Love is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. It is a powerful force, an emotion that will inspire people to do things they would not otherwise do. Kingdoms and nations have been formed, joined, and dissolved in the name of love, and it appears in nearly every popular song.
Love is a gift from God, which we see when God brought Eve to Adam; he was so overcome with love that he broke out into song! (Genesis 2:23) Sadly, sin tainted the purity of that love among humans. Yet God continued lavishing love on His people, especially those who were feeling unloved – including Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob; and Hannah, the eventual mother of Samuel. God used human love to preserve His people as well; the love between Esther and the king of Persia kept Israel from mass slaughter, and the love between Ruth and Boaz continued the line of the Messiah. Even the prophets, who would often bring news of pending judgment, were motivated out of love for the people to whom they were sent.
When Jesus walked the earth, He continued to expand our understanding of what love is. He always took time to stop and care for people along the way, showing us that love is not just an emotion, but an action. He told His disciples that the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for one’s friends; then, He actually did it! Writing to the church in Rome, Paul described it this way: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). James challenges us to be consistent, demonstrating our love both in word and in deed. And, in Revelation, we read about the time yet to come, when Christ returns and restores the pure, true, and holy love that sin lost.
Today, as we light the candle of love, we express our love for our Savior, eagerly anticipating the day when mankind’s love is once again true and pure.
(This reading was originally written for the December 23rd, 2018 worship service at Bay Vista Baptist Church.)
Hypocrisy is a charge often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?
Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
— John 3:1-3 (ESV)
30Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
— Acts 16:30-31 (ESV)
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - that’s it!
This is the culmination of a long process. God created man (Genesis 1:27) in a perfect state, but man chose to sin (Genesis 3:1-7). There were stiff consequences for that sin (Genesis 3:16-19), but in the serpent’s curse, God alluded to His plan (Genesis 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, many prophecies were made concerning the Messiah, both literal (Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 53) and figurative (Leviticus 4). Jesus came, born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18), and lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) while ministering on earth. He was crucified (Matthew 27:22-26), but resurrected from the grave (Matthew 28:1-7) and ascended to heaven to be with His Father (Acts 1:6-11) until He returns to call His own home (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.
Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.
This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!
(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.
— James 3:1-2a (ESV)
These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)
How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.