The Royal Rule of Love

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you…” Jesus Christ, John 13:34 The following article titled, Love One Another–The National Day of Prayer,” by Nathan Nass, a pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, was published on the National Day of Prayer on May 2, 2019.  Here is what he wrote:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

Jesus makes it sound so simple. Sometimes we think being a Christian is complicated. It’s not! “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So what’s being a Christian—or a Christian Church—all about? “Love one another.” Simple! Christianity is not about buildings or programs. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So how’s that going? May 2nd is the National Day of Prayer. Christians are encouraged to pray for our country. What a great idea! But if being a Christian hinges on loving one another, how’s that going in our country? Division on all sides. Lies spread. Churches burn. Students die. Immigrants suffer. Hatred grows. Right? Here’s the saddest part: Christians, or should I say “Christians,” are often right in the middle of it. Gathering around their “tribe.” Mocking others. Spreading rumors. “Love one another.” Is that what we see? How often aren’t Christians known more for political parties than for love? Why don’t people just love each other?

Well, why don’t we? The devil loves getting us concerned about everybody else’s sins, as long as we don’t think about our own. “Love one another.” Is your heart filled with love for everyone else? It’s simple, right? But Jesus’ simple command shows how sinful we are. If Jesus had said, “As I have loved you, love yourself,” I’d be doing a lot better. I want other people to love me. I want other people to sacrifice for me. What about you? As a church, how often don’t we expect other people to become like us? To act like us? To change for us? But loving them? Sacrificing for them? We don’t have time for that, do we? What sounds simple isn’t so simple!

In the Bible, God repeatedly convicted his nation—the Israelites—of not loving others. Do you know whom the Israelites most often refused to love? The foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. Over and over again, God rebuked his people for refusing to love the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. In fact, this was a sure-fire sign that people had fallen away from God—when they refused to love the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. Does that sound familiar? “They don’t belong here! Get them out of our country!” How far we’ve fallen! You still hear people say America’s a Christian country. If that’s true, then Jesus is a liar, because Jesus says that Christians will be recognized for their love for each other. That’s not our country!

So the solution seems simple: “Choose love!” A group of well-meaning Christians have put together some nationwide materials for the National Day of Prayer. That’s what those materials emphasize: “Choose love not hate!” That’s really what everybody’s saying, right? “Choose love not hate!” Sounds great! But how’s that working? I can’t! I can’t choose to love everyone. Not when my heart is filled with pain and bitterness and hurt and hate. Not when our world is filled with pain and bitterness and hurt and hate. When are we going to realize that we don’t have the power to fix things? It’s not a matter of just choosing love, not hate.

A slogan can’t save us. Government can’t fix it. Politics aren’t the answer. Do you know what is? Five little words. There’s a little phrase we’ve skipped over. “As I have loved you…” “As I have loved you…” Nothing starts with you. Nothing depends on us. If you want to find love, don’t look inside your heart. Look to Jesus. “As I have loved you…” What do you see? On the night before his death, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waste and washed his disciples feet. In the Lord’s Supper, he gave them his own body and blood. Then he let himself be arrested and tried and crucified. Why? Because Jesus loves you. That much! “As I have loved you.”

There is only one source of real, unconditional love—Jesus! Our country needs a movement—a movement back to Jesus! Jesus didn’t say to us, “You need to change and become like me!” When would that have happened? Never! Jesus gave up all that he had to become one of us and live for us and die for us and save us. Jesus didn’t see people who looked different and say, “Get them out of here!” His Word says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). He made us part of his family!

And Jesus turned to his disciples, and to you and me, and said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” A “new” command. There’s nothing new about the idea of loving each other. Here’s what’s new: Before Jesus, no one knew what love really is. The world had never seen love like Jesus’ love. We’re used to give and take. To love in order to be loved. But grace for sinners? Love for the unlovable? Unconditional love? Self-sacrificing love? That’s new. That’s Jesus! But that love doesn’t end with Jesus. It’s a chain. We’re part of it! “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

This is what America needs. This is our community needs. Christ-like love. What if we loved like Jesus? What if everybody loved like Jesus? Wouldn’t that be a great prayer? May Jesus and his love lead Christians everywhere to love like him! Because this is what Christians do—“Love one another.” Christians enter into other people’s lives and care about them—body and soul—like Jesus for us. Jesus set the bar of love pretty high, and then he tells us: “Go for it! I’ll help you love like me!” And do you know what? People will notice. They will notice you. They will notice our church. But most of all, they will notice our Savior Jesus. And they and our country will be blessed. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Quote source here.)

James 2 in The Message Bible tells us how to live out this  “royal rule of love,” and follows it up with “faith in action”:

The Royal Rule of Love

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms?

You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others. The same God who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” If you don’t commit adultery but go ahead and murder, do you think your non-adultery will cancel out your murder? No, you’re a murderer, period.

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.

Faith in Action

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

I’ll end this post with the same words of Jesus that opened this post: A new commandment I give you . . .

Love one another . . .

As I have . . .

Loved you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Love One Another” by the Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Demonstrating Grace

“Be kind and compassionate to one another”…Ephesians 4:32 Recently I had an opportunity to choose between seeking justice or dispensing grace. I was surprised at how much I was pulled in both directions until I finally came to a final decision. I was wronged in a way that the cost would come out of my own pocket even though I was not at fault. The counsel I was given went both ways. Some said to seek justice.

I considered every side of the issue I could come up with, and in the end, I decided to let it go. While I see the damage done to my car everyday when I get in it to drive somewhere, and I would have been within my rights to pursue it further, I decided to not move forward regarding the other party involved who caused the car accident. The owner of the vehicle (a pickup) that hit my car had no idea it was his vehicle involved in the accident as the driver of his vehicle who hit my car wasn’t him. The driver was a young woman who didn’t own it, but she failed to let me know that information at the time of the accident. She did give me the information on her car insurance which is under her husband’s name (he was not the owner of the pickup, either), but it turned out to be expired and not currently valid.

It was the corner right bumper of the pickup that cause the damage to my car when she backed into my car as I was leaving a parking lot. The pickup was not damaged at all. The damage to my car was not such that my car was inoperable nor was I physically harmed. The damage that was done to my car was a significantly large dent in the back left door behind the driver’s seat, and the estimate to get it repaired is approximately $1200.

As it turned out, the “uninsured motorist” coverage on my own car insurance did not cover the physical damage done to my car, even though the woman who hit my car had no insurance that was in effect at the time of the accident. While I carry collision insurance on my car (it is 15 years old now but I kept full coverage on it), it comes with a $500 deductible which I would have to pay out of pocket to fix the door.

I was planning to trade in the car at some point this year on a newer car, and the trade-in value of my car, since it is 15 years old, is not high. I did file claims with my own car insurance company and the car insurance company of the woman who hit my car, and it was the woman’s insurance company who tracked down the owner of the pickup, and he had no idea his pickup had been in an accident. She said I could pursue it with him to recover damages, but I would have to do that through my own insurance company.

As I thought about it, I had an ethical issue (at least to my way of thinking) in doing that because it was not the guy who owned the pickup who caused the accident, and he didn’t even know that his pickup had been in an accident. In the end, since I was planning to trade in my car at some point this year and it is 15 years old, I decided to not pursue trying to get the damage repaired through the insurance company of the guy who owned the pickup. It would go against his insurance premium for several years to come, and he didn’t even cause the accident nor did he know about it. And due to the age of my car, it is not worth me paying a $500 deductible to put a new door on a 15-year-old car that is about to be traded in anyway.

So, I’m now driving my car with a big dent in the back door until such time as I trade it in. I was told that a car the age of mine would most likely end up on an auction block and the parts sold after I trade it in anyway, and the trade-in value of it would not be affected that much because of the dented door because it was low to start with even before the door was damaged.

I mention all of this to say that it is not an easy thing to do when one has the right to try and seek justice or, instead, to choose to turn the other cheek and dispense grace. We live in a world that seeks and wants justice most of the time, and dispenses grace sparingly, if at all in many cases. And, in no way am I “patting myself on the back” for doing this. I am just trying to be honest in what it takes to come to a decision like this when justice could be served but it is set aside instead.

This morning I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread titled, Demonstrating Grace,” by Amy Boucher Pye. Here is what she wrote:

Demonstrating Grace

You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.Micah 7:19

Today’s Scripture & Insight: Micah 7:18–20

In moments where tragedy happens or even hurt, there are opportunities to demonstrate grace or to exact vengeance,” the recently bereaved man remarked. “I chose to demonstrate grace.” Pastor Erik Fitzgerald’s wife had been killed in a car accident caused by an exhausted firefighter who fell asleep while driving home, and legal prosecutors wanted to know whether he would seek the maximum sentence. The pastor chose to practice the forgiveness he often preached about. To the surprise of both him and the firefighter, the men eventually became friends.

Pastor Erik was living out of the grace he’d received from God, who’d forgiven him all of his sins. Through his actions he echoed the words of the prophet Micah, who praised God for pardoning sin and forgiving when we do wrong (Micah 7:18). The prophet uses wonderfully visual language to show just how far God goes in forgiving His people, saying that He will “tread our sins underfoot” and hurl our wrongdoings into the deep sea (v. 19). The firefighter received a gift of freedom that day, which brought him closer to God.

Whatever difficulty we face, we know that God reaches out to us with loving, open arms, welcoming us into His safe embrace. He “delights to show mercy” (v. 18). As we receive His love and grace, He gives us the strength to forgive those who hurt us—even as Pastor Erik did. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Why We Should Extend Grace to Others,” by Larry Thompson, International Director, Athletes in Action, Cru’s sports ministry (Cru was formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), he writes:

One of the most frequent reasons missionaries return home is due to interpersonal conflicts.

When one of our American missionary women first arrived in Eastern Europe many years ago, I asked about her previous experience.

She told me that after finishing college, she’d worked two years with a small mission in Africa, where she taught school for the children of missionary families.

“That must have been a wonderful experience,” I said.

“Oh no,” she replied, “it was awful!”

She explained that ministry with the children was great, but living on the mission compound was awful due to infighting between the missionary families.

Within two years the conflict had become so serious the mission center closed down.

The closing created a domino effect that closed other mission centers and, tragically, led to the folding of the mission.

Growing Strong in God’s Grace

What happened? Why did people who loved the Lord and wanted to make Him known make choices that led to such heartache?

The answer, I believe, is that those families failed to live according to God’s grace.

Unfortunately, this story is repeated often, not only on the mission field, but also in the lives of individual Christians and their churches.

And it could happen to us.

As this Easter season approaches, I believe all of us need to take a fresh look at God’s grace and how to grow strong in the grace that comes from the Cross. 

I first began thinking about this topic several years ago, while memorizing the first few verses of 2 Peter. Verse 2 says, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

What does it mean to have grace multiplied to you? I began to ask myself.

It occurred to me that many of the Epistles mentioned something of grace and peace in their opening greetings. I looked at 2 Timothy 2, which begins with Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

What does it mean to be strong in grace? I wondered.

Of course, I understand and can give the definition of “grace”—God’s unmerited favor—and I can even give the clever acrostic for grace—God’s riches aChrist’s expense” (GRACE).

But what does this mean in an experiential sense?  How can we live according to grace and avoid the mistakes of that mission compound? I began searching for some deeper, yet practical, insight into what it means to be “strong in grace.”

The answer, I discovered, was quite down-to-earth: We grow strong in grace when we understand God’s unconditional forgiveness of us, then learn to unconditionally forgive others.

Understanding the Cross

Although Easter rolls around just once a year, we should, in reality, celebrate Easter every day by reflecting on what Christ did for us. Christ’s death on the Cross is more than just an event in history, or a symbol of Christianity. It represents the very foundation of God’s grace.

If we hope to grow strong in grace, we must develop a deeper, more personal appreciation for what Christ did on the Cross.

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, New International Version). His love for us is unconditional. We do not earn His grace:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV). Salvation, and God’s forgiveness, is a free gift! We don’t deserve it.

Though once we were enemies of God, according to Colossians 1:21,22, now, through His shed blood, we are set free and reconciled to Him. He canceled out the certificate of punishment and death against us through His shed blood on the Cross.

This is only a sampling of what God reveals to us in His Word about the meaning of the Cross. We need to continually study the Scriptures to understand, deep in our souls, just what Christ did for us. We deserve nothing, yet through the Cross, God gave us everything. This is grace.

I personally begin virtually every prayer time, whether privately or in a group, with an expression of my deep appreciation to God for redeeming me. I spend time thinking and reflecting on His redemption of me.

He sought me out when I was in rebellion, and He brought me unto Himself. I am deeply grateful.

Indeed this attitude of gratitude should be the foundation of our worship and service.

Giving Grace to Others

God wants us to grow strong in giving grace to others. Giving grace to another person is simply to forgive them, unconditionally, just as God forgave us through Christ.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, NIV).

Just as we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, someone you know may not deserve yours. It doesn’t matter: We are still commanded to forgive them.

In our family, when we apologize to one another, we don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Rather, we make sure that each person specifically admits what he did wrong and then specifically asks forgiveness for that wrong.

The person forgiving must reply with a specific “I forgive you” instead of saying, “Oh, it’s OK.” It wasn’t OK. It was wrong! It is, however, forgiven.

As we have trained our children, we’ve sought to teach them the true meaning of forgiveness and to see that even though a person is wrong, you can still forgive them, and apply grace to the person who wronged you.

The opposite of forgiving can become tragic. We see tragedy in the case of the mission center and, much too often, in individual relationships, the workplace and even in the church.

There is no middle ground with forgiveness. We either apply God’s grace or we follow a road toward bitterness.

Hebrews 12:15 tells what happens when we fall short of grace:

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (NIV).

Not forgiving means to fall short of the grace of God, and that results in bitterness. A root of bitterness doesn’t destroy the other person, but instead destroys ourselves and those closest to us — just as it destroyed the mission compound in Africa.

God’s Far-Reaching Forgiveness

For me personally, learning to extend grace toward others and forgive unconditionally has been one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned.

Indeed, God is still teaching me this lesson. I often fall short in my relationships and responsibilities with my family or co-workers. I then must humbly come and ask their forgiveness.

Likewise I must be forgiving to my wife, children and fellow staff when they fail. In the role of a leader I have endured some very difficult experiences that could have led to holding a grudge or developing a root of bitterness. These truths of giving grace to others and not harboring a root of bitterness have preserved and protected me.

The choice is clear, and extremely serious. Determine not to fall short of the grace of God.

Remember that Christ forgave you far beyond what you deserve, and forgive others in the same way.

Give up that grudge or bitterness. Forgive that family member, friend, associate at work or other person with whom you have a problem.

The stakes are high, for if you fail to grow strong in grace, and are unable to forgive, you are charting a path to pain and heartbreak—not for the other person, but for yourself. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Ephesians 4:32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ…

God . . .

Forgave . . .

You . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac ft. Lecrae:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here