All families have a lifestyle that is characteristic of that family, not only what they do, but how they do it. Some families are more disciplined, organized, with all activities carefully planned. Other families are more relaxed, more spontaneous. Some are academic with the pursuit of education primary and ongoing, while others are more entertainment and recreation oriented. Some are athletic, some into music, still other families attend church and other religious activities, while some families consider travel to be a major component of family life.
God’s family has a lifestyle as well, a way of life, and God is out to bring us, His children, into that way of life. What is it?
We have been discussing 1 Corinthians 13, and my 60-year affair with this famous “love chapter” in the Bible. Initially, shortly after I became a Christian in college, I was taught that this Scripture was how God had commanded me to love others. I learned it was the major characteristic of a Christian lifestyle, and I set out to do so.
Secondly, as a result of Jill’s four-year refusal to marry me, I came face to face with my utter failure to be able to love her in that 1 Corinthians 13 way, and I realized that, in site of my failures to love as He commanded, this passage of Scripture is a perfect description of God’s love for me,
Finally, the coup de grace in my relationship with 1 Corinthians 13 was the experience of watching God begin to supernaturally put this love, the same love He has for me, in my heart for Jill. Some time later I realized that this is also the very love He promises He will put in my heart for all I whom I meet—the primary identifying distinctive of God’s family lifestyle.
This is the posting for today: How can this impossible miracle of experiencing 1 Corinthians 13 love for all people, many of whom are unlovely, unresponsive, and even antagonistic to Christianity, ever happen in my life?
Why is that even important? Why does God want me to love those who are hostile to Christianity, even trying to destroy it, as well as destroy me in the process? Why doesn’t God want me, as the Pharisees falsely claimed the Old Testament taught, to “love your neighbor and hate your enemy?” (Matthew 5:42, 43).
Here’s why: Unconditional love for all in the world is the way of life for God’s family, and He is teaching us to live the family lifestyle as He brings us into His family business, His great eternal purpose, with Him. That family business, as I have described several times in these postings, means watching Jesus establish His rule, His kingdom, from His seat at His Father’s right hand in Heaven, through us, His body, here on the earth. This is why we were, in fact, created, and that only happens by unconditional love!
Jesus, as our pattern man, showed us exactly how He will do that through us—by the way He Himself personally lived every day here on earth as a man Himself—by faith, hope and love. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Jesus lived the family lifestyle perfectly: by faith in the present that His Father was directing His every step toward that great purpose, and hope for the future that the result would be just as God has planned—that “He (Jesus) must reign (from His Father’s right hand where He currently sits) till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24, 25, 28).
Paul says “the greatest of these is love,” because without love, faith and hope do not, indeed cannot, establish His rule, His kingdom. His kingdom only “comes on the earth as it is in Heaven” by 1 Corinthians 13 love, the most powerful force in the universe, which, when present in our lives, is obvious to all we meet.
Many of God’s children are neither aware of any “eternal purpose,” our Heavenly Father has for us, nor any idea that He has created a specific role for us to fill to be involved in it with Him. They have no clue that we were created for the purpose of, right now, on a daily basis, ruling for Him and empowered by Him, over the responsibilities He has given us on the earth, whatever they may be. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion . . . over all the earth . . .’” (Genesis 1:26).
Who ever talks about that? What in the world does “ruling with unconditional love” even mean today, in the 21st century?
The Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) tells us that we are to pray that the kingdom over which Jesus is currently ruling from God’s right hand will be a reality today, here on earth, just as it is a reality today in Heaven. Three things are necessary to happen in our lives in order for us to fulfill our purpose in life and be a part of the answer to that prayer: 1.) a new birth, 2.) a new understanding, 3.) a new, daily, cross experience.
All Christians have heard about being “born again,” but what does that mean?. Jesus spoke at some length about this phenomenon in John 3 when He was talking to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5-8).
From this passage, it is obvious that Jesus is talking about just what we have been discussing in these postings—man’s present participation in Jesus’ kingdom on earth, God’s “eternal purpose.” He says that in order to even “see,” or understand what that means, and then to begin to “enter” or personally participate in that eternal purpose, you must be “born again.”
After stating this fact, He then says something that is initially a mystery to us: we have nothing to do with this phenomenon. Jesus makes it clear that the two worlds of the flesh and the spirit are distinctly different, and although we can see the effects of the spirit world we cannot determine or control them in any way. This means that we don’t decide to be “born again,” or decide to “pursue the kingdom.” God, like the wind, is uncontrollable, and does as He wishes. He alone gives us faith to believe that.
We can only see the results, in our lives and the lives of others, of that new birth—but only with imperfect understanding. I can never determine who is a Christian and who is not, who is “born again” and who as yet is not, because only God knows to whom He has genuinely given faith. Who am I to judge that?
However, what if I find myself not always blaming others for our relational difficulties but repenting to them and to God for not loving them? What if I notice I am somehow strangely at peace in the midst of tragedy, and also I am shockingly finding I have joy in everyday, boring, mundane life? These are the fingerprints of God, the characteristics of the family lifestyle, giving evidence that His new birth has occurred in my life. Along with that birth comes a new understanding, or, as Jesus says, a new ability to “see the kingdom.” That is next week.