~ The Greatest Love ~
You may remember an old secular song in which the theme lyric is "If loving you is wrong, then I never want to be right." Overlooking what the composer meant by that, I see a deep spiritual truth in those words. Jesus told us of a time when loving God will be deemed wrong, when God lovers will be killed by people who sincerely believe they are doing right. That time came very quickly, particularly embodied in the chief persecutor, Saul, who oversaw the stoning of our first martyr, Steven. Today, lovers of Christ are persecuted in sixty seven nations. Their love of Christ cannot be silenced. You understand this. How can you love your spouse, your children, even your homeland, and not speak with enthusiasm of that love? How can we love Christ and not shout it in the streets? A consuming love is not able to be kept secret. Religion and faith are not "private matters" between just God and ourselves. If loving Christ is deemed wrong by legal, moral or political imperatives, then I don't want to be right.
Many Christians, in a feeble effort to rationalize unloving responses, say, "Yes, God is a loving God. But God is also a just God." There is a connection between love and justice, but it isn't what the human mind thinks. I heard a radio preacher remark, "Ungodly people love to live in darkness. Well they'll get their wish, everlasting darkness in hell. Many people don't want to live with Christians. They'll get their wish, they will be forever separated from Christians as they live in hell." His tone was that of righteous justice and satisfaction. His statement induced weeping in me, however. He was talking in a cavalier manner about people I love.
I know this preacher personally. I know he is far more learned in Scripture than me. I know his heart is devoted to the service of Christ, as His bond-servant or slave. So I know he is familiar with Moses' incredible offer to God: "So Moses went back to the Lord and said, 'Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin - but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written'" (Exodus 32: 31-32, NIV). What a love! God also made an incredible offer to Moses. He planned to destroy the nation of Israel and start all over, making Moses the new patriarch (Exodus 32:9). Most humans would be honored, after all the Lord has spoken. Moses, however, reminded God of His promise to Abraham, not wishing to take that for himself or for his people to be destroyed. What love!
The chief persecutor, Saul, became the chief witness of Christ to the Gentile world. Yet his heart was with Israel, for "theirs is the adoption as sons, theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever and praised!" (Romans 9:4-5, NIV). Intimately connected to his love for Israel was Paul's love for Christ. Indeed, Christians are profoundly indebted to Israel. But we only get a hint of Paul's love as we read, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel" (Romans 9:2-3, NIV). What love and Christlikeness! Who among us loves our people to the point of willingness to exchange eternal destinies, heaven for hell?
Preacher, please don't convey an "Oh well" attitude toward those who reject or persecute Christ and His followers. Please don't sing victory songs over their condemnation. Instead, weep from deep within your heart and guts for them. St. Paul and Moses, if it were possible, would have accepted eternal hell for the sake of others. And Paul called himself the chief of all sinners.
Preacher, you know the
Scriptures. What is the "justice of God"? Like so many things about the
ways of God, our idea of justice is not God's. We are justified by faith
and grace. Justification is God's justice. "If we confess our sins, he
is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all
unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9, NIV).
So when we pray for God's justice on our enemies, on those who cause us pain and suffering, on those who violate us, do we know for what we are praying? We are praying that those who hurt us will repent and be forgiven, that they will be purified and become our brothers and sisters.
Remove the "but" from "God is loving but just." That "but" only serves our egos, which are to be crucified with Christ. In God's kingdom, faithfulness, love and justice are one intertwined grace. What response did Jesus teach Us? Love and pray for our persecutors. That is the practice of justice.
But when they heard this, Jesus' apostles cried, "Lord, give us faith!" They seem to be saying, "Lord, this is too high of a calling! We need more faith for this!" Recall, however, Moses was a flawed man and Paul the chief of sinners. Moses made mistakes and stumbled. Yet God showed him His glory. Moses, in anger, disobeyed God in the way he produced fresh water. The Father disciplined Moses for that, denying him entrance into the promised land after a half century of leadership to it. How that must have hurt Moses! But God showed him His glory again, in the presence of Elijah and the glorified, transfigured Christ. Paul was shown the unspeakable glories of the third heaven. St. James reminds us that Elijah was a man "just like us." So were Moses and Paul.
But these men loved much. And "love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). Jesus said that "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, NIV). In our human thinking, we have reversed this to mean "If you die for your friends, you have great love." That, however, is not what Jesus said. Many have died for others driven by motives that are ego centered rather than out of sacrificial love. St. Paul asserts, "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames [death], but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:3, NIV). Many who are hailed as heroes in the secular world receive no applause from the heavenly hosts.
When Cornelius welcomed Peter at his home, he "fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. 'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself'" (Acts 10:25-26, NIV). Moses, Paul, Elijah, Peter, just men. But men of sacrificial love in whose presence I am so humbled. Nonetheless, we are not to aspire to be like them. We are called to be like Christ, as they were. And we mere men and women, suffering servants, will behold the glory of God.
"Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than men!'" (Acts 5:29, NIV). Yes, Lord, we can sing, "If loving You is wrong, we don't want to be right."
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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