Thursday, December 24, 2009

Is "more and more" even possible?

Good morning everyone. Yes, I slept in again. Isn't it great? It was a late night wrapping gifts but I don't mind because I love the people to whom I am giving them. What is a little sacrifice for the people we love. After all, is that not the Spirit of Christmas, self sacrificing love? Is it not interesting that we have someone asking Jesus who many times we have to forgive but we never hear anyone ask how much we have to love. Are there limits to your love? Do we arrive at a place where we are loving at the maximum, where we can't love a person any more than we do at that moment?

Yesterday we read about Paul's love for the Thessalonians even though he was only with them for a short time. Today we read his instructions to them on this same subject:

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10)

I love it when that happens. No instruction was necessary because the Holy Spirit had already transformed their hearts and they were doing what was natural to a follower of Jesus without receiving any formal instruction. This is a good indication that it was sincere transformation and not the conformation that we see so often today. Obviously they were taking some action toward the other churches in the region for Paul to say that they loved everyone throughout Macedonia. So far this is just normal stuff that we might expect to read. It makes me feel good that the Thessalonians represented Jesus so well. Then Paul adds:

Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.  (v. 10)

The use of the term "more and more" definitely lends itself to the thought that there is always room for growth in love. There is no real shocker here. I do not think many of us would think that we have arrived at the point of loving the best we can. All we have to do is turn to 1 Corinthians 13 to know that our love is constantly falling short:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (vs. 4-7)

The part that gets me is this: "Love never fails." But I fail, all the time. I may be patient but that doesn't mean that I am not self-seeking. We can look at this and see some parts that are strong in us and other parts that we fail in every day. The fact is that our love is not perfect and often fails. We cannot love people with our love because our love is not mature enough. We have to love with the love of the Father, which we see demonstrated in Jesus. As we love with his love our own hearts are changed and our love is increased. The trick is how do we love with the Father's love?

In our own love we often love only those who love us. Jesus told us there was no challenge in this, that we need to love those who hate us. To love with the Father's love we must know the Word, specifically the life of Jesus. We need to know his teachings and his example and then we need to decide to live this example. We know in ourselves we can't love our enemy but we know that the Father does, so we decide to love by being kind and persevering in it. Instead of seeking what is good for ourselves in the relationship, we set aside our own good and seek to do good to our enemy. We decide to do what Jesus would do, which is often the opposite of what we would want to do in our natural.

Consider for the moment the example the Father gave us with Christmas. He did not give us Jesus because we were lovable or deserved it in any way. The Word tells us that as sinners we were enemies of God. He detests sin and can have no part of it. He did not give us Jesus because we loved him. We did not love him and did the things that would bring his wrath. He gave us Jesus because he was responding to us according to the nature of his love, which caused him to love his enemy, us. He looked on his enemy and had pity because we could not help ourselves. Imagine how different our lives would be if we were to do that; if we were to love our enemies in a way that cost us something precious, that would either bring about reconciliation or cause them to hate us more? Oops, did I forget to mention the risk? 

That is the thing about loving someone, there are no guarantees. Once again, you are not responsible for their reaction when you love them, only for the faithfulness of loving them. There again we need the example of Jesus' love. Remember, after all he faced and went through Jesus still prayed from the cross. "Father, forgive me. They don't know what they are doing?" Jesus would not enter back into glory with bitterness in his heart. His love was perfect as he prayed for forgiveness for his persecutors. Can you love even in the face of total rejection?

I do pray that your Christmas will be filled with love; the Father's love, which is not easily offended. It is patient and kind which is exactly what we need as we spend time with people who are so different than we are. Let us learn to love more and more the people God has given us to love for him and the maybe we can convince the world of our sincerity.

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