Making the Invisible Visible

How can you see a thought, an intention, or the integrity of someone’s words? It’s obvious you can’t see these things themselves. However, what you can see are the effects of these in the deeds of those possessing them. Scripture points us to this truth and far beyond when it says:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 English Standard Version (ESV)

Previously, we explored what Calvin thought about this verse. This time, let’s see what Augustine, who lived in the days of Roman Emperors, said:

[Earlier, the Apostle John] said, “He gave us commandment that we should love one another.” How [can you] be said to love Him whose commandment [you hate]? Who shall say, I love the emperor, but I hate his laws? In this the emperor understands whether [you] love him, that his laws be observed throughout the provinces.

Our Emperor’s [i.e., Christ’s] law, what is it? “A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another.” [You say] then, that [you love] Christ: keep His commandment, and love thy brother. But if [you] love not [your] brother, how [can you] be said to love Him whose commandment [you despise]?

Yet, though “the quality of mercy is not strained.” we still seek our pound of flesh. Alexander MacLaren comments on the necessary quality of our love towards one another:

…The real reason which makes [our] obedience to [the command to love one another] difficult is the slackness of our own hold on the Centre. In the measure in which we are filled with Jesus Christ, in that measure will that expression of His spirit and His life become natural to us.

Every Christian has affinities with every other Christian, in the depths of his being, [in such manner] that he is a great deal more like his brother, who is possessor of ‘like precious faith,’ however unlike the two may be in outlook, in [distinctive habits], and culture and in creed, than he is to another man with whom he may have a far closer sympathy in all these matters than he has with the brother in question, but from whom he is parted by this, that the one trusts and loves and obeys Jesus Christ, and the other does not.

So, for individuals and for churches, the commandment takes this shape—Go down to the depths and you will find that you are closer to the Christian man or community which seems furthest from you, than you are to the non-Christian who seems nearest to you. Therefore, let your love follow your kinship, and your heart recognize the oneness that knits you together.

That is a revolutionary commandment; what would become of our present organizations of Christianity if it were obeyed?

That is a revolutionary commandment; what would become of our individual relations to the whole family who, in every place, and in many tongues, and with many creeds, call on Jesus as on their Lord, their Lord and ours, if it were obeyed?

I leave you to answer the question. Only I say the commandment has for its [primary] scope all who, in every place, love the Lord Jesus Christ…

Note that MacLaren’s comments were directed toward this verse:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Here we see again that Christ directs us to make the invisible (i.e., our following Him) visible to the world through our deeds of heartfelt sacrificial love towards one another. Let us act accordingly.

Martin Luther King Speaks! Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, Transcript

The Brother You Can See

All sorts of people attend church. Some you like; some you don’t. A few rub us wrong. Fewer still seem to have it in for us. What are we to do? Avoidance comes to mind. But what’s God’s standard?

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot [or, how can he] love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

Okay, so if we don’t love our brother then we don’t love God? The word used for love, here, is ἀγαπάω (agapaō), or sacrificial love. Though affection may arise from this kind of love, the essence of agape toward our brother or sister is: unconditional, generous effort for another’s welfare. For deeper insight concerning these verses, consider what Calvin says:

We love him …This love [of God] cannot exist, except it generates love [toward our brothers and sisters]. Hence [the Apostle John] says, that they are liars who boast that they love God, when they hate their brethren.

…The Apostle takes [for] granted what ought…to appear evident to us, that God offers himself to us in those men who bear his image, and that he requires the duties, which he does not want himself, to be performed to them, according to Psalm 16:[2-3], where we read,

“My goodness reaches not to thee, O Lord;

towards the saints who are on the earth is my love.”

…John…shows how fallacious is the boast of everyone who says that he loves God [who is invisible], and yet loves not God’s image which is before his eyes.

And this commandment …He not only gave a commandment respecting the love of God, but [commanded] us also to love our brethren. We must therefore so begin with God, as that there may be at the same time a transition made to men.

Echoing John, the Apostle Paul, in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, says in part:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:16-18 ESV

Further, we look to other ‘one anothers’ in scripture. Almost all of these are commands for us to act upon for our brethren’s welfare.

So, let us exert unconditional, generous effort for our brother’s or sister’s welfare by praying for their needs, forgiving and asking forgiveness, and supplying material kindnesses to them. Who knows, perhaps affection may arise afterward.

RC Sproul: Pre-Evangelism – Defending Your Faith Part 3

I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …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 6:32-36

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.