Commitment Love

Love is often described as an emotion, a warm feeling toward another person. Webster’s Dictionary defines love as a “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties…warm attachment, enthusiasm.”[1] This works in some ways, when the object of our affection appeals to us. But when the natural affinity is gone, or the object becomes unattractive, indifferent, or hostile, emotional love fails.

There is a higher form of love that supersedes emotion. A love that derives from the individual and has little or no regard for the appeal or worth of the object. It is a love that is born out of the bounty of one’s own goodness and is marked by stability and commitment. This love always seeks the best interests of others at one’s own expense, and is not often understood or appreciated. It is this higher form of love that is described and promoted in the Bible. The Bible reveals God loves us, and we are to love Him and others.

God revealed His attribute of love to Moses, saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] and truth; who keeps lovingkindness [חֶסֶד chesed] for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exo 34:6-7a). According to HALOT, the Hebrew word חֶסֶד chesed denotes “lasting loyalty, faithfulness…to show loyalty.”[2] Here, God’s loyalty means He keeps His covenant promises to His people. God is faithful to His Word (see Psa 89:1-4; cf. Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18).

Another word for love in the OT is the Hebrew verb אָהַב ahav. An example is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 where Moses wrote, “You shall love [אָהֵב aheb] the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5). Here, love is an act of the will in which Israelites were to commit themselves to the Lord wholeheartedly. Concerning the word love in this passage, Daniel Block writes:

Speaking biblically “love” is not merely an emotion, a pleasant disposition toward another person, but covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that seek the interest of the next person…Just as in marriage true love is demonstrated not merely or even primarily by roses and verbal utterances of “I love you,” but in actions that seek the well-being and delight of one’s spouse.[3]

Warren Wiersbe adds:

In the life of the believer, love is an act of the will: we choose to relate to God and to other persons in a loving way no matter how we may feel. Christian love simply means that we treat others the way God treats us. In His love, God is kind and forgiving toward us, so we seek to be kind and forgiving toward others (Eph. 4:32). God wills the very best for us, so we desire the very best for others, even if it demands sacrifice on our part.[4]

The idea of commitment-love carries into the New Testament where Jesus tells His disciples, “If you love [ἀγαπάω agapao] Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love for Jesus means we are committed to Him above all else, and this commitment is manifest in a life of obedience to Him and service to others. Biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives.

As Christians, God wants us to walk with Him and enjoy His love and blessings. Our obedience is motivated by His love for us. The apostle John set the order when he wrote, “we love [ἀγαπάω agapao], because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And God loved us when we were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies (Rom 5:6-10). The apostle Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love [ἀγάπη agape] toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love [ἀγαπάω agapao] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:43-45)

But love [ἀγαπάω agapao] 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 Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

This command cannot be obeyed if love is an emotion, for one cannot conjure up a warm affection for the one who hates us and causes injury. Emotions are part of what it means to be human. I like my emotions very much, although there are times they get in the way of good judgment and right decisions. The truth is, emotions are unintelligent. They never operate on their own, but are always tied to thoughts or actions. Emotion follows thought like a trailer follows a truck. The trailer goes where the truck goes.

Being unintelligent, emotion does not differentiate between reality or fiction. I can watch a TV show, or read a book, and have an emotional response that is triggered by fictional characters and events. I can even produce a story in my own mind that is completely fictional and have an emotional response. If I want to change my emotions, I need to change my thoughts or actions.

Emotion Follows Thought

Emotional love is not in view when Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Rather, it is commitment love, in which we seek God’s best in the lives of others. Warren Wiersbe states:

Jesus defined our enemies as those who curse us, hate us, and exploit us selfishly. Since Christian love is an act of the will, and not simply an emotion, He has the right to command us to love our enemies. After all, He loved us when we were His enemies (Rom 5:10). We may show this love by blessing those who curse us, doing good to them, and praying for them. When we pray for our enemies, we find it easier to love them. It takes the “poison” out of our attitudes.[5]

William MacDonald adds:

Jesus announces that we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. The fact that love is commanded shows that it is a matter of the will and not primarily of the emotions. It is not the same as natural affection because it is not natural to love those who hate and harm you.[6]

Now, let me be careful here. Loving our enemies does not necessarily mean we expose ourselves to their hostilities. There are clear examples in Scripture where God’s people hid themselves from their enemies. For example, Rahab protected the two spies that came to her house, for “she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof” (Josh 2:6; cf. Heb 11:31). Obadiah hid one hundred prophets of the Lord and provided food and water for them (1 Ki 18:1-4). These were true prophets, for a false prophet would not have been afraid of the public hostility of Ahab and Jezebel. There were at least two occasions when Jesus “hid Himself” from an attack by the Jewish leadership (John 8:59; John 12:36). Certainly, there was no sin in Jesus’ action.

Furthermore, it’s valid to warn others of enemies who may attack and cause unnecessary harm. When writing to his friend Timothy, the apostle Paul warned him about a dangerous man who hurt him. Paul wrote, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching” (2 Tim 4:14-15). Paul did not state what the specific harm was, but clearly he’d been marked by his encounter with Alexander and carried the memory of the hurt. As a Christian, Paul did not seek revenge against Alexander, but rather, put the matter in the Lord’s hands, saying, “the Lord will repay with him according to his deeds” (2 Tim 4:14b). Because God is the one who dispenses justice, we are commanded, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Paul knew God would deal with Alexander in His own time and way and that the punishment would be equitable payment for the harm done to him. There should be no hatred in the heart of the Christian. As Christians, we are never called to seek revenge upon those who have hurt us, but rather, to put the matter in the Lord’s hands. Scripture teaches that God repays people according to their actions, as Paul wrote, “it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Th 1:6).

In summary, biblical love for others is not primarily an emotion; rather, it’s a choice to commit ourselves to them and to seek God’s best in their lives. Love is manifest by prayer, sharing the Gospel with the lost, sharing biblical truth to edify believers, open handed giving to the needy, and supporting Christian ministries that do God’s work, just to name a few.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 336.

[3] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 189–190.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 46.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 24.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1223.

Righteousness Exalts a Nation

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Prov. 14:34)

       Righteousness (Heb. צְדָקָה tsedaqah, Grk. δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune) is understood in two ways in the Bible: First it refers to the standing of those who are God’s people by means of the imputation of His righteousness that is credited to us at the moment of salvation (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-5). God’s righteousness is given as a gift by means of faith, “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom 4:5; cf. Rom 3:24; 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Second, righteousness refers to the high moral behavior that God expects of His people, in which He instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12). “In order for a nation to be great, its leaders and people must have upright, moral characters known for their righteousness.”[1]

The generations and ages have repeatedly proved the truth of this proverb. A nation which conducts itself in righteousness ‘exalts’ itself. The word ‘exalts’ describes the lifting up, or elevating, of the people’s collective life. It is more of a moral term than descriptive of material benefits. This has already been stated in regards to a ‘city’ (Pro 11:11) and it applies to ‘kings’ (Pro 16:2; 14:28). In contrast, the people who tolerate and promote sin find it, in the end, to be a disgrace. The word here is rare and unusual…It describes a deep and disgraceful shame of almost unspeakable proportions (Lev 20:17).[2]

       The values of a nation are never neutral. They either conform to God’s character or not. Righteousness is not accidental. When the majority of people in a nation purpose in their hearts to know God and walk in His will, then that nation will reflect righteousness and be morally strong. When leaders and citizens choose righteousness, the nation is lifted up and reflects the highest and best in mankind. But sin destroys a nation; and it does so from the inside out (arrogance, selfishness, greed, hatred, etc.). 

       Righteousness is taught from one generation to the next. It starts with believers learning and living God’s Word, then teaching their children to do the same. Each child must choose to accept the biblical values of the parents, then to walk in those values. When God established Israel as a nation under the leadership of Moses, the Lord commanded the parents to teach His word to the children. God said:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut 6:6-7)

Rigtheousness Exalts a Nation       The blessing and prosperity of Israel depended upon their obedience to God’s word (Deut 6:8-25). If they feared God and walked in His truth, then there was blessing (Deut 28:1-14). If they turned away from God and lived in perpetual sin, then there was cursing (Deut 28:15-68). The cursing of God upon the nation of Israel came in stages (decaying social life, destruction of crops, famine and military defeat), and eventuated in total destruction if they failed to humble themselves before the Lord. When Jewish children asked their parents why they were to learn and obey God’s word, the parents were to say, “the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival” (Deut 6:24). 

       Israel is the only theocracy to exist in human history. Today there are no theocratic kingdoms in the world. There is only the spiritual kingdom to which all believers belong (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13). Believers within a national entity have the power to influence their country and help perpetuate its blessing from God; and like those living in ancient Israel, righteousness must be taught and caught by each new generation. God gives freedom, but freedom must always be seen as an opportunity to do good for others; for God declares, “Surely I will set you free for purposes of good” (Jer 15:11). And Paul states, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal 5:13). Each new generation must choose God and His will, for a nation is only one generation away from success or failure; from being righteous or sinful. 

Godly parents can raise godly children, and godly children can provide godly influence in their communities and in the nation. In a democracy, where leadership is elected and not inherited, the Lord’s remnant must exert as much influence for righteousness as possible; certainly every believer ought to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1–8).[3]

       National leaders and citizens commit sin (Heb. חָטָא chata, Grk. ἁμάρτημα hamartia) when they deviate from God’s will. At the core of sin is a rebellious heart, a fallen nature, an internal defiance toward God in which a person sets his will against his Creator. Whether educated or uneducated, religious or irreligious, believer or unbeliever, every person has the capacity and propensity to sin. Every nation has its unbelievers who continually produce sin; but only the believer has a spiritual nature (acquired at salvation) which enables him to walk with God in accordance with Scripture. The believer has a choice to follow God or the world, and God calls the believer to forsake sin and live righteously (Rom 6:11-14; 13:12-14).  Paul stated:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Tit 2:11-14)

Light of the WorldThe Christian is chosen by God to be a light in the world, and to call people to God that they might be saved by grace through faith. The whole world lies in darkness, and the Christian is to preach the gospel to the lost, calling unbelievers “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). The world, as a whole, will never be reformed or made perfect because it consists of a majority of unbelievers who are guided by sinful values. Absolute perfection only comes when God destroys the current heavens and earth and creates a new heavens and earth (Rev 21-22). The apostle Peter states, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). Until that happens, God is calling out a special people to be set apart from the world, sanctified and holy. We live in the world, but we are not of the world. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19). Though we live in the world, we are called to strive for holiness rather than conformity (Rom 12:1-2).  

       Historically, Christians have been a positive influence in society by promoting law and being charitable to the needy (Gal 2:10; Jam 1:27). They’ve built schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other helpful organizations that lift man up. They’ve fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, provided for widows and orphans, and visited prisoners with the Gospel. Christians have also promoted art, literature, music and science. Certainly there have been abuses in the name of Christianity; however, the historical record speaks favorably about Christian service. For the most part, believers have obeyed Scripture and become law abiding citizens rather than rebels. Scripture teaches Christians to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom 13:4), to obey good leaders (Rom 13:1, 5; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-15), pay taxes (Rom 13:6), regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom 13:2-4; 6-7). We do not blindly submit to their authority, and should say no to governmental leaders when they command us to go against the commands of God (see Dan 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29). The Christian obeys or defies human authority only as the Bible directs. Ultimately, those who obey God’s word prove to be a blessing that promotes righteousness within a nation.  

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. Choosing Righteous Friends
  3. Love Your Enemies
  4. Satan’s World System
  5. Overcome Evil with Good 

[1] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 828.

[2] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (Christian focus publications, Germany, 2006), 322.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 133.

Overcome Evil with Good

       The Christian lives in a fallen world, and in order for him to overcome evil, he must grow spiritually and live in regular dependence on God the Holy Spirit to sustain and direct his life.  The Holy Spirit will never lead the Christian independently of Scripture.  Learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will, as the Christian cannot live what he does not know.  Change his mind and you’ll change his ways.  After regeneration, the Christian’s mind is still filled with a lifetime of worldly thinking, which will cause him problems to the degree that it remains the basis for his decisions in life.  If he thinks like the world then he’ll live like the world.  Worldly viewpoint should give way to the light of God’s Word as the Christian begins to adjust his thinking and bring it into conformity with the mind of God.  As Christians, we are always in the process of “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).  We do this so we will “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).  For the Christian, overcoming evil starts with a change in thinking that leads to a change in behavior.  Without solid thinking rooted in Scripture, the Christian will not be able to stand against the evil pressures Satan will put on him. 

       The Christian living in society sometimes faces tremendous pressure to conform to the values and behaviors of those around him.  Not only does the Christian face the external pressure of those who are weak and have given themselves over to Satan’s evil system, but he also faces the pressure of his own sin nature that has a natural affinity with the devil’s world.  Mic-2 If Satan were a broadcaster sending out his radio signal, the sin nature would be that internal receiver that is automatically tuned to its message.  There is a part of us that is corrupt and is naturally bent toward evil, whether moral or immoral, and we must be aware of this flaw within ourselves.  We are given a new spiritual nature at the moment of salvation, which is naturally tuned to God’s message and is receptive to the Holy Spirit.  The Christian’s new spiritual nature is continually in conflict with his old sinful nature, as these are in complete opposition to each other.  The Apostle Paul tells us, “the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17; cf. Rom. 8:5-8).

The old nature (which has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born again (Gal. 5:16–26). No amount of self-discipline, no set of man-made rules and regulations, can control this old nature. Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.[1]

       Those in the world who have given themselves over to Satan’s evil system often demand that others in their periphery conform to their values.  Persecution often comes in stages and is defined as “the suffering or pressure, mental, moral, or physical, which authorities, individuals, or crowds inflict on others, especially for opinions or beliefs, with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing, or, as a last resort, execution.”[2]  Evil men often employ pressure tactics of all sorts, including violence, in order to obtain their objective.  In fact, it was during a time of great persecution by the Roman government that the apostle Paul wrote to Christians and told them they must “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).  Satan was trying to destroy the early church and many in the Roman government were used by him to persecute Christians.  Many Roman officials demanded that Christians recognize Caesar as a god to be worshipped, and if those Christians refused, then they would be persecuted and put to death.  The Roman government did not separate state from religion, and if a Roman citizen refused to worship as the state mandated, that citizen would then be guilty of treason and could face capital punishment.  Many Christians living in Rome faced persecution because they refused to worship Caesar as a god, and the result was often torture and death.

     The persecution of Christians became heightened in the summer of A.D. 64 when the emperor Nero falsely blamed them for a fire that had burned much of the city of Rome.  The false charge unleashed the anger of many hostile citizens, and the fury of Rome exploded against the early church and many Christians died a horrible death.  Later, the emperor Domitian (ca. A.D. 81-96) carried out attacks against Christians and persecuted them as well.  Herbert W. Workman writes:

Some, suffering the punishment of parricides, were shut up in a sack with snakes and thrown into the sea; others were tied to huge stones and cast into a river.  For Christians the cross itself was not deemed sufficient agony; hanging on the tree, they were beaten with rods until their bowels gushed out, while vinegar and salt were rubbed into their wounds. …Christians were tied to catapults, and so wrenched from limb to limb. Some…were thrown to the beasts; others were tied to their horns. Women were stripped, enclosed in nets, and exposed to the attacks of furious bulls. Many were made to lie on sharp shells, and tortured with scrapers, claws, and pincers, before being delivered to the mercy of the flames. Not a few were broken on the wheel, or torn in pieces by wild horses. Of some the feet were slowly burned away, cold water being dowsed over them the while lest the victims should expire too rapidly. …Down the backs of others melted lead, hissing and bubbling, was poured; while a few ‘by the clemency of the emperor’ escaped with the searing out of their eyes, or the tearing off of their legs.[3]

       To avoid such persecutions by Roman governmental officials, the Christian had only to denounce his faith and say “Caesar is lord.”  Some might argue that it would have been better to give recognition to a Roman emperor rather than suffer greatly or watch family members be put to death.  However, the demands of Christianity (now, as well as then) are such that a believer can never worship a substitute for the living Christ.  When confronted with persecution, any compromise of faith is shameful in the face of those who have testified for Christ with their life.  The early Christians understood that there was never a time when they could deny Jesus as their Lord and be justified in doing so.  Just as three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel stood before a mighty king and were willing to face suffering rather than deny the only true God (Dan. 3), so thousands of early Christians where willing to face Roman persecution even if it resulted in their death. 

       Because persecution was part of the normal Christian experience in the early church, Paul knew there would be Christians who would be tempted to retaliate against their attackers and do evil to those who did evil to them.  Unjustified attacks will stimulate the sin nature within the Christian.  Because the sin nature is usually the first responder in evil situations, the Christian must be careful to exercise self-restraint and not act impulsively, but control his emotions.  The Christian must be governed by God’s Word and never by his hot temper, as the Scripture tells him to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). 

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (Rom. 12:17-19)

       It’s easy to retaliate and kick the one who kicked you, or hit the one who hit you, or curse the one who cursed you.  But this is not the Christian way.  Jesus suffered unjustly many times throughout His life, and especially during His illegal trials which led to His crucifixion.  And even though He was verbally reviled, “He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23).

As children of God, we must live on the highest level—returning good for evil. Anyone can return good for good and evil for evil. The only way to overcome evil is with good. If we return evil for evil, we only add fuel to the fire. And even if our enemy is not converted, we have still experienced the love of God in our own hearts and have grown in grace.[4]

       The persecuted Christians living in Rome could face their evil attackers with courage because they knew God was in control of their circumstances as well as their eternal destiny.  Just as three Hebrew children were able to stand against the pressure of a Babylonian king and face the torment of fire rather than compromise their faith, the Christians living in Rome faced their attackers by trusting God and His Word.  By faith, the Christian has confidence in the face of suffering because he knows “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  Even if the Christian should face death, he knows he will leave this world and come immediately into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), have a new home in heaven (John 14:1-6), receive his resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:51-57; Phil. 3:21), obtain his eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4-5), and enjoy the reality of the eternal life he received at the moment of he trusted Christ as his Savior (John 3:16; 10:28; 1 John 5:10).  Jesus Himself stated “do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

       Living in God’s will is not always easy, and it does not guarantee a positive response from those who follow worldly values.  The teaching of Scripture is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Sadly, there are many Christians who suffer for sinful reasons and it is good that they suffer, if it teaches them humility and respect for legitimate authority.  The Apostle Peter tells Christians to “make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:15-16).  We cannot stop suffering in this life, but “it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (1 Pet. 3:17).  We cannot control what other people think or how they behave, but we can control our response to them, and we can make sure that what we do is pleasing to the Lord by being obedient-to-the-Word believers.  In this way, we can overcome evil by doing God’s will for our lives; and this is good. 

       The Christian cannot control much of the suffering that comes into his life, but he does not have to be overcome by that suffering, as he can look to God and maintain faith in His Word.  Jesus was not overcome by the cruelty and suffering he experienced, but showed love and forgiveness to His attackers (Luke 23:34), and “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  Stephen, who spoke strong words of truth while filled with the Holy Spirit, prayed and asked God to forgive those who stoned him to death (Acts 7:60).  Paul and Silas demonstrated loving concern for the jailer who kept them in chains, sharing the gospel with him when given the opportunity (Acts 16:22-31).  Our lives may be vulnerable to the unjust pain and suffering caused by others, but we must look beyond the suffering and be willing to love even our attackers for the sake of Christ in the hope that they may come to know the gospel and be saved.  

Dr. Steven R. Cook

 


[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, 480.

 [2] Geoffrey W. Bromily, “Persecution,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3 (Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 771.

 [3] Herbert B.  Workman, Persecution in the Early Church (Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1906), 299-300.

[4] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1, 556.

The Filling of the Holy Spirit

       The Holy Spirit fills us to accomplish His will (Eph. 5:18).  The filling of the Holy Spirit simply means He controls, influences or directs us as we yield to Him and are willing to accomplish His will according to Scripture. 

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.  (Eph. 5:18)

       When a person consumes alcohol and gets drunk, eventually it influences his thinking, words, and behavior in an obvious and often negative manner.  The Bible does not condemn drinking wine, but it does condemn drunkenness, in which the believer loses control of himself.  Drunkenness is sin.  In contrast to being drunk, the Bible commands the believer to “be filled with the Spirit.” 

“Be filled with the Spirit” is God’s command, and He expects us to obey. The command is plural, so it applies to all Christians and not just to a select few. The verb is in the present tense—“keep on being filled”—so it is an experience we should enjoy constantly and not just on special occasions. And the verb is passive. We do not fill ourselves but permit the Spirit to fill us. The verb “fill” has nothing to do with contents or quantity, as though we are empty vessels that need a required amount of spiritual fuel to keep going. In the Bible, filled means “controlled by.” “They… were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28) means “they were controlled by wrath” and for that reason tried to kill Jesus. “The Jews were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45) means that the Jews were controlled by envy and opposed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. To be “filled with the Spirit” means to be constantly controlled by the Spirit in our mind, emotions, and will…But how can a person tell whether or not he is filled with the Spirit? Paul stated that there are three evidences of the fullness of the Spirit in the life of the believer: he is joyful (Eph. 5:19), thankful (Eph. 5:20), and submissive (Eph. 5:21–33). Paul said nothing about miracles or tongues, or other special manifestations.[1]

       As a Christian, I don’t ask the Spirit to fill me, as that’s what He already wants to do; rather, I submit to God and walk in the light of Scripture and trust the Spirit to guide and empower me. 

The work of the Holy Spirit in filling the believer may be simply defined as that ministry which is accomplished in the believer when he is fully yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Every reference to the filling of the Holy Spirit indicates a spiritual condition on the part of the person filled which is brought about by the complete control of the Spirit.[2]

       The Spirit wants to fill me and accomplish His will in my life, but I must be yielded to Him, willing to let Him guide me according to Scripture.  There must be an active submission on my part to say “yes” to what the Spirit wants to accomplish in my life, otherwise I’m resisting Him. 

To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when he placed Him there.  To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit: it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us.  We shall never have more of the Spirit than the anointing which every true Christian has received.  On the other hand, the Spirit may have all of the believer and thus be able to manifest in him the life and character of Christ.  A spiritual person, then, is one who experiences the divine purpose and plan in his daily life through the power of the indwelling Spirit.  The character of that life will be the out-lived Christ.  The cause of that life will be the unhindered indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21; II Corinthians 3:18).[3]

Charles Ryrie states:

To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit. The clue to this definition is found in Ephesians 5:18 where there is contrast and comparison between drunkenness and Spirit-filling. It is the comparison which gives the clue, for just as a drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he consumes, so a Spirit-filled Christian is controlled by the Spirit. This will cause him to act in ways which are unnatural to him, not implying that such ways will be erratic or abnormal, but asserting that they will not be the ways of the old life. Control by the Spirit is a necessary part of spirituality.[4]

       For the apostle Paul, the most obvious sign of being filled with the Spirit is the manifestation that follows.  After giving the command to be filled with the Spirit, the apostle Paul then states that Christians are to be:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father”  (Eph. 5:19-20). 

       The spiritual Christian tends to have a song in his heart and an attitude of thankfulness toward God.  This does not mean he cannot experience genuine grief or sorrow, or at times be angry while filled with Spirit.  Certainly Jesus got angry and experienced sorrow, and He was spiritual in everything.  However, as we follow Paul’s instructions in his letter to the Ephesians, the filling of the Spirit is followed by praise and thanksgiving in the believer. (Article taken from my book: The Christian Life, pages 71-75)

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

The Filling of the Holy Spirit – by John F. Walvoord 

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? – compellingtruth.org  


[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2 (Colorado Springs, Col., Victor Publishing, 2001), 48.

[2] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 192.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 43-44.

[4] Charles C. Ryrie, “What is Spirituality?” Bibliotheca Sacra 126 (1969): 206.

All is Vanity…Except for God’s Blessings

       “Vanity of vanities…All is vanity” declares the wise Solomon, as he writes of the emptiness of life (Eccl 1:2, NASB). When selecting a word to describe the vanity he saw in life, Solomon chose the Hebrew noun hebel which has at its core meaning the idea of “vapor” or “breath.”[1] Hebel is like the wispy vapor of one’s breath on a cold morning; it appears to have substance, until you grasp at it, and it passes through your fingers and disappears. Hebel also refers to what is empty, useless, futile or meaningless. Note these other English translations:

“Futile! Futile!” laments the Teacher, “Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!” (Eccl 1:2, NET)

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl 1:2, NIV)

       Solomon primarily uses hebel throughout the book of Ecclesiastes to refer to the worthless activity of human accomplishments (Eccl 1:14, 18; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 16; 6:9; except for 4:6). Solomon sees the skillful labor of men as temporary, unsustainable, and sometimes given over to others who don’t deserve it; and this he regards as “vanity and a great evil” (Eccl 2:21).   Hebel is also used in Scripture to:

Refer to idols worshipped by the Israelites

They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols [hebel]. (Deut 32:21a; cf. 1 Ki 16:13, 26)

Express a man’s frustration

I have toiled for nothing; I have spent my strength for emptiness and futility [hebel]… (Isa 49:4a)

Reveal the transitory nature of life

Man is like a mere breath [hebel]; his days are like a passing shadow.  (Psa 144:4)

So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting [hebel]. (Eccl 11:10)

Show that much of the works of men are worthless

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity [hebel] and striving after wind. (Eccl 1:14)

       Chasing after windSolomon likens hebel to “striving after wind” (Eccl 1:14), which is the most common picture employed throughout the book of Ecclesiastes (Eccl 1:14, 18; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9). When I think of the phrase “striving after wind”, I imagine someone wasting his time trying to catch the wind in his hands. It’s as futile as someone trying to hold his breath for a thousand years or trying to pour the ocean into a thimble. It’s futile. 

       Solomon also sees much evil in the world, and this is in connection with hebel (Eccl 2:21; 4:3-4; 8; 5:1, 13, 16; 6:1-2; 8:3; 11-14; 9:3, 12; 10:5; 12:1, 14). Certainly the world can be a frustrating and evil place, full of worthless activity that consumes our time and makes us feel like we’re chasing our tails. Frustration and evil is all around us and sometimes it’s all we see and hear on the news. A man would have to be blind to miss it. However, if frustration and evil is all a man sees, then he is a very poor man, for he does not see the good things that God gives to men.

     In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon identifies God’s simple blessings for life. These are the natural blessings that are a part of everyday life that we enjoy in time. Solomon reveals God’s basic blessings to be the ability to enjoy the labor of our hands (Eccl 2:24; 3:13; 5:19), a good meal (Eccl 2:24; 8:15; 9:7), and relationships with other people (Eccl 9:7-9). Solomon calls these blessings a “reward” and “gifts from God” (Eccl 5:19-20; 9:9; cf. 3:12). 

There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? (Eccl 2:24-25)

I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. (Eccl 3:12-13)

Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. (Eccl 5:19-20)

So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun. (Eccl 8:15)

Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting [hebel] life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. (Eccl 9:7-9)

       Solomon was a realist who had divine viewpoint, seeing both the evil and the good in this world. Solomon spent much of his life comparing the things he saw and making judgments about life, declaring that some things are better than others (see Pro 24:30-34). Though his eye was fixed on things eternal (Eccl 3:11; 12:5, 13-14), Solomon was also concerned with identifying the things of this life that give us enjoyment. These things, according to Solomon, are the ability to enjoy the labor of our hands (Eccl 2:24; 3:13; 5:19), a good meal (Eccl 2:24; 8:15; 9:7), and relationships with other people (Eccl 9:7-9). Solomon calls these blessings a “reward” and “gifts from God” (Eccl 5:19-20; 9:9; cf. 3:12).

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1]Brown, F., Driver, S. R., Briggs, C. A., & Gesenius, W., The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 210.

Satan’s World System

Do not love the world [Grk. kosmos] nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  (1 John 2:15-16)

     When John writes and tells the Christian “do not love the world”, he’s not talking about the physical planet.  The Greek word kosmos as it is used by the apostle John and others most often refers to “that which is hostile to God…lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved.”[1]  The world, or world-system, originated with Satan and consists of those philosophies and values that perpetually influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God and His Word.  The world-system is mankind and society functioning without God.  It is first and foremost “a way of thinking about life that is contrary to the biblical way or divine viewpoint.”[2]

The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos.[3]

       Satan’s world system is a spiritual darkness that envelopes and permeates the human race, influencing every aspect of thought and behavior in such a way that the depraved nature of man is magnified while God is excluded.  We should be careful to understand that Satan’s system is a buffet that offers something for everyone who rejects God, whether he is moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, educated or simple, rich or poor.  Satan is careful to make sure there’s even something for the Christian in his world-system, which is why the Bible repeatedly warns the believer not to love the world or the things in the world. We are to be set apart (Col. 2:8; Jas. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). 

The world is the Christian’s enemy because it represents an anti-God system, a philosophy that is diametrically opposed to the will and plan of God.  It is a system headed by the devil and therefore at odds with God (2 Cor. 4:4).  Likewise, the world hates the believer who lives for Christ (John 17:14).  The Lord never kept this a secret from his own.  He told them often of the coming conflict with the world (e.g., John 15:18-20; 16:1-3; 32-33; cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-12).  It is in this wicked world we must rear our families and earn our livelihoods.  We are in it, yet are not to be a part of it.[4]

       Jesus came as the Light of God’s revelation and salvation into Satan’s hostile world system, yet the majority of those who personally witnessed Christ rejected Him, because they “loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Man is depraved to the core of his being, and that depravity is most manifest in the life of the person who has excluded God and His Word from having any say over his life.  The worldly person makes no room in his life for God, and is often hostile to those who do. 

       The worldly person is perhaps best described by the word autonomous, which comes from two Greek words (autos = self + nomos = law) that mean to be self-governed.  The worldly person seeks to live independently from God, as a self-governed person who regulates his own life and establishes his own rules and laws.  He refuses to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and rejects the Lord as having any say over his life.  More so, the worldly person, whether he is a believer or unbeliever, loves those who are of the world, but hates those who belong to the Lord and walk in His will.

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  (John 15:18-19)

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  (John 17:14-17)

Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.  (1 John 3:13)

       The growing Christian faces real struggles as Satan’s world system seeks to press him into its mold, demanding conformity, and persecuting him when he does not bend to its values.  The world-system not only has human support, but is backed by demonic forces of spiritual darkness that operate in collaboration with Satan.  Scripture tells us “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).  The battlefront is more than what is seen with the human eye, but also encompasses that which is unseen.  Whether visible or invisible, the battleground finally rests in the believer’s mind, for what he thinks determines how he lives.  If the Christian thinks biblically, then he will make right decisions on a regular basis to live for God.  However, if the Christian chooses to think like the world around him, then he’s defeated and becomes a spiritual casualty. 

       As Christians living in the world we are to be careful not to be taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).  Realizing the battleground is the mind, we are to think biblically in everything, which is our only safeguard against the enemy. 

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

       Christians face situations every day in which they are pressured to compromise God’s Word.  They face difficulties at work, school, home, or other places, in which they are confronted by worldly minded persons, both saved and unsaved, who demand and pressure them to abandon their biblical values.  There is room for personal compromise where Scripture is silent on a matter; however, where Scripture speaks with absolute authority, there the believer must never compromise!

The world, or world-system, puts pressure on each person to try to get him to conform (Rom. 12:2). Jesus Christ was not “of this world” and neither are His people (John 8:23; 17:14). But the unsaved person, either consciously or unconsciously, is controlled by the values and attitudes of this world.[5]

       It is the epitome of worldliness to have discussions and devise plans which exclude God, and then use His resources independently of His wishes.  This is what happened at the Tower of Babel, in which godless men used divinely given language and earthly material to build a tower to heaven in order to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:1-9).  Those who built the Tower of Babel were intelligent, religious, and hardworking, but they excluded God from their plans and operated against His will, so God disrupted their activities by confusing their language.  Biblically, God has a pattern of disrupting the lives and activities of sinful men (e.g. expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the universal Flood, the Tower of Babel, the Exodus, the First and Second Coming of Christ, etc.).  God’s greatest disruption so far occurred when He sent His Son into the world, into Satan’s hostile kingdom of darkness, to be the Light of the world  and to provide salvation to those enslaved to sin (John 1:5-9; 3:19-21).  Jesus declared, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 812).  Thank God for His disruptions!

       By promoting the gospel and biblical teaching, the church disrupts Satan’s kingdom by calling out of it a people for God.  By learning God’s Word, Christians can identify worldly conversations and either avoid them or participate in them by interjecting biblical truth.  It need not be a rude avoidance or participation.  When sharing God’s Word with others it’s proper to know that not everyone wants to hear God’s truth, and the personal choices of others should be respected.  We should never try to force the gospel or Bible teaching on anyone, but be willing to share when opportunity presents itself.  Christians are to be lights in the world and this means sharing God’s truth so that the light of His Word shines forth into a dark place.  At times this will bring peace, and other times cause disruption and may even offend.

       Once saved, the Christian can live for God and enjoy His creation.  There is a difference between enjoying the creation and being worldly.  The spiritual Christian enjoys life and celebrates the many wonders of God’s creation and takes pleasure in things such a walk in the woods, a baby’s smile, a beautiful sunset, a satisfying meal, and good friends.  The spiritual Christian always keeps the Creator and creation distinct in his thinking, worshipping the former while enjoying the latter.  Worldliness, however, is a mindset that perverts the enjoyment of the creation by calling men to use it in ways God never intended.  The worldly minded person, whether Christian or not, uses the creation for selfish and destructive ends, and at times will even worship it in place of God (Rom. 1:18-25). 

The world and “worldly” Christians turn to so-called “worldly” things because they discover in them an anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty heart and life.  The anesthetic, which is often quite innocent in itself, is not so serious a matter as the empty heart and life.  Little is gained toward true spirituality when would-be soul doctors have succeeded in persuading the afflicted to get on without the anesthetic.  If these instructors do not present the reality of consolation and filling for heart and life which God has provided, the condition will not be improved.  How misleading is the theory that to be spiritual one must abandon play, diversion and helpful amusement!  Such a conception of spirituality is born of a morbid human conscience.  It is foreign to the Word of God.  It is a device of Satan to make the blessings of God seem abhorrent to young people who are overflowing with physical life and energy.  It is to be regretted that there are those who in blindness are so emphasizing the negatives of the Truth that the impression is created that spirituality is opposed to joy, liberty and naturalness of expression in thought and life in the Spirit.  Spirituality is not a pious pose.  It is not a “Thou shall not”; is it “Thou shalt.”  It flings open the doors into the eternal blessedness, energies and resources of God.  It is a serious thing to remove the element of relaxation and play from any life.  We cannot be normal physically, mentally or spiritually if we neglect the vital factor in human life.  God has provided that our joy shall be full.[6]

       People who live in Satan’s world-system exclude God and Scripture from their daily conversations.  This is true in the news, politics, academic communities, and in everyday conversations.  God is nowhere in their thoughts, and therefore, nowhere in their discussions (Ps. 10:4; 14:1).  The growing Christian thinks about God and His Word all the time, as he delights “in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2).  The contrast between the growing Christian and the worldly person is stark, as their thoughts and words take them in completely antithetical directions. 

       The growing Christian must be careful not to fall into the exclusion trap, in which the worldly person (whether saved or lost) controls the content of every conversation, demanding the Christian only talk about worldly issues, as Scripture threatens his pagan presuppositions.  Having the biblical worldview, the Christian should assert himself into daily conversations with others, and in so doing, be a light in a dark place.  He should always be respectful, conversational, and never have a fist-in-your-face attitude, as arrogance never helps advance biblical truth.  The worldly minded person may not want to hear what the Christian has to say, but he should never be under the false impression that he has the right to quiet the Christian and thereby exclude him from the conversation. 

       The Bible provides the Christian with the necessary foundation for making sense of the world in which he lives, providing the necessary presuppositions to have a correct worldview.  Scripture alone gives the true origin of the universe created in six literal days and reveals that mankind came from the hand of God as a special creature made in His image and in no way evolved from a lower species.  More so, the Bible explains the origin of sin and evil, the beginnings of language and society, and why the earth is in a state of decay.  The Bible gives hope to mankind, showing that God has provided salvation to all who trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior (John 3:16-18; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  Lastly, the Bible shows that evil—which had a beginning—will eventually come to an end, and that God will, at some time in the future, create a new heaven and earth (Gen. 3-11; Rev. 21-22). (excerpt taken from The Christian Life, Chapter 8, by Steven R. Cook)

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Christian and the World  (John 15:18-16:11) – by Bob Deffinbaugh
  2. What does it mean that we are not to love the world? – Gotquestions

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 562.

[2] Robert Dean, Thomas Ice, What the Bible Teaches About Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2000), 64.

[3] Lewis S. Chafer, “Angelology Part 4” Bibliotheca Sacra 99 (1942): 282-283.

[4] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, 206.

[5] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, 18.

[6] Lewis Chafer, He that is Spiritual, 60-61.

Love Your Enemies

Love Your EnemiesJesus told His disciples to “love your enemies” and to “do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). As a Christian, I’ve often wrestled with the command to love my enemies. It does not come naturally or easily.  Biblical love and worldly love are different. Worldly love is often couched in terms of affection or how I feel about someone. For many years I used to think I was supposed to have warm fuzzy feelings for my enemies. I now realize that’s wrong.  Biblical love is a commitment to seek God’s best interests in others. I don’t have to like a person to be committed to them and to seek their best interest according to God’s values. I can apply biblical love to everyone, whether it’s my spouse, my child, my brother, my coworker, or even my enemies. 

       The word love in Luke 6:27 is a translation of the Greek verb agapao. The verb agapao is in the imperative mood, which means Jesus is commanding believers to love their enemies. It’s important to understand that God commands our mind and will, but never our emotions. It’s impossible to command an emotion. Feelings simply respond to thought and action. I can have an imaginary thought and experience a real emotion. For example, I could sit in a room by myself and imagine an evil woman killing a helpless infant by strangling him to death. I could then imagine this woman disposing of the baby’s body and then going on with her life and being successful and prosperous and never being caught or punished for the murder she committed. Though fictional, this image evokes emotion within me. Anger is the emotion that comes as a response to a perceived injustice, real or imagined. My emotions cannot differentiate reality from fiction. They only respond to the thoughts in my mind, and when I have thoughts of injustice—whether real or imagined—I get angry. Emotion always follows thought. As I think, so I feel. 

       Loving our enemies has little to do with how we feel. If anything, we must love them by faith in spite of how we feel. We don’t have to like our enemies to love them. We don’t have to approve of their false beliefs, sinful lifestyle, or cultural values, but we are commanded to love them. Loving our enemies means that we identify those who hate us, and perhaps mean to harm us and commit ourselves to seeking God’s best in their lives. We love them by praying for them, acting in a Christian manner and speaking God’s truth to them when given the opportunity.

       There is no greater example of love than Jesus Christ. All that Jesus said and did was done in love towards others, as He was seeking their best interests. Certainly the love and goodness He displayed to His enemies was never based on their worthiness. Jesus displayed love and goodness when:

  1. Healing the sick (Matt. 8:1-4).
  2. Casting out demons (Matt. 8:16).
  3. Feeding the multitudes (Matt. 14:19-20).
  4. Speaking divine Truth (John 1:14; 14:6).
  5. Rebuking the arrogant (Matt. 23:1-39).
  6. Dying for sinners (Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).
  7. Providing eternal life (John 10:28).

       These are but a few of the loving and good acts of Christ. We are all naturally drawn to the pleasant things that Christ did such as healing the sick and feeding the hungry. Yet, in love He also spoke perfect truth and rebuked the arrogant, even if they hated Him because of it. Sometimes it is an act of love to point others to God by sharing the truth they need to hear, even if it exposes their sin and makes them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes people respond positively, but often they respond negatively. At one time, Jesus told the Pharisees, “you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth” (John 8:41). Later, after another discussion with the Pharisees, some of Jesus disciples came to Him and said, “do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” (Matt. 15:12). Apparently, Jesus offended some of the Pharisees with His words, and I suspect the omniscient Son of God knew exactly what He said and the impact it had on those to whom He said it. Jesus still offends people today, though His written words and deeds could not provide a greater display of love than what is recorded in Scripture.

       Being a Christian means being like Christ.  It means learning His Word and acting as He would act. Unbelievers are sometimes positive to Christian love and goodness, but sometimes they are negative to it, even hating the Christian for being like Christ. In fact, Jesus warned His disciples that they would be hated for following Him and said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22). This is a difficult saying and certainly one that should make every believer count the cost of discipleship. However, though there are times we will face opposition for our Christianity, there is much about the Christian life that is beautiful. There is a love and kindness in Christianity that the world does not know and never will, because it does not know Christ. Though we cannot say and do all that Jesus did, nor can we be as perfect as He was; yet we are to strive to love others and do good to others as Christ commands. Sometimes loving our enemies and doing good means being gentle and kind and tender, meeting physical and spiritual needs as they arise, but others times it means speaking strongly, rebuking, and even giving offense. How we behave in love depends on what they need to bring them to God. Love can be both gentle and strong. Grace means we’re doing it sacrificially for their best interest. Remember, Biblical love is a commitment to seek God’s best interests in others.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.