways ignorant and naïve. What they witnessed made them apostles—sent forth.
SENT BY LOVE
The love of God sent Jesus. “For God so loved….” He did not come to judge or condemn (see John 3:16-18). He came to save. His mission was to reveal the Father—the love and truth of God, and to let love and truth have their way to open hearts and change lives. Love and truth were never separate realities in Christ. In Him they “kissed each other.” It was at the Cross that the glory of God, His truth and love, were revealed (see John 12:23-28).
The love of the Father sent Jesus to the earth, but it didn’t stop there. It sent Him to search for the lost sheep of Israel; and to pay their way out of bondage through death and judgment. Along the way He wept over them, He prayed for them, He taught them, and finally He sent them.
To know the love of God, is to be sent to reveal the love of God. The love of God moves us. In 2
Corinthians 5:14-15, the apostle Paul says, “the love of God compels us.” He goes on to say, “and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”
That is what love does; it changes the motive and focus of life. Self love? No way. In the classic chapter of love, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that it is not about gifts, spirituality, or even our faith, though all of that is good. It is our devotion to Christ and His mission. God’s love never fails to have its affect. It is the most powerful force.
THE POWER OF LOVE
Some religionists teach that we must change in order to be loved. The truth is, we must be loved in order to change. Love is not manipulation; it takes people where they are. That is what He did. And that is what He wants us to do. If we go out to the world with lesser love, we will return disappointed, frustrated and even cynical.
• God’s love is the power to forgive the guilty.
• God’s love is the power to reconcile the alienated.
• God’s love is the power to give hope to the hopeless.
• God’s love is the power to give acceptance to the rejected.
• God’s love is the power to give security to the fearful.
• God’s love is the power to give purpose to the wanderer.
• God’s love is the power to give fruitfulness to the barren.
Because He gave, I can give. Because He served, I can serve. Because He healed, I can heal. Because He spoke the truth, I can speak the truth. He became like me so that I could become like Him.
Rules and laws can constrain us like shackles. But they can never change us. Change is the result of an inner realization of God’s covenant love that works its way outward into all that we do.
Advice can be helpful, but it doesn’t walk beside you—it only points. Platitudes make great posters and slogans, but they don’t warm you on a cold night. The love of God never leaves or forsakes; it is embodied in Christ, in a real friend, and should be revealed through the community of Christ. We cannot receive Christ and fail to receive His love.
But when people reject the love of God, they get more advisors, platitudes, and slogans. They get more laws and rules. They may even get tyrants. The prison gets ever more small. Every time I hear that we need another law, I wonder when humanity will learn that laws will never change the human heart. Law is necessary for those who have not received His love. Civil government is there to keep order. But the love of God has the power to change what law can only restrain.
Our greatest power as believers and disciples is what we received from Jesus. It is about all that we have to give, but it is more than enough, if we give it to one another and to the world. There is a lot wrong out there; there was when Jesus came. But He made a lot right and still is setting things right. How?
He loved sinners.
Our message is not manipulation. Faith works by love and so does everything else. When love is behind it, change will follow it. We just give it and let God’s goodness work.
I have seen that anger doesn’t bring inner change, nor does law or government. Those are necessary. But I have seen and commend to you, that love is the greatest power, because it changes us, where all else has failed. Give it away and watch it work.
Scripture Reference: 1 John 4:10, John 3:16-18, John 12:23-28, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 1 Corinthians 13