What’s love got to do, got to do with it?

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The beginning of the famous love chapter.  I’ve been thinking on this verse for the past few minutes.  How can I apply it?  What does it mean for a Christians walk practically?  It sounds pretty simple on the surface but do we really get it?  Do we really understand what these verses mean by love?  The Greek word for love here is a form of the term agapé from which we derive divine love or good will.  So what is the passage saying?  A whole lot.

Think about it this way.  If I can share the gospel but I do it without good will or benevolence, I might as well be an annoying clash of a symbol.  If I share the gospel but I do it out of pressure or resentment or compulsion and not love then I would be better off to just keep my mouth shut.  Have you thought about it like that before?  Granted I do believe the Holy Spirit is able to work despite those feelings and that the gospel presentation may still be effective, but is God truly pleased in that?  I would argue not.

Also, if I can explain doctrine and I can talk theology but I have no desire to practically love my neighbor, it’s worthless.  If I am more concerned about my denomination and tradition than I am for the slightly soiled, smelly individual that just walked into the back of the church then I have completely missed the point.  But those things are important aren’t they?  Sure.  Doctrine is incredibly important and theology is incredibly important but if we’d rather live in the ivory tower than down in the street with the hurting then we have no business talking about either one of those things.

Then it gets even deeper.  If I give up my entire life in service to the church but I don’t do it out of genuine love for the body I have wasted my life.  Even if I should go so far as to endure persecution to the point of dying a martyr’s death but I don’t do it out of love for God then I have died in vain.  I could surrender my body to the flames thinking that I am doing a great service to God, all the while truly wasting my life and just providing a little extra light until my body turns to ash.

These three things are outward manifestations.  God is not nearly as concerned about what we look like or act like on the outside.  He is deeply concerned about our hearts.  Out of our hearts spring the overflow of what ever type of well we have rising up inside (Luke 6:45).  So no matter what you may do and how wonderful you may think it is in God’s eyes, if it’s not done out of a sincere heart of obedience and love it’s worthless.  So what does that mean for us?  Let’s look at one example: evangelism.  If my evangelism is simply reduced to a 30 second question and answer algorithm and all I’m concerned about is getting a decision and then moving on to the next individual and I’m not willing to lovingly invest my life into someone else’s life then what is it really worth?  Now, hear me out, I’m not saying that this approach to evangelism is always wrong.  I think it has it’s moments and there are times when you only have a few minutes with someone and you feel led to share with them.  What I am saying is that the majority of our evangelism should involve loving others to the point that are willing to sit and listen to their stories and truly invest our time into them.  We are to show them goodwill by sacrificing of ourselves, more than just 5 quick questions about Jesus, and truly see where God is working in their lives and truly sharing the truth of Gospel strategically in the area where they need it most.

Love is an investment.  So, no matter what I may do on the outside, if I’m not willing to risk my comfort and invest in the lives of others; if I’m not willing to give up my life to Christ in an act of unbridled love and gratitude, then I am completely missing the mark.

So, evaluate your life.  Are you serving out of love or are you serving out of compulsion?  Are you following Jesus and sharing the gospel just to soothe your conscious or are you truly loving those around you?  The answer to that question could mean everything.

Full of Grace and Truth…

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

Grace and truth.  That is Jesus.  Filled with truth.  Filled with grace.  How often do we present Jesus to others without both of those?  How often do we present a Jesus full of truth without grace?  Or vice versa?  Jesus is both those things and his entire ministry was both truth-filled and gracious.  Certainly Jesus was full of truth when He called others to follow Him.  He didn’t hide anything.  He told them up front what was to be expected.  They would be hated, persecuted, ridiculed, and even killed (Mt 10:22, Mk 13:13, Lk 21:17).  Martyrdom should not have come as a surprise to any of them.  Jesus also didn’t soften the truth when He called individuals to give up everything to follow Him.  Would the rich young ruler say that Jesus wasn’t truthful (Mt 19:16-22, Mk 10:17-27)?  He told his disciples that they would have to be willing to leave family, friends, children, and possessions to follow Him (Lk 14:26).  Did He hide anything from us to soften the demands of discipleship?  Absolutely not.  He was full of truth.

But Jesus was also full of grace.  He knew that the demands He was making were completely outside of our human capability to meet (Mt 19:26).  He knew that we were far to weak to make it on our own.  He knew that, without help, we would all die in our sins and perish.  So, along with these demands, He graciously offers to meet them for us.  In Matthew 19:26, after speaking to the rich young ruler, Peter asks what hope His followers have if this man couldn’t receive eternal life.  What does Jesus say?  He tells Peter that although this is impossible for man to do, God can do the impossible.  In other words, Jesus knows we can’t save ourselves, but God will do what we cannot do.  In another passage He graciously offers rest to those who are burdened by the weight of sin and guilt that they cannot remove from themselves (Mt 11:28).  And ultimately Jesus will display pure grace when He steps into the place of sinners and is sacrificed on a cross to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

So when we tell others about Jesus, let us remember to share the whole story.  Share both truth and grace.  Don’t stop with just truth and leave people wallowing in the impossibility of human righteousness.  Also offer them the grace that is a gift of God to rescue them in their utter weakness.  But also, don’t offer a grace that doesn’t show them the truth of their situation and the truth of their sin.  Both were found in Jesus and both we must share with the world.

Let down your net…

“And when he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let out your nets for a catch.’  And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at your word I will let down the nets.’  And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.” -Luke 5:4-6

In verse 3 we see that Simon was willing to allow Jesus to use his livelihood, his boat, as a platform for sharing the Gospel.  God asks the same thing from us.  He asks to use your career, your athletic ability, your talents as a platform to share the Gospel.  In this verse we see that Jesus then calls Simon a step further.  He asks Simon to push out into the deep in order to catch some fish.  Now Simon’s response is much like our own.  He isn’t eager to do it.  He tried to explain to Jesus that they’ve been fishing all day and haven’t caught a thing.  The tone certainly infers pessimism on Simon’s part.  But we see Simon’s willingness yet again; “at your word I will let down the nets.”  And what happens?  They catch so many fish the nets can barely hold them.  The weight of the fish is about to pull the boat under.  In fact, it takes two boats to help pull in the large catch.

What if Jesus is saying the same thing to us?  He has already asked to use our means to share the Gospel.  But what if he’s now asking us to keep going?  We see that a lot from Jesus.  He is consistent in pushing us further.  He tells us to forgive our brother and then pushes us to forgive seventy times seven times (Matt. 18:22).  He tells us to walk a mile with our enemy and then be willing to walk yet another mile (Matt. 5:41).  He’s doing the same thing here.  Let him use your means to share the Gospel.  Now, push out further from your comfort zone and cast out your net.  Take a leap of faith.  Try something new.

But we often respond like Simon.  “It won’t work Lord.”  “I’ve been this route before, trust me.”  But what if we finished like Simon did.  “At your word I will let down the nets.”  Could God use our seemingly insignificant lives to reach a “large number of fish”?  Take time to ask the Lord how you might let down your net.  Or better yet, just do it!  We’ve mentioned “sphere of influence” before.  If you have one, which we all do, then you have an area in which to let down a net.  So, let down the net!

A quick note, Simon didn’t do anything spectacular.  He just made the boat and the nets available.  The Lord brought the catch.  The same is true for us.  Just obediently cast the net and let the Lord control the catch.

Push out your boat…

“Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land.  And he sat down and taught the people from the boat” – Luke 5:3

This is a pretty simple story with some profound lessons.  It involves Jesus’ first encounter with some of his future disciples: Simon (Peter), James, and John.  In the beginning of the passage we learn that Jesus, by this point, has developed a following.  How could he not?  He’s healing the sick, opening blind eyes, and restoring lame limbs; we’d probably be following this guy around too.  Where we are going to pick up the story is here in verse three.  Jesus has asked Simon Peter if he will push out his boat so that Jesus might have a platform from which to speak to the crowd.  Simon Peter obliges and Jesus steps in the boat as Peter shoves out from the shore to give Jesus some space to address everyone.  We don’t know exactly what Jesus said but, based on his other speeches throughout the New Testament, we can assume some of the major points he may have discussed.

What I want to focus on here, though, in this short verse is Peter’s willingness.  Just prior to this verse we see that Peter has been fishing all day and he and the other two fishermen are beginning to clean up their nets.  It might be safe to say that Peter was not really jumping at the prospect of having to push his boat back out in to the water.  But, regardless, he did it anyway.  He was willing to allow Jesus to use his boat to speak to the crowd.  That’s what I want to focus on.

Now, I may be running the risk of neglecting context here but just follow me.  Simon allowed Jesus to utilize his livelihood as a means to speak to the crowd. How willing are we to allow God to use our livelihood as a platform to share the Gospel?  We often times fall victim to the thought that we have to be working in a church or in vocational ministry to truly be used by God.  But what about Simon?  He was a just a lowly fisherman.  He wasn’t working in the synagogue.  He wasn’t working at some major ministry organization.  He was just doing what, most likely, his father did before him: fishing.  But God used that!  He didn’t require Simon to go through seminary or special training before he could be used.  All Jesus did was ask him to push his boat out.  The same goes for us.  We have sphere’s of influence that we are a part of every day.  Are we allowing God to use those as a platform to speak to the crowd?  Are we willing to say “Yes, Lord, I’ll step out of my comfort zone to share truth with my co-worker, neighbor, friend”?

Each day God asks us to push our boat out into the water so that He might speak to the crowds.  What about you?  Are you willing to push out your boat?