Genuine Love vs. Affection

1 John 3:16-18:  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

True love between brethren is expressed in actions.  Our love is not to be in what we say but what we do.  Love only expressed in word is of little value.  How can we love in word only?  Is our only interaction with fellow Christians at the worship service?  Perhaps we say we love others because we know that we are supposed to but, if our hearts were truly examined, would we only find affection, not true love?  Love that is in word requires no sacrifice of self, time, or money, demands no action, has no risk of being hurt, and needs no deep involvement with others.

Love that is in deed and truth, true love for our brethren, is on a higher level.  It requires action on our part, a show of love.  Christ showed His love, not by shouting His love from heaven, but by dying on the cross.  We show our love by our willingness to die for our brethren.  We may say that we have this love but we must demonstrate it.  Consider John’s example:  If you say that you would lay your life down for your brethren but you will not give of your possessions to help your needy brother, how does the love of God abide in you?  What a profound question!  When we think we love our brethren as Christ loved us, we must immediately ask how the love of God abides in us.  We must prove it.

John pictures a brother in need and a fellow Christian locking up his possessions by first locking up his heart.  If his heart is not with his brother, the resources he has to fill his needs will not be given.  Let us not be narrow regarding the needs of the brother.  Perhaps the brother has emotional needs; do we lock up friendship, a word of comfort, or a sympathetic ear?  If our brother has spiritual needs, do we lock up a gentle rebuke, exhortation from Gods’ word, or a prayer?  Maybe the brother does need our worldly goods: a car ride to church or to the doctor, a meal in a time of sickness or bereavement, or financial help.  We must unlock our possessions, time, and even our selves and help our brethren.  According to Paul, that is why we work: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need,” Ephesians 4:28 (emphasis mine-rfd).

Respecting A Brother’s Conscience

When I love my brethren as Christ loved me, I will not do anything that might cause them to stumble and be lost.  To accomplish this we must have true love for our brethren, forbearance, longsuffering, and patience developed in our lives.  Though it is difficult, I may have to refrain from doing something that I know is not condemned in the presence of a brother who, because he does not have knowledge, would be offended.

Consider the issue of eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.  The issue was not whether it was right to eat meat offered to idols or not; eating meat was not condemned.  The real issue was that if I have a brother in Christ who does think it is wrong to eat meat offered to idols and I, knowing this, eat meat that is offered to idols (since I know that it is not condemned), that I may encourage my brother to eat in violation of his conscience.  I have used my liberty to cause my brother to stumble.

It is not wrong for me to eat meat that has been offered to idols, but my brother who does not have this knowledge, if he eats, will be condemned because he has violated what he believes to be commanded by God.  I must not put my brethren into that situation.  Note the strong language of Paul in verse 12:  “But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”  When doing something that is not wrong, but doing it in the wrong circumstance, I sin against my brethren and Christ.  My brother and I may be lost through my knowledge!

Paul’s solution to the problem is if an action will cause my weak brother to stumble, I will not do it.  My brother’s conscience is more important than food or anything else that would make him stumble.  This sacrifice is a practical application of bearing with one another.

Do I Have To Love Other Christians?

God commands us to love our brethren.  Loving my brother is not an option, nor is it a command that I can follow selectively.  Although we realize that some brethren’s personalities clash with ours, or they have habits or idiosyncrasies that bother us, we must work harder to overcome these minor things to be brethren.

Some have the attitude, “I have to love him but that doesn’t mean that I have to like him.”  Perhaps they wish to reconcile the command to love our brethren and the reality that some brethren can be obnoxious, overbearing, insensitive, and annoying.  How can we truly have love for our brethren if we do not make significant attempts to overcome the natural reaction to avoid these people?  Will we show true hospitality, help, love, and concern for someone we love but whom we make conscious efforts to avoid?  A better approach is to look past character traits to the soul within.  Perhaps the gentle rebuke made in sincere love could chisel away some undesirable characteristics to make the brother lovable to others.  Certainly, there are people who grate on our nerves but we probably grate on the nerves of others as well.

Paul addresses the need to make a special effort to love the unlovable in Colossians 3:13: “bear with one another.”  The word “bear” here is used elsewhere of God suffering or bearing with us (Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19).  In 2 Corinthians 11:1,19, the same word is used in a sense that we might translate as put up with.  There is a great need for us to suffer with, forbear, put up with, and bear with one another.  We come from different backgrounds, geographical areas, financial situations, educational levels, etc.  We are a dissimilar people unified into one body under one head.  It is essential that we bear with one another and not willfully withhold our full love for some brethren because we do not “like” them.  “What do you do more than others?  Even the tax collectors love those who love them,” Matthew 5:46 (paraphrased)

Why Attend A Funeral?

As a teenager, I’m sure the thought of going to a funeral is pretty low on your “want to do” list. In fact, you may be repulsed by the idea of seeing someone who has died or feel awkward. Inevitably, you will have to attend a funeral and, as you mature, you will resist the idea of attending a service less as you see more value in attending. Let’s investigate why you should attend a funeral and address your anxieties.

Why should you attend?

The most important thing to remember is that the funeral is as much about the living as the deceased person. The funeral service provides a way for family and friends to say farewell to a dear loved one. It is also the time when friends of the bereaved (those who lost the loved one) can show their support for them. Attending a funeral shows the bereaved that they and/or their loved one meant something to others.

From a spiritual perspective, attending a funeral has a way of refocusing our attention on what is really important in life. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” (ESV) We all like to have fun with our friends at a covered dish dinner or other party laughing, playing games, and talking. It lightens our heart but a heart that never considers the seriousness of life will become shallow and empty. Attending a funeral (the house of mourning) allows one to contemplate their own death and whether they are prepared to meet God (Romans 2:6-11; 14:10). Also, when we hear the testimony of a life well lived we can learn characteristics to apply to our own lives

What should I do? How should I act?

Many people are apprehensive about seeing the deceased person’s body. You do not have to do this if it makes you feel uncomfortable. If you feel you should but are uncomfortable, go to the casket with someone and spend as much or little time as you wish. Remember that death is not an unusual occurance but is a natural part of life.

You may feel that you don’t know what to say to the bereaved. A simple handshake or a hug means a lot–your presence conveys your concern and sympathy. There are no magic words that will relieve the person’s grief so avoid phrases like “It’s God’s will (or God took him/her),” “It is better this way,” or similar phrases. Instead, if the person meant something special in your life, gave you a particular piece of good advice, or was kind to you, share that with the bereaved. They want to hear how their loved one touched the lives of others.

During the service make sure that your phone is off or silent and NO TEXTING. Do not joke with your friends as it will be considered disrespectful to the deceased and the other mourners. Remember the passage from Ecclesiastes: listen to what is said and meditate on your life.

It is acceptable to attend the service but not the graveside service. Also, if you cannot attend the funeral, there is often a viewing where you can visit with the bereaved the night before the funeral. This is another opportunity to demonstrate love, kindness, and sympathy if your schedule prevents you from attending the funeral.

What a blessing it is to show love and compassion to those who are going through a most difficult time.

God’s Comfort

A favorite song of mine has the verse, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds the future and I know who holds my hand.” There many things that seem frightening in this world: war, this sickness called Swine Flu that is going around, maybe your parents or others are worried more about money and paying the bills. There are many things that a person can worry about but we don’t need to be so sad. You see, God is still in control of everything. Sometimes we have to go through tough times in order to be stronger. Sometimes we need to go without things to realize how much God has blessed us. Sometimes bad things happen because of poor choices that others have made and we suffer some also.

Jesus tells us, in Matthew 6, not to be anxious for our food, clothes, or place to live because God will take care of us. It may not be the richest but God will care for us. Daniel teaches us that God rules in the kingdoms of men and that the things that are happening are fulfilling His purpose. Paul teaches us that all things work together for good for those who love Him. Pray to God and tell him about your worries and ask for His help and to help you to understand His will. Then take comfort that God is taking care of you and will make things work together for good. If we are blessed with tomorrow, God will be still be there and still be in control. Hold His hand and you will not need to worry about what tomorrow will bring.

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