The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’ Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart … Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18
Did you lose a friend as a result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election? If you did, you’re not alone. According to a recent poll, one out of every fourteen Americans lost a friend in 2016 because of their support for one or the other of the presidential candidates.
Disagreement over politics may seem like a flimsy reason for ending a friendship, even if that disagreement is particularly pointed. But that is where much of our culture seems to be right now. Disagreement often is interpreted as hatred. And instead of engaging in a calm discussion with those who hold different opinions, too often people immediately resort to insults, derision, and exclusion.
We may look at this, shake our heads, and think, “I can’t believe that people actually treat each other that way!” But then we remember that neighbor who borrowed our hedge trimmer and it just didn’t work quite right when he returned it. “See if I ever let him borrow one of my tools again!” we think. And then there’s that person who sits on the school board with us who just can’t seem to understand that the policy we proposed would be best for the school. “I can’t believe people can be so stubborn,” we lament. And then there’s that coworker who totally botched a project, yet somehow we got blamed for his failure. “Just wait until he sees how miserable I can make things for him!” we console ourselves.
The truth is that it’s not just everyone else who has a problem showing love to their neighbor. We struggle with that too. And it does us no good to try to justify ourselves by saying, “At least I’m not as bad as some other people.” God expects us to be holy – perfect – just as he is holy. And anything less than perfect love for our neighbor simply does not meet God’s standard.
Thankfully, our holy God has not left us without hope. Although we are not holy, God has declared us holy through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus. In Jesus, all our failures to love our neighbor as ourselves have been removed from our record. And in their place we have Jesus’ perfect love of neighbor credited to us. In addition, God works in our hearts the desire and the ability to forgive our neighbor when we are wronged, to let go of our grudges, and to forgo all thoughts of revenge. With God’s own strength, we as God’s people truly can love our neighbor as ourselves.
Prayer: Holy Father, fill me with your strength that I may love my neighbor as you have loved me. Amen.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. –1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If you don’t really love the other person, it doesn’t matter that you went all out for Valentine’s Day last week. You could have said the sweetest thing and you could have been very impressive with the presents that you gave, but it didn’t mean anything without love.
You can appear very spiritual and be genuinely good at understanding and speaking spiritual truths, but without love for people, you are missing the point.
God demonstrates his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He took the punishment for our sins and grants us forgiveness through faith in him. That love inspires us both to love him and to love others.
Without the genuine love of God in our lives, we can try all that we want to impress people with our speech or our intelligence or our faith, but we will be missing the point. God gives us all of his gifts so that we can show his love to one another.
God is love. He is patient and kind; he keeps no record of wrongs. He does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. He always protects and always perseveres. God never fails.
When we fail in our attempts to love one another, God calls us to repentance. He comes to us in his perfect love and forgives all of our sins. Because of his love, we are not resounding gongs or clanging cymbals. Our words of love have power, and we gain everything in Christ.
Prayer: Lord, lead me to love as you have loved me. Amen.
Brothers, stop thinking like children. –1 Corinthians 14:20
My wife and I were walking in Shaw’s Garden near Gray Summit along the Meramec River and witnessed the eagles soaring and resting in the trees. When we got home I started to read about Eagles.
Imagine a large eagle’s nest high on a rocky cliff. Inside are several young eagles. So far their lives have been easy. Their mother brings them food. They are safe from predators. And the lining of their nest is nice and soft with feathers and fur.
But it’s time for them to leave. It’s time for them to grow up. The problem is that, with such a comfortable nest, they don’t want to leave and grow up. They want to remain children in their soft and easy little world.
And so the mother eagle does what she always does. She stirs up the nest. She uses her powerful talons to pull out all the softness, exposing all the sharp branches, thorns and rocks that lie underneath. She makes the nest uncomfortable. In this way she gets her children to stop thinking like children. They grow up and go away from their nest.
My sinful nature loves to think like an immature child. It loves to avoid responsibility. It loves to keep pet sins. It loves to be lazy and impatient and self-absorbed. Most of all it loves to avoid painful truth. No doubt yours does, too.
Thank God for Jesus. Thank God that Jesus lived a life of perfect maturity on my behalf. And thank God that he faced the cross with courage to pay for my every childish moment.
And thank God, also, for those times when he stirs up my nest. For even the discomfort he allows into my life can be his way of getting me to realize that it’s time to mature in some way. It’s time to grow up. And with my Savior beside me, I can.
Prayer: Father, I confess to you all my moments of sinful immaturity. Thank you for sending your Son to wash me clean. Empower me by your Gospel to grow and mature in my walk with you. Amen.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 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. Love never fails. –1 Corinthians 13:1-8
Can you imagine a person’s faith that was so strong that God enabled him to pick up and relocate the Rocky Mountains? What would you think of that kind of faith? I’m guessing that most of us would be impressed. But what would make that tremendous faith nothing? If that person lacked love.
Apply that to yourself. Don’t think of that “mountain-mover” – think of yourself. You and I are such sinners that we often fail to do the right, God-pleasing thing. Then, even when we do the right thing, it does not spring completely out of the right motivation or out of pure love for God and others. Correct actions without love and faith in Christ are worth nothing.
God gives us a list of what love does and what love does not do. Then, God tells us that “Love never fails.” It doesn’t take long to see that our love often fails. But the love of Jesus is unfailing and perfect. Without fail, Jesus was patient – he tirelessly taught and healed. Jesus was perfectly kind as he cared for all – from greatest to least, the young and the old, and everyone in between. Jesus rejoiced in the truth every time he preached, taught and followed his Father’s will. Jesus’ love did not fail when he took nails and death on the cross in our place.
When our love fails, we look to Jesus. Because Jesus’ love never failed, we are forgiven and loved by God. God loves us. We love God. God tells us to love others, too.
How will you express your faith in God and your love for him? Take a look at God’s “Love List” in our reading from 1 Corinthians. Pick a few to work on today. Perhaps your love will shine by being patient when you’re stressed out, or not keeping a record of wrongs when you tell someone you forgive them. Put your love into action.
And, when your love fails, turn to the forgiving and unfailing love of our God.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your love that never fails. You loved me and sent your Son, Jesus. Jesus loved me and won my forgiveness and salvation. As you continue to unfailingly love me every day, empower me to love without fail. Amen.