How Important is Love in Your Theology?

Where does love come from?

What is love?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)


“This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)


“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:15)

What is the source of love?

“[L]ove is from God”

1 John 4:7


“God is love.”

1 John 4:16

How important is love in the Bible?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

How James Speaks to the Authenticity of His Brother, Jesus

As the story goes, when Mary was visited by an angel who told her she would conceive and give birth to great man who she would call Jesus, though she had never known a man, she was thoughtful, questioning and even troubled, but said she was willing. (Luke 1:26-35)

When she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, at the angel’s direction, and what the angel said was corroborated, Mary was thankful and happy. (Luke 1:39-47) She believed what the angel told her and gave thanks to God, but that is a mother’s response. Right? Siblings and strangers are a different matter.

On the subject of claims about Jesus, skepticism has always existed. We even find it in the narratives of the four Gospels, themselves. The Bible is candid that way.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (the Jewish religious leaders of the day) largely did not believe the claims of Jesus. Most of the Romans certainly didn’t believe them. Even among the common people, we get the sense that some people wanted to believe Jesus, but their good will toward him changed over the span of his public life.

Jesus was not initially well-received in his hometown, Nazareth. When he read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue and announced that the words he read were fulfilled that day in their hearing, they didn’t take kindly to him. (Luke 4:14-21) They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Lk. 4:22), and they took offense at his assertions. (Mk. 6:3)

It wasn’t like Jesus tried to soften his approach. We might even say that Jesus provoked their skepticism. (Lk. 4:22-27) They changed from curiosity tinged with skepticism to anger as he presumed their rejection of him. (Lk 4:28) They became so angry, they drove him out of town and up to the brow of a hill where they threatened to throw him off a cliff. (Lk. 4:29)

During another encounter with a crowd in the wider area of Galilee, Jesus caused such a stir by the things he was saying that the people accused him of “being out of his mind”. The religious leaders even accused him of blasphemy.

When his family heard what people were saying, they went to “seize him”. (Mk. 3:20-21) His mother and brothers would not even enter in the house where he was talking to the crowd. They stood outside calling to him, but Jesus refused to respond. (Mk. 3:31-35)

Jesus caused such a stir in Galilee that the Jewish leaders sought to kill him (Jn. 7:1) claiming that Jesus was “leading people astray” (Jn. 7:12). In the midst of the stir that Jesus was causing in Galilee (his home region), we learn definitively that “not even his brothers believed in him”. (Jn. 7:5)

His brothers did not merely not believe in him. The challenged him to leave Galilee and go to Judea to make his claims and prove himself there. (Jn. 7:3) It wasn’t that they believed him; they were provoking him, likely hoping he would stop the nonsense: “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Jn. 7:4)

His brothers certainly knew the angry reception Jesus was getting in Galilee would be nothing like the wrath he would experience in Judea where the High Priest and Sanhedrin were headquartered.

After the initial controversial stir that Jesus made in the area in which he grew up, we don’t hear much about the family of Jesus, as Jesus spread out to other areas. They are largely absent from the narrative after that. The highly skeptical religious leaders never softened up to what Jesus was saying, but crowds of more common people did begin to believe him.

The height of his popularity among the crowds was, perhaps, the day he entered Jerusalem on a donkey on what we have come to call Palm Sunday. We get the sense that the crowd believed this was the beginning of their long awaited dream of taking back control from the Roman occupation and the climactic overthrow of Roman rule. It was actually a long awaited beginning of a different sort.

The arrest of Jesus on charges of blasphemy, and his silence in the face of those charges led to a dramatic turn in the perception of the crowd. By the time he was arrested in the garden and hauled before the Sanhedrin (the religious council) and then before Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor), the tide of popular opinion had turned against Jesus.

He wasn’t who they thought he was.

The Sanhedrin had Jesus arrested, looking for evidence to put him to death. (Mk. 14:55) Jesus was silent until the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (Mk. 14:61) When Jesus said, “I am” (Mk. 14:62), they had the evidence they wanted. They accused him of blasphemy and condemned him to death. (Mk. 14:63-65)

The religious council turned him over to Pilate for sentencing. (Mk. 15;1) The charge of blasphemy meant nothing to the Roman governor who believed the Sanhedrin was acting out of self-interest and concern for their own religious influence. (Mk. 15:2-10) Yet, the crowd was stirred up against Jesus, and they demanded that he be crucified. (Mk. 15:11-15) The rest is history.

Up to this point, the little we know about the brothers of Jesus is that they didn’t believe in him. The last we hear of them, when his family came to call him out of the home where he was causing a stir, Jesus seemed to have turned his back on them. When Jesus was told his family was there calling to him to come out, Jesus said,

“[W]hoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”. (Mk. 3:32-35)

This is the backdrop for some key observations about the family of Jesus, and particularly his brother, James, that speak to the authenticity Jesus and of the Gospel narrative.

Continue reading “How James Speaks to the Authenticity of His Brother, Jesus”

Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?

“We were held in custody under the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ….”

Much confusion in the early church arose out of the relationship of the Law to the “good news” that we now call the Gospel (which means good news). The confusion continues today. I continue to wrestle with the tension, myself.

Two passages come to mind that seem to be directly counter to each other. They establish a paradox – a seeming inconsistency – that needs to be resolved. Compare what Jesus said as recorded by Matthew, to the instruction of Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themFor truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)


“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees.” (Ephesians. 2:13-14)

In one place, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law; and, in the other place, Paul says Jesus abolished the law. Which is it?

The answer is both. If we view this apparent dichotomy as a paradox, rather than a contradiction, we can make some sense of it.

First of all, we need to consider the context. When Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, he was talking about his coming in the flesh. Jesus was God who became incarnate. Jesus was God who emptied Himself of all that separated Himself from His creation and became part of it in the form of a human being. (Phil. 2:5-8) Thus, when God became man and came to us, He did not come to abolish the law.

We also need to look at the larger context of the Law. The Law was a covenant (an agreement) with Israel. It was given to Moses for the descendants of Abraham after He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God was faithful to this covenant, but the people never were.

This was a problem, because God promised to bless the people based on them holding up their part of the bargain, but they failed. They fell short. God was true to keep His part of the bargain, but He could not be true to His promise to bless them because they did not keep their part of the bargain.

When Jesus made the statement that he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, he was putting that statement into the context of time and purpose. He was saying that the purpose for which he came was to fulfill the law.

When Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law, he was saying that he came to fulfill the Law in the flesh as a man – doing the thing no other man had done or was able to do. When he said on the cross, “It is finished”, he was proclaiming that he had finished accomplishing the fulfillment of the Law in his human body. He lived it out perfectly. He was obedient to it unto death.

Jesus did what no man had done. God became flesh and came so that he could keep man’s part of the bargain (as a man) so that God could also keep His promise to bless mankind. God, in a sense, carried out the terms (fulfilled) of both sides of the covenant.

But that is not the end of the story.

Continue reading “Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?”

Immigration History and Confusion in the Church

Polls suggest that just 12% of evangelical Christians say that they think of immigration primarily through the lens of the Bible.

We have a somewhat romanticized view of immigration in the US. All of us in the United States reading this article are the benefactors of immigration, unless your ancestors were all Native American. Thus, the vast majority of us have benefitted from the various waves of immigration to the US in the past.

My ancestors immigrated at various times from England, Wales, Germany, Switzerland and France. It’s no wonder, then, that I view our history of immigration with some appreciation and sentimentality, and I believe most people with European ancestry feel like I do in that respect unless.

If you have much Native American or African ancestry, then, your view might be a bit different. If you have Chinese ancestry, you might feel differently. If you had German ancestry in 1750’s, you also might feel differently, but I will get to that.

We also tend to view our immigrant ancestors as hard-working, honest, and lawful people checking off the right boxes, jumping through the right hoops and diligently observing the protocols demanded of them to enter the country. We have earned the right to be citizens through their noble and respectful efforts.

Most of us, me included in years past, don’t really know the history of immigration to the United States other than the generalized and romanticized notions we carry from the US history we learned s children.

I am not a big fan of the new approach to American history that downplays the great positives that characterize the birth of our nation and its unique place in the world as a leader in many facets of human existence from governance to industry, science, and technology, medicine and human rights and in many other ways. At the same time, I think we should be honest about our history.

Immigration in the New World was relatively open, with exceptions, before 1882. Benjamin Franklin advocated in 1751 to exclude Germans and Africans from settling in the New World because he was “partial to the complexion of my country”.[1] Alexander Hamilton “warned of the dangers of absorbing and especially naturalizing too many foreigners”.[2] In fact, it seems that fear of immigrants is (at least) as old as the New World itself.[3]

People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington opposed those views at the time, though Jefferson’s opinion may have been motived by a perception that German immigrants were more apt to support him politically. Some things don’t change!

I am not going to recount all the history of immigration in the United States. I am sure I don’t know the half of it, but a few noteworthy historical markers might be instructive in these times.

My interest here is the evangelical church in the United States, of which I am a member. How should we as a church orient ourselves to the immigration issues in our time in light of Scripture?

Continue reading “Immigration History and Confusion in the Church”

Who is Among the Prophets? A Lesson in Prophetic Things

A study in the contrast between Saul and David

“And it came about, when all who previously knew him saw that he was indeed prophesying with the prophets, that the people said to one another, ‘What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?’” (1 Samuel 10:11)

I wrote recently about King Saul and the question, which became a proverb, “Is Saul among the Prophets?” The oddity of Saul prophesying is implied in the question, and was apparently a significant enough point that it comes up not once, but twice in the narrative of Saul’s life. (See 1 Samuel 19:23-24)

Prophesying was out of character for Saul. He wasn’t known as a spiritual man, and he didn’t even make a great king. Yet, he was God’s chosen man to be Israel’s first king.

Saul wasn’t king for very long before God made it clear to Samuel, the prophet, that we rejecting Saul as king and would be replacing him with another man – a man after God’s heart. (1 Samuel 13:14) From this (and the narrative of Saul’s life itself), we know that Saul was not a man after God’s heart.

So why did God make him king?

Perhaps, it was an object listen in what happens when we reject God. Remember that the people demanded a king like the other nations around them. They were rejecting God in demanding a king, but God told Samuel to give them what they wanted anyway. Perhaps, God chose a king for them who was like them – not after God’s heart.

Perhaps, God wanted to demonstrate for the people that their desire for a king was a bad idea, so he gave them a bad king. Maybe. But then he gave them “good” kings (David and Solomon). They also had many worse kings!

I continue to mull over the uncharacteristic event of Saul prophesying (twice!) and the apparent fact that it was so out of character for him. It wasn’t what he said (we don’t know what he said), but the fact that he prophesied at all that was is noteworthy.

Further, it seems that Saul wasn’t a willing mouthpiece either time he prophesied. The second time, he went looking in Ramah for David to kill him. David was hiding there from Saul. When Saul got there, though, he was overcome by the Spirit of God and began prophesying with the prophets there – “day and night” Saul lay naked and prostrate on the ground.

God stopped Saul from killing David by overcoming him with prophecy. Strange! Is it not?

In the previous article on the subject of Saul prophesying, I drew the conclusion that the prophecies are not the story here: the story here is the heart of the man (whether it be Saul or David).

Samuel prophesied that Saul would be made king, but Saul didn’t embrace or internalize the prophecies told by Samuel. Saul’s life would have been different, perhaps, if he had stepped up to the kingly anointing he received. Instead, he deviated from God at every turn.

Samuel’s prophecies did come true, but the end result was less than one might expect. Saul did become king, but he was a lousy king, and he certainly was not a man after God’s heart.

Saul wasn’t even king for long when God told Samuel He was taking the kingdom away from Saul because of Saul’s bad decisions. Samuel was led by God to David, who was merely a shepherd boy tending his father’s sheep, and anointed him to become king long before Saul ceased to be king. (1 Samuel 16:12-13) This happened before David rose to fame by killing Goliath. (1 Samuel 17)

We might imagine that something as momentous as this anointing should be followed immediately by the act of making David king, but it wasn’t so. David simply went back to tending his father’s sheep!

David wasn’t even part of the army that was mustered to face the threat of the gathering Philistine horde. He was still tending his father’s sheep and running errands from his father to his brothers as they prepared for battle.

The Philistines faced off with Saul’s army for 40 days. All this time, David went back and forth between tending his father’s sheep and taking supplies from his father to his brothers. (1 Samuel 17:14-18) David wasn’t supposed to be there the day he faced off with Goliath, except that he was delivering supplies.

Remember that Saul responded reluctantly to the anointing Samuel gave him and hid when Samuel came to announce the kingship publicly. David’s response to the anointing by Samuel seems to be even less robust than Saul’s response! David simply went back to tending sheep.

We know David didn’t lack the faith to rise to the kingly anointing, though, because of what happens next. David was bringing supplies to his brothers when he hears the taunts of the giant, Goliath. When David saw that no one was willing to stand up to the Philistines, David rose to the occasion.

David’s faith in God led him to stand up to the giant, Goliath, in the face of the huge army of the Philistines! Thus, we are right to conclude that David wasn’t shrinking back from the anointing, as Saul did, when he went back to tend his father’s sheep.

It’s also worth noting the curious focus on Saul prophesying in this narrative, while we read nothing at all about David prophesying. This is curious, first of all because Saul was an unlikely prophet. More importantly, we know from the Psalms that David was prophetic! Jesus quoted David’s words that prophetically anticipated the coming of Jesus, the Messiah! (See, for instance, Psalm 110)

So, what does this have to do with prophecy or with having a heart for God? I will get to that, but first there is more to the story….

Continue reading “Who is Among the Prophets? A Lesson in Prophetic Things”