Learning to Love
And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you. . . About brotherly love: you don’t need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9
God is love (1 John 4:16). His very nature is perfect love, but because of sin love does not always come freely and naturally to His children. You may have been raised in a home where love was not expressed. Perhaps you were hurt by someone you loved, and your heart became hardened as a defense against further pain. You may love others but not know how to express your love in words or actions. You may feel frustrated because you have been called by God to love, yet you do not understand how to love others.
Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica to encourage them not to become disheartened as they learned to love each other (1 Thess. 3:7). They did not need Paul to explain to them how to love, for God Himself would teach them how to love one another. God would give them His love, and as they followed Him, He would cause that love to multiply. If they found someone who was difficult to love, God would enable them to love through His Holy Spirit.
God in His grace has made provision for our human weakness, and He is prepared to teach us how to love one another. There are no exceptions. God can teach us to love even that especially difficult person.
Are you struggling to love someone? God will help you. He will enable you to love your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends, or your enemy in a deeper way than you could ever love them on your own. If you do not know how to express your love in a meaningful way, God will teach you how to do this. God is the authority on love. As you relate to others, ask God to make His love overflow to them through your life.
God's Measure for Forgiveness
“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.
But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.”—Matthew 6:14–15
Perhaps you consider yourself a forgiving person, but you are now facing someone whom you cannot forgive. Whenever you struggle to forgive, you need to revisit what you were like when God first forgave you. Ephesians 2 indicates you were a “foreigner” and a “child of wrath.” Yet God forgave your most grievous sin and rebellion against Him. While you were still rejecting God, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8). This being so, how can you refuse to forgive those who sin against you? Forgiveness is not a spiritual gift, a skill, or an inherited trait. Forgiveness is a choice. Jesus looked down on those who had ruthlessly and mockingly nailed Him to a cross, yet He cried out: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). How, then, can we refuse to forgive those who have committed offenses against us?
Jesus said that the measure in which we are forgiving is the same standard God will use in forgiving us. God's ways are very different from ours. God's forgiveness is not based on standards we determine, but on the standards He established in His Word. God allows for no exceptions when it comes to forgiveness.
As we truly understand God's gracious forgiveness in our lives, we will naturally want to express this same forgiveness to others (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Before you ask God for His forgiveness, take a moment to examine the condition of your relationships. Would you want God to forgive you in the same way you are presently forgiving others?
Beware of the Amalekites!
He said, “Indeed, [my] hand is [lifted up] toward the Lord’s throne. The Lord will be at war with Amalek from generation to generation.”—Exodus 17:16
The Amalekites were the persistent and relentless enemies of the Israelites. When the Israelites sought to enter the Promised Land, the Amalekites stood in their way (Exod. 17:8–16). Once the Israelites were in the Promised Land and seeking to enjoy what God had given them, the Amalekites joined the Midianites to torment the Hebrews in the days of Gideon (Judg. 6:3). It was an Amalekite that caused the downfall of King Saul (1 Sam. 15:9, 28). The Amalekites continually sought to hinder the progress of God's people and to rob them of God's blessing. Thus God swore His enmity against them for eternity.
As you move forward in your pilgrimage with the Lord, there will be “Amalekites” that will seek to distract and defeat you. God is determined to remove anything that keeps you from experiencing Him to the fullest. If your commitment to your job is keeping you from obedience to Him, God will declare war against it. If a relationship, materialism, or a destructive activity is keeping you from obeying God's will, He will wage relentless war against it. There is nothing so precious to you that God will not be its avowed enemy if it keeps you from His will for your life. King Saul mistakenly thought he could associate with Amalekites and still fulfill the will of the Lord (1 Sam. 15:8–9). You may also be hesitant to rid yourself of that which causes you to compromise your obedience to God. Don't make the same mistake as King Saul. He did not take the Amalekites seriously enough, and it cost him dearly.
For the Lord, Not Men
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.—Colossians 3:23
There is an important difference between doing something for people and doing something for God. God always deserves our best effort. People will disappoint us, betray us, neglect us, and mistreat us. Some will constantly ask for what we can give while offering nothing in return. From our human perspective, these people deserve our minimal effort at best. What then should motivate us to serve people, except our love for God? God deserves our love, and He demands that we love others in the same way He does. We are to love our spouses, not as they deserve, but as God commands (Eph. 5:22–33). We are to treat our friends, not as they treat us, but as Christ loves us (John 13:14). We are to labor at our jobs, not in proportion to the way our employer treats us, but according to the way God treats us. God is the One we serve (Eph. 6:5).
Mediocrity and laziness have no place in the Christian's life. Christians must maintain integrity at home and in the workplace. Working for God, as opposed to working for other people, changes our perspective as we view our endeavors in light of what He has done for us. Our toil then becomes an offering to God. We not only worship God at church on Sunday, but our labor throughout the week is an offering of worship and thanksgiving to the One who has given us everything we have. When people do not measure up to our expectations and we feel our efforts are being wasted, we must keep in mind that we are toiling for holy God. He is worthy of our best effort.
Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”—John 3:3
Entering a saving relationship with Christ is a life-changing experience! All things become new! Not some things, but all things (2 Cor. 5:17). For the first time in your life, Christ is Lord; God is Master. When you become a Christian, Christ's presence will affect every part of you. You will have new thoughts, new attitudes, new values, and new sensitivities. New priorities will dramatically affect your relationships. You will view everything in your life from a Christlike perspective. Christianity is not something you add to your life; it is life!
Nicodemus thought that salvation meant performing certain religious exercises and holding to particular religious teachings. He had no idea of the all-encompassing nature of salvation! When you become a Christian, God gives you a new heart so that everything becomes new! God gives you a new mind, like that of Christ, so you think differently. He gives you new emotions, so you feel deeply about completely different matters. You become sensitive to sin, so you are no longer comfortable with it. Your recreation will be affected as you are made aware of what is honoring to God and what is not. Your relationships will now be guided by the Holy Spirit. Destructive habits and attitudes, previously immune to change, will be transformed.
Have you noticed the changes God has brought to your life since you entered a vital relationship with Jesus Christ? These changes should be very noticeable as a testimony of the new life you received when you trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord.
You have received free of charge; give free of charge.—Matthew 10:8b
There is no room for misers in God's kingdom. When we begin to struggle in giving what we have to others, we have forgotten where we received our possessions. Every good thing we have ever received has come from God (James 1:17). All that we have acquired has been dependent upon His grace (1 Cor. 4:7). Job accurately summarized our condition: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, / And naked shall I return there. / The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; / Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
We easily assume a sense of ownership of our possessions, as if they were things we earned ourselves, thereby giving us a right to them. Jesus reminds us to be prepared to give our possessions as freely and joyfully as we received them. It should be a pleasure for us to give what we have to others (2 Cor. 9:7). We ought to be a conduit through whom the Lord can pour His blessings, knowing we will disperse them to everyone around us. Sometimes we claim we are trying to be good stewards of our resources when actually we are being selfish.
If you struggle to give freely to others, you have become more attached to the gift than to the Giver. The account of the rich young ruler shows the tragedy of becoming too attached to worldly treasures (Luke 8:18–24). Meditate on all that your Lord has given to you (John 3:16). Resolve to express your gratitude to Him through your giving.
—Experiencing God Day by Day