Month: February 2017

Because He First Loved Us, Let Us Love Him First

 

If you are a parent, do you recall the time when your eyes first beheld your newborn child lying naked and helpless beside es1 mother?  The child was your own, issued from your own body and that of your wife. Even if the child knew you not then, your love for him or her was beyond words.  This little piece of living flesh had already received the full measure of your love even before e had grown up to know you and love you in return. If need be, you would have even given up your life without a second thought to save your just-arrived baby’s life.

This, beloved child of God, is how our Father in heaven felt toward us in the day that we were first born into the world. In fact, if God’s words are true, he says that his love for man far exceeds the natural and instinctive love of a mother toward her child.2 I am speaking about our physical birth into this world, not our spiritual ‘born again’ experience.

We were born in the filthiness of our sins, inherited from our first parents when they sinned against God and inherited all the curses of life. We were lumps of filthy clay imbued with the life given directly from the person of God. This life is a very part of God himself, and God just cannot help but love you and me from the time of our conception. We could say it is an instinctive and unconditional love comparable and yet far exceeding the instinctive and unconditional love we have for our own children. This is how much God has loved every single child born into this world from the time of Adam and Eve. A beautiful analogy of this incredible love and compassion is given in Ezekiel 16:

‘On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in clothes. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.’

Naturally. We were conceived in sin because of the original sin of our parents that was passed on in our human nature and genes from generation to generation. We were as good as dead – hastening to our grave from the second we were conceived – born into this world for a just a few years before we forever perish from all trace of existence. But the Creator looked on the absolutely helpless tiny life on the day of our birth and his heart overflowed with tender affection and excitement for this new creation of his.

“Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field.’

God wants everyone who was born to live forever – everyone born into this world of every race – Indian, Chinese, African, European, American, Arab, Aborigine, and every other race of mankind. He loves each one of them so much that long before the creation of earth he had already planned a way of redemption for mankind in case they fell into sin. The only way the Creator could redeem his children from eternal condemnation was to give up his own life as a penalty for man’s sin. His one life could redeem the total of humanity, because all humanity have their existence in his one life. And so God, in the person of Jesus Christ, came into this world to die for us and to save us.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’   John 3:16

That’s how much our Father has always loved you and me from our birth, before we ever came to know anything about our Creator.

We who have been called to the body of Christ as firstfruits have been set aside from the rest of the world for an awesome purpose, so that through us Christ may bring his salvation to the rest of the world. And so we the spiritual Israelites grew up in the tender care of God while the rest of the world was allowed to continue in their wicked ways for the time being.

Each of us saved by God received the knowledge of our Savior in our own particular way. Perhaps because our parents were earnest Christians we grew up to be followers of Christ. Perhaps through the influence of a Christian friend. Whatever the manner of our coming to know God, we all came to accept Christ as our Savior and called ourselves by his name, ‘Christian’, which means ‘belonging to Christ’. But like unfaithful Israel and betrayous Judah, most who profess Christianity have forgotten their roots and have turned away to serve other gods. Am I being unfactual in using the phrase ‘most who profess Christianity’? Observe the lives of the ‘Christians’ – people who have been born into Christian families – in your neighborhood, in your workplace, how many of them do you know whose lives are centered around Christ, and who are willing to give up everything in life, even their lives, if necessary, to remain faithful to God?

‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.’  Luke 14:26

‘Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’    Luke 14:33

What does ‘hate his father and mother’ mean here? Mat 10:37 makes it obvious: ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me…’

This is the absolute condition for being a true Christian. This is the absolute condition for entering the Kingdom of God. This is the only criterion of true conversion. One iota less than this absolute condition will not do.

Do not let any preacher, any church teach you errantly that any condition less than this will enable you to be accepted by Christ as his follower. Just because you have been baptized, because you are an active member of your church, because you believe all the teachings of Christ, and even because you obey him and keep his commandments zealously, you don’t become a Christian. If in your heart and thoughts you are not fully convinced you are willing to give up even your father and mother and wife and children and your own life, if necessary to be faithful to God, you can never be looked upon by Christ as a Christian, as someone belonging to him. Either Jesus meant exactly what he stated, or he meant something else. Let your own understanding and sincerity determine that.

Does then giving up everything in life to follow Christ mean that like Buddha you leave your beloved family and your responsibilities in the family and go away to some remote corner of the earth and proclaim Christ? The Holy Spirit is our true teacher of the Word of God. Let him show us what Christ meant by this condition of discipleship.

Jesus meant that he is a most jealous God and Spouse.3 He will not in the least entertain a rival affection in your heart. His jealousy is like the jealousy of a righteous husband when his wife begins to shower more affection on other men than on him. It is a jealousy based on true unfailing love. A jealousy that is directed for the good of the one loved. God first loved us long before our parents and wife and children were even remotely in our thoughts. He gave us life and eternal hope. He gave himself for us before we even knew about him. And he wants us for himself and himself alone forever. Everything else he allows us to have in this life is like a fringe benefit, like the icing on a cake. Good to be enjoyed and appreciated for their limited value but could never begin to compare with the value of the real thing.

God wants us to make him our first love because he first loved us before everyone else and because he chose to love us unconditionally when we were without hope and squirming in our own filth waiting to perish eternally. If God loved us so much when we were still in our filthiness, how much more must he now love and rejoice over us who have begun to love him in return, though we be full of filthiness still!

O Christian, do you see how you should relate to such a God?  This is how: We should probe our every thought and intent and see if indeed God is our only basic love and happiness. If he allows us to have a little bit of fringe happiness in the form of our marriage and family and other temporal blessings, let’s enjoy them as long as we are given them. But the basis, the foundation, of all our happiness is God himself. Unless we can say with absolute conviction that the basis of all our happiness is God himself, we haven’t reached there yet.

If today all our fringe benefits are taken away from us, and every security structure vanishes from under us and we are left with God and God alone, how will we respond? Is your Christianity steadfast as long as you have certain basic conditions met in your life? Or will you continue to be faithful to him in any and every circumstance that he allows in your life? This is what our Savior desires to know about you above everything else.  And he will withhold every blessing, if need be, and allow you to go through every kind of suffering until he is convinced to his full satisfaction – and you too are in your conscience – that you are his alone.

Every trial, every affliction that comes to a child of God is for the sole purpose of drawing the person closer to God and of causing him to make God his first love and first joy. Remember, the Lord has promised that he will never leave you nor forsake you. He will never allow you to suffer beyond what you are able to endure.4 But that could sometimes mean that you might be left with nothing in this life except your joy in God and the basic material provisions for your survival. You could be left, as Baruch was, with just this one promise of God:

‘I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declared the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’ Jer 45: 4-5

When the Lord begins to overthrow and uproot every idol in your life that’s competing with your Savior for your affection, your love and your time, that’s when you begin to see if you really belong to him.

Are you perhaps serving the Lord like an earnest minister of Christ did for many years until the Lord wanted to really know if this minister loved him literally more than anything else in this life? Here, listen to this eyeopening true story of a servant of God, as narrated by a pastor who knew him:

‘When I was a young pastor, I went to visit a man who had been one of my “heroes” and a friend. He had been the pastor of large churches, an author of some note and a famous evangelical leader. I went to visit him because he had just been told that he was dying of cancer.

I was very young and had not, to that point, found out that God’s servants also have “feet of clay”. An older friend who had been to see him almost every day subsequent to the diagnosis of cancer tried to prepare me for my visit. He said, “Steve, have you ever had all your security structure taken away? Have you ever been without any hope? Have you ever had every dream shattered and every desire destroyed?”

I admitted that I had never experienced that kind of pain.

“Then,” he said, “be careful that you don’t judge too harshly when you see one of your heroes broken, bitter and without any hope”.’
Source: ‘When Cliches Don’t Work’ by Steve Brown – The Plain Truth Online, September-October 1998

Is your only security structure your Savior Jesus Christ? Is your only dream to live and die for Christ, who died for you? Is your only hope the eternal joy that awaits you when your Lord comes? If you cannot affirmatively answer from your heart any of these questions, you are at risk of being broken, bitter and without any hope sooner or later.

O Christian, are you willing to forsake everything, even your own life if need be, to follow Christ? Until you are absolutely sure of this, you can never be absolutely sure you are a true Christian in God’s sight. Before you decide to want to be a true Christian, you are told to sit down and count the cost.

‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’   Luke 14:28,33

But the most joyful news is, we have a Helper who can and will do for us exceedingly far more than all we ask or imagine.5 We need never fear we will fail to measure up to God’s expectations.  We need never fear if we will be able to cope with all that God would demand of us to be his own.  My life is a great testimony to the tenderness of God.  The harshness of the Christian life is only the initial growth pains. And we ourselves are responsible for prolonging it, because we delay committing our lives wholly to him. When we have proved that God indeed is our first love and have demonstrated it by being willing to give up our happiness based on everything in this life, then we begin to receive our joy from the Lord himself,6 then we begin to receive from him a hundredfold and more of all that we had given up.7

‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!’  Romans 5:6-10

‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’

‘This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’

‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’

‘We love him, because he first loved us.’   1 John 3:1,16; 4:10,19

Let us therefore love him first, because he first loved us and gave up his life to save us from eternal death.

 

Pappa Joseph

 

1 Please refer to the English usage page in this website for information about this usage.
2 ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you.’   Is 49:15
3 ‘Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.’   Ex 34:14
4 ‘God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’   1 Cor 10:13
5 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…’   Ep 3:20
6 ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’    John 15:11
7 ‘Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.’ ‘I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come, eternal life.’   Matthew 19:29  Mark 10:29,30.