August 15, 2017

Truth is Made Perfect in Love

Over 50 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commented on the racial divide in the American church: "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o'clock on Sunday morning…,". With the problem of racism in America being highlighted from both the left and the right, it can't hurt to look into this issue.

There've been improvements since King made his famous quote on the lack of diversity in U.S. churches, but where are we now? Maybe the question of racism in general for Christians is a good one to reflect on. I'm more interested in raising a dialogue than in making dogmatic claims.

Questions on racist "white privilege" suggest that whites should ensure equality and a level playing field. However, is the demand for repayment of white privilege realistic? Is this more of a sign that there is a bitterness that is unresolved and needs healing?

To one degree or another, I believe that there is some deep underlying bitterness from slavery and the U.S. Civil War that is in need of healing, just as there's also long-standing nationalistic and cultural bitterness in other countries, such as between Ukrainians and Russians.

As far as whites are concerned, there's some cultural racism passed down from generation to generation that is based on false concepts and this probably will only become increased by vandalism, anarchy and the tearing down of Confederate monuments.

While there are no simple answers or easy solutions, Scripture offers wise counsel on the subject of racism and I believe that Starlette McNeill offers good points on this issue, such as this one:

"How we continue to believe that we are worshipping “in spirit and in truth” while maintaining the racialized desires of our heart in God’s holy temple is a question worthy of discussion."

Jesus as our example went out of his way to talk with and minister to someone from a different race and nationality, someone that the Jews of his time would, in general, have despised as a "half breed" unholy type person. When He ministered to the Samaritan woman, Jesus expressed God's perfect nature in action, overcoming boundaries to express God's love and invite others into it.

In a previous post, I showed why God's perfect, unchanging eternal nature is the basis of valid ethics that stands out in opposition to racism. And this post will look into the nature and examples of God's love. First, Scripture clearly teaches that our actions should ultimately not only be based on God's perfect example as the standard but also on our personally knowing God and being regenerated by God. The outward fruit of our worship services signifies what we believe at the root of our beings as a people. And that those foundational beliefs should probably be looked into. As Starlette McNeill pointed out, if we are to worship in "spirit and truth" it's probably good to look at what that signifies. What does it mean to live by the Spirit? And what biblical truths apply to the question of racism?

"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8 NIV)

Love is a foundational aspect of God's nature, that also includes holiness and perfect justice. If God's nature represents perfect love as the true foundation of ethics, then our acting in harmony with God's love represents the perfecting of ethics and the perfecting of God's will. 1 John 4:8 is not a question of the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law, but is more a question comparing actions in God's love versus the fact of God's nature as love and the embodiment of unconditional love.
And this is an important question:

What is the nature of God's foundational love?

C.S. Lewis pointed out that there are at least four different kinds of love described in the New Testament with different Greek word roots. And so it is a bit tricky to accurately understand what the Bible is saying about love without using a Strong's Concordance. However, if you use Strong's, or read C.S. Lewis, or other sources, you'll see the distinctions.

The original Greek word for agape love was used to describe God's greatest commands and other key verses. Various uses of the agape word for love in other contexts underscore that God's foundational love is primarily an others-centered unconditional, altruistic love. While there is a secondary aspect of affection and enjoyment also implied, focusing on this aspect can change the meaning from an altruistic love to a self-centered love, and this according to the true definition should be avoided.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30 (NIV)

God's love as mainly unconditional agape love

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  (John 15:2 NIV)
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13 NIV)
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (John 15:14 NIV)
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (John 15:15 NIV)

Agape love in the Trinity

The nature of God's love and its expression is further underscored when you look at the interrelationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is an altruistic expression of love between them, a focusing on others, not a self-gratifying love.

"Jesus therefore, said, 'When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me,'" (John 8:28 NIV).

"After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you." (Joh 17:1 NIV)

"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father--the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father--he will testify about me." (John 15:26 NIV)

The ultimate value of relationship

The altruistic love in the Trinity shows us the ultimate supreme value of the relationship. There are many sayings that touch on this. When compared to friends we have that do not know Christ, our friends in Christ, no matter what color, are friends forever. The more we live based on valuing relationships, the more we live based on valuing what God values.

We live in a society that is extremely materialistic, valuing things over people. We also live in a culture that lifts up our personal pleasure over the value of the relationship. Scripture encourages to resist these humanistic tendencies and to live by God's tendencies:

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2 NIV)

When I write that truth is made perfect in love it's based on the fact that God's nature is made perfect in the expression of God's nature in personal relationships. God's commands to obey Him by loving others is based on this truth. There is no lack of the font of love because this comes from God as the endless source of grace and love. While we can enjoy this river of love, our personal self-gratification is not the main end, our glorying God is the main end for us, as God continues to pour out grace and love that can be enjoyed as gifts from our relationship with God.

Body diversity is made perfect in love

"No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." (Acts 2:16-17 NIV)

"Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." (Acts 10:34 NIV)

The book of Acts shows that when God's Holy Spirit works there is likely a diversity of nationalities and races because God is not a respecter of persons. The actual body of believers became more diverse when the Holy Spirit was working in a community. People of different nationalities came together and worshiped together, not based on affirmative action, but by God's sovereign power.

Equality is made perfect in love

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 NIV)

When we understand that our deepest common ground has nothing to do with nationality, race, gender, politics, then there is hope for a rich unity in the foundation of God's perfect nature and in Christ. There is hope for unity in diversity. People often get caught up in identity politics wherein they say things like: "You cannot possibly be a Christian and support such and such a politician." This is because one person sees their set of values as supreme while disregarding the unifying foundation.

Our ultimate foundation is not a set of values, but the value of our relationship with Christ founded upon the perfect nature of God. When someone tries to impose ethics based on a false foundation then there are striking illogical ironies. For example, a Muslim woman that supports Islamic Shariah law, Linda Sarsour, was one of the key organizers of the recent feminist women's march in Washington and she claims that women in Saudi Arabia have more valuable rights than women in the U.S. This is simply absurd. There is no teaching remotely close to Galatians 3:28 in Islam. On the contrary, there are repeated examples of women being treated as inferior and as mere property. The driving force behind the removal of slavery in the western world was a Christian named William Wilberforce.

While some people see it as wrong for Christians to discuss politics at a church gathering or in any form in public, this is simply a personal value that is not based on the ultimate value, as we, in reality, should seek to know the mind of Christ for us in any given situation. If we can agree that our ultimate value is our relationship with God, then we will be able to withstand any possible rifts from political discussions. And such discussions will probably be helpful if the foundation of truth is kept in perspective as the standard of our ethics. One of the main reasons for conflict today is ethical illiteracy. And because true Christianity is the logical and cohesive explanation of ethics, if anyone should be discussing moral questions, we probably should.

Obedience is made perfect in love

"If you love me, keep my commands," (John 14:15 NIV)

When we understand that Christ is lord over our lives and should have free reign, then listening for God's "still small voice" in our conscience and obeying God's directives are not burdensome ideas, rather, these are a pleasure to us because of our love for God. Some Christian teachers today disparage the fact that God can guide us in life and that we should encourage a close and interactive personal relationship with God. But the fact that God has been increasingly communicating the person of Jesus Christ to Muslims that have never met a missionary or seen the 700 Club on TV is strong evidence that God can and does give us specific ideas and guidance in life.

"So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves." (Galatians 5:16 NLT)

When Paul admonished us to be led by the Holy Spirit, this was an affirmation of our interactive relationship with God. The personal nature of our relationship is the very essence of the New Testament covenant. Read Jeremiah 31:33-34. It discusses the regenerated nature wherein the law becomes written on the heart and obedience is based more on knowing God and loving God rather than following a list of rules.

Healing is made perfect in love.

"See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

Much of the racial hate and anger we are seeing today in the U.S. is based upon bitterness going back generations to the Civil War. One of the basic needs is to address any denial of racist bitterness and to heal its roots. Though whites should probably acknowledge that white privilege does exist in society and should try to ensure equality, to try to force whites into apologizing for "white privilege" or to pay back dues for this is not very productive in my opinion. This is a legalistic approach and will only engender more conflict, hatred, and bitterness. I believe that we need to pray for healing in the U.S., even as many Ukrainian and Russian Christians should probably pray for healing from bitterness. This takes courage.

Courage is made perfect in love

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18 NIV)

Not only is the active expression of God's love central to God's will, when we personally know God's love for us it gives us courage and boldness to do what we normally would not do without God.

Overcoming racism takes love, courage and the power of God's Spirit as Jesus showed with the Samaritan woman. We are called to step out of our comfort zones and to be proactive in a positive and helpful way with concern for others, that is ultimately God's love working through us.

Jesus not only raised awareness of important truths, but He was willing to literally go out of his way to help people. He demonstrated agape love.

To a large degree, a local church simply represents the racial makeup of the neighborhood. But then this shows perhaps an issue of geographical segregation. To some extent, the racial makeup of a church is based on cultural familiarity and comfort. The ultimate basis of our reality is not our own comfort, but God's altruistic and overflowing love. To another extent, the racial makeup of a church simply shows who people generally interact with and who is being invited.

It's human nature to become entrenched in our own familiar and comfortable groups. Based on Scripture, Christians should probably be examples of the more positive aspects of racial harmony. This is based on our deepest foundation of God's relational agape love.
The spirit of love that we are to follow as Christians is ultimately based on the rock-solid fact of God's perfect, unchanging and eternal nature as God. To try to separate feelings from fact as a basis of ethics is like claiming that a building is more important than its foundation. While both the building and foundation work as a whole, the building is contingent upon the foundation and while the foundation is perfected by the building it is not contingent upon it.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17 NIV)
Jesus Christ is our ultimate example of truth made perfect in love. He was not just the embodiment of love in His nature, but He also gave His own life unconditionally for sinners that did not deserve it. He removed the wall of separation between God's perfect holy nature and our sinful nature and perfected us in regeneration and in offering a personal relationship.

Posted by Rick Warden

Tags; God's love is mainly agape love and unconditional love

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