1. Love: Toward Our Enemies- Part 1

    November 9, 2023 by Curtis Field

    Love: Toward Our Enemies- Part 1

    A Challenging Command

    Throughout my eighteen years as a pastor, one of the most difficult biblical commands for Christians to accept, let alone embrace and live out in their lives, has been Jesus’s call to love our enemies. To be sure, this is a challenging command. How can we possibly love those who are against us? If we consider it in the context of our culture’s view of love as a feeling, or an emotion (see “Love: The Center of the Christian Life”), it’s not just difficult, it’s impossible.

    If love is just a feeling or an emotion, there’s no way we can muster up warm, loving feelings for our enemies. How can you possibly manufacture affections for someone who is aligned against you, or worse, is trying to hurt you and tear you down? If love is just a feeling, then loving your enemies is an exercise in futility. However, if love is an action, meaning something you do and can choose to do, then you have hope in being able to truly love your enemies.

    A Counter-Cultural Command

    In my opinion, loving your enemies is one of the most counter-cultural commands in the Bible. It runs completely contrary to the stream of our cultural ethos. Our culture tends to preach one of two extremes: either we should take revenge on our enemies and crush them, or simply ignore and avoid them altogether.

    And yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands us to love our enemies:

    But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:27–36).

    Is there anything about emotions or feelings in Jesus’s description of how to love your enemies? Not at all. Instead, we are called to love our enemies in action; love is a verb. Look at verses 27 and 28. Jesus says that you are to bless and pray for your enemies as they hate you, curse you, and abuse/mistreat you. So Jesus isn’t calling you to have warm, fuzzy feelings for your enemies, but rather, to intentionally choose to love them.

    A Convicting Command

    In one of the more convicting verses in the Bible, Jesus lays down the challenge to his followers, saying that if think they’ve done enough by loving those who love them, they need to keep in mind that even “sinners” (unbelievers) do that. With that in mind, consider Paul’s description of unbelievers in Ephesians 2:1–3:

    And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

    That’s a pretty gruesome picture of who we were before Christ rescued us, and of every person who is not yet a Christian. So, if even sinners can love those who love them, shouldn’t Christians be able to love far beyond that? Shouldn’t we be able to love even our enemies? After all, while we were still enemies of God (Rom 5:10), he loved us enough to crush his Son, Jesus, on the cross (Isa 53:5, 10) to rescue us from his wrath (Col 1:13–14), lavishing his grace on us (Eph 1:7–8) and adopting us (Eph 1:5).

    A Cross-Centered Command

    By the power of God’s grace in our lives, Jesus enables us to fulfill his command. In fact, 2 Peter 1:3 says that, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” When he saved us, he put his Spirit within us to empower us to live and love as he did (1 Cor 3:16). He has given us his living and active word (Heb 4:12). He has given us his body, the church (Eph 4:11–16). He has given us prayer and full access to his throne of grace (Heb 4:16). We have been given everything we need, through his grace, to love our enemies, just as Christ did.

    Jesus not only commanded his followers to love their enemies, but he set the ultimate example by loving his enemies all the way to the cross. Romans 5:8–10 says,

    but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

    God desires for us to love our enemies, and is so gracious, that he rewards us when we do. However, beyond reward, we image and reflect our great God and Savior who is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” in this life (Rom 6:35–36). We are to be merciful as God is merciful. And when we love our enemies like he has loved us, we vibrantly display the gospel to those around us, all for the glory of God.

  2. Love: The Center of Marriage

    October 24, 2023 by Curtis Field

    Love: The Center of Marriage

    The many lies of Satan, and the unbiblical beliefs in American culture about the meaning of love, has had a disastrous impact on marriages. One of the most prevalent unbiblical beliefs about love is that it’s just an emotion or a feeling, something we looked at in Part One – Love: The Core of the Christian Life.

    If you haven’t read Part One yet, I would encourage you to stop and read it before continuing, as it sets a foundation for our focus, here, of love in the context of marriage. In Part One, we see that biblical love isn’t a feeling or an emotion but rather is an action (1 Cor 13:4–7; John 15:13; Luke 6:27–36). Love is a verb not a noun.

    Lies About Love in Culture

    But what are the implications for marriage if we believe love is a just a feeling or an emotion? Well, if love is a feeling, then we can “fall in love.” Love then is just something that happens to us. However, if you can fall in love, then you can also what? Fall out of love just as easily.

    Many people who are married will believe that they have fallen out of love with their spouse. They might even tell them, “I don’t love you anymore.” What are they really talking about when they say this? They’re typically saying that they don’t feel the same loving emotions that they’ve felt previously during their marriage. The logic is that if love is an emotion, and they don’t feel those emotions anymore, then they must not love their spouse any longer. But if love is verb, not a noun, we can choose every day to love our spouse in action, the way God has called us to, regardless of how we feel.

    To make matters worse, American husbands and wives typically combine the belief that love is a feeling with two other mantras our culture is constantly preaching. You’re probably familiar with them: “Just follow your heart” and “You only live once so you should do whatever makes you happy.” This trifecta of satanic, unbiblical lies is a particularly corrosive assault on marriage, which has led to a tragically high rate of divorce and broken families in our country.

    The Christian life, and by extension, Christian marriages, are counter cultural. Love is an action, not a feeling (1 Cor 13:4–7; John 15:13). The purpose of marriage isn’t to make us happy, but to make us holy for the glory of God (Eph 5:22–33; Rom 8:28–30; 1 Cor 10:31). Therefore, we shouldn’t follow our hearts (Jer 17:9; Matt 15:18); we should follow the Word of God (Ps 119:105).

    Biblical Love and Marriage

    A biblical marriage is much more beautiful, selfless, and hopeful than the predominant unbiblical, selfish, and pathetic views of marriage our culture has.  At the center of a biblical marriage is love. When asked what the Great Commandment was, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37–40).

    If the whole Christian life is an expression of loving God and loving our neighbor, then your marriage is as well. So, if you’re married, who is your closest neighbor? It’s your spouse. How well you love your spouse is one of the great litmus tests for how well you are loving God and loving your neighbor. Jesus left us an example to follow (John 13:14–15; 1 Pet 2:21); are you loving your spouse as Jesus has loved you (John 13:34)?

    Are you loving your spouse the way that God defines love in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7? Are you being patient and kind? Are you being humble and respectful? Are you putting your spouse before yourself?  Are you being slow to anger and quick to forgive? Are you repenting to God and to your spouse when you fail to love in those ways?

    I’ve had Christians over the years say to me, “But you don’t know my spouse. It’s too difficult to love them like God calls me to.” Again, they typically say this because they have an unbiblical view of love. They believe that love is a feeling instead of a Christlike, one-way love of sacrifice and action, and they can’t imagine having loving feelings for their spouse anymore.

    The reality is that we live in a culture, in which people allow their feelings to determine what they will and won’t do, and can and can’t do. The children of God, however, are called to lead with loving obedience to Christ regardless of how we feel (John 14:15). And, by the way, when we do that, our feelings often follow our obedience.

    How Can Love Reign In Our Marriage?

    All of this begs the question of how we can love our spouse like God has called us to. At times, I’ve had Christians tell me that they’ve realized they can’t really love their spouse until they’ve learned to love themself. Unfortunately, this is another insidious lie from our culture that seeps into the thinking of Christians. Nowhere in the Bible are we called to love ourselves, or to learn to love ourselves first before we can love others. Jesus didn’t say learn to love yourselves first, and then you’ll be able to love your neighbor (or spouse). He knows we already love ourselves and calls us to love our neighbors to that degree, which if we’re being honest, is a pretty high bar.

    It’s impossible for us to love our spouse in this way if we’re not walking by the Spirit (Gal 5:16–26) because love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. And we will only bear his fruit as we abide in Christ through his Word, prayer, and being connected to his body, the church, in a significant way. When we abide in Christ, we are empowered by his Spirit to love God and to love our spouse as Christ loved his bride, the Church.

    As Christians, we follow a Savior who loved his enemies with a one-way, sacrificial, servant-hearted love. However, Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross and, in fact, prayed three times in the garden that his Father might spare him from the physical and spiritual agony he was about to endure. Yet, he also prayed, “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). Jesus ultimately led with obedience, rather than feelings, because of his great love for his Father, and for the bride he came to redeem. Therefore, as we consider our marriages, may we seek to follow the example we’ve been given, and love like Jesus.

  3. Love: The Core Of The Christian Life

    October 10, 2023 by Curtis Field

    Love: The Core of the Christian Life

    What is love? According to Google Trends, this question is frequently the number one most searched inquiry. And yet, while it’s an age-old question, it’s also one that our contemporary culture is continuously seeking to answer for us. They preach to us about love through TV shows, movies, songs, social media, books, and magazines.

    And what is their answer to the question? They tell us that love is merely a feeling, an ever-changing emotion that comes and goes. But “may it never be!” Thankfully, as Christians who follow the God who is love (1 John 4:16), and who defines love for us in the truth of his Word, we don’t have to settle for the culture’s shortsighted definition.

    The Necessity of Love

    Understanding the nature of love is critical, because when Jesus was asked what the great commandment in the Law is, he responded by saying,

    “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37b–40).

    In other words, if you are loving God, you will love your neighbor, and it’s impossible to love your neighbor without first loving God. Reciprocally,  the more we love God, the more we will love our neighbor.

    Therefore, love is central to the Christian life. According to Jesus, all that God commands us in Scripture depends on and flows from these two commandments. The word “depend” in verse 39 literally means “suspended from.” All of Scripture, then, is suspended from, or hanging, from these two commands of love, and is an expression of loving God and loving your neighbor.

    To illustrate this, look at the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1–17). The first four commandments are vertical expressions of loving God, and the next six are horizontal expressions of loving your neighbor. In speaking about loving our neighbor, Galatians 5:14 echoes this when Paul writes, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    The New Commandment of Love

    Ultimately, when we sin, it is an issue of love.  If you’re selfish and put yourself first in a self-centered manner, you’re functionally not loving God or your neighbor. If you’re not kind to someone, or gossip about someone, or cause division in relationships, or get sinfully angry with someone, or lust after a woman who isn’t your wife, or belittle someone, you’re not loving God or your neighbor.

    Jesus even raised the bar in John 13:34–35 on how to understand the command to love your neighbor as yourself. Shortly before he was arrested and crucified, he told his disciples,

    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    What was new about this commandment? Wasn’t the command to love our neighbor already given in Leviticus 19:18? Certainly, but Jesus raises the standard of loving one another to the level of his own sacrificial love for his disciples.

    1 John 4:16 says, “God is love,” and here is God incarnate, love incarnate, Jesus, commanding his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. This must have blown their minds. What must it have been like for them to have experienced the perfect, sacrificial love of Christ in the flesh? And now he’s commanding them to love in the same way.

    Jesus said this to his disciples shortly before he gave the ultimate expression of his love for his people on the cross. He willingly hung on a cross of shame and was crushed for our iniquities (Isa 53:3), enduring the penalty for our sin, as the Father poured out his unimaginable wrath upon his Son. Unimaginable wrath for sin and unimaginable love for his enemies.

    The Nature of Love

    So, what is love? There’s much that could be said, but 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 is helpful in defining love for us. Paul writes,

    “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. Love never ends.”

    Do you notice what’s missing in Paul’s description of love? Emotion and feeling. That doesn’t minimize or discount feelings and emotions, but love is something we do, not primarily what we feel. This is why Jesus could command us to love our enemies. We’re not typically going to be able to muster up warm, loving feelings for our enemies, but that’s not what he’s calling us to. In Luke 6:27–28 he says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Those are verbs, not nouns.

    Love is an action, and Jesus loved us, his enemies, in action, when he was crucified to redeem us. And now, he calls us his friends and children of the living God. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The perfect God-man did that for us, and he now commands us to love others the way he has loved us. And when we do, the world will know we’re his disciples. Love is one of the identifying marks of a Christian and is at the core of the Christian life.