Seeing Christ in the Covenants

(An excerpt from Simple Faith)

As you may know, the Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is divided into 39 books, and the New Testament contains 27 books. Generally speaking, the books of the Bible are divided by author or time period. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthian church. Each of those letters stands alone as a book of the Bible.

While the books are divided by author or time period, there is an undergirding foundation to each of the Testaments. The first covenant is the underpinning of the Old Testament. Just before Jesus was crucified, He proclaimed that he was bringing in a new covenant.

The word ‘covenant’ simply means: an agreement made between two people. It is like a binding contract.

On the surface, these terms may sound like theological jargon, but there is an exciting truth unveiled through these covenants that point directly to how God relates to you and I as individuals. I want to show you how the Old Covenant unveils the love of God for mankind that wasn’t fully realized until the New Covenant was confirmed through Christ.

 

God’s Covenant with Abraham

When the Bible teaches the Christian what it means to have faith, Abraham is the example. Yes, the Old Testament patriarch is the model for New Testament faith. Abraham was before the law. This is significant because the Bible makes it clear that the covenant with Abraham came by faith through the promise, and not by the works of keeping the Old Testament law. We’ll look at this shortly, but let’s first take a look at the covenant of faith given to Abraham.

Genesis chapter fifteen is an amazing passage. The chapter begins by God declaring, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” The New Testament points back to God’s relationship with Abraham as an example of how God relates to us as believers. We think of rewards as things, but the true reward is God. If we have intimacy with God, we have everything. If we lack that relationship with God, we have nothing of lasting significance.

The Bible calls Abraham the friend of God[1]. Jesus declared to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants…I call you friends.[2]” In both the Old and New Testaments, the joy of faith is friendship with God. It’s the goal behind redemption.

The faith of Abraham and the relationship he had with God is the same as God offers to the Christian today. God spoke to Abraham and revealed the promise of his inheritance. Then the Bible says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness[3]. This is how the Christian believes today. God reveals the promise of our new life through Christ, and by faith we believe God and we are credited with the righteousness of Christ[4].

Hopefully you will begin to see the harmony of the Old Testament and the New Testament. What God did in ancient times was a foreshadowing of what God was about to do through Christ. All the Old Testament points to the coming Christ, and all the New Testament points back to our redemption through Christ.

The same is true for the covenant of Abraham. After Abraham’s justification by faith, God introduced the covenant. If you aren’t familiar with the word ‘justification’, it simply means to be justified – or to be declared as just. Those who were once under the accusation of sin are declared just through Christ, and no longer are accounted as sinners. This is a topic we’ll go into later. For now, be aware that Abraham was justified by faith when he believed God, prior to any covenant.

After being declared righteous, God offered the covenant – or a binding agreement with Abraham. The Lord pointed to the land surrounding Abraham and declared, “I will give you this land for an inheritance, and to your descendants.”

At this time, the land had inhabitants who already possessed it. Knowing this, Abraham asked a natural question – how? God not only reveals the how, but takes it a step further. God explains that the current inhabitants will be deposed once they become morally bankrupt[5], but then God seals the promise with a covenant.

In the ancient times, when two parties entered into a binding agreement, they would take an animal – usually a ram or a cow, slay it, and lay half the animal on the side where one party sat, and half where the other party sat. They would then swear an oath to each other, and both parties would walk between the pieces. The meaning of the ritual was that each person agreed that what was done to this animal would be done to them if they broke their part of the agreement. In other words, the covenant could not be broken without a death penalty. Keep this in your mental cache. It will be significant when we see how God brings in the New Covenant.

Something interesting happens as God prepares to make the covenant for Abraham. He asks Abraham to prepare the sacrifice,[6] but does not allow Abraham to participate in the confirmation. Look now at Genesis 15:9-12, 17-18a

 9 So [God] said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.

 17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land…

 

At this point, Abraham’s name has not yet been changed, so he is still being called Abram. For the sake of clarity, I will continue to refer to him as Abraham.

Notice that God had Abraham prepare the sacrifice, but did not allow him to walk between the pieces. This is significant. The covenant was with Abraham and his descendants after him. If Abraham had been the confirming party, and either he or his descendants failed to uphold their part of the agreement, the covenant would be broken and judgment would fall. Sin has consequences. Israel (the nation that inherited the promise) sinned and turned their back on God repeatedly. According to the rules of the covenant, the violating party would be slain for breaking the covenant.

To protect Abraham and his descendants, God made the covenant with Himself, but Abraham was the beneficiary. This event was used as an example showing the certainty of God’s promises to us in Hebrews 6:13-18

 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,
 14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”
 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.
 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before
us.

 

In other words, to give God’s people confidence in the certainty of God’s promise, He swore the oath against His life; not against the life of any fallible man. Once again, we see the Old Testament revealing the truth of our promise. To make the promise sure, God swore the oath by Himself. Therefore, even in judgment when Israel abandoned God, the people had the promise of returning to the land and obtaining the promise by simply repenting and reconciling with the Lord.

When the people failed, the covenant remained, for God was the guarantee of the covenant. The oath was between God and Himself, not God and Abraham. However, through that covenant, God blessed Abraham and his descendants with the benefit of the promise. Abraham entered into the covenant as a receiver and not as one making the guarantee.

The law that came through Moses is not how God’s people obtained the promise. The promise has always been by faith, and even when the people fell short on keeping the law, the promise wasn’t nullified. Look at Galatians 3:17

And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.

 

Who was the covenant made through? God in Christ. God swore the oath to Abraham through Christ, and the covenant wasn’t dependent upon the law. When the people fell short, they could not nullify the promise of the covenant. Man cannot break a covenant made between God and Himself. Both the Father and the Son were present at the confirmation of Abraham’s covenant, and are symbolized through the smoking oven of judgment and the light of the gospel torch.

The law cannot nullify the promise. The success of the law was dependent upon man, so it failed. But the promise cannot be annulled by the failure of man, because it was confirmed by God in Christ. So even in the Old Testament, we see Christ being the covenant maker, though He was not fully revealed until His human birth.

The Bible says that the weakness of the law was man[7], and that the purpose of the law was to restrain man[8], show man his inability to justify himself, and therefore turn to Christ[9], to teach man about Christ[10], and to foreshadow Christ[11]. These are all roles of the law. One thing strangely absent is justification. The role of the law was not to justify man. Justification by faith was presented as God’s plan more than four-hundred years before the law was given.

Since man is the weakness of the law, it also stands true that any promises that are dependent upon man are at risk of failure. Any covenants dependent upon man are destined for judgment. Therefore, God swore a covenant by Himself with Abraham and his descendants as beneficiaries of the promise. God’s New Testament plan is no different.

 

The New Covenant

The New Testament and all of Christianity is founded upon the new covenant. A bit of study reveals the new covenant clearly foretold and foreordained in the rituals and practices of the Old Testament – a testament founded upon God’s first covenant. In fact, covenant and testament are interchangeable in their meaning, but for the sake of clarity I’ll use testament to refer to the division between the Old Testament times and the New Testament times.

The problem with bringing in a new covenant is that something must be done about the old covenant. The Bible says that it is to be done away with in order to unveil the full plan of God. The old covenant foreshadowed what God was going to do through the new covenant, but the new can’t be ushered in until the previous one passes away.

Remember when I said to keep the meaning of the covenant ritual in your mental cache? This is where it becomes significant. God swore by Himself as a guarantee for the covenant with Abraham. In order to break the old covenant, it must be done to Him as was done to the sacrifice. The person breaking a blood oath must be slain. And yes, this was part of God’s plan from the beginning.

God did not arrive at the New Testament era and say, “Oops.” The Lord foretold of how He would break the old covenant. The Bible says that the old covenant was confirmed by God in Christ[12]; therefore, since Christ is the guarantee of the old covenant, He must lay down His life to break it. And this is exactly what Jesus foretells of Himself in the Old Testament. Look at Zechariah 11:10-14

 10 And I took my staff, Beauty, and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples.
 11 So it was broken on that day. Thus the poor of the flock, who were watching me, knew that it was the word of the LORD.
 12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.
 13 And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter.
 14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

 

So much is said in this passage. Let’s begin at the end. In the Old Testament times, in order to enter God’s covenant with Abraham, one had to be a Jew. Either they had to have been born a Jew, or they had to convert to Judaism. This is why there was so much confusion in the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus was a Jew, and so were his disciples. When God poured out His Spirit upon all people, treating the Jews and the Gentiles alike, Jewish believers had a hard time accepting this.

The word ‘Gentile’ simply means anyone who is not a Jew. For thousands of years, God centered His covenant upon Israel. Now that covenant was broken, and the Jewish Christians had a hard time understanding the significance of this.

This is why Zechariah’s prophecy is so important. The Old Covenant was based on the physical descendants of Abraham, but the New Covenant brings everyone into the covenant through a new spiritual birth in Christ. In order to open up the world to the promises of God, the Old Covenant that promised it to the physical bloodline of Abraham had to be broken.

Jesus alluded to this when he said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.[13]

The Jewish nation looked upon themselves as the sheep of God. God cared for them, nurtured them, and protected them as the fold of His sheep. Now Jesus is saying that another fold will be brought in, and they will be united as one people along with the Jews. This is the gentiles. This is part of the New Covenant. Look at Matthew 26:27-28

 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
 28 “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

 

Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand this until God revealed his plan to the New Testament church. The cross is where the Old Covenant was broken, and the New Covenant was born. Jesus took the staff of His protection over the flock of Israel, broke it in two, allowed Himself to be nailed to it in the form of a cross, and redeemed all people through the New Covenant.

Think back to the first covenant. Who prepared the sacrifice, and who confirmed the covenant? Man prepared the sacrifice. Abraham prepared it, but God confirmed it by swearing by Himself while making Abraham and his descendants the beneficiaries of the promise. The covenant was between God and God, symbolized in the burning furnace of judgment and the torch of light.

In the same way, man prepared the sacrifice of Jesus, but the covenant was between God and Himself, with us as the beneficiaries of the promise. In the first covenant, only Abraham, the father of the Jews was called upon to prepare the sacrifice. In the New Covenant, God called upon the Romans (gentiles) and the Jews to jointly prepare the sacrifice.

The Jews prepared the sacrifice through the trial that provided false testimony and then condemned Jesus with an illegal court. The gentiles prepared the sacrifice through the Romans who knowingly condemned an innocent man under Governor Pilot, and then executed Jesus on the cross.

Man prepared the sacrifice, but the covenant was between God as the Heavenly Father and Jesus the Son. Isaiah 53 says that it pleased the LORD (the Father) to bruise Him (the Son), and make His soul an offering for our sin.

So we can see that the covenant was between God the judge of sin (burning oven) and the Son who is the light of the world (the flaming torch), with us as the beneficiary to the promise. The promise is our redemption from judgment against sin, and becoming joint heirs, who are now welcomed into the fold of God.

How can we not rejoice in the amazing work of God? And how can we not stand in awe of the foreknowledge of God? He revealed these things from the beginning. The Old Testament saints could not understand these things because Christ had not yet been revealed. We, on the other hand, can see clearly through the lens of the cross and see how God has been working out his plan for thousands of years.


An excerpt from Simple Faith, How every person can experience intimacy with God by Eddie Snipes



[1] James 2:23

[2] John 15:15

[3] Genesis 15:6

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

[5] Genesis 15:16

[6] Genesis 15:9-10

[7] Romans 8:3

[8] Galatians 3:23

[9] Romans 3:19-20

[10] Galatians 3:24-25

[11] Hebrews 9:19-28

[12] Galatians 3:17

[13] John 10:16

Simple Faith-Love your enemies

Love Your Enemies

There was a man who was very rich. His house was filled with luxury and he wanted for nothing. At least nothing in the material sense. The heart of this man was empty, thus he began a quest for fulfillment. Before we look at his journey, let’s look at how he became wealthy.

The lucrative career he chose was collecting taxes. When we think of taxes, we all have negative feelings. In his era, tax collectors were the lowest form of human existence. He worked for the Roman government. When Rome conquered a nation, they allowed the people a few unique freedoms. They were allowed to keep their culture, language, and rulers. However, Rome also set up their own rulers who held a higher position of authority. They also required every citizen to be bilingual and learn a simplified version of Greek. Each nation would also be put under tribute. In other words, they had to pay taxes to Rome.

As long as rulers behaved under the Roman governors, people learned the national language, and taxes were paid, subcultures were acceptable in this form of government. This method of compromise helped maintain stability in one of the world’s longest lasting empires.

It’s not hard to imagine that paying taxes to a foreign government wasn’t a popular idea. I say foreign because Rome wasn’t native to their culture. To simplify tax collecting, Rome would hire locals to collect the tribute money. A local understood the town’s economy and knew who had money, and had a good idea of how much.

A tax collector had the backing of the Roman government, so resisters could be arrested or have their property seized. Rome also turned a blind eye to the amount of money collected. Collectors only had to meet their quotas. Anything collected above this amount was bonus money for the collector. In the eyes of the community, tax collectors were legalized thieves.

This rich man was despised by his neighbors. He was a traitor because he joined with the oppressive government against his own people. He was a thief because he raised extra taxes against his neighbors so he could pad his own pockets. When the townspeople refused to pay the inflated tax prices, the soldiers came in to take it by force. When a man complained that his taxes were higher than he knew Rome required, the soldiers showed no concern. The commander had no interest in even making sure the money collected made it to the government.

“That’s on him. Tax collectors know the amount due. I’m a soldier, not an auditor,” would have been his answer to the locals.

The commander knew it was a rip off, but did not care. This created hatred against this tax collector, and all others like him. In fact, all tax collectors were like him. The free money is what lured these worthless and greedy fellows into this despicable profession.

This man grew wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. He had the biggest house, best food, servants, and great possessions. Though his financial goals were coming to pass, he felt empty. Having all this wealth didn’t fill the void of loss of friendships and self-respect. One day he heard about Jesus coming to town. Hope rose in his heart and he sought the one people claimed to be a Savior.

The town’s people pushed him away and kept him far back from the one he wanted to see. At this point, many will recognize the story. He saw where Jesus was walking, ran ahead, and climbed a tree where he could see Jesus and get his attention. The man’s name was Zacchaeus.

Jesus called him down, came to his house, and Zacchaeus gladly gave up his wealth for the new life Jesus offered. He gave the substance of his house to repay those he robbed with the sword of the Romans.

The Apostle Matthew was in the exact same position. He was probably a miserable man, sitting among the money he collected at the receipt of customs. Jesus walked by and said, “Matthew, come and follow Me.” Matthew left his position and it’s wealth behind without a second thought, followed Jesus, and became an apostle and the author of the Gospel of Matthew.

At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with loving your enemies. It has a lot to do with it. Jesus used tax collectors as an example of loving your enemies. In our culture, we read this and it doesn’t evoke the same feelings as it did to the culture of His day. A tax collector was the most despised group of people in the Jewish culture. They were manipulators, thieves, traitors, and bullies. They had the power to accuse their enemies of crimes, and bring the judgment of the government upon the people.

Everyone feared and hated tax collectors. It was the profession of ill repute. No one was considered more corrupt and more worthless as a human being than a collector in that era. They were the enemy. Jesus even used them as illustrations in many of His teachings.

 

Now let’s look at what it means to love our enemies. Loving those who hate us and cause harm, goes against everything engrained into our nature. Yet this is exactly what Jesus commands. It’s perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the Christian life because it goes against everything our human nature is founded upon. Humanly speaking, it’s not possible to love someone who is actively trying to harm us. Love in the Christian life is not based upon human love or our abilities at all.

Keep in mind, the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit once we receive Christ. God is not asking you to give your love to those who don’t deserve it. God is asking you to take the love He has poured into your heart, and give His love to those around you. This applies to friends, neighbors, family, and even enemies. This love is what reflects true Christianity to the world around us. Until we have the opportunity to love those who show hate, little distinguishes us from the world. Look at Matthew 5:44-48

 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
 45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
 47 “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
 48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

 

It’s hard to look at this and not scratch our heads and say, “How?” During our casual reading this may not seem that difficult, but let the opportunity come to put it into practice, and you’ll see how hard it is to love.

If someone gets in our face, yelling and screaming curses, it’s not our natural reaction to say, “I bless you.” There are people in this world filled with hatred and destructive behaviors. Some people are just mean. They think nothing of harming another – whether it be by words or actions.

What if someone uses us? There are those who manipulate others by preying upon their trust, only to use them for personal gain. Swindlers think nothing of leaving families destitute while they make off with their money. They will even use Christianity as a means to personal gain, building trust only to create an opportunity to prey on others.

Do we bless them? Can we bless? It isn’t our natural reaction. Yet Jesus made it clear that unless we are able to practice this type of love, we are no different than those we consider to be ungodly among us. The Bible requires a hard thing. “Bless and do not curse.”[1] This is only possible when we are abiding in the love of God. Both the command and the promise is found in Proverbs 25:21-22

 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
 22 For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.

 

The opposite is also true. We are commanded not to seek revenge, for vengeance belongs to the Lord alone.[2] When we take vengeance into our own hands, we put ourselves in God’s place. Our enemy escapes consequences from God and we bring that upon ourselves for our disobedience. However, if we do good, pray for (not against) those who harm us, the Lord rewards us and then takes action on our enemies.

His first goal is mercy, just as the Lord showed us mercy while we were enemies of God. How God chooses to deal with those who wrong us is not our concern. In fact, when we rejoice over our enemies in their struggles, it displeases God and according to the Bible, His wrath is turned away from our enemies[3].

The reward is not in seeing someone suffer, but in the blessings of the Lord. If we obey, the Lord rewards us and instead of increased bitterness, we find freedom.

By nature, you cannot love those who hate you, but when you abide in the agape love of God, you will find the power to love those who seek your harm, and you will be rewarded with God’s blessing when you show love to others, whether they be enemies or friends. This is simple to understand, but difficult to live out. Often we must pray for strength. When you pray for enemies, you will find a love you didn’t know existed.

Let me reiterate this principle again. Abide in the love of God. The Lord’s love (agape) is outward focused. That means it is seeking a way out of our hearts and into the lives of those around us. Resisting the outward expression of God’s love through us creates a calloused heart. However, to surrender to the love that transformed our heart will become a wellspring of life to us as it passes God’s life changing love to others.

Either way, our life will be affected by God’s love. A resistant heart becomes calloused and bitter, cutting off God’s love through us and preventing us from experiencing this life giving power. However, when we allow it to flow, our lives will be constantly transformed.

I’ve never met a bitter person that had life. I’ve also never met a loving person that lacked life. Love creates life. Life is fulfilled in us as agape reaches outward to others.


Eddie Snipes
Excerpted from Simple Faith



[1] Romans 12:14

[2] Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30

[3] Proverbs 24:17-18

Simple Faith-The Treasure of God’s Love

The Treasure of God’s Love.

The Bible says that we love God because he first loved us[1]. In fact, according to Romans, it’s the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. This is contrary to most people’s idea of repentance. Sometimes people have to see the futility of this temporary life before they can see the joy of eternal life, but ultimately, it’s God’s love that draws each person near.

It’s time to recognize the goodness of God. Why do people stray? Often times it’s the false belief that something better is out there somewhere. Everyday life testifies to this. We’ve all heard the saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.” When we get on the other side, we find the benefits we expected aren’t there. We must recognize that God desires what is good for us. Only then will we understand the value of trusting Him. The Lord understands our human perspective and gave us His promise to look out for our good. Consider this passage from Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

This passage was given to Israel before they were taken captive by Babylon when the Lord’s people chose to follow other gods instead of Him. When they chose to follow pagan gods, the Lord allowed the pagan nations to rule over His people. Even in the midst of their judgment, God made it clear that His thoughts were for their prosperity and good. The Old Testament is written in Hebrew, and the original Hebrew word means, thoughts, plans, or purpose. God’s plan is to bless and pour His love into their lives, and the same is true for any who will trust Him today. Look at the wonderful promises of Psalm 36:7-9

 7 How precious is Your loving kindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.
 8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
 9 For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.

 

Follow the flow of thought in this amazing passage. It begins with trust. Those who trust God draw near and rest under the shadow of His wings. The picture is a mother hen protecting her brood. Jesus used this illustration when He wept over Jerusalem and cried, “How often I desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not come.” God still gives the same cry over his people today. It is His desire to gather us near Him, show us what it means to have true intimacy with God, and give us the plans He intends for us. But this is only found under the shadow of His wings – and only those who trust Him will come.

Look at the promise given to those who will come. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of His house. What does it mean to be abundantly satisfied? The picture is to overflow with abundance. It’s to have more than enough to satisfy our hearts. Does God want you to be deprived? No. God wants you to drink from His river of pleasures. His river is a fountain of life. The love of God reveals His plan to abundantly satisfy our lives, but it requires trust, and answering His call to come.

The world has a river, but it’s polluted with corruption and sin. It seems good, but only because we have never tasted the fresh waters of God’s river. Proverbs 10:22 says that the blessing of the Lord adds no sorrow with it. The same cannot be said for sin. On one side, we are trusting in our own actions to satisfy our desires. On the other side, God is calling us to leave our ways behind, trust Him, receive his love, and experience what it means to have fullness of joy. Until you believe the promise, you won’t trust God enough to leave the world behind.

The first step is to see the love of God, then receive that love. Once the love of God is poured out in our hearts, we will then have the power to love others. I cannot love the people I’m convinced don’t deserve it. Or perhaps the better way of putting it is that I can’t love those I feel deserve judgment. Yet, this is exactly what God commands me to do.

The Bible doesn’t command us to love with philia (friendship) love. This is because we naturally love those who return our love. I always feel love toward my friends. God doesn’t need to command us to love with eros, or affection. Think about marriage. When my spouse is affectionate, I don’t need to be commanded to return that affection.

The Bible repeatedly commands us to love with agape love. Since God has poured His agape love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, He has also empowered us to show that same love to others. By nature, agape is to love those who don’t deserve it. I am commanded to take the love God has given me, and pass it on to others. I’m called to take God’s undeserved love toward me, and love others without measuring their worthiness to be loved.

This is why Jesus said the second command comes from the first. I love God by establishing myself in the love He has given me (remember, we love God because he first loved us), and then I am loving my neighbor with the same love God has given me. In my human nature I cannot love my neighbor as myself. I will never take food off my table and feed a stranger while I starve. In truth, my natural reaction is to hoard extra while my neighbor is in need.

Like the rich young ruler, I cannot philia love my neighbor as myself because human nature lacks that capacity. I can, however, agape love my neighbor as myself. Philia love is natural to man and is given in response to what has been received or expected to be received. Agape love comes from the Holy Spirit within us and is not dependent upon our needs or self-centered desires.

Because of God’s love shown to me, I can take my underserved agape – given to me by the Spirit – and give it to my neighbor without measuring their worthiness. To understand this fully, take a look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 

When the love of God is poured out in our hearts, it flows outward. Our self-will is the only thing that stands between the love of God in us and the love of God shown to others. When I’m acting according to selfish human nature, I see the need of others and the Spirit within me calls me to reach out. When I’m acting selfishly, I may resist the call of God and withhold love. Anger, disappointment, and other human emotions can rise up and tempt us to withhold God’s love. When we submit to human nature and resist the love of God, we are acting in the flesh and pushing against the love of God.

We all do this from time to time, but as we mature in the faith, we begin recognizing the value of allowing God to reign freely and discover a world of agape love that flows through us and toward others. Often we mistake philia love as agape, but it is not. Agape calls us to love even when we don’t feel like it. When it flows unhindered, the Spirit within us becomes a fountain of life. When agape love is hindered, life begins to stagnate.

 

Consider the attributes of agape love:

Agape / Love is patient
Does not envy
Does not lift itself up
Isn’t puffed up – or selfish
Isn’t rude
Isn’t self-seeking
Is not provoked
Doesn’t think evil
Endures all things
Hopes in all things

 

With these things in mind, we can identify the source of our love. If I require something in return before I can love, it isn’t agape. If I must be praised in order to stay motivated to show love, it isn’t agape. If being provoked or wronged causes me to cut off my love, it isn’t agape. Agape keeps giving without expectation – other than the hope of God being glorified through the love He has given me.

When we are provoked, human nature attempts to arise and take over our hearts. However, when we understand the command of God to love without condition, I can choose to resist human nature and submit to the love of God. It is not me producing agape. It is me submitting myself to God’s agape love so the Spirit flows outward from my life to others.

This is why understanding love is easy; but keeping the command to love is difficult. If it came natural, it wouldn’t require a command. Loving the loveable is easy; therefore we are not commanded to love with philia love. Loving with agape is difficult. By its nature, agape is not self-seeking; therefore, we must abide in the love of God and not allow our human nature to rule our hearts. As we move forward we’ll discuss how to put these things into practice. For now, we must understand that we keep ourselves in God’s love so we can remain empowered to love others. Consider this passage from Jude 1:20-21

 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

 

The next chapter will discuss faith in detail, but keep this passage in mind. As we build our lives upon our faith, we keep ourselves in the love of God and by this, we are able to love each other. Faith is important in this discussion. When I trust God, I believe in the command to love my neighbor. Though living out the love of God may cost me, I also have the assurance that God will fulfill His promise, and I will be abundantly satisfied in Him.

I am not looking to people as my source of fulfillment. God alone holds this role. I love because I am first loved, then because I have been commanded. I keep myself in his love knowing God will more than make up for anything I sacrifice. I can’t out love God. Nor can I sacrifice more than God will give. If I truly believe God, I can love when I don’t feel appreciated and give to those who are unworthy – just as God also gave to me when I was unworthy.


Eddie Snipes
Excerpted from Simple Faith



[1] 1 John 4:19

Simple Faith–God so loved

God so loved.

Look at a passage most people are familiar with, John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

 

Stop for a moment and think upon the first part of this passage, “God so loved…that He gave.” This is what agape is all about. This is spelled out for us in Romans 5:7-8

 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.

 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

A good man is not a sinner. To sin is to commit a violation against another. Would we die for those who violate us? It’s not likely.

Who would die for their friend? Most of us would like to think we would, but it’s not until someone is in a life or death situation that they discover the answer to this question. Several years back I went through a layoff at work. Each person was called into a room and told their fate. I remember the mixed feelings I had when I walked out of the meeting. I had survived, but several of my peers did not.

Though it hurt to see their lives shaken, there was also a sense of relief knowing my financial life would remain unscathed. This example shows our human limitations. Though there are times when we might be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of those we think deserve it, in everyday life we rarely are willing to sacrifice for our peers, and even less likely for those we feel are less deserving.

Our human nature doesn’t fully grasp the concept of sacrificing everything for someone who deserves punishment. The heroes of our movies don’t sacrifice their lives to rescue the enemy they are trying to stop. Yet, this is what it means to be a sinner. The Bible says that before someone is redeemed, they are at enmity with God. The word enmity means to show hostility toward someone out of hatred. It’s a declaration of war by our actions, against another person. Yet the picture is that while our actions were a direct affront against God, He loved us enough to sacrifice on our behalf – and to do so while we were still showing hostility toward Him and His word.

This is the picture of love / agape. It is a self-giving love that sacrifices for the good of someone completely hostile toward God. While God is demonstrating love, our sinful human nature is casting that love aside to pursue the sins that are an affront to God’s own nature. Yet while we were in this state of rebellion, God demonstrated more love by bearing the penalty of our sins and then calling us out of rebellion and into fellowship with Him.

Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as hostile toward God, so let’s put this into perspective. What happens when someone tries to tell us what to do? The natural reaction is to resent it. Have you ever had someone try to impose their will upon you when you didn’t believe they had the right to do so? It brings up feelings of hostility. People react differently outwardly, but inward, we all have similar feelings.

I had a friend who worked for a large corporation. A new VP took over his group and paid a surprise visit. When the stranger walked in and started barking orders, several members of his group rebelled at the idea. Someone asked, “Who does this guy think he is?” In their ignorance, they rebelled against authority. Once they realized he was a high ranking VP over their group, their attitudes made a quick turnaround.

Through our ignorance, we have all also rebelled against God. When God reveals Himself to us, we then either repent and receive His favor, or continue in rebellion and choose consequences over mercy. In a later chapter, we’ll look at this in more detail, but first let’s explore the love of God given to us.


Eddie Snipes
Excerpted from Simple Faith