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Love

On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Brevik bombed Norway’s government buildings in Oslo killing 8 people. He then proceeded to undertake a mass shooting in Utøya Island  where 69 people perished. The court sentence came down to a single question: was Brevik mentally healthy enough to be held responsible for his atrocities? Some of the Court appointed psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia and criminally insane. 

If that diagnosis had stood Anders Breivik would not have gone to prison. He would have had to be detained in a psychiatric hospital. In the end he was found sane and sentenced to 21 years in prison. The trial sparked debate. What is normal healthy mind? What behaviour does it portray? Opinion was divided, but one thing everyone agreed on: the state of mind is reflected in our behaviours! Actions reflect mind!

The Bible says that all true Christians have a new healthy mind. Apostle Paul writing to Christians in Corinth said,  “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Therefore our behaviours must necessarily reflect the Jesus in us - reflect spiritual health  and vitality. What are the hallmarks of a healthy Christian life? What would we say are things that should mark those who profess to know Jesus Christ?

Paul writing to the young Church at Colossae was keen to encourage them in their walk with Jesus. As he so often did he begun by thanking God for them and through that highlighted things happening in their lives that he was absolutely sure were from God. Hallmarks that were to be a source of comfort to these young Christians in an era when scepticism and false teaching abounded:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints [Colossians 1:3-4]
Paul singled out their faith and love as the key hallmarks worthy of thanks to God. We have already discussed their faith, so let us focus on the second hallmark of love. The first point to note is that true Christians have love. These young Christians at Colossae had love. Paul was not calling them to love rather he was thanking God for the evidence of their faith which was expressed in love that they already possessed.

This is an important truth to understand. Christians do not go and look for love that we can then share with those around us. The Bible says that we already have God’s unconditional love in us because God has poured his love in our hearts through the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes to live in our hearts he gives us new life that enables us to love afresh!

Before we could not love because dead people cannot love! Now Jesus who powerfully lives in us enables us to love. Love is now our new nature and default position! Any hatred we had now belongs to the old nature. It is this reality that now acts as an assurance that we have Jesus. The Christian loves not to gain God’s approval but as an expression of God’s work in our lives. As Apostle John says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them”.

Love of course is not just a possession, it is an activity. So Paul rightly thanks God that the Colossians love was “for all believers”. Their love was not selective or discriminatory. It was for “all” believers they came into contact with - from all walks of life. The comprehensive nature of this love is a challenge because in truth it appears rare among Christians. There’s an allusion of love within “theological boundaries” or congregation, but love that transcends those boundaries appears to be replaced by name calling and badges. It is difficult to love those you always view through sceptical eyes. But even in local church communities this love is also challenged because many churches have no depth of shared loved, they merely serve as “communal halls”.

But the truth of every Christian is that if we truly know Jesus our life is already encased in love and it will inevitably show. All real believers have an attitude of love because if Jesus lives in them he will love others through them. So the question we should be asking ourselves is a simple one. How deep is my love? When the world looks at me, are they seeing a person moved and controlled by Love? Is love what enters their mind when they talk about us? If, the answer is no – may be there’s no Jesus because Jesus is Love. Or may be it has grown cold and it needs to be fired up. We need to come in repentance to Jesus and ask him to fire it up again.

The second observation we can make is that true Christians have love underpinned by faith. Faith and love goes together. It does so in a rather surprising way here. For one thing faith in Christ Jesus gives birth and establishes love. That faith comes as a result of the “grace of God in truth” (v6). Without faith in Jesus it is impossible to know Jesus! So the order is that first we have faith in Jesus and then his love is poured in our hearts. Only those who are born again can love because love is from God (1 John 5:1).

This seemingly obvious point is in fact a game changer. We so often speak about the lack of love in the church and our world. We are tempted to join in the singing with the Black Eyed Peas when they ask, “where is the love”? The answer is that this love is in Jesus Christ. Unless people can get new hearts that comes with faith in Jesus there can be no love. Yes we may see allusions to love but true love only comes from God in Jesus Christ. If we are not seeing great and deeper expression of love in our churches, we must not be afraid to ask, “is our faith real”? We run away from that question at our peril.

The other surprising thing about the relationship between love and faith as depicted in that passage is that it explains the scope of the love. The question we must all be asking is this : why does Paul seem to focus on loving believers? Indeed, why is the injunction in the New Testament nearly always about about loving other Christians? The commands appear to “prioritise” or “focus” on believers. Why is that?

Christians of course are to love everyone. But the reason why the focus is on believers is linked to a very important idea. When we become Christians we become one with other believers in Jesus Christ. What basically happens is that God himself comes and lives in each and everyone of us. There’s now a sense in which not only does God himself loves through us, but in loving other believers our love for them is ultimately an affirmation of God himself in their lives. We are loving something about what God is to them. The love for others is therefore a love for God who lives in them.

Therefore there's some deeper about loving believers. And  in that depth is a serious point. If we cannot even love Christians believers who have God in them, when God is in us, how can we possibly love non-believers? Love for believers therefore acts as a form of reassurance for our standing in faith. So now we see that this love we share with other believers in faith is once again for our benefit. Love is good for faith in God. Love is good for us! And that should be no surprise because Jesus is Love!

Finally, we see that true Christian have love fuelled by the Holy Spirit. A few verses later Apostle Paul notes that Epaphras had “made known to us your love in the Spirit” (v8). Paul is concerned with the location of their love. It existed in the Spirit. That is to say it was sealed and energised by the Holy Spirit. God the Spirit is the bond that binds Christian love. Not only is loving a gift from God, it is also enabled and shared by God in the life of a Christian. True love is not possible without the God the Spirit because it is God the Spirit that loves in and through us.

And of course, all this means that where the God the Spirit is there’s love! We have a tendency to measure the presence of God the Spirit by miracles, signs and wonders. But in Colossae the reassurance that God was actively among His people is that they had “love in the Spirit”. This is the hallmark of true and living faith everywhere! The devil can counterfeit many miracles and wonders, but he cannot produce love!

Oh, how I pray that that God the Spirit enables me to love more and more!

Related Posts

Lessons from Colossae : Identity
Lessons from Colossae : Status
Lessons from Colossae : Faithfulness
Lessons from Colossae : Faith

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

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