- Love: The Bottom Line
Welcome to the online version of the Friends & Neighbors Bible Study! I’m excited about what God will do as we seek Him in this place.
The actual Friends & Neighbors Dinner & Bible Study has been meeting biweekly since April of this year. We’re a mixed bag of ages, backgrounds, vocations, and interests. But our little ‘Jesus Club’ (as one of our ladies has lovingly referred to us) has quickly grown to enjoy our time together, where we love to love–whether it be the food we’re eating, each other, and most especially, as one of our ladies says with a heavy southern drawl, G A W D!
The basis of this study is Matthew 22:36-40, the greatest commandments. As we consider the text, I’d like us to allow God to challenge us, even though that can be hard.
See me emphasizing that phrase? First things first, we’re seeking honesty and a teachable heart! And really, that’s just not always natural or easy; hence my display of typesetting emotion ;). I’m trusting God will give us courage and the ability to trust Him as He leads us deeper into a life of love.
One other heads up. I’m big on looking at word meanings . . . and contemplating phrases that we’ve heard countless times. Because if you’re like me, your tendency is to skim over stuff we think we know. When I stop and actually consider these words and phrases, often I’m blown away by something I’ve either missed completely or just forgotten over time.
We’ll begin each session by listening to our theme song:
“How He Loves” by the David Crowder Band
Before we look at the text, I’m praying that we’ll:
- seize what God has for us by force:
And from the days of John the Baptist until the present time, the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize—a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought with most ardent zeal and intense exertion]. Matthew 11:12 (Amp.), and
- take Scripture for what it is, a valuable tool in our arsenal of becoming (an ongoing process where one is made firm, becomes established):
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
Won’t you just look at that; before I’ve even begun, I’m about to take a detour! The truth is, I almost always prefer the scenic route to the direct path. So please bear with me as we look at the key words underlined above.
I believe words like rebuking and correcting have gotten a bit of a bum rap. For many, they’ve taken on a powerfully negative tone. Yet, if we can hang in there and actually discover what God’s intentions toward us are, I believe we’ll not be thwarted by these scare tactics the enemy resorts to:
Rebuke: It means to prove, to test; conviction . . . yes, this means to prove what’s in our heart, but hang on . . .
Correction: To restore to an upright or right state; improvement of life or character—(Think about this: sin and brokenness affects more lives than the one who’s broken. Sometimes our hearts and minds need correction due to the sins of others against us.)
Righteousness: the state of one as she was created to be
Let’s continue on with the study.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
Aha!! I’m guessing I’ve stumped you with a trick question!
The way I read the text, I see four commands. Let me explain:
First of all, 1 John 4:19 says “We love Him, because He first loved us.” That means in order to fulfill the first command referenced in Matthew, we have to first:
- Receive God’s love.
- Then and only then, can we love God.
Under these two directives there are two more:
3A) Love ourselves (Did you catch that the Scripture says to love our neighbors as ourselves?) AND
3B) Love our neighbors
The word love in these verses is the Greek word agapaō (pronounced ä-gä-pä’-ō). It is welcoming and wants to entertain the object of delight; to be fond of, to love dearly. It means to be well pleased–to be contented at or with a thing. This kind of love indicates a direction of the will. It finds joy in the beloved.
This is the degree of love that God has for you. And for me.
Let’s spend some time thinking about our ability to receive this love. Because it’s more than a . . . Got it! Next point . . . kind of command.
We have this dog. Her name is Maddie Kate, but we often refer to her as our little Maddcastrophe! She’s presented us with many a behavioral challenge since we first rescued her, simply because she doesn’t trust our love for her. Because of her mistrustful nature, she is food and toy possessive, dog-aggressive, and jealous of our attention, just to hit the highlights. Her behavior has been alarming enough at times, that we’ve seriously considered putting her down–something we wouldn’t normally ever consider! All because she’s had difficulty receiving the love and affection we genuinely have for her. This challenge has clearly put those around her at risk of being hurt or worse–and has put her own well-being at risk.
Now I’m not accusing you or me of viciously attacking those in our midst, but . . . in those wounded places in our hearts where we’ve not yet been able to receive God’s love–the empty places in the depths of our existence we’ve worked so hard to cover over, those are the places I’m praying we’ll let Truth penetrate. Because even if we don’t need to certify we’re rabies-free, we tend to remain victimized by our woundedness–and unable to fully fulfill the call to love.
On the other hand, my sweet daughter Georgia gives me a beautiful picture of what we’re after here. She avails herself to my love. Her willingness . . . but it’s not just a willingness–she eagerly pursues my love . . . greatly impacts how our relationship has blossomed over the years.
It’s easy to get caught in a habit of attempting to earn God’s love and favor. And right along with that tendency comes the inevitable slump when we feel we’re failing in our attempts at this kind of works-based relationship. So I have a suggestion: let’s take a break from that mentality (I know, this can be much easier said than done!).
Father, show us how to receive more deeply; to avail ourselves–the very depths of our hearts to Your love; for we are nothing without You and Your love.
Here are some examples I thought of from the Old Testament:
- when He fashioned garments for Adam and Eve after their great fall (Genesis 3),
- the way He cared for Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19), and
- His care over the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt (book of Exodus)
And from the New Testament:
- When John the Baptist baptized Jesus–He expressed love to Jesus when He proclaimed Him as His Son, but also what about wild man John? God actually called him to baptize the Christ! (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11)
- His response when Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God. (Matthew 16)
- His tears at hearing about the death of Lazarus. (John 11) This one blows me away. I mean, Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, so it’s not like He was crying at the loss. So why the tears? I think it’s because He was genuinely moved by the grief of Lazarus sisters and friends.
If by chance you’re unable to think of anything here, by all means, ask God to help you. We need a strong awareness of these love markers to reflect back on.
Now, just to be thorough, let’s consider a few instances where God demonstrated His love even when His subjects’ actions didn’t warrant that love:
- the previously mentioned garments for Adam and Eve were fashioned after their disobedience,
- His faithfulness to the Israelites in the wilderness even as they repeatedly complained, withheld their hearts from Him, and threw themselves into the worship of lesser things,
- restoration for Peter after his betrayal Jesus, and
- God’s pursuit of Saul on the Damascus road after he’d helped persecute God’s very own.
There’s a distinction to be mindful of regarding God’s love toward us: God has chosen to be content with us, to be pleased with us—to find joy in us–not because of anything we’ve done or could ever do, but simply because He loves us. Let’s wrap our brains around that for a minute . . . really! Can we even begin to?
Before we begin the next session, take time to actively think about:
- What does God’s agapaō love look like in your life?
- In what ways are you availing yourself to that love? (His being content and pleased in you—finding JOY in you!)
- What about the areas where you’ve been hurt, experienced loss, or feel you’ve failed . . . what does God’s love look like in those places of our lives?