by Jerry Gentry
"For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" Gal 5:14-15
Fellow Christians often experience with one another, what might be called a love/hate relationship. Those Christians we love, we often take for granted, and abuse through neglect. The ones who don't agree with us, we bite and devour with our words. And God pity the ones we don't love at all, which we write off into oblivion.
Yet the most fundamental of fundamental Christian doctrines is "that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1Pet. 1:22). The Bible teaches us to have "compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous" (1Pet. 3:8). "For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (1John 3:11).
And exactly how are we taught to love each other? Jesus tells us: "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). So important is this commandment that "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1John 3:14).
We learn from the apostle Paul what manner of love He has for us: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Have you died to self for a sinner friend lately? Or have you pointed your finger? Have you crucified your flesh in service of fellow man?
The Bible says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Have you laid down your life lately, for a friend? If this is the level of love Jesus teaches us, then how many of us really qualify, when we sit in church and cling to our grudge against a fellow brother or sister who has offended us; or when we take a telephone call and join in a gossip session about someone who has fallen into sin; or when we bite back when someone accuses us? Rather, Jesus taught us: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). Quite the opposite of the natural man is the life that expresses perfect love. The life that expresses perfect love is a disciplined life filled with charity.
There is a story in the Bible about two women prostitutes. Both got pregnant and had their babies at about the same time. You know the story. One expressed love; the other harbored hatred. Sleeping together with their babies, one mother lay on her baby and smothered the child during the night. Discovering the dead body of her baby, she switched her dead child for the living child of the other prostitute. Upon awakening the mother of the living child knew the dead child was not her own, and protested. But the other mother insisted the living child belonged to her. The matter was brought before wise King Solomon to judge:
"And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
"Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
"Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof" (1Ki 3:25-27).
"And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment" (v. 28).
If "charity [love] shall cover the multitude of sins" (1Pet. 4:8) in the life of a prostitute, what can it do for us as Christians? True love always changes our lives for the better. True love is always expressed as Jesus expressed love. It is a true statement that "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1John 4:8).
But how can we today love as God first loved us? How can we apply this lesson, when we are under attack, when the chips are really down, when charity is the last thing we feel like giving? It is a matter of choice, for those who have the heart to choose to do right.
Charity, or love, is the greatest of all virtues. Charity outshines faith and hope. Charity brings with it joy and peace. Charity approves of gentleness, provokes goodness, bows in meekness and rejoices in temperance.
Selfish love comes easy for us all, but that is not perfect love, which is filled with special affection and right actions toward others. Charity is the kind of love that walks a mile in another person's shoes, feels their heartache, and lends a understanding, sympathetic ear when needed. Charity fulfills not a single lust, while it speaks of the best in every person.
Some of the greatest expressions of perfect love in the Bible are exemplified through the lives of notorious sinners. For example, the Bible leaves out no detail as it discreetly preserves for us the account of David's sin with Bathsheba, and subsequent murder of Uriah. Such sin today would incite the ire of the most forgiving hypocrites among us. But would we be so thoroughly forgiving, as God forgave David upon his repentance, calling him later, "a man after mine own heart" (Acts 13:22)?
Take also the example of the "woman. . . taken in adultery, in the very act" (John 8:4), whom the "scribes and Pharisees brought unto him" (v. 3).
They told Jesus: "Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
"This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
"So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
"And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
"She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:5-11).
Our era is a special time in history, when the love of God waxes cold throughout the world, during a time of great material prosperity. This condition was prophesied of old, to happen during the reign of a powerful end time king: "And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practice, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people" (Dan. 8:24).
Of such a time, Jesus foretells: "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt. 24:12). Brother and sister, has your love gone cold today? Are you fed up with people who do you wrong? As a member of the end time Laodicean church, are you blinded in your prosperity? Has your love fizzled flat in the face of plenty? What has happened to the sacrificial love of Christians in time past?
"So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:16-17).
A small remnant indeed it is who follow perfect love in truth. "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Phil. 1:9). It requires a childlike heart of yieldedness to receive perfect love, as the apostle John exhorts: "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1John 3:18).
Yes, we must love "in deed and in truth." It is not enough to see a person in need of clothing or food, and "say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?" (James 2:16).
Jesus "answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise" (Luke 3:11).
We teach our children to share. Why should we adults not live by the same principle? Perfect love, genuine charity, is that single quality we need most of all.
"Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
"Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
"Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
"Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away" (1Co 13:4-8).
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (v. 1).
When you are tempted to tell someone off, bite that unruly tongue, and think: What would Jesus say? What would he do? When you are tempted to get someone back, remember what the Bible says: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). Instead, "do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).
"If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head" (Rom. 12:20).
The Bible teaches perfect love, "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mat 5:45).
"For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?" (v. 46).
"And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?" (v. 47).
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (v. 48). The character of God is perfected in us through love, the highest motivation of all. "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1John 4:16).
Do you live in anxiety, with apprehension about tomorrow? Then you need perfect love. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1John 4:18).
After preaching his last fiery sermon, to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, Stephen gave his life on the altar of perfect love. The angry mob "cast him out of the city, and stoned him" (Acts 7:58). Exhausted, with his last dying breath, "he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). Stephen gave his life, even as did the Savior, in perfect love.
There is no greater love than Jesus' dying love on the cross, who cried with his last words: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). "And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost" (Mark 15:37).
Christian, you too can experience perfect love today, if you are willing. Your love will be a giving love, a selfless love, a dying love. Perfect love will put people ahead of projects; relationships ahead of rationale, caring and sharing ahead of career, service ahead of self, and charity ahead of prophecy.
Perfect love. Charity. "A more excellent way" (1Cor. 12:31). Laying down your life for others in selfless brotherly love. By whatever you call it, perfect love is the object of all things Christian. "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
O to have, perfect love.