Love’s Offense

The message of love is big business.  It’s the theme of books, movies, greeting cards and retail stores and it’s appeal is universal because we are born needing love.  An expression of God’s character deep within us, love is essential to life, development and well-being.  No wonder it’s such a prolific topic.  But we’ve tampered with it.

The wonder and purity of love has been redefined to accommodate our fallen nature. Our broken relationship with God also broke our understanding of that which He entrusted to us for good. From the moment we were expelled from Eden, there has been a struggle to recapture true love.

The Bible tells us that God is love. Most often it is quoted to support a viewpoint.  But without approaching Him with reverence and humility, we are just as willing to fit God into our mold as we are love into our desires. Yet, the purity of God’s love allows no such thing. We need only to look to Jesus Christ for that evidence.  He did not come to accommodate us, but to redeem us.

The 5th chapter of the Gospel of John contains a statement of love that is hidden in open view.  It attests to Divine love in the midst of a hateful confrontation.  Jesus had healed a paralytic on the Sabbath, instructing him to pick up his mat and walk.  The Jewish leaders, already offended by the teachings of Jesus, dismissed the miracle and focused on the infraction of their man-made law. So they persecuted Him. Jesus explained that His Father is always about His work and that Jesus must do what He sees His Father doing, which only fueled their determination to kill Him.  Still Christ offered grace. He engaged with those willingly deceived by speaking truth they desperately needed:

“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgement is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me.  If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that His testimony about me is valid. 

You have sent to John (the Baptist) and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved.”  John 5:30-34 (NIV)

How does that connect to love?  In the last eight words.  Jesus longed for these men, as proud and arrogant as they were, to receive salvation. He wasn’t pleased that one day He will stand in judgement because of their rejection of the Life-Giver that stood before them.  He was fully aware of their plotting and knew it would culminate at a cross; yet His desire was to save them from eternal death to eternal life.  Still, His love offended them.

God’s love carries with it an element of offense; not because it is faulty, but because we are. To the unbeliever, that offense is the requirement to exchange self for the Savior; the proclamation that there is only one way to God and it is through Jesus Christ.  To the believer, it is the admonition to love our enemies and forgive those who spitefully use us. It counters our nature and we interpret it as condoning wrong behavior; but it’s no such thing.  We are called to exercise faith that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and to demonstrate that faith by rendering good in the place of evil.

Of course there is a place for justice; but never vengeance.  That belongs to God alone. Jesus disclosed such authority to the Jewish leaders who came at Him boasting of their knowledge of the law of Moses. Though the Lord had come to usher in an age of grace, their rejection of The Christ met with a warning that they faced judgement – for love is also just.

Can we love as Christ did?  Not alone. We live in a time when truth is denied and lies are honored, when values are mocked and Christians are marginalized. The reality is that, in some parts of the world, believers are killed for their faith.  Yet stories abound of the persecuted praying for their persecutors.  How do they do it?  Perhaps their understanding of love is not based on what they see, but Who they know. They are overcomers who have embraced the love of Christ at its deepest level and His assurance carries them through.

Jesus’ came to do the will of His Father.  He alone accomplished what justice demands and mercy offers.  Love bridged the broken relationship with God by covering believers with the righteousness of the Christ and His indwelling Holy Spirit.  The world may take offense, but the cross stands as the unparalleled demonstration of the love of God.  Because of His willing sacrifice and victorious triumph, we find strength for the hour and hope for eternity.

It’s not the sentiments of greeting cards, but it is the substance of life.

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