Christianity 201

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.

This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.


May 13, 2015

No Greater Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:26 pm
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Loving as Jesus Loves. A Reflection on John 19:12-15

by Clarke Dixon

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 NRSV

When you listen to the Beatles’ song “She Loves You” and then listen to “All You Need is Love,” you will probably be correct in thinking that the word “love” is used to refer to two different things. In our English language the word ‘love’ can have very different shades of meaning and one must sometimes be careful when using it. So when Jesus tells us to “love one another,” what is meant? I can remember a deeply theological discussion in grade five where a friend, with a recent Sunday school lesson in mind, declared that he loved a particular girl in a Christian sort of way. The more he talked though, the more it seemed that not hating her passed muster as a Christian kind of love. So when Jesus tells us to love one another, what precisely does that mean?

Thankfully, Jesus narrows it down for us by saying “love one another as I have loved you.” As we look at the rest of the passage, we will learn what it means to love as Jesus loves.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14 NRSV

First, Jesus loves by laying down his life to serve the needs of others. Jesus is pointing forward to the day that he will literally lay his life down to bring salvation to his people. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 NRSV. His death and resurrection brings us reconciliation with God, life with God, indeed, eternal life with God. If we are to love one another as Jesus loves we are to learn to lay down our lives for others, to serve what is in the best interests of others.

And if laying down one’s life for one’s friends is an example of love, how much more should we be ready to lay down our lives for our most significant and covenantal relationships. We might say:

  • No husband has greater love than this, than to lay down his life for his wife.
  • No wife has greater love than this, than to lay down her life for her husband.
  • No mother has greater love than this, than to lay down her life for her child.
  • No father has greater love than this, than to lay down his life for his child.
  • No child has greater love than this, than to lay down his or her life for his or her mother/father.
  • No pastor has greater love than this, than to lay down his or her life for Christ’s Church.
  • No church family has greater love than this, than to lay down their lives for the community.

But does laying down one’s life in service fully express what it means to love as Jesus loves? After all, we can serve others while harboring an inner hatred, resentment, or apathy toward them. Is that really love? Let’s look again to our passage:

13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer . . . John 15:13-15a

Laying down his life is not the only expression of Jesus’ love, he also loves by extending friendship. Only two people in the Old Testament were known as being “friends with God,” these being Abraham and Moses. While God spoke to many people in the Old Testament these two seemed to enjoy a special intimacy with God. Jesus gives intimacy as evidence of His friendship:

15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. John 15:15 NRSV

How thrilling a thing it is to be extended a friendship and intimacy with God! So exciting we ought to remind ourselves that God is also due a proper reverence and respect. In teaching us to pray, Jesus points towards both the intimacy we can enjoy with God, but also the reverence we are to bring. We are to pray “Our Father,” the word in the Greek New Testament being a more familiar and intimate term like “Dad.” But we are also to pray “Our Father in heaven.” Lest we get too chummy this is a reminder of the transcendence of God. He is in heaven. We are not. He is righteous. We are not. He is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We are not. He is God. We are not. We enjoy an intimacy with God, he extends friendship, yet “the fear of the Lord” is still appropriate.

Having seen what it means to love as Jesus loves, through laying down our lives in serving the needs of others and extending friendship, we can think of the difference it makes to love as Jesus loves.

Think back to New Testament times and imagine that you are a slave owner. And now you are to love your slaves as Jesus has loved you, laying down your life in service to the slave and extending friendship. What a transformation to the master/slave relationship. We have a beautiful example of this in the Bible where Paul encourages Philemon to take back his runaway and thieving slave, Onesimus:

15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother– especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 1:15-16 NRSV

And think also of the marriage relationship. One’s wife would no longer be thought of as property, but as a friend whom the husband will delight in serving. In fact Jesus’ teaching on love can transform marriages today. In pre-marital guidance courses I point out three different kinds of love, which correspond to three different Greek words. A friendship kind of love, philein, a romantic kind of love, eros, and a committed kind of love, agape. I used to say that marriage can survive on agape love, a commitment to the marriage vows, but will thrive on all three. Now I say that a spouse who has agape love for his or her spouse will actively pursue all three. When I love my wife as Jesus loves, I want her to know that she is my best friend. I also want my wife to know that, though I am not very romantic, all the romance I can muster up is for her and her alone. When a man loves a woman the way that Jesus loves, fidelity to marriage vows is not enough. Serving is important. Nurturing a deep friendship is important. You can forgive me for keeping to a male perspective here, but I must ask: How many marriages across our nation would be transformed if all men became avid followers of Jesus? And how many relationships would be transformed if all people learned to love as Jesus loves, laying down their lives in service, and extending genuine friendship?

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 NRSV

April 25, 2012

The Man I Don’t Want To Be

Many times at Thinking Out Loud, I pick up on news stories that are making the rounds and try to offer some fresh exposure or a fresh take on what is happening. I enjoy playing journalist, and I think it is significant that here at WordPress, when you’ve finished writing something, you click a button that says “publish.” It certainly gives me a sense of self-importance.

But I really haven’t come that far from when, 30 years ago, I was writing for CCM, a Christian music magazine based at the time south of Los Angeles.  My final column gave my reason for quitting, “While it’s one thing to write the news, it’s a far better thing to make the news.”

Today, I would have qualified that sentence a little better!

The Christian internet is full of people with ideas to share, but I’m reminded of this verse in James:

NLT James 1:22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

The context is sin and obedience and the transformative power of God’s Word, but the application is still valid: We’re to be evaluated not on the basis of intention, doctrinal conviction or knowledge, but on what we actually do.

I just bought my wife an old Dilbert book titled, This is the Part Where You Pretend to Add Value.  Sometimes in my blogs I tell readers I want comments where they are truly adding value to the discussion, not just saying, “Thanks, I really enjoyed that.” (Though some days I really need that encouragement, too.)

But ultimately, we don’t add value to God’s kingdom by just blogging, or just preaching, or just getting doctoral degrees in theology or divinity. We contribute more with our hands and our feet than with our mouths or our computer keyboards.

Here in North America, we face an economic crisis because nobody makes anything anymore. We ship out our raw resources, but our consumer and industrial products tend to come from somewhere else, often involving other countries shipping those same resources back to us. Our gross domestic product consists of trading and exporting knowledge and technological expertise, when the greatest needs in the world continue to be food, clothing and shelter.  (And medicine, transportation and security.)

I have to ask myself,

  • What am I adding to God’s Kingdom?  Am I producing fruit?

Note: They were a decidedly non-industrial community when the Bible was written, so fruit may not the metaphor of choice today, but the problem is I can’t think of a better one.

Another thing that occurs to me reading the Christian blogosphere for the past five or six years is that there isn’t a lot of the love of God evident. There are breakthrough days to be sure, like the day Jon Acuff’s blog, Stuff Christian Like raised $60,000 in 24-hours to build two kindergarten classrooms inVietnam. Why is what Jon did so rare?

Also, there are times an interaction in the comments section really touches your heart.  But mostly there just a lot of opinion flying back and forth, some of it quite heated.  If our key pastors and leaders were to be evaluated on the basis of their blogs by people outside the faith, what type of character could they infer from our discussions?

MSG I Cor 13:1If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

I’m not saying that Christian writers and bloggers aren’t loving people. I just don’t see a lot of context online to demonstrate the love of God and the outworking of grace. Our web-surfing should take us to places where what we read brings tears as we read it. The stories should stir us. The information should mobilize us.

I have to ask myself:

  • Do people see in my writing a reflection of the God’s grace and love?

Finally, all this writing online has produced some superstars, though some are just known for writing.  We all like to read our stats, and there’s even a Top 200 list that’s crammed full of more stats than you knew were being tabulated.  There’s a human cry to be recognized, to be known, to be honored; and though we try to deny it, we all want just a tiny bit more attention than we’re currently getting.

CEB: Phil. 2:3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

I’ve quoted this before: “There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.” 

I have to ask myself:

  • When someone says they want my help with some ministry project, do I envision myself serving at the front of the room or at the back of the room?

Summary conclusions:

  • Less talk, more genuine actions
  • Fewer opinions, more love
  • Reduced self-promotion, more humility


Read more on this topic at Chasing After Words

NLT = New Living, MSG = The Message, CEB = Common English Bible