A few weeks earlier, my favorite atheist raised the question that why should we as Christians love people and help people... this is a very significant question, and as Christians, we need to answer with the fullness and complete depth of scripture. A thorough answer to why we as Christians should love people is long enough for a sermon or blog post. Love is beautiful and amazing. Love seems so simple yet is so misunderstood.
It is quite possible to understand moral behavior and to have a righteous soul without being able to explain the how or why. I had a similar experience with my question about transgender. Transgender was one of those things I knew was absolutely wrong, but I could not explain it for the life of me. So, I asked God "why is this wrong?" and the verses Genesis 1:27 and Galatians 3:28 became highlighted in my consciousness. God is never squeamish.
This degraded culture wrongly considers love and the sex the same to such an extent so that a Christian in this culture would not think to answer "we do this out of love" because the reason is spiritual and not physical. Once we separate the definitions of love and sex to understand love as spiritual, then we as Christians can free the concept of love and can answer more readily "we are compassionate and charitable out of love for people." Perhaps this is one reason why people should acknowledge celibacy as a valid lifestyle.
Love comes from the heart. Love comes from the soul. Love is never sexual attraction because love transcends the bounds of the flesh, yet love is manifested through acts of kindness, charity, and compassion that occur in the physical world. On a subconscious level, every human understands this. When a Christian replies that it is duty or obligation to help people, the atheist sneers "of course, do your duty," with the implication that the person does not actually love people. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus emphasized the importance and significance of the human soul; and also how our souls influence and affect our behaviors and motivations.
"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things." (Mathew 12:35)
"every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear bad fruit." (Mathew 7:17-18)
"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit." (Mathew 12:33)
Readers, if we read our scripture and comprehend our scripture and adhere to our scripture, then we would be better able to respond to these accusations of legalism, and we would be better followers of Christ. People would respond to our love and compassion by desiring to become just as loving and compassionate to ourselves. Non-Christians have a lot of actual complaints against Christians, but the only solution that eliminates those complaints is for us to become more genuinely and sincerely Christian. It is the great irony to agree with their complaints against Christians when the only true solution aggravates them all the more by affirming and encouraging genuine and whole-hearted discipleship of Christ.
Love is spiritual. As Christians, we are supposed to love with God's love and not with our own love because normal human love is selfish. Let God love through us. The selfishness of love is described in Mathew 5:43-48 when Jesus tells His followers to also love their enemies. The rich man who denied charity to the beggar loved his brothers; the beggar starved to death due to the rich man's neglect, yet the rich man loved his brothers (Luke 16:19-28).
The Pharisees did charitable acts for selfish pride and for the public to compliment them. There was never any genuine love within their hearts. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, often calling them hypocrites, and told His followers about charity/love:
"Take heed that you do not do your charitable (loving) deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in Heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets that they may have glory before men." (Mathew 6:1-2) "your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Mathew 6:4)
This lesson comes immediately after Jesus teaches His followers to love their enemies. Jesus wants all of His followers to have an all-encompassing and all-inclusive love. Why? Because love is constructive that lifts people up and builds up, never tears down, and God is our Creator and God is Love. God will reward our love with love. And yet, our motivation should never be receiving God's reward. Motivation should come from love itself. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), Jesus describes a Pharisee and a Levite who were so intent on observing ritual and so intent on obtaining reward through ritual that they neglected the more important matters of the law such as justice, mercy, and faith (Mathew 23:23).
If anything becomes a ritual to be done out of duty or obligation or expectation of reward, then it loses its spiritual and moral value. The Pharisees never did any good deed without some expectation of an earthly reward. Selfishness is not love. Even Paul contrasted the selfish charity of the Pharisees with genuine kindness.
"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up...." (1 Corinthians 13:3-4)
Love has little regard for the self, only what is necessary, and love values others higher than the self. Love is never any legalistic action because once the focus is on legalistic doing, then the focus becomes self-centered and thus becomes selfish. After all, you are responsible for your own actions; therefore, whoever embraces legalistic doing must focus on the self and embrace a self-centered or selfish viewpoint.
And yet, if you never act upon your love, then you are never displaying any love at all. If you never act upon your love, then you are never truly loving your neighbor. It is quite possible that the Pharisee and the Levite had sympathy and pity for the beaten and bloodied merchant, but "when [the Samaritan] saw him, he had compassion." (Luke 10:33) because the Samaritan tended to his wounds the best he could and took the injured man to an inn.
Love is an action that comes from the heart. It is the whole meaning behind what Jesus said in (Mathew 12:35) and (Mathew 7:17-18).
"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things"
"every good tree bears good fruit,"
What is within your soul or your heart will reveal itself through your actions and through how you regard others. James likewise wrote:
"If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to him, 'depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" (James 2:15-16)
Motivation is just as important as actions. A proper motivation with proper understanding leads to righteous actions and a righteous fellowship between neighbors. Jesus never condemned charity, but He did condemn selfish motivations. If a person has genuine love and genuine charity, then it is irrelevant whether or not other people see it. The act of love is the reward in and of itself. It is love for the sake of love. For this reason, He told His followers to do their charitable acts in secret without announcing it to the world. For this reason, Paul contrasted actual love with selfishness. If anything is done for selfish reasons, then there is no actual love. If there is no actual love, then God will not respond to us with love.
Christians cannot love with their own human love because human love is selfish. Christians must love with God's love because God's love is all-encompassing and all-inclusive. In order to obtain this type of love, Christians must be born again as children of God. It is a spiritual rebirth. Christians must acknowledge and embrace Jesus as the risen Son of God, the Messiah and Salvation. Faith in Jesus opens up the human soul for a spiritual cleansing and spiritual rebirth. Through this rebirth - brought by faith - the Christian becomes filled with God's love as God's love replaces the typical human love.
Jesus came to this world to teach us about God's love and so that we can have this love within ourselves to share with others. "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one." (Mathew 13:37-38)
The whole point of being a born-again Christian is to have a spiritual rebirth so that we can become children of God. As children of God, we automatically have God's love dwelling within our hearts. Jesus told Nicodemus:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'you must be born again.'" (John 3:6-7)
Paul of Tarsus was once a fierce persecutor of the early Christian church. And so, when he came to have faith in Jesus through his own spiritual rebirth, he understood best out of anyone what it meant to be a born-again believer. Paul is the ultimate born-again Christian. Paul prayed for his own disciples who would become followers of Christ
"that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love... to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19)
Paul of Tarsus wrote to the church in Rome:
"you are not in the flesh but in the spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of God, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness." (Romans 8:9-10)
Here in that verse, readers, we have that God's spirit must dwell within His followers. The inner man refers to our soul. Through faith, we can have the fullness of God. Through faith, we can love other people with the same love that God has for all of us. Paul's emphasis on spiritual rebirth and on God's love is found throughout his letters to all the churches.
To the Galatians:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
To the Colossians:
"And you being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of the your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (Colossians 2:13)
And back to Ephesus:
"...that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Love is spiritual. Love dwells within our hearts and souls. All humans are born sinful with a selfish type of love. Thus, all humans - even those born to Christian parents - must have a born-again experience in God's all-encompassing and all-inclusive love replaces the normal selfish human love. It does not matter the extent to which we uphold the law or the extent to which we act from duty. Indeed, of Jesus's teachings concern people who uphold the law or practice works in His name without the proper Spirit.
Mathew 19:16-22 features a young rich man who upheld the Law but in the end denied charity to the poor. The man loved his wealth more than the impoverished strangers. Therefore, upholding the law or keeping your duty without the spirit of love is worthless and meaningless. Jesus also warned His disciples about straying away from the spirit of love.
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' and then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Mathew 7:21-23)
Jesus used a rather extreme example in this warning, but extreme examples are often the clearest and easiest to understand. If we are not filled with God's love, then all we do will be insignificant and meaningless. Law and duty are worthless if we lack the spirit. Law and duty are worthless if we lack God's love within us.
The law was given because of transgressions - because of human carnal sinfulness so that we can see what sin is and can avoid sinning. The letter of the law is death; the spirit of the law is life. If we focus on duty or obligation, then we become legalistic and selfish hypocrites. If we focus on loving others, then we are children of God who are selfless, compassionate, and charitable. It is not your moral obligation or duty to love others; loving others is who you are spiritually. As a child of God, you are full of love and compassionate. Loving others is simply who you are. All this should be a reminder:
"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)
"Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law." (Romans 13:8) "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10)
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." (John 4:7) "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. Behold what matter of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called Children of God!" (John 2:30-3:1)
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