Monday, May 14, 2012

Abiding in Love

Last week we talked about true evangelism being something God does, and our only job is to bend our wills to him, to submit our wills to his will—get out of the way, so to speak—so that we aren't creating obstacles to God's evangelizing work. It's not that we are more powerful that God, it's that if we do not submit to God, we are not allowing him to use us for his work. It's not that cannot use us, it is that he is not willing to use a vessel that is going to send mixed signals to a potential child of God.

If I'm preaching the gospel to you, and then I launch into an expose on how great a secular TV show is, where I'm describing whole scenes for you, and they aren't emulating God, I'm sending mixed signals to you. I need to focus wholly on God, to accept his Spirit working in my life, to submit to his will, and then I can give you the pure Gospel, without distractions, or heresies thrown in.

Complete submission is possible. God helps us achieve it. There is not hard work required on our end. It says in Romans 6: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for unrighteousness.” What is the key verb in that passage? “Present”: we offer ourselves as an insufficient sacrifice to God. He does the work, but what we are doing is presenting ourselves. It does not require hard work. It just requires us to submit, like slaves, to God's will. It's getting all our garbage off the table: clearing the desktop and only allowing God's jobs to be on our desktop.

Jesus said this last week to us, when he said, I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me and I in you, and you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. We are presenting ourselves to the vine. Jesus is grafting us onto himself. He blood flows through our veins. We bear more and more fruit, due to Christ's blood in us. These fruits bear seeds and the seeds are planted in others' lives, combining to bring that lost souls back to the Good Shepherd.

This is what Christ means when he tells us to “Abide.” Abide isn't an active verb, it's an accepting verb. It's all about accepting God's will in our lives. It's about “presenting” ourselves to God as slaves. It's about submission. Now, in this week's passage, which appears right after last week's, we get another command to abide, but this time it is abiding in God's love.

What does it mean to abide in God's love. If we look at what we've just been talking about, it means to accept God's love. It's about presenting our love to God. It's about submitting to God's love. God's love is a love of submission, and that's what makes it so unpredictable.

The Greeks have four different words for love. We have one. They have four. The first is storge, and it means affection. It is the love that you might have for a pet. The second is philios or friendship. Philadelphia is brotherly love. We're getting closer to true love. Then we have eros, which means romance. It's the love between husbands and wives, when the two of you just NEED to be together. It's an achy love.

Now, agape is the last love, and it used to be thought of as the lowest love. It means charity, and ancient Greeks thought of it as giving alms to the poor. It was not thought of too highly. But God showed us what agape can be. As we read in today's passage: “There is no greater love than this: that one lays down one's life for one's friends.” Agape suddenly moves from the lowest love to the highest love. Whenever we watch a movie or read a story in which someone lays down their life for a friend, we are moved, because we are seeing true agape love in action. We are watching the love of God played out before our eyes. In the movies this happens all the time, but in real life, we flee, because of our sin, because of our unwillingness to submit, to abide, to present. We fail at this kind of love.

Jesus commands us to love one another—to agape one another—to lay down our lives for each other. Yet we fail. Back to Romans, chapter 5, we read, one of us would scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps foe a good person one would dare even to die. Sin keeps us from being able to die for a good person or a righteous person.

But here God demonstrates agape love: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We cannot bring ourselves to die for a good person. Jesus died for us while we were still enemies. His is perfect agape love, perfect self-sacrifice. The only way we can do likewise is to completely submit ourselves to God, become his slave, present ourselves as an offering to God, for him to do with us as he wishes, without us kicking against him, wanting to be our own person. The only way we can show true agape love to each other is to completely abide in his love.

Paul writes in Philippians that Jesus was in the form of God, and could have chosen to stay where he was, living as God, but instead he made himself nothing, he took the form of a servant, a slave, a submissive one, an abiding one, born in the likeness of a man. And then it goes downhill from there. After that complete submission to humanity, he completely submits to love. Jesus humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death—something we are unable to do, but the perfect man can—and he died on the cross for us. He showed true agape love.

And what follows is exaltation: as a result of this agape submission, God highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on him the name above all names. We refuse to submit, because we would rather exalt ourselves. Now, who would you rather exalt you? Yourself or God almighty? Exalt yourself and God will humble you. Humble yourself—submit, abide, present—and God will exalt you. Only through abiding in agape, can we be made more life Christ in this world.