Tag Archives: love

Love in the Book of Acts

heart.gifHow many times do you think the word love is mentioned in the Book of Acts?  I often use this as a warm up question when teaching about evangelism.  The answers usually range from somewhere in the teens to over 100.

Before you answer, here are a few Acts facts to consider:

  • Acts has 28 chapters (the average book in the Bible has 18 )
  • Acts chronicles the spread of the early church over nearly 30 years, from Jesus’ final words and his ascension into Heaven all the way through the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment near the end of his life.
  • Acts includes 13 presentations of the Gospel to a variety of people – crowds, individuals, Jews, Gentiles, ordinary citizens, high-ranking government officials, etc.

So how many times it the word love is mentioned in Acts?

Here’s the answer: 0.  Zero.  Z-E-R-O.  Seriously.  Do a word search in your Bible software.  It’s OK, I didn’t believe it the first time I heard it.

So what’s the point?  Does that mean love isn’t important?  Of course not.  God displays perfect love throughout his Word and his love for us is displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus the Son on the cross.  And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mention God’s love when sharing the Gospel.

But it does tell us some important things about evangelism.  The history of the early church should certainly provide a model for how we should go about sharing the truth of the Gospel.  The primary model used in Acts was to lay out the facts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and miracles and to highlight our need for him and his forgiveness.  There are calls for repentance.  But God’s love is never directly mentioned and there is no hint at universalism (the notion that everyone goes to Heaven). 

Preaching God’s unconditional love without the need for repentance and faith in Christ is not a Biblical model.  It can give people a false sense of security, as in, “God loves me without conditions?  Great!  No need to change anything.  I’ll get back to mocking/ignoring him now.”  That is the terrible place to be, as even those who consciously rebel are conceding that they are out of line with God.

People need to understand the bad news (they are sinners against a perfect and Holy God and rightly destined for an eternity in Hell) before they realize their need for the Good News (Jesus took the punishment for our sins and we can be completely and eternally forgiven and reconciled to God if we put our faith in Jesus).

Also note that the Gospel presentations in Acts rebut the myth that Christianity involves faith without reason.  Each time the message is given it is based on facts, logic and appeals to reason.  At no point is the message to have blind faith.

Acts 17:29–31 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

Read Acts for yourself and see what I mean, or read about Preaching God’s love in Acts.

Hat tip: Greg Koukl – Stand to Reason

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“Love your enemies?” Oh, Jesus was probably just being sarcastic.

I’m kidding, of course.  I don’t think Jesus was being sarcastic when He commanded us to love our enemies.  I used that title to point out two things:

  1. It is easy for people to play games with scripture if they don’t follow some basic rules.  Most scripture-twisting isn’t as transparent as above, but it is just as error-filled and destructive.
  2. The Bible passage in question is so challenging that our minds can work overtime trying to ignore it.

First, I’m reminded of Dalmatian Theologians who think that the Bible is only inspired in spots, and that they are inspired to spot the spots.  I also think of Advanced Dalmatian Theologians, who add the myth that God is also changing spots and adding/removing spots, and, oddly enough, He is only telling theological liberals and progressives.   They use phrases such as “God is still speaking,” but they don’t mean that God still speaks through his Word (that would be a true statement).  They think He is still revealing new truths to the church and changing doctrines taught in the Bible.

So if they can play that game, why not use it to avoid the hard lessons Jesus taught, such as loving our enemies?  Why not pick that as one of the verses that you don’t think Jesus really said?  That would sure make life easier!

Second, this passage has to be one of the most challenging in the Bible. 

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Love your enemies?  Pray for your persecutors?  Those seem impossible!  And Jesus really drives the point home by telling us how it takes almost no effort to love those who are loving us.  Non-believers can do that, so we haven’t really accomplished anything until we go beyond it. 

Then He tops it off by saying we must be as perfect as God!  If anyone reads that as a checklist, such as Note to self: Be perfect like God, then I think he’s missed the point.  We should aim at perfection in obedience, of course, but unless one is delusional that command should take you to the foot of the cross.  I can’t be perfect for 10 minutes, even when I’m sleeping.

Another challenge is using the word love in the proper context.  The love Jesus referred to is not a pampering, indulgent love, but the agape love where you have someone’s long term best interests at heart. 

It doesn’t mean you roll over and give your enemies whatever they want.  Loving your enemies doesn’t mean you stop loving your friends and neighbors as well.  For example, you still need a justice system to protect people from criminals.  There is nothing un-loving about that.

And if you really love your enemies you’ll want them to know some eternal truths, such as how they are sinners in need of a Savior and that if they die without faith in Jesus then they’ll spend eternity in Hell.  I think it is safe to say that the people who had Jesus severely beaten and nailed to a cross could be described as his enemies.  So was He all huggy-kissy with them?  Hardly.

John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.

If you love people enough to tell them the truth they may think you are the enemy.  When Paul scolded the Galatians for false teachings they didn’t appreciate it. Did that stop him?

Galatians 1:9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Galatians 4:16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

A close friend’s career was damaged by a non-believing co-worker, yet he found a way to pray for him.  It made an amazing difference in his life, as it liberated him from hatred. 

How do you manage to love your enemies?

More on church lists

No, not moron church lists, thought that could make an interesting post as well.

In response to a post about 10 ways to hinder your church, a commenter made some good points about other things that should be on the list:

The list is excessively focused on doctrine and public meetings. This is only a very small part of the church; it is also ‘leader’ centric; another very small part; because, you see, without love, its just empty. How to kill a church is to not love: to have selective friendships, to play favourites, to not support the weaker or needy brother or sister, to not commit to and engage in prayer together and for those in need; to not share your lives openly, unremittingly, sacrificially and joyfully, without pretence and preening.

. . .

It seems to me that in some churches, if its not nice and neat, suitable for polite conversation, it’s avoided.

I thought the original list didn’t mention enough about doctrine.  Whole denominations are getting killed by poisonous liberal theology that denies so many essentials, such as Jesus’ deity and exclusivity, the physical resurrection, the authority of the Bible.  If you can’t get the essentials right then you have no business calling yourself a church at all.  It is false advertising of the worst kind.

That aside, the commenter was dead on about how churches can miss the point and get caught up in superficial concerns.

Even though our denomination (United Methodist) has some serious problems due to false teachers that worked their way into leadership positions, our local church is quite good.  I could give countless examples, but here are a couple.

The love and care that get poured out isn’t just for long time or even active people or even members. One visitor lost his wife while she was delivering their second child. He was showered with countless hours of help, child care, meals, etc. for many months. It was touching when he joined, especially as he felt very welcome as a minority in a largely white church.

An Indian couple, now good friends of ours, had been ignored at a different church but were immediately embraced at ours. They have a thriving home Bible study and have led many former Hindus to Christ. They are very grateful for how welcomed they felt at our church.

Side note: Being in a small group — Sunday School classes and accountability groups in particular — is crucial to really feeling engaged at church.  It is too easy to get lost, especially in large churches. 

What would you add to the list that churches need to focus on so their work for the kingdom isn’t hindered?

Kairos Prison Ministry and the 5 Love Languages

kairosjesusbehindbars.jpgI was reflecting on why the Kairos Prison Ministry is so effective at helping transform lives and it occurred to me that one of the reasons is that is conveys the love of Christ so thoroughly and effectively.  By coincidence or design, it uses all of the The Five Love Languages in reaching out to prisoners.

Here’s a recap I wrote previously about the book.  The premise is that we have primary ways that we give and receive love, and if those are missing bad things can happen.  Learn your kids’ preferences for giving and receiving love. Works wonders for spouses, too! It isn’t psycho-babble. It is an easy read that is full of practical advice on relationships. Everyone I know who has read this got a lot out of it. Like many successful books, this one has a special edition for any subcategory you can imagine – teens, kids, German Shepherds, etc. But the original is a good one-size-fits-all, so when in doubt stick with that. It also contains some truly important advice on not marrying too quickly, because we can all put on a good act for a short period of time when we are in courting mode.

Here are the five languages and some of the ways that Kairos demonstrates them:

  1. Words of affirmation – each volunteer writes a personal, handwritten letter to each participant.  Writing the 42 letters is one of the hardest parts of the preparation.  Many of these guys quit getting mail a long time ago so they cherish these words of encouragement.
  2. Quality time – without us saying a word, they realize that we are there because we want to be there and that we have devoted the preparation time, the whole weekend and the monthly follow up visits for their benefit.  They see the size of the inside team, the outside team and all those who come to the closing ceremony and realize that people care.
  3. Acts of Service – the food, the lessons and the listening let them know they are valued.
  4. Gifts – the cookies, the food, the hand made placemats, the prayer chains, the posters, the letters and more.
  5. Physical touch – plenty of manly hugs!

If you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to try it.  And if you have any interest in prison ministry, check that out as well.

Love in the Book of Acts

heart.gifHeartHow many times do you think the word love is mentioned in the Book of Acts?  I often use this as a warm up question when teaching about evangelism.  The answers usually range from somewhere in the teens to over 100.

Before you answer, here are a few Acts facts to consider:

  • Acts has 28 chapters (the average book in the Bible has 18 )
  • Acts chronicles the spread of the early church over nearly 30 years, from Jesus’ final words and his ascension into Heaven all the way through the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment near the end of his life.
  • Acts includes 13 presentations of the Gospel to a variety of people – crowds, individuals, Jews, Gentiles, ordinary citizens, high-ranking government officials, etc.

So how many times it the word love is mentioned in Acts?

Here’s the answer: 0.  Zero.  Z-E-R-O.  Seriously.  Do a word search in your Bible software.  It’s OK, I didn’t believe it the first time I heard it.

So what’s the point?  Does that mean love isn’t important?  Of course not.  God displays perfect love throughout his Word and his love for us is displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus the Son on the cross.  And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mention God’s love when sharing the Gospel.

But it does tell us some important things about evangelism.  The history of the early church should certainly provide a model for how we should go about sharing the truth of the Gospel.  The primary model used in Acts was to lay out the facts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and miracles and to highlight our need for him and his forgiveness.  There are calls for repentance.  But God’s love is never directly mentioned and there is no hint at universalism (the notion that everyone goes to Heaven). 

Preaching God’s unconditional love without the need for repentance and faith in Christ is not a Biblical model.  It can give people a false sense of security, as in, “God loves me without conditions?  Great!  No need to change anything.”

People need to understand the bad news (they are sinners against a perfect and Holy God and rightly destined for an eternity in Hell) before they realize their need for the Good News (Jesus took the punishment for our sins and we can be completely and eternally forgiven and reconciled to God if we put our faith in Jesus).

Also note that the Gospel presentations in Acts rebut the myth that Christianity involves faith without reason.  Each time the message is given it is based on facts, logic and appeals to reason.  At no point is the message to have blind faith.

Acts 17:29–31 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

Read Acts for yourself and see what I mean.

Old Testament God / New Testament God?

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cross3.jpgA common misperception about the Bible is that there are two Gods at work, or that somehow God was trying to improve his reputation in the New Testament (NT).  The typical refrain is that the Old Testament (OT) God was vengeful and the New Testament God is loving and kind. 

A balanced reading of the whole Bible shows what God is really like. To adequately understand God, you can’t reduce your understanding to a bumper-sticker saying such as “God is love.” Yes, love is one of God’s attributes, but He is a whole lot more.

People who make that claim don’t know the Bible well at all.  If one is selective in what Scriptures they use, one could make the opposite case – namely, that the Old Testament God is more forgiving. After all, Jesus talked much more about Hell than the Old Testament does. God gives evil nations hundreds of years to repent, and destroys or drives them out only when they are completely irredeemable. And God is quick to forgive the Israelites over and over.

1 Kings 21:25-29 (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.) When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

Also consider these passages:

Exodus 22:21-27 “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Then consider a sample of Jesus’ words in Matthew.  

Matthew 11:20-24 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Jesus also said:
• Matthew 8:12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
• Matthew 13:42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
• Matthew 13:50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
• Matthew 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
• Matthew 24:51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
• Matthew 25:30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
• Luke 13:28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

It is all the same God, from beginning to end.  Perfect justice, mercy, wrath and love.

Love in the Book of Acts

This is a rerun from 2007.

heart.gifHow many times do you think the word love is mentioned in the Book of Acts?  Before you answer, here are a few Acts facts to consider:

  • Acts has 28 chapters (the average book in the Bible has 18)
  • Acts chronicles the spread of the early church over nearly 30 years, from Jesus’ final words and his ascension into Heaven all the way through the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment near the end of his life.
  • Acts includes 13 presentations of the Gospel to a variety of people – crowds, individuals, Jews, Gentiles, ordinary citizens, high-ranking government officials, etc.

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