A friend texted me this week, mentioning how she lost her book, For the Love, the day before our much-anticipated book club (well, she’s a mother of three and care-taker of a fourth, so, let’s be honest, it was lost long before then). I offered to share, no worries, before she corrected herself: it was the book What Love Is – our morning Bible Study book - that was lost.
“Lol – there’s a lot of love going on!”
And it couldn’t be closer to the truth. You could definitely say, God is speaking to my heart about a lot of things lately – but the greatest of these is love.
After working since January to memorize my way through Colossians chapter 3, I was inspired to study the rest of the book – because when the chapter starts with, “If, then, you have been raised with Christ,” it leads one to wonder, well what brought us to this point? How did we start this discussion about being actually raised, brought to life, with Christ, or, more accurately, in Christ – where my life is now hidden, as the verses go on to say.
And so I duped my small group into studying it, too, so I would have more motivation to follow through. Because that’s what small groups are for. And you know it’s God’s will for this study to happen when one member of your small group says, “Actually, I wrote the study notes on Colossians for the Holman Christian Standard Study Bible when I was in seminary.” Because of course he did.
And then, I cracked open my study Bible, aforementioned study notes, and journal and spent an hour and a half on four and a half verses – two of which were Paul and Timothy introducing themselves, which you know is weird when the man who earned that doctorate in New Testament something-or-other, the one who literally wrote the notes on the subject asks, “An hour and a half? Really?” Yes, really.
But that wasn’t enough, apparently, because God has been confirming this lesson continually in the past week and a half, so because we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20), I’m going to share this lesson with you – in a whirlwind of a blog post that will hopefully be much shorter than an hour and a half, so buckle up.
It all starts in Colossians 1, verses 4-5(a) – “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” I noticed, after reading these verses, in both sets of study notes I had in my possession, this sequence of attributes was a favorite topic of Paul – faith, hope, and love. Which sound pretty and look all spiritual on our walls, and may have been turned into fancy wire ornaments by, well, me. But I didn’t know this was a specific Pauline (see? I totally could have gone to seminary) theme. I needed to know more about this, because as another small group member stated, when someone in authority mentions something multiple times, it’s important to them (We have a lot of smarties in our small group).
So, I looked up every cross-reference listed* in the notes and made a three-part list, to see what, exactly, Paul had to say about faith, hope, and love and what they actually meant for him, other than a great theme for wall décor.
If you happen to have spare time, I highly recommend this activity, but if you don’t, I boiled it all down in my journal to this:
“Faith, Hope, and Love are the foundational pieces of genuine Christianity. Faith in Christ Jesus, Love for others (pouring/overflowing from the love poured into us by the Holy Spirit [Romans 5:5]), based on our one hope of salvation and righteousness awaiting us in Heaven.”
So, this love, that is a strand in this cord of Christianity, isn’t just a love for Jesus, which is wonderful and necessary, but a love for others – as 1 Corinthians 13 says, our faith and our acts of service are useless without it. And this love partners with our faith, based on the foundation of hope.
I wrote more (shocking, I know):
“What’s beautiful is, according to 1 Thessalonians 5:8, faith and love protect our hearts in spiritual warfare, while our hope protects the head. Hope is the knowledge we have of what’s coming. Faith and love are the emotional outpouring stemming from that knowledge.”
So, this knowledge, this hope is what protects our minds from the attacks of the Enemy, while our faith in Christ and resulting love for others protect our hearts.
I don’t know if this is exciting or interesting to anyone else, but it was surprisingly mind-blowing to me.
But, then, let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 13 – as I considered this in Bible Study the day after verbally vomiting all of the above on our small group, I was reminded of the final verse, “Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is love.”
Well, but, really?
Our hope, our knowledge of salvation, and our faith in Christ, are inferior to love?! And, specifically, as Paul emphasizes multiple times, love for people? Not our love for Jesus?
As I pondered, the truth hit me, or, more accurately was whispered to my heart. Our love poured on others – that love that was once and continually poured into us by God through the Holy Spirit – is the outward demonstration of that inward faith and hope. That is how we show what we believe and what we know to a world that can’t see our hearts or our minds – and, more importantly, can’t see God.
But they can see our love.
And it’s that love that will draw others into Him – as they gain their own hope for salvation and faith in Christ.
Love is the key to all of this – it’s the seed we plant for others.
And, let’s remember, as another beautiful friend pointed out, our outward demonstrations of love look different for each person. Remember The Five Love Languages? Those are important – so don’t think that just because you’re not good at showing self-less acts of service or maybe your words of encouragement aren't as eloquent as someone else's you have failed in this regard.
You show love to others the way God designed you to do, so long as it comes from a heart of faith and mind firm its knowledge of salvation.
And, so long as it’s a pure love reflecting the love of Christ – the kind of love that lays down its life for another – which doesn’t always mean stopping a bullet for someone else, but it may mean sacrificing your “me” time (not always, but when necessary, yes), sacrificing your possessions, your money, your self-righteous need to speak out in defense, your culture-driven need for perfection. Sometimes it means not having a clean house because a child needs some personal attention. Not getting the sleep you so carefully planned out because a friend needs someone to talk to. Not living in comfort so that someone else can just live.
This kind of love – the love that so perfectly reflects the love of a Father Who sent His Son into a dirty, dying world so that this loved Son could be the replacement for these dirty, dying people in their death. This kind of sacrificial, self-dying love isn’t just what draws the world to Him, it’s the pure evidence of Christ in us.
It is not optional.
As that author of WhatLove Is so beautifully put it, while discussing 1 John 3:23, “We can’t separate loving others from our belief in Jesus. Both are intertwined. Our confession of Him will lead to action, and true love in action will result from our knowing Him. Belief without love can make you a Pharisee. Love without belief can make you a humanitarian. But if you have both, you’re a child of God” (Kelly Minter, p 103).
I couldn’t have said it better.