In the last teaching we considered God's love for man. Now the smoke screen, laid down by God's adversary, to hide God's love has been blown away so that we can clearly see God's love for all of mankind. Now the question becomes, how should man respond? How can man show his love and thankfulness to a heavenly Father, that as a Father has declared the way to a life whereby He will provide what you need, Jehovah Jireh; a life where He gives health, Jehovah-Rapha; a life that He offers to protect, Jehovah-Nissi; a life whereby He brings peace to the heart, Jehovah-Shalom; a life that is lived from the inside out in righteousness, Jehovah-Tsidkenu; a life where God is always present with you, Jehovah-Shammah.
In this teaching we will focus on how man can show his love for such a God and Father.
We could begin by reviewing some of the many accounts in the Bible of the different men and women who have demonstrated a love for God. But simply copying actions, of those who have demonstrated love for God, isn't really going to get us an answer about how we, as individuals, should demonstrate our love for God. My neighbor demonstrated his love for his wife last night by cooking an elegant dinner for two. Copying my neighbor's expression of love doesn't work real well if my ability only extends to cooking frozen pizza!
David wrote Psalms, or songs, in demonstration of his love for God. Should everyone then write songs of our love and thankfulness for God? Noah built an ark and received a whole lot of animals. Should each of us open a zoo, on a boat we have built? Samson didn't cut his hair to demonstrate his love for God. Does this mean bald guys are in trouble? We need something that isn't simply mimicking the actions of another person. Love is personal and individual. The herd mentality doesn't work when it comes to demonstrating love.
That is not to say many people performing the same act, marriage for example, have failed to demonstrate their individual and personal feelings of love. God is the One who invented marriage and He is the One who declared the details and the purpose of such a union. How man shows or demonstrates his love for God is in obedience to what God has declared. Some of what God has declared has application across the broad spectrum of mankind, like marriage. But much of what God declares to the individual is applicable only to that individual, like the daily details God will show a man and a woman in displaying their love to one another after they have entered the union of marriage.
Another avenue to follow in order to understand how man shows his love for God would be to study the Greek word agapee, learning its definition and begin to incorporate those things we see into our own lives. One of the first things we would learn about agapee love is that it is long-suffering. Long-suffering is when you patiently endure the mistakes and failings of others. Does that mean I would demonstrate my love for God by overlooking His mistakes and failings? We have other things to discuss if this makes any sense to you.
A group of unnamed authors gives the following advice for loving God, "Showing love to God is a good thing because without God, we wouldn't have anything. Earning God's love could make you a stronger person and even a better person, that's why you should try and follow these steps." The steps mentioned begin with praying to God but then one must ask, which prayers? According to another group there are two hundred and twenty-two prayers in the Bible. If true, that presents us with a great variety from which to choose. But then there is the issue of the mechanics of prayer. How they prayed and when they prayed. Knowing Christianity, we could debate the how and the when for the next couple of centuries and still not arrive at one answer that pleases or satisfies all.
Then there is the idea of repeating another person's prayer. What gives better expression to your love, a card from Hallmark or the thoughts and feelings of your heart? You may not be a poet or one who can express the thoughts of your heart with flowing words of prose that slide from the lips as though they are a ballerina performing Swan Lake. But a love relationship is a connection of two hearts. Two hearts that are knit together in love communicate in words not measured by metre or eloquence.
Like marriage, prayer is one of those things that has an application across the broad spectrum of mankind. Also like marriage it's application, while staying within the confines of God's Word, is unique to that personal relationship between the individual and God. Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray. Some have memorized his teaching and repeat it as their own prayer. Do you think my wife will see my love for her if I read her the same Hallmark card every day of our marriage?
After praying to God the next step recommended by this group is to "do good things". This sounds nice but overall is so nebulous it really tells us nothing about how to demonstrate our love for God. Helping an old lady across the street is a good thing, ask any Boy Scout! But how does that show my love for God? The little old lady gets across the street, I get a pat on the back for being nice or polite, and then we go our separate ways. Where is God in the equation?
The Dalai Lama has said the Buddhist manner of loving God is, "to have a sense of community and caring for the well-being of others is the best offering we can make to God." The little old lady thing seems to fall into the category of caring for the well-being of others but the sense of community is as nebulous as the "do good things" statement. Does he mean we should all become community organizers?
Sometimes I'm really slow of wit. I need things to be a bit more concrete and solid before I can apply them in my life. Having a sense of community, doing good deeds, praying, care for the well-being of others all appear to say something but actually they tell me nothing. They are just so many words thrown into the air that are blown about with the smallest of breezes to an unknown destination.
This is why I have said putting together a list of actions really gets us nowhere. Copying the actions of another gets us nowhere. It's not that actions themselves are wrong, love will express itself by actions. But actions born from love should not be generic, they should be uniquely personal, as unique as our heart and as unique as our relationship.
Valentine's Day is the second largest holiday celebrated in the United States. Only Christmas surpasses Valentine's Day in terms of scope and expense. What can I say, we are really into celebrating pagan holidays!
Consider Valentine's Day.
Is there one action that demonstrates your love for another? Do all receive flowers, jewelry, or chocolates? Does everyone go to a restaurant for a fine meal? Are cards mandatory? Does everyone share a bottle of wine? Is our love for one another so mechanical that these actions sum up the reality of what is taking place within our hearts?
Yes, love is expressed in actions but the actions are unique and special to that particular relationship. So too is each man's relationship with God unique and special. If expressed in prayer, then the prayer is not copied from the heart of another but flows with the intimacy, the tenderness, and the fullness of that individual relationship.
Consider Jesus when he was praying to his Father just prior to his arrest, torture, and death.
And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
In each of these verses Jesus is praying to his Heavenly Father. The cup he speaks of is something his Father has asked him to do. What cup has your Heavenly Father asked you to bear? God asked Adam to not eat from a specific tree. God asked Mary to bear a son. God asked Joseph to stand with his wife who was already pregnant. God asked Paul to teach a certain gospel. God asked Jesus to sacrifice his life. What has God asked you to do?
Yes, the action of prayer demonstrated the love relationship between Jesus and his Father. You also see this love relationship by the use of the term Abba. Abba is a term of "tender endearment by a beloved child…daddy, papa." But the most important demonstration of love by Jesus was in obeying what God asked him to do.
For as by one man's [read Adam] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [read Jesus] shall many be made righteous.
And being found in fashion as a man, he [Jesus] humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus Christ always did the will of his Father, he always obeyed God.
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.
I and my Father are one .
How man demonstrates his love for God is summed up in one word, obedience.
First, it is obedience to what God has declared in His Word. That means you must know what God has said to YOU in His Word. Has God asked you to avoid eating the fruit from a certain tree? Has God asked you to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple as He asked Ezra and Nehemiah? When God cut His old covenant with Israel did He ask you to follow that covenant? Are you a member of the twelve tribes?
If my children are sitting in the living room watching television and I walk into the room and ask one of them to take out the trash, who should respond? If my wife comes up to me when I am in a room full of people, gives me a kiss and says she loves me, is she declaring her love for all of the people in the room? Hosea was not told the same thing as Joseph when his wife was found pregnant by another.
Until we understand the different administrations in the Bible we will never be clear and certain as to what God has said to people of a particular time.
Second, as in any relationship, there will be things God asks of me that He does not ask of another. God asked Peter to carry the gospel of the kingdom, while He asked Paul to carry the gospel of grace. Paul asked Philemon to prepare a place for him for when he was to visit. Did that mean Timothy should get a room ready? Paul asked Timothy to bring him the scrolls and the parchments. Who then was to bring Paul the scrolls and parchments? Just as there are specific requests in every relationship between people, there will be, and are, specific requests God will ask of everyone who has a personal relationship with Him.
It is our obedience to God in those things He has declared for all people in a specific administration, as well as those things He has asked of us individually, that demonstrate our love for God. There is no list of actions that can cover such a lifestyle of love.
You can talk about curse words and words political correctness forbids us to say in "decent" circles but there is no more vile a word then the word obey. Ubbedire, obeir, oboedire, befolgen, obedecer, whether it's in Italian, French, Latin, German, or Spanish the word obey is the word that brings the most pain to the ears of all men.
There is a story I recently heard a pastor tell when teaching on obedience. It was about a young mother who couldn't get her young son to sit still one Sunday when they came to church. He repeatedly stood and jumped up and down on his seat disturbing the Sunday service. His mother tried in vain to settle him down and get him to sit still but he just wasn't listening. Finally, with a stern look and a emphatic tone the mother told the boy to sit still or else! Hesitantly the boy sat down in his seat. A few minutes later the mother noticed her son had a strange look on his face and she enquired as to the reason for his sly smile. Softly, but firmly the child replied, "I'm sitting on the outside, but I'm standing on the inside."
In a nut shell that is our human nature. We do not like the word obedience. But we will bow to the stronger out of fear of retaliation. We do not like to give the impression we are obeying anyone. So we make bold but empty proclamations of our imminent rebellion. We say we do not like to be told what to do, while lining up like sheep to receive our instructions. We claim some form of independence and individuality under the guise of disobedience. Yet if the truth be told, we simply don't want to do what we have been asked or instructed to do. Obedience, we have been taught by the world, makes us inferior and controlled.
Consider the popular phrase, "Rules were made to be broken".
I remember back in the 1960's mainstream Christianity was very concerned because the younger generation was not going to church like previous generations. Religious leaders debated openly, seeking a solution to what they considered to be a great problem. A Roman Catholic priest put forth an idea saying, "If we put tanks in front of the churches and forbid the youth to go to church, next Sunday they'll fill the pews." I know it sounds like a strange solution, but it was also very true.
The natural, or carnal nature, of man is a rebellious nature. Although it is a slave to the adversary, it likes to consider itself a free spirit and an independent agent capable of fending and thinking for itself. The Pharisees declared in John 8 that they were no man's slave, although at the time they were ruled by the Roman Empire and in fact had not had self rule for the better part of five hundred years.
It is true that for a brief time Israel thought it was free during the time of the Maccabeus yet much of that fighting was Jew against Jew. It should also be noted that during the time of the Maccabeus there is no mention of a man of God who was led by the spirit of God. Thus, as we have seen in an earlier teaching, there was no spirit present to actually led Israel and that would have left them as slaves to their carnal nature.
Because our natural nature is one of rebellion we find it hard to accept the idea of obedience to another, let alone obedience to an unseen God. Yet the logic of Romans 6 is impossible to refute, we will obey something, even Bob Dylan could see this truth.
We obey the laws of nature when we put on more clothes in the winter so we can stay warm and wear less clothes in the summer because of the heat. We obey the seasons when we plant crops in the spring and not in the middle of winter when the ground is frozen. We obey the laws of biology when we breath air into our lungs rather than try to make our lungs work while filled with water. We obey a multitude of sources everyday without giving it much thought.
We obey dentist's when they tell us to brush our teeth or we will get cavities and lose our teeth. We obey road signs that tell us to drive slower because the next turn of the mountain is very sharp. We obey the laws of physics that tell us not to jump off the cliff because gravity will win since we cannot fly. Yet man's nature is rebellious so some don't clean their teeth and they lose them, others drive too fast and crash. Natural man finds the word obey to be too oppressive and he pays the price of whatever law he has disregarded.
I understand that there are many laws that most people obey but always that small boy is in the back of the mind declaring, "I'm sitting on the outside, but I'm standing on the inside."
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
The heart is stubborn and prideful. It likes to think it has all the answers it requires, or at the very least, is capable of coming up with whatever answer it will need tomorrow. The heart, no reference or slight intended to the physical organ, has been deceived into thinking it is wise, intelligent, benevolent, and the best equipped to set the course of each individual life.
"For the great benefits of our being, our life, health, and reason…we look upon ourselves." This was said by Seneca the elder of Hispania. Man's dislike of others telling him what to do is ancient in its origin, going back to a place called the Garden of Eden. Adam may have thought he was acting on independent thought but he simply changed from obeying God to obeying God's enemy. Adam was still obeying, he was just obeying the wrong one!
Often children are talked into disobeying their parents, who love them, by those who have no care or concern for their well-being. They are deceived due to a lack of knowledge, or a poor personal relationship, or simply the pride of the carnal nature. They fail to see that in disobeying, they are still obeying something or someone.
It is true that men have often compelled other men to obey their orders and their rules. But obedience that is founded in fear of punishment only teaches subjection to authority. Eventually, even the strongest and most oppressive authority will one day face a rebellion from the oppressed. It is our nature.
While obedience that is based in love and respect teaches one wisdom and brings understanding. Jesus did not obey God out of fear. He did not obey because God was bigger and stronger or more threatening. Jesus obeyed God out of a heart filled with love for the One who understands life, and living it fully.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
If man fails to believe this, that God is the Author of life, then he must conclude that he is the product of a very fortunate chain of events that separated him out from the worms living under a rock by chance!
If there is no Creator, then man is simply the result of accidental circumstances and he is right to obey his own inner urges above all else. If there is no Creator, then the only obedience man, owes outside of himself, is to the one who exercises greater strength and authority than he himself possesses. Such logic is worthy only of those who follow the dictates of Friedrich Nietzsche the famed philosopher, atheist, and fool.
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…
The words "there is" appear in no text and thus should read, "The fool has said in his heart, no God…" Saying no to God is a very foolish thing for He is the Creator of all life and knows best how to live life fully and completely.
Too often, obedience to a greater authority, due to a fear of punishment, is how Christianity has portrayed man's relationship to God. In the terms of human relationships this would be comparable to a shotgun wedding. Love me or I'll shoot you!
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
God made known to mankind that there are two basic ways to go through life. Only one way is His way. God is the Creator of life, He understands how best to live life to its fullest. God has the power, God has the authority to force us to obey and walk the way He has set before us. But love that is forced isn't agapee love. Agapee requires a freewill decision on the part of each individual.
Man's freewill decision to obey God demonstrates his agapee love for God.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.