Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-8‬

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To Love is a Privilege

Sometimes, when I read a familiar verse or passage in the Bible, I tend to assume that I do know what that verse says, even when in reality, I haven’t understood what it means. Every so often, I skim past a popular verse, and I feel lead to think about what I just read. When I do, the message that was a haze becomes all too clear. Does that happen to you too..? I wonder how many times I’ve read Matthew 22:37-39, until I could truly grasp the meaning behind the verse.

The words of Christ Jesus goes like this,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-39

This verse to me, used to represent the liberalism of the Bible, as my focus was always on the latter part of the verse: ‘the Law and the Prophets, are contained in these’. All I could think when I read this verse, was of how Jesus replaced the old commandments and made things easy for me. “No longer do I need to remember multitudes of restrictions. No more, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.’ What a relief, right..?” But.. what about that little thing called ‘love’..?

I mean, it’s not like I could not read what was plainly before me. I knew that the command was about love, but.. I hadn’t thought of what that actually meant. Love is something that comes from within, right..? An emotion that drives you to deeds that are most beautiful..? The command to love, couldn’t actually be about THAT love, could it..? I mean, how is that even possible..? Could I change how my heart feels toward another..?

All along, the vague understanding I had of this verse, focussed on those most beautiful of deeds, but never too much on the emotion behind them. When you can’t change how you feel, perhaps those deeds might just be enough..? ‘Loving’ actions, you know..? In the end, it is the actions that matter, right..? Like when you absolutely hate a person, yet hold all that hatred within and still manage to be good to them..? Like when you don’t really feel a thing about someone who is poor or in need, yet do charitable deeds because that is what you are commanded to do..? That I can do, and should be enough, I guess. How could it be otherwise..? How can I love, when all I feel toward someone, is hatred..? Or how can I feel compassionate toward someone.. when I don’t..?

But.. could it be otherwise..? Does the Bible have anything more to say about this..? Going by Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, it does. And it couldn’t be any clearer….

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:1-3

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing..? If I do all the good in the world that I could do, yet my actions aren’t motivated by love, I gain nothing..? Absolutely. I will gain nothing from living such a life, if there is no love in me. But.. I do know the man that I am, and that at most times, there is no love in me. Am I destined to live a life in Christ, with no gain..?

God hasn’t called us into His fold to live life in such hopelessness. In Him, there is always hope. All I needed was to further my understanding of this verse, and God in His grace, was leading me there….

I knew that through the cross, every trespass I had made against the commands of the Old Testament were forgiven, as Jesus had fulfilled every single one of them for me, even unto death. What I failed to see though, was that these two commands were actually contained within the Law of Moses, in the Old Testament. In fact, this verse was Jesus’ response to a Jew who questioned Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? Most of you might know this already, but if you are unaware as I were, do read Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

The life that Christ Jesus lived, fulfilled not just the outward working of the law, but also the inward requirement, even amidst the excruciating torture He endured. He loved the soldiers when they beat Him and humiliated Him. He loved them when they spat on Him and tore His beard. He loved them when they pierced His head with a crown of thorns and crucified Him. And when He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” He wasn’t just expressing His goodness, but He was fulfilling a commandment – a commandment to love – that you and I could never ever fulfil by ourselves.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

‭‭Romans‬ ‭3:21-22‬

And what does He do after fulfilling such an arduous commandment..? The gain – the righteousness that comes from living such a pure and perfect life – He freely gives, to all who believe.

Doesn’t that Robe of Righteousness with which He has covered us, seem all the more brighter when you think about this..? The Lord sees me – a man who cannot even love perfectly those who love me – as a man who loves the whole of mankind; even those from whom he endures unjustified hatred. The words of the Apostle Paul echoes in my head: ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Christ went through all that He did, fulfilling the most demanding of commandments, to win us the Robe of Righteousness. But why..? So that we could live with Him in His Kingdom for eternity..? Absolutely. But also, that He could live with us in our hearts, even today. Through His sacrifice, our Lord tore apart the veil of separation that stood between God and man. Through Christ, God has sanctified for His dwelling, His most favoured temple: You and me….

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

All that I longed for, is now mine to possess, through the power of the Spirit of God, who now dwells in me. For all the emphasis the Bible lays on love, is it any wonder that when the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned, ahead of all else, there is love..?

Lord I thank You, for You have loved me, even for the loveless man that I am. I am grateful that through the righteousness that You have gained for me and through the power of Your Holy Spirit, I am now equipped to love with a love that is pure and true. By Your grace, help me exert this privilege in my life. Help me to bear fruit in You. I ask this in the most precious name, of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

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Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians‬ ‭4:8

God.. through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:18-20‬

Pleasant Again

She fled home with her family to escape a severe famine in the land. She became widowed as she lived among a strange people. She watched her sons die, leaving behind their widows, without a child to call their own. She was named Pleasantness – in her Hebrew tongue, the name was Naomi. After all that she had seen, who could have had the heart to contended with her when she cried, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [Bitterness], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me”..?

Look at life through Naomi’s eyes for a minute. What do you see..? Do you see any sign of hope..? Till where the eye could see, even till the horizon.. I could see nothing that could possibly have given Naomi an incentive to take another step forward. There could have been times in that phase of her life when living seemed a pointless exercise. But even when life seemed vain, Naomi was in truth fulfilling an extraordinary purpose….

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:28‬

Naomi though was oblivious to that extraordinary purpose. Could she have ever known that her widowed daughter-in-law – Ruth the Moabite – whom she was leading toward Judah, was a chosen vessel in the eyes of the Lord..? The woman whom God found worthy of honour above every woman in Judah in her time..? Through whom, over a millennium later, at the time appointed, the Messiah whom the people of Israel awaited, would be born..?

Or could Naomi have known that the restoration and the future that she so dearly did seek was never far from her..? When Naomi returned to Bethlehem from her tragic sojourn in Moab, she lamented, ‘I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty’. She must have considered Ruth’s presence in her life insignificant [though Naomi’s love for her could never be questioned] in light of all that she had lost. But we do know – through the Book of Ruth – how the script turned out, don’t we..? God didn’t bring Ruth to Bethlehem to remain a destitute. He exalted her in stature. And Ruth – who was once considered insignificant by Naomi – cared for her mother-in-law with such a love, that the Bible notes that she was ‘more to her than seven sons’.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Though all these events were soon to take place, from where Naomi stood, the future was masked by the veil of time. Yet.. in the face of utter devastation and amidst the hopelessness, what did Naomi do..? In the simplest of terms, she did two things: kept living and kept loving….

Kept living..? Is that even worth mentioning..? Perhaps not for some of us. But for some, that may be a be a real challenge that we wake up with each day. The adversities may pull us down from time to time, but the worst is the ever present burden of a vacuum in our hearts where there should have been hope. To those of you I would say, JUST KEEP LIVING. The Lord who turned the bitter waters in the life of Naomi, pleasant again, and brought her out of the pit of hopelessness, can do the same with you.

And Naomi did keep the love burning bright, even in the darkest of times. There lies a challenge that is before each of us who are walking the hard road. How often do we allow the bitterness of our situations seep into our being, that we allow it to tarnish our relationships with the people around us. But Naomi could still empathize. She remained full of love and compassion. In her widowed daughter-in-laws, she saw two women who could still have a future, living far from her than with her, and she pleaded with them to leave. Imagine this.. Naomi was willing to face life all alone as an aged woman, if only her daughter in-laws could have a better future….

Our lives can at times seem to be taking us on an endless downward spiral.. sinking from one level of bitterness to the next. The search for a reason to live could seem as futile as can be, but from the life of Naomi, we can see that there is a world beyond the horizon. Our hope can come from places that we yet cannot see….

Until then, we need to ask ourselves, even as life seems like an aimless walk in a maze.. what beautiful plans are we unknowingly living out..? Who/what are the Ruth’s that God our Father has placed in our lives that we are oblivious to..? I pray to Him, that through quiet whispers He will remind you at your time of need: ‘Keep living. Keep loving.’ Trust Him – the God who makes bitter waters, pleasant again….

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

Do you see the Church as an abode of the righteous.. or as the refuge of sinners..?

Seeking A Pure Heart

Are you facing a battle with sin..? One where you constantly face failure after failure as you wish to overcome the sin..? Are the failures hurting you.. deep down, to the very bottom of your soul..? Convicted in that soul.. you may feel a heaviness that you’d be quick to acknowledge as a nudge from your conscience. The desire may exist, to leave behind this pattern of ‘sin and repent’. Yet, you may find yourselves unable. Some of us may even feel like we have become numb to sin.. that we can’t even believe that own heart is capable of repentance.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

But trust me when I tell you, no matter how far you feel you’ve gone.. you are still capable. No matter what you’ve done or for how long you’ve done what you’ve done, your heart is not destined to stay hardened forever.. it can still return to days when it was tender.. when repentance came naturally. Despite all your failures, you can still taste victory over sin. How would I know all this, when I don’t even know you, you may ask..? Oh, I do know. I may not know you, but I do know because this battle is not about you, but the One who died for you.. who arose from the dead and is with you, even today. I do know, because I know Him.. He who is faithful, even when we are not….

Why strive against what is too powerful for you and prolong this path of pain..? How can man defeat his own nature..? Jesus didn’t die on the cross, facing all the pain in the world, to see you wrestle in futility, the burden of sin.. the consequence of our fallen nature. As He died shedding every ounce of blood that flowed through His veins, sin lost the battle over your soul, forever. No longer does your sin have the voice to utter words of condemnation against you, if you will believe. Live life in that freedom. That is the Good News for which God strived in the form of man, so that man need not strive. That is the Good News that I as a Christian am commanded to share. Believe. Live free….

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Now you may wonder.. what about sin from this point on..? How does knowledge of the redemptive power of the cross, work in our life..? If sin no longer condemns us, do we then have freedom to indulge freely in sin..? If not, what really is the point of it all..?

Firstly, I’ll state this – the claim I made, that ‘sin no longer condemns’, I whole heartedly believe, is true with no variation. So then, should we keep on sinning, now that through Jesus we are no longer weighed down when we do..? Logically, that can be a mind set that flows from the knowledge of the freedom we have in Christ. While the other mind set can be one of gratitude to the One who gave you that freedom, to live a life that pleases Him. Before I go on though, I will pose this question: If you suffered so much at the hands of sin, why would you want to return into it’s hands..? [I wish I had asked myself that question early on in my post-salvation life.]

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-9‬

So.. how does freedom in Christ Jesus work..? Do we go on to live without a trace of sin..? Or do we just go on sinning with no fear of the consequence..? I’ll share with you the kind of mindset I entered as I embraced the Good News….

I received salvation as I read through Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. That was a time when I read the Bible only because I believed it to be a healthy habit. Not to hear the voice of God.. who’s love for me I hadn’t yet tasted. I struggled alone with my secret sin.. one I just couldn’t share with another soul. I knew that God is forgiving in nature. I knew when I did sin, His forgiveness was a prayer away, if I repented. And I did repent. I never liked the man that I was for my dark indulgence. But, even as I saw God as forgiving, I would still fear.. what if I die before I have a chance to repent..? I knew that God could see the umpteen times I kept going back to sin after repentance. What if God decides to punish me by taking my life right in the moment when I’m yet to repent of a terrible sin..? What if I’m destined to the fire of hell..? And it was to this anxious soul that the Book of Romans spoke comfort to.. that no matter when I die, or what I do from this time till then, my salvation is secure.. that my salvation is not dependant on me living a good life nor on my pious prayers, but is dependant of my unchanging Lord who offered that hard earned prize of eternity with Him, for free.

There has never been such a moment since in my life, when I felt such happiness and joy bubble from within. I smiled. I laughed. I cried, as tears over flowed. I could not have contained such emotion even if I had been in public with the eyes of the whole world on me. What if they thought I was a mad man..? I couldn’t care less. God loves humanity so much. God loves me so much. What more do I ever need..?

You’d think I’d have been quick to choose the way of God. You’d have thought I’d have no taste for sin from then. But that wasn’t the way things turned out. I flirted with sin once again. The flirting turned into a deep affair, that in my mind, I legitimized though my knowledge of God’s grace. Now when I look back, I know that what I did then was abuse the freedom that I received. I abused God’s grace….

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17

Can such knowledge lead to anything else..? Wouldn’t man who is already broken, be lead to more sin with such a freedom granted to him..? Is any other way even possible..? That’s where the Good News finds it’s completion. You see, the Truth that sets us free is not just a statement or a verse, but the Truth is Christ Jesus. The Truth isn’t just life giving, but the Truth is living. Along with the freedom that comes with salvation comes the promise of God, that He Who Lives will live with you, forever. The Holy God will indwell sinful man; who He has atoned for with His blood. The Helper – the Holy Spirit – will actively work to transform our hearts to be able to handle that freedom that comes with His grace. And when all your thoughts fail you as you wonder how man can handle such freedom, He shows us that what is impossible with man is possible with God.

God’s love for us didn’t end at the cross. He still extends His love into our lives by transforming our hearts and minds each day as He draws us closer and closer to Him. And that is a love that I have tasted.. a love that I can testify to.. a love that patiently guided me.. me who abused the very grace that saved me, to teach me how to rejoice in the liberating Truth that I found in Him.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

1 John 2:1

Today, I am still far from being a perfect man. At times, I still sin the same sins, which in extension are against the Law of Love. But no longer do I justify my sinful thoughts or actions using the grace of God.. no longer do I embrace sin. When I am tempted, I lean on Him for strength to overcome. If through a moment of weakness I fall, I am reminded that in Christ Jesus my Lord, my sins no longer have the power to condemn me. I may live in brokenness still.. as long as I live in this body of flesh, but in the eyes of my Lord I know that even in my brokenness I am precious. I live life in the unshakeable hope that one day, all that is broken in me will be made whole. Now, I truly live free….

Poverty and Prosperity

The Book of Revelation begins with the message of Jesus Christ our Lord, to the seven churches of Asia Minor [modern day Turkey]. The messages – which can be applied to churches and individuals, even in our times – reflect the spiritual state of each church, which are quite distinct from each other. One church in particular though, sets itself apart from the rest.. and it isn’t for the best of reasons – the Church of Laodicea.

The Laodicean church is better remembered as the lukewarm church; the one that is, as Jesus says, neither cold nor hot – in a spiritual sense. And among the seven, this is the only church that does not receive even a single line of commendation from our Lord; our Lord who is quick to applaud the good He found in the other six churches. So.. what kept the church in Laodicea in such a state of spiritual bankruptcy..?

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:17

Historical sources agree with the Bible on the fact that Laodicea was noted for its abundance of wealth. And it was this state of prosperity that acted as a stumbling block to the church at Laodicea. Don’t get me wrong.. I do not intend to make wealth appear an evil in itself nor do I wish to say that wealthy people are spiritually bankrupt. But to point out from our Lord’s message to the churches that a healthy financial state can lead to a false sense of sufficiency in riches, from which it is vital that we guard ourselves.

When I read the words that reflect the state of the Laodicean believers, “I need nothing”, I am reminded of words spoken by a famous man in the Bible – the psalmist David. In Psalm 23:1 he says, “I shall not want”. The meaning of the words are similar, but the trust of David wasn’t upon the riches he possessed [which must have been much, considering he was the king of Israel], but in the Lord who is his Shepherd. Let us pause a little to consider our lives.. where have we placed our trust..?

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:19‬

While the Lord finds nothing worthy of commendation in the Laodicean believers, He doesn’t leave them feeling despised by Him. As a loving Father, He directs them on a more desirable path. He also makes it a point to affirm His love for them, lest the enemy make them believe otherwise. Can you imagine this..? Even to those of us in the most wretched of spiritual states, our Holy God desires to say, “I love you”. While we are convicted in our hearts over the ways in which we have gone astray, what a comfort it is to know, that despite our lack of good works we are still loved by Him, who has done far more for us than we ever could deserve….

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