Freed to Love (Post, Desiring God)

One of the most jarring sentences in the Bible goes like this: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). It jars us because Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13); and he taught that one of the ways to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us and bless those who persecute us is to give freely of our possessions (Luke 6:27–30). But here Paul says you can give everything away and even lay down your life and yet not be acting in love. You can make the final sacrifice and be lost for ever.

A Biblical Critique on All Our Activism 

This means that right wing and left wing Christian political activity must be exposed to a radical biblical critique. On the right we are summoned to work for the rights of unborn humans, a strong defense, nuclear superiority, prayer in public schools, the support of Israel, family values, balanced budgets, etc. On the left we are summoned to work for a more just distribution of the world’s goods, nuclear disarmament, the end of interventionist politics in El Salvador and Nicaragua, ERA, programs to combat poverty and unemployment, etc. The Christian right and the Christian left are summoning us to action—and rightly so! If there is one thing Jesus cannot be accused of, it is indifference to the needs of people.

But there is a radical biblical critique which Christians on the right and Christians on the left must never forget: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Or to put it very bluntly: you can go to hell fighting for poverty programs and you can go to hell fighting for a prayer amendment, because love can never be defined simply as mere deeds; it always involves the condition of the heart of the doer. If we want to bring the message of the Bible to bear on the problems of the world around us, we need to realize that the Bible is much more radical than the agenda of either the right or the left. It says to both, “Though you give your body to be burned in the service of your agenda and have not love, you gain nothing.” Love can never be equated with anyone’s agenda because no agenda is love unless it comes from a certain kind of heart. We might be impressed with a person who gives a million dollars to build a hospital in Bangladesh, but God looks on the heart and queries the hidden motives of the soul. Christianity is not primarily an agenda for political activity; it is primarily a power that radically changes the human heart.

The Command to Love and the Nature of Faith 

Last week we saw in Galatians 5:6 that the heart which is acceptable to God is not one which depends on its works—whether right wing circumcision or left wing uncircumcision—but rather one which trusts so fully in God’s grace that the result is a life of love. Love is an essential part of the process of salvation. It is not optional whether you love one another. No one can say, “I am saved by faith regardless of whether I love people or not.” For the only faith which saves is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Saving faith always gives rise to love and love gives evidence of genuine faith.

Today’s text picks up the theme of love from 5:6 and presses it home with a command in verse 13: “Through love be servants of one another.” Someone may ask, “Why should Paul command us to love if love is an inevitable result of faith (5:6), indeed, a fruit of God’s Spirit (5:22)?” The answer is that even though God is sovereign over his people and it is his Spirit that produces the fruit of love, nevertheless, God’s means of doing his work includes human exhortation. There is no contradiction between saying God brings about love in our hearts and saying that one of the ways he does it is to remind us of love’s importance with commands. But the fact that Paul has waited five chapters before he commands us to do anything, but trust God, warns us not to take this command as a “work of law” to be performed in our own strength to win God’s favor. Paul’s attack on works of the law has not been an attack on commands but on the teaching that we should try to fulfill commands in our own strength to earn God’s blessing. Commands are good and should be seen as a summons to have the obedience which faith produces. The command to love in Galatians 5:13 is a command to have the kind of free and confident heart that by its very nature has to love.

And I have found in my own experience that the Holy Spirit uses scriptural commands and especially the theological arguments for those commands to change my heart. And that is my aim as we look at 5:13–15. I pray that God will apply his Word to your mind and heart in such a way that love comes much more naturally and freely than it has before.

The logic of Galatians 5:13–15 is simple. First, Paul restates the foundation of the Christian life: “You were called to freedom, brethren.” Then, based on that divine call, he gives a twofold command. Negatively: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Positively: “Through love be servants of one another.” Then to support this twofold command he gives a positive and a negative incentive to love. Positively: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And negatively: “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” The main point of the text is, “through love be servants of one another.” If you do this, you fulfill the whole law; if you don’t, you destroy yourselves.

Loving Service and True Freedom 

Let’s focus first on the positive command in verse 13: “Through love be servants of one another.” Listen to what happens when you put this command together with the first part of the verse: “You were called to freedom . . . Through love serve one another.” You were called to freedom from servitude; now in love submit to servitude! Here’s the question we should ask: Why is love which serves the needs of others the only way Christian freedom can express itself? Why are the call to freedom and the call to love synonymous? When Paul says, “Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” he means that if you try, you lose your freedom. As verse 1 says, you “submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The works of the flesh and the fruit of love are not two different optional ways to live in freedom. When you live according to the flesh, you are in slavery. But when you serve each other in love, you are in freedom. Why?

Because love is motivated by the joy of sharing our fullness, but the works of the flesh are motivated by the desire to fill our emptiness. The meaning of “flesh” in the book of Galatians is not the physical part of man, but man’s ego which feels a deep emptiness and uses the means within its own power to fill that emptiness. If it is religious, it may use law; if it is irreligious, it may use booze. But one thing is sure: the flesh is not free. It is enslaved to one futile desire after another in its effort to fill an emptiness which only Christ can fill. So when Paul says in verse 13, “Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” he means, don’t surrender the freedom that you have in the all-satisfying Christ to return to the unsatisfying desires for mere physical pleasures or self-exaltation.

So works of the flesh are motivated by a desire to fill our emptiness. But love is very different—it is motivated by the joy of sharing out fullness. “Love does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). When we love, we are not enslaved to use things or people to fill our emptiness. Love is the overflow of our fullness. Therefore, love is the only behavior that we can do in freedom. When God frees us from guilt and fear and greed and fills us with his all-satisfying presence, the only motive left is the joy of sharing our fullness. When God fills the emptiness of our heart with forgiveness and help and guidance and hope, he frees us from the bondage to accumulate things and manipulate people. People who devote large hunks of their life to surrounding themselves with the comforts of this world testify that God has not filled the void of their heart to overflowing. When God is our portion and we are truly free, then we will serve one another through love. Freedom flows forth in love just as surely as a bubbling spring flows forth in a mountain stream. But the flesh is like a vacuum cleaner: it sucks and sucks and just the moment it starts to feel full, somebody throws the bag in the garbage. The book of Galatians is written to show us how to become a mountain spring that serves the valley with the water of love.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself 

There is no more fulfilling way to live than to draw daily on God’s all-satisfying grace and let it flow through us to meet the needs of others. Verses 14 and 15 give us a positive and a negative incentive to live like this. First, verse 14: Live like this, “for the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” In spite of all the negative things that Paul has said about “works of the law,” it is not a matter of indifference whether Christians fulfill the law in their behavior. The good news is that love, which is an overflow of God’s grace, is what fulfills the law. All God was after in the law was people who are so satisfied by his grace that their lives are a spill-spout of love.

There is a lot of confusion today about the self-love referred to in this verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The most common error is to assume that this is a command to love yourself and that self-love means self-esteem. Both of these assumptions are wrong. Paul and Moses (Leviticus 19:18) and Jesus (Luke 10:27assume that all people love themselves; they don’t command it: “You shall love your neighbor as you (already) love yourself.” And the self-love they assume is not self-esteem but self-interest: all people want to be happy, even if they often don’t know what will really make them happy. We can know this is how Paul understands this verse because of how he applies it in Ephesians 5:2829. “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church.” In other words, self-love means the strong interest you have in your own health and safety and happiness.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to take your natural, already existing love of self and make it the measuring rod of your love for others. There is not a harder command in the Bible than this one. It means: Want to feed the hungry as much as you want to feed yourself when you get hungry. It means: Want to find your neighbor a job as much as you are glad you have a job. Want to help your fellow student get A’s as much as you want to get A’s. Want to help the person stalled on the freeway as much as you are glad you are not stalled on the freeway. Want to give the poor softball player a chance to play as much as you want to play the whole game. Want to share Christ with your neighbor as much as you are glad you know Christ yourself. 

Use all the creativity and energy and perseverance to do good things for others that you use in doing good things for yourself. Care about what happens to others as much as you care about what happens to yourself. Can you imagine what the church would be like if we were all like that: looking at the person to the right and to the left and feeling the same longing for their happiness that we feel for our own. Not only would the law be fulfilled, this place would be iridescent with joy, and the glory of God would be unmistakably present in our midst. And people would be converted! Let’s be like that in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Tragic Alternative to Love 

For if we don’t, verse 15 gives the tragic alternative: “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” A church of people who do not serve each other in love will destroy itself. God has been good to Bethlehem to pour out a spirit of love upon this people for 112 years. And my prayer is that we abound more and more in love for one another and for all men (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

And remember, we can only love if we are free. That is, love is motivated by the joy of sharing our fullness, not by the desire to fill our emptiness. Is it a coincidence that verse 15 describes what wild animals do when they are starving, not when they are filled (empty instead of content)? “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” When you are not filled with God, it is sweet to eat your enemy.

But, brothers and sisters, God has called us to the freedom of fullness which overflows in love, not to the slavery of emptiness which bites and devours and is never satisfied. In Jesus Christ, God offers us forgiveness, daily help and guidance, and hope for the greatest future imaginable. And it is all free, purchased by the death of Jesus, received by faith alone. The secret of love is freedom, and the secret of freedom is utter confidence in the love of God.

Which gives us the clue (returning to our starting point) why a person can give away all his goods and deliver his body to be burned and yet not have love. Such a person may not be acting in freedom. He may not be motivated by the joy of sharing a God-given fullness, but only by a deep longing to fill his emptiness. In that case, he is not acting in love and God is not honored as the all-satisfying source of fulfillment.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.

God Creates Light

Posted on  by Lisa Blair

In this life the light of the Lord emanates through us. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and is light. Externally it derives from the sun and the moon, casting light upon the earth (Genesis 1:3-5). But glory be to God, when we are in our eternal resting place, the light of the Lord will be upon us. There is no need for the sun or moon. The light of the Holy Lamb is ablaze throughout our heavenly city, there is no need for rotation of the earth, where the sun and moon cast day and night, fore, we were never of the earth, only in it for a time. God is light (Revelations 21:9-11; 22-23).

“One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” 
Revelations 21:9-11, 22-23‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Resources: Bible.com; Google Images

God’s Miracles Never Cease To Amaze

Posted on 

I mentioned a young boy who drowned in his pool and whose family, friends, and extended family are praying for a miracle in my previous post, Praying Through The Darkest Times. I am one of the extended family members. His grandmother and I serve as group leaders at a local Bible Study Fellowship group. It is an International Bible study organization, established on the fact that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.

I believe God is using Malachi in a mighty way. I will post some of the family’s daily experiences of how God’s miracles are often procedural, a process over time. Not all miracles are immediate, but they are all miraculous. His ways are not our ways and He uses various experiences to mature our Christian walk, some are very difficult to digest, others easier to understand at face value, they are obvious. Join us in praying for full recovery. Malachi has already defied the odds. The posts are from Facebook, Miracle for Malachi.

This post was written by Brenda Johnson on FaceBook

I don’t know your family, but your faith is absolutely inspiring. I’m sure every second has been trying, but your trust in Gods plan shows what beautiful people you are. I’m not a well versed Christian, but I believe God is doing something bigger than we can see on the surface. He sees your pain and sees your faithfulness in the most difficult time. 2 Corinthians 5:7 For we live by faith, not by sight. Continued prayers that God has something planned for Malachi that the doctors have never seen and didn’t learn about in med school. I’ve heard Pastor Steven Furtick say a setback is a setup for a miracle.

This post was written. By Trisha Bernal, Malachi’s mother.

Malachi’s Story

It is with heavy and grieving hearts that we write this. When God hears our prayers sometimes he answers them in ways that we would never imagine, or wish for, and yet it is somehow intertwined in the overall story of life and even in the beauty of redemption. As I texted a friend this morning, I mentioned that I was grateful that Malachi- my little messenger of God, has thus far been used to bring thousands of people to their knees in prayer. I have been encouraged and blessed by so many people, many of whom, I have never met before.

We were hoping for an immediate miracle of healing by our human definition. Unfortunately the quick fix is not always the victory that God calls us to. Instead, sometimes the victory is in proclaiming God’s grace and goodness in the struggle no matter how long it lasts. Sometimes the victory is in finding joy and unity in standing for one who will never stand on their own again. Sometimes the ultimate victory looks so very different than we had hoped and we have no idea how we’ll get past the pain to see the blessing.

According to doctors, our little Malachi will never be able to walk or talk or even eat on his own again, and this is the best case scenario. But… he is alive and his story is still being told. He may not use his mouth to speak but he is truly a messenger of God. His life is not lifeless. He will lead the way in wheelchair races driven on of course by his big brother. He will have the coolest hats ever. He will still bring joy to his family and those around him. His life and injury will not be in vain. Pray for us. We need it. Pray that we better understand God’s perfect plan in all this. Pray that the church is unified and built up by my son.

As I was crying over his bedside a minute ago, in agony I prayed “God how could You have given Your only Son to die on the cross?” My pain in this moment is intense. He CHOSE that pain so that we could experience blessing in the form of ultimate salvation. May Malachi’s life continue to proclaim this truth as we unite as a family, as a community and as a church. God has called my boy to big things.

Earlier post from Trisha B, mother

Tip for a child friendly way to tell kids: Trisha and Goose told their kids that Malachi’s brain isn’t waking up. Since his brain controls his body, he won’t be able to move or talk, but he’s still very much alive. We’ll all be able to still hug him and cuddle him and care for him – and have wheel chair races! Malachi is alive and still with us. Praise God!

I pray that each one of you processes this with a kingdom mindset knowing that God’s perspective is not our perspective. God is good. There is no plan B with God. He is not surprised by this and he is still in control. He WILL work all things together for our good, and His glory, for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes.

Please remember that we are STILL praying for healing for Malachi and peace, comfort and strength for family and friends. There is a tough road ahead but it is not without hope. Our God is mighty! We WILL see his glory. Although we don’t yet know what that looks like, we approach His throne of mercy and grace, with thanksgiving and make our requests known to Him.

Photos and Content from Facebook, Miracle for Malachi.

Pray Through The Dark Times

Faith overcomes doubt, fear, hurt, desperation, and darkness.

~ Lisa Blair

When we pray we are expressing faith in action. COVID has brought a new level of fear, depression, anger, and bewilderment. Our first response is often, “what do I do now”? The answer is – pray. Prayer is essential in times like these, it is also important to ask others to pray on your behalf. When we ask others, we are asking for intercessory prayer which is much more powerful.

INTERCESSORY PRAYER

Intercessory prayer can bombard the airways in a way an individual has difficulty doing. Why is intercessory prayer better or stronger, because there are many people praying on your behalf for the same thing. Prayers go up to God through the airways. As we know, Satan owns the airways and works diligently to slow down our prayers and once they break through, to stop their delivery to the concerned party. Perhaps you recall in Daniel 10:13, Daniel prayed to God for His people, Gabriel was sent by God but he was hindered for 21 days by one of Satan’s demon princes. Michael the archangel intervened opening the airways so Gabriel could activate God’s blessing. Intercessory prayer is driven by fervent prayer, meaning non-stop prayer. It is during this time that we pray on behalf of another as a group, for a person, a place (neighborhood, city, state, nation or the world), or situation. James 5:14 says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him”. We are all the church and I would say, we become the spiritual elders as we mature in the word. Throughout the Bible intercessory prayer has covered those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2); ministers (Philippians 1:19); Jerusalem (Psalm 122:16); friends (Job 42:8); fellow countrymen (Romans 10:1); the sick (James 5:14); enemies (Jeremiah 29:7); and all men (Timothy 2:1). To quote Gotquestions.org. What is intercessory prayer? “God call all Christians to be intercessors. It is God’s desire that every believer be active in intercessory prayer. What a wonderful and exalted privilege we have in being able to come boldly before the throne of Almighty God with our prayers and requests.”

Williamson County Cowboy Church


EXAMPLES OF ACTIVATING PRAYER

I have two examples of how a cry out for prayer has helped two families in the last three weeks and overcame what could have been the darkest moments of one’s life.

The first is a case of a person whose grandson died unexpectedly, what do I mean by unexpectedly? He was young, in good health and God saw fit to take him home in his mid -30’s. His grandparents were devastated by the news and his grandmother went into a deep depression. As she was falling deeper and deeper into depression, she contacted her prayer group and asked for prayer to strengthen her and return her to the light. She continued to spiral, but during that time the group made intercession through intercessory prayer, praying and sending up cries for her recovery. We prayed for approximately one week and our sister in Christ contacted us sharing that our prayers were answered and she came out of the depression almost as quickly as she entered it. She also shared that our prayers not only provided the strength to continue on, but also to help her overcome her grief.

The second case is that of a member of our group whose grandson, age 3, fell in a swimming pool and was not breathing when he was found. He was rushed to the hospital were the doctors said there was little hope that he would survive, he was unconscious and they placed him on a ventilator. His grandmother asked us to pray for her grandson and we did for days, never ceasing. Today she reported that he is still in a coma, but is taking breaths on his own and the breathing tube has been changed to allow him to take more breaths. Recently he had an MRI to determine the extent of damage to his brain. We are waiting for their report and pray that God will continue to answer our prayers. God is restoring his lungs and we pay he will restore his brain to full capacity. Our God is an awesome God.

FAITH IN ACTION

St.Pauls Lutheran Church

Faith in action means that we do not let the things of this earth destroy us. We may be experiencing situations that seem hopeless, but they are only helpless for non-believers. Those who are believer’s and have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, have access to the Lord.

This does not mean that our prayers are always answered as we see fit, only the Lord knows what we need to mature as Christians. What it does mean is that through faith, not doubt, we are praying for an outcome that resolves the circumstance or situation we are praying to relieve.

WHEN WE PRAY

When we pray, we pray in faith that God will answer our prayers. We expect nothing less. There is no doubt or fear. We are standing fast on God’s word, Ephesians 5:13 NIV “…and after you have done everything, stand“. This means that after you have prayed for what may seem impossible, pray and stand, do not let the evil one pollute your mind with doubt. Reject it on its face and say, “I stand on the word of God and the prayers we sent up will be answered, depart from me Satan in the name of Jesus.” And, continue to stand until you see or hear of the answer you have been praying for. Sometimes, the answer may not be the one expected, but our Lord will never forsake us or leave us, you can stand on that.

Prayers of the Righteous, Youtube

IN CLOSING

We can pray individually, with others, in groups, via text chat, email, on Zoom, Google Meet, submitting your prayers to prayer groups. There are no limits on How people pray. Technology has increased our outreach for prayer. It has created new avenues to invite others to act in intercessory prayer.

A FEW ONLINE PRAYER GROUPS

Prayer Wall. College Park Church. Yourchurch.com

The Upper Room Prayer Ministry. prayer-center.upperroom.org

Life

Life is more than food, and clothes on our bodies. Life is faith and trust in the Lord. Believe and receive His blessings on your life.

~Lisa Blair

Image: YouVersion.Bible.com