Sunday, May 15, 2011

It Takes Two: Hating & Loving Like Christ

Whether you are a stay-at-home mother, a farmer, or a tax attorney in April, it is easy to become so busy with living and doing that you lose your focus. For the past three months, I've been studying the book of Revelation and keep coming back to the seven letters to the seven churches in chapter two where many of the churches seem to have lost their focus, for one reason or another.

Like a good teacher, though, Christ first commends them for what they're doing right before showing where their faith is lacking.

Of the Ephesians, He says,

"I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate " (Rev. 2:2-3, 6).

In this passage, there is so much good.

First, they were not content to be pew-warmers. Instead, they lived a faith in action, working hard for the cause of Christ. A glance at the Greek shows the word "toil" as meaning "to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief)"* This group took seriously the Great Commission, demonstrating to the point of exhaustion their belief they were not saved to sit but saved to serve. But even in their physically weariness, Christ says they "have not grown weary." Despite physical weariness, they were still strong spiritually.

Next is the Ephesians' commendation for "perseverance." The very fact that this group persevered implies that there was something they had to persevere through. They were steadfast. They endured great trials and suffering, yet remained loyal to Christ.

These hardships are alluded to when Christ says, "have endured for My name's sake." The King James version renders this phrase as Christ knowing what this congregation "hast borne." This wording seems to better reflect the symbolism offered by the original Greek's "bastaz┼Ź," which means "to bear, to carry"* From this , it is easy to envision the Ephesians bearing the burden of claiming Christ's name and metaphorically "carrying" His cross. It seems they took seriously Christ's edict that "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Lk. 9:23).

And finally the Ephesians sought out and expelled any who deviated from the true gospel. Unlike today's Christianity where small concessions of false gospel here and there are splintering churches and watering down denominations until the gospel is completely ineffective, the Ephesians hated false apostles just as Christ hated them.

BUT (and here's where the Ephesians went awry), Christ found something specific wrong with their faith: "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Re. 2:4).

They hated as Christ hated. BUT, they did not love as Christ loved.

They did not love with Christ's "agape" love, a love only available to those infused with the Spirit, a love not possible by any human means.

Somehow, they lost this kind of love. Whether the Ephesians lost Christ's love because they grew cynical after booting too many impostors out of their church or whether they lost that love in the busy-ness of "doing" for God...I don't know. Maybe it was a little of both, which made them become Pharisees, so focused on busily standing guard at the front door to keep out the false teachings that they exchanged a passionate, merciful love for legalism.

And perhaps then this legalism led their righteousness to turn into self-righteousness...an all-too-easy leap to make when you know you hold the truth and forget what pit God's grace saved you from.

In America today, I see Christianity being painted as a legalistic, self-righteous religion, mainly because too many Christians are using their swords of truth as weapons of hatred and self-righteousness when standing against such polarizing sins as abortion and homosexuality. This using legalism as a justification for not demonstrating agape love reveals that we, too, have left our first love.

Even as I write this, I'm still not sure how to walk that line of hating as Christ hates while loving as Christ loves. They seem so opposite. But I think it goes back to what Jesus pointed out as the top two commandments--to love God and then love my neighbor as myself.

If we maintain or reclaim our first love for God, His Spirit will help us show agape love, which will then infect everyone around us, and the rest will follow.

* www.blueletterbible.org

2 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. I think we all struggle with this (or we should, if we're really trying to "be like Him!"). I know I do everyday - hating the child abuser and drug user, loving her enough to care about her rehabilitation, hating the trappings and lies of homosexual marriage, loving the same-sex couples I see in my courthouse every week. It's hard to do, but important, I think...

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  2. This is so true. So Evident in our Christian lives, sadly. I spoke with some young people recently about this. A young man whom I know personally, teenager, professing homosexuality. My heart breaks because I see such extremes as people who say we need to love him but not judge him. In essence, people who don't want to speak truth. Yet, on the other hand, there are so many people, Christians included, who respond with rage or disgust. Lack of love.
    It's an area I need much help in. We need a Baptism in His love.

    I love how beautifully, how simply, you wrote this. Oh to love like Him and hate like Him....

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