~ Agathos Church is a non-denominational Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio. This blog post is a summary a sermon by Brad Ettore. You can read the whole sermon, Learning to Walk in God’s Love (part 3), by clicking here.
As believers, we all know that we are supposed to walk in love. So, we may think “why study ‘walking in love’”? The reason we feel this way is because we look at the rest of the body of Christ as our standard. We think that as long as we are walking in as much love as the rest of the body of Christ generally is then we are “good” at walking in love. But, the body of Christ is not our standard. The Word of God is our standard. If you look at the body of Christ as a whole are we fulfilling the commandment to love everyone like Jesus loves us? While there are probably millions of Christians who are truly walking in the love of Christ for others, that still leaves the vast majority of believers (90% or more) that are doing a miserable job loving others. We don’t look any different than the world; we are not loving people any different than the world loves them. For instance, when you walk into a restaurant, is it immediately very obvious to you who is a Christian and who is not a Christian? By contrast, if you walked into a place and there were several people in there and one of them was Jesus, do you think you would notice a difference between Him and the rest of the folks? Absolutely! We would think “who is that Guy; I’ve got to know Him!” That’s how attractive the love of God is!
We know that we are supposed to walk in love, but knowing that we are supposed to is not working to bring out the love of God in our lives. Why? The problem is a lack of understanding. We may think that the love walk is hard. But when you start believing correctly the love walk is really, really easy. In fact, you will actually find that not walking in love is infinitely times harder than not walking in love.
In fact, there are benefits and rewards to walking in love – motivations to walking in love! You may think “that’s not right … I shouldn’t be looking for motivation to walk walk in love.” But the New Testament makes it so clear that we should not worry about being motivated by rewards! Th first reason to walk in love is because your Father wants you to! When you are in front of a very unlovely person it is exciting to realize that it will be really pleasing right now to Our Father if you choose to love them. Think about God’s mindset: “God so loved the world …” He didn’t “so love the Christians” – He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
It says in Romans 5:8 that God demonstrated His own love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. So, when you see someone who is walking in a very unGodly way – or even overtly cursing God – it is natural to think that God is definitely not happy with that person, but the Bible teaches that God had anger and wrath towards sin – and He took all of that wrath for all of our sins for all of the world for all time … and He already poured that wrath out on His Son! And the Bible says, therefore, we have All been reconciled to the Father. What does that mean? It means we have all been “made friendly” to the Father again. There is a wrath of God that is reserved – for the Day of Wrath. There is a period of time now for which man can exercise faith in Christ. And when God returns, those who never placed faith in Christ will be judged. We think we are aligning ourselves with God by having judgment towards the world, but we are not. If we actually want to get in alignment with God, we love them! Now does that mean that we say nothing about evil in the earth? No, not at all! There are many other scriptures that teach us we are to stand up for righteousness. We don’t get mean or ugly. We speak the truth IN LOVE. But, what are we doing in love? We’re speaking the truth!
The second benefit to walking in love it that it is how we experience God’s fullness. Jn. 15:9-12 says that if you obey God’s commandment – to love one another as I have loved you – your joy will be FULL! Do you know what it means to have your joy full? It means you don’t have any room for more! Jesus’ words in Jn. 15 are not just theory or words on a page. Jesus was saying there is a place that you can go where your joy will be FULL! Ephesians 3:17-19 says when you are rooted in love, coming from a place of love, towards others, it enables you to comprehend God’s love towards you!
Loving people is not about feelings. Imagine you are in front of someone who is being very nasty. Immediately your flesh wants to respond with similar nastiness. God says “don’t do that! Overcome evil with good!” We may think “I don’t feel anything good towards this person” and God says “I can’t recall a single scripture where I was talking about your feelings.” This is Christianity 101. Every part of Christianity is about whether we are going to be moved by our feelings or by the Word of God. That is our choice at all times. When I fail in my Christian walk, I always fail for the same reason – I was moved by my feelings instead of the Word. When I am successful is when I make a decision to be moved by the Word irregardless of my feelings. My feelings may be in alignment with it, but they may not be in alignment with it. The Word says to love them – even though they are getting ugly!
The whole reason our feelings even get involved is because we are still way too alive! God says we are to die to self! Someone has said “you will never be greatly used by God until you get your ‘I’ punched out.” What does a dead person do if you kick them or spit on them or throw insults at them? NOTHING – because they are dead! When the God of the universe loves me, why should I care what you think? I don’t mean that to sound insulting – but now I’m free to just love you because I happen to know a secret – He loves you too! So, if there is a person being nasty towards you and you do not feel anything towards that person that is lovely, you can choose to love them. When we make that decision to love them we will experience God’s love. When you love someone as an act of faith, you will feel the love of God come up in your heart. The worse the situation is, the richer the soil for God’s love to be on display! When you act in love you begin to learn and experience the Love of God.
The greatest hinderance to loving people is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is always triggered by offense. When someone does something and you feel offended by it, it is not unforgivness yet. Being offended is one thing, but you can take that offense and forgive them. In other words, you can get offended and not sin … OR you can take the offense and say “how dare you talk to me like that!” You take the offense and we pass judgement – we just entered into unforgiveness. Am I saying that you should never say something to anyone who says something wrong to you – NOT AT ALL! This isn’t a message of becoming a doormat. It’s just that we do everything in love. We can tell people that they are wrong – we can clarify and bring out the truth … no problem! We just mess up when we decide to become offended, judge them, and get angry with them. That’s when we left God’s way and took on the enemy’s.
Our Father doesn’t want us to harbor unforgiveness. If it doesn’t strike you as a great motivation yet, it is because we are not aware of how much He loves us! Jesus says “I had you on on My mind when I was on the Cross.” Now consider that if you love this person who is being nasty to you, you are going to be pleasing to God! What a great reason! Ephesians 4:32 says: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Peter once asked Jesus (in Mt. 18:21-22) how often he should forgive a brother who sinned against him – “up to seven times?” Jesus replied “up to 70 times 7!” It is our Father’s will that we would forgive!
We also need to know that unforgiveness is a toxic poison in the heart. It will literally cause you to physically decay. It will cause you to mentally bog down. It is emotionally destructive. Most people, unfortunately, are harboring unforgiveness. Try this. get before God in prayer – quiet. Get alone with Him and say “Father I ask you to show me right now … do I have unforgiveness in my heart towards anybody?” Then just get quiet and listen. The majority of us will get reminded of some people that we need to release in our hearts from unforgiveness. We need to realize that ALL unforgiveness in the heart is demonic in nature. Unfrogiveness is NOT of God. That means it came from the Kingdom of darkness! Every time we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, it is demonic and nature, and we need to get it out! Unforgiveness is you and I drinking poison – hoping that they will die. So, let’s find a better way to deal with it!
So, how do we walk in love and constant forgiveness towards everyone?
1. By possessing correct theology (or in other words, thinking like God thinks). God is loving everyone all the time, has forgiven (paid for) everyone’s sin debt, and is not angry towards any one. He has appointed a Day for Wrath, but today is not that day. We are in a dispensation of Grace. For now, even the judge of all the earth isn’t judging them right now, so what are we doing? Love people!
2. We must have faith in our God-likeness. If you don’t believe that the Spirit of God dwells on the inside of you and wants to love this person and that you are actually capable of loving them with the love of God that is inside of us, we won’t do it! We may not feel right towards a person acting nasty, but if we believe that the Holy Spirit is in us and act accordingly, just watch what will happen!
3. We often have a hard time forgiving someone because we mix the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation, but God does not say “be reconciled to everyone.” NO. He says “forgive everyone.” Reconciliation takes both parties, forgiveness only requires you. “With everything that is within YOU, be at peace with all men.” If someone REALLY wrongs you, it may take a month or two or three in prayer to finally forgive them! Pray for them! You will know you have forgiven them when you don’t have any problem seeing them in person. That’s a fruit of forgiveness. BUT you don’t have to like them as a person. You can know there character is not right. You can chose to not do business with them again. You can forgive and love them, but also not be friends with them. Forgiveness is about releasing them from their sin debt to you; it’s about releasing them to God. And use wisdom. If they have shown you that they are unreliable, don’t rely on them. If they have shown you that they are a their, don’t give them money! Be smart. Don’t co-mingle forgiveness with reconciliation. You can forgive and love them from a distance.
4. We also struggle with unforgiveness because we think that if we forgive them, we are letting them off of the hook which violates our principles of right and wrong. Here’s why our forgiveness does not violate a standard of right and wrong: (1) You and I are not the judge of the earth. (2) Your Father asks you to give to them what He already gave to you in a much bigger way. God is saying “I forgave you of a massive debt. I am asking you to do the same for them.” (3) God is actually going to balance all the books at the end perfectly! We can release them to the only lawgiver that there is and no that He is perfect in His ways!
Remember this as you are in front of a difficult person: Jesus died for the person and when you are in Heaven, are you actually going to wish that person was in Hell? Those two thoughts will give you power to love people! Why? Because it is correct theology – you are thinking like God thinks – and it will empower you to love people!