Seminary Blog

2 Kings 20:12-19

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 02/26/2019 - 10:00

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Categories: Seminary Blog

The Prescription for your Path

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 02/26/2019 - 09:30

“As there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places.”[1] I remember where I was the first time I heard this quote from Francis Schaeffer’s work No Little People. I was sitting in the congregation as a visitor at Hulen Street Church in Fort Worth (where I have now been a member for five years). As a first-semester seminary student, my mind and heart were full of expectation, especially concerning where the Lord may take me in the ministry. Having watched and seen so many “celebrity” pastors, I remember thinking and hoping that maybe God would direct my ministry to such a height someday. Yet as our pastor, Wes Hamilton, preached and referenced this quote, I remember my heart being shaken, and my direction in ministry changed.

My assumption up to that point—and if we are honest, the assumption of so many of us—was that God was always going to call me to bigger and better places. The small ministry that I had before seminary was in my past. Greatness, notoriety, and prosperity were surely on the horizon. Yet the truth is, this is the way of the flesh and not the way of Christ!

Jesus prescribes the position of the heart that must prevail in the life of His disciples in Luke 14:7-11:

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus’ prescription to those who heard this parable was simple: take the lowest position and trust the Host to put you in the right position. What Jesus teaches in this parable is echoed throughout the New Testament. In Matthew, Luke, and John, we have the example of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul reminds his readers to have the same mind in them as Christ Jesus, who took on flesh, took up the cross, and humbled Himself to the point of death. In 1 Peter 5, Peter encourages his readers, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (v. 6). Schaeffer explains the prescription of this passage: “This is the way of the Christian: he should choose the lesser place until God extrudes him into a position of more responsibility.”[2]

Living out the prescription of Jesus and the message of the New Testament requires us to always seek faithfulness over a following. When we embrace New Testament humility, we are not promised a massive following. When we embrace New Testament humility, there is no promise that money will flow in. When we embrace New Testament humility, there is no assurance that any man will ever see us as a success. BUT there is the promise that we will be exalted by the Lord. Choosing the lesser path may never lead to the praises of man, but it will lead to the approval of our Savior.

Additionally, living out the prescription of Jesus requires us to always seek out piety over a platform. As disciples of Jesus, our aim should be to grow in our devotion to Jesus and not to grow our ministry reach. For many of us (myself included), false humility pervades our social media channels. We use false gratitude and fancy phrases that are posted, pictured, and planted all over our social media feeds in hopes that our reach will grow farther and our notoriety will increase. These false actions often take our attention away from faithfully following Jesus. We are tempted to grow our own following instead of more faithfully following Him.

Since the way of Christ is so clear, we should do two things. First, we should follow Christ’s call, no matter the span of our influence. Second, we should work as servants and not seek celebrity status. Schaeffer says,

Jesus commands Christians to seek consciously the lowest room. All of us—pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and nonprofessional included—are tempted to say, “I will take the larger place because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” Both individual Christians and Christian organizations fall prey to the temptation of rationalizing this way as we build bigger and bigger empires. But according to the Scripture this is back-wards: we should consciously take the lowest place unless the Lord Himself extrudes us into a greater one.[3]

For each of us, the command of Christ is to be humble and to trust Him alone for where we are headed. May we always seek the lower place so that we can give Christ the highest praise with our lives.

[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Introduction by Udo Middelmann) (p. 25). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
[2] Ibid., 29.
[3] Ibid.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Go to church — even when you don’t feel like it

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 02/26/2019 - 09:07

The most important time to be at church is when you don’t feel like it.

A few months ago, I talked with three Christians about this—two struggling with depression, and a third who just went through a tough break-up—who’ve stopped gathering with God’s people during a difficult season. Whether for weeks or months, all three have decided to stop going to church.

One said it would be unsatisfying, that there just isn’t a sense of connection. Another said it would be awkward, because they don’t want to see their ex. The last said it would be unhelpful, because they have no desire to be there anymore.

I’m not here to minimize their burdens or condemn them for feeling the way they do. I’m not writing to them or about them. I’m just writing to every Christian who feels the way they’re feeling, who feels (as I have before) like gathering with God’s people will be unsatisfying, unhelpful, or just plain awkward.

I’m writing to say something I said to all three of my friends at some point in our conversations: The most important time to be at church is when you don’t feel like it.

Remember, the church is not a building

Yes, I know the church is a people, not a place. The church is a body, not a building. The church is something Christians are, not just somewhere Christians go. Yes, I also know the church is a family that should meet and study and eat and fellowship and pray and serve throughout the week, not just on Sunday. I know these things, and if you’ve walked with God for a while, you do too.

But I also know the church is marked, known, and enlivened by its regular, rhythmic, ordered gatherings (Heb. 10:24–25). A body that’s never together is more like a prosthetics warehouse, and a family that never has family dinners or outings or reunions won’t be a healthy family, if any family at all.

Sure, you could listen to some praise music and an online sermon, but there won’t be any personalized one-anothering, there won’t be any face-to-face fellowship, and there won’t be any bread and wine. Sure, you could read the Bible and pray on your own, but you won’t hear the voice of your own shepherd teaching and comforting and correcting you. Yes, you could just attend another church for a while because yours has grown unsatisfying, but that’s not treating your church like much of a covenant community.

Covenants are made for the hard times, not the good times. In the good times, we don’t need covenants, because we can get by on feelings alone. But covenant communities hold us up when we’re faltering. They encourage us when we’re weary and wake us when we’re slumbering. They draw us out of ourselves and invite us back to the garden of Christian community, where we grow.

Church is not all about you

I get it. The worship team didn’t pull their song selections from your Spotify playlist; the pastor didn’t have the time and resources to craft a mesmerizing sermon with a team of presidential speechwriters; the membership may not have the perfect combination of older saints to mentor you, younger saints to energize you, mature saints to counsel you, hospitable saints to host you, and outgoing saints to pursue you.

But I know another thing: If your church believes the Bible and preaches the gospel and practices the ordinances and serves one another, then your church has saints, and those saints are your brothers and sisters, your fathers and mothers, your weary fellow pilgrims walking the same wilderness you are—away from Egypt, surrounded by pillars of cloud and fire, with eyes set on the promised land.

Which is to say: This isn’t really about you.

And those people you wish would pursue you and care for you and reach out to you need you to do the same (Gal. 6:9–10). That pastor you wish were a better preacher is probably praying this morning that you’d be a good listener (Mark 4:3–8, 14–20; James 1:22–25). Those people whose spiritual gifts you desperately need also desperately need your spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:15–16). Those people whose fellowship you find dissatisfying or unhelpful or just plain awkward don’t need your criticism but your gospel partnership (Phil. 4:2–3).

And you can’t do any of these things if you’re not present.

Don’t miss a vital means of grace

At all times and in all places, the gathering of the saints is a means of grace established by God for edifying his people. Christians gather to worship not because it might be helpful if all the stars align, or if our leaders plan the service just right, or if everyone smiles at us with the perfect degree of sincerity and handles the small talk seamlessly and engages us with just the right depth of conversation that’s neither too personal nor too shallow.

We gather because the God we’re worshiping has instituted our gathering as a main way he matures and strengthens and comforts us. It’s not just when the songs or prayers or sermons or Sunday school classes touch our souls right where we need to be touched. We meet because God builds up his people through our meeting every time, in every place, without fail, no matter how we feel. Like rain in the fields, it’s how our gatherings work.

Pray, then go

So I know you may not feel like it on Sunday morning. You may not feel like it for a while. But I’m asking you to trust God, ask for grace, and go.

Go, because the church gathers every Sunday to remember the death of Jesus for our sins and the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and that’s precisely what we all need to remember and celebrate, regardless of what else is going on in our lives.

Go, because the stone trapping you in the cave of depression can be rolled away in a night, and once God does it, no Roman soldier or Jewish priest can stop him. Go, because you’re gathering to anticipate a greater marriage than the one you hoped would happen later this year. Go, not because your trials aren’t real, but because that tabled bread and wine represents the crucifixion of the worst sins you could ever commit and the worst realities you’ve ever experienced.

Go, and in your going, grow. Go, and in your going, serve. Go, and in your going, let God pick up the pieces of your heart and stitch together the kind of mosaic that only gets fully crafted when saints stay committed to God’s long-term building project, when they speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15–16).

The most important time to be at church is when you don’t feel like it. So please, brothers and sisters: Go.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

John Calvin: Human Life Begins at Conception

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 02/26/2019 - 08:44
A few weeks ago I discussed the pro-life position in the DBTS chapel, including the biblical perspective of when human life begins—at conception. I found it interesting to see John Calvin promoting the view that human life begins at conception in an article he wrote against astrology: John Calvin, trans. by Mary Potter, “A Warning... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

5 myths about seminary

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 02/22/2019 - 09:50

It’s a question that burns in the minds of many young pastors after they surrender to God’s call to ministry. Should I go to seminary? There are many good reasons to attend a biblically faithful seminary or divinity school, but there are also many false notions that have grown up around schools that prepare ministers.

Here are five such myths.

  1. Seminary is cemetery

It’s a tired cliché I’ve heard many times—typically from those who fail to see the merits of a sound seminary education, but sometimes from ministers who think pursuing theological education means the death of devotional life: “Going to seminary is like going to a cemetery—you will leave school spiritually dead.” Sadly, the landscape of theological education is dotted with examples of seminaries and divinity schools who teach things that would shipwreck an eager young minister’s confidence in the Word of God. But the presence of the false proves the existence of the true.

Really, though, how can parsing Greek nouns, learning about the Council of Nicaea, or gaining a deeper grasp of the hypostatic union make me a better Christian? I learned early that perhaps the better question is, How can it not? During my first few days of seminary, one of my Greek professors challenged me not to bifurcate my devotional life from my academic studies. We should make them one. Never, ever should we approach the things of God—whether it’s translating Galatians from Greek to English or writing a paper on the First Great Awakening—with anything less than the highest affections. In the same way a minister ought to make sermon prep a key part of his sanctification, so seminary studies should be approached with a warm heart toward the Lord of Galatians or the First Great Awakening. Never, ever should it become a cold, academic exercise.

  1. Seminary will make me a pastor

One of the most persistent myths a student must debunk early is the notion that theological knowledge is a synonym for the maturity, patience, and godliness that God uses to build a pastor. Theological learning can certainly be an important part of making a pastor, but in the same way basic training doesn’t make soldiers, seminary doesn’t form pastors. Soldiers develop into courageous, strong, competent warriors on the battlefield, and pastors get made in the trenches of local church ministry.

But it would be unconscionable for a soldier to go to war without training, and in the same way, being steeped in the fundamentals of the Christian faith—which includes Bible, theology, and related disciplines—is foundational for becoming a faithful and mature in wielding the sword of the Spirit and shepherding a flock of sheep. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are two parts of a whole that make a man of God.

Besides, seminary without practical ministry experience could lead to a minister building a fictional church in his mind—nothing more than a theological and ministerial Rivendell. And when he enters his first church position, armed with unrealistic expectations, he may be tempted to retreat when the bullets fly, the wounds leave scars, and the battle grows long and intense. He will soon learn that pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart.

  1. Seminary doesn’t focus on real-life issues

The Puritan William Ames (1576–1633) famously wrote that theology is the art of living well. There is hardly anything more practical than studying the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the atonement, the exegesis of Scripture, and how the church has conducted its business throughout the ages. We practice in accord with our knowledge; we do what we know. If we believe man is flawed but basically good, we will align our daily lives accordingly. But if man is depraved and in need of unilateral transforming grace, our lives will be lived in reliance on the God of all grace. We will teach others to live consistent with either belief.

Building a robust Christian worldview is the first step in living well and teaching others to do the same. Immersing ourselves in the things of God—as Paul commanded his young understudy—will transform us in profound ways. Notice how Paul links information with transformation:

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:15–16)

  1. Seminary will teach me all I need to know about ministry

The man who would become my doctoral supervisor and mentor, Tom Nettles, taught me three valuable words for ministry during my first week as a seminary student: “I don’t know.”

Those words came in reply to one of my fellow MDiv student’s questions about Baptist history, a topic on which Nettles has written thousands of pages and to which he’s devoted more than four decades of careful study and research.

In that moment, I realized two things: (1) It’s a privilege to be learning about the things of God from humble men, and (2) When I leave seminary—and after I’ve studied the Bible, theology, and church history for decades—I won’t even know a tiny fraction of 1 percent of all there is to know. In other words, I will always be a student. Seminary prepares me to leverage my lifelong learning skillfully.

That’s perhaps the role above all roles seminary is designed to play—it teaches a pastor, a professor, a missionary, an evangelist, or a counselor how to teach him or herself. Seminary can by no means teach everything you need to know, but it puts strong tools in your box to set you up for a lifetime of matriculating in the school of Christ. The best professors will teach and inspire you to dig for treasure that you will use to make others eternally wealthy.

  1. Seminary is a luxury, not a necessity

I’ve often been reminded that Charles Spurgeon didn’t go to seminary—and yet we know how mightily God uses him even more than a century after his death. But not many of us is as gifted as the Prince of Preachers. Not many of us were reading Puritan books at the age of 12 in our grandfather’s study. Someone else once pointed out to me that Jesus didn’t go to seminary. Not many of us is Spurgeon. None of us is the perfect God-man. For the rest of us, finding a solid, biblically faithful seminary is a necessity—if at all possible.

The biblical admonition is that all called to ministry must study to show themselves approved, workmen who need not be ashamed, able to rightly divide the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). And one of the best places to do this is where many godly, competent Christian minds are gathered and gifted to teach how to lead a church faithfully. Sometimes, though not as often as we’d like, that is a local church populated with godly ministers able to teach a wide variety of subjects within the setting of vocational ministry. Often, that place is a seminary committed to teaching God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word. I was privileged to study in one such place, and I shudder to think what my life and ministry would look like without those years of rigorous study under capable teachers. I encourage everyone whom God calls to pray for the opportunity to do likewise.

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at The Gospel Coalition.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Don’t unhitch from preaching and teaching fullness of the OT

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 02/19/2019 - 16:54

For some Star Wars fans, the Original Trilogy is the story’s only canon. The seven additional movies detailing what preceded those films and what follows are the subject of great controversy, with episodes four through six the default story because they are the ones people generally agree are the core of this universe. Unfortunately, it seems frequently our preaching and teaching reflect a similar attitude. Though unintentional, many drift into a comfortable canon within a canon, gravitating towards a theological core comprised largely of the Pauline epistles.

A large percentage of sermons come from the New Testament, while the Old Testament accounts for roughly 70 percent of space in our Bibles. While the information contained therein is essential for the Christian life, we risk doing a grave disservice to our sisters and brothers by excluding, even if by accident, the OT from our preaching and teaching rotation.

An athlete who focuses exclusively on their arm strength will be malformed overall, and if we are forgetful, we risk malformation of our congregants in a similar fashion by overlooking the variety of formative aspects the OT offers. By utilizing the sum of the canon, we can better hope to speak across the swath of human emotions and ensure our people are holistically shaped.

The canon and the problem

Given the importance of the New Testament, it’s understandable why it is the focus of so many sermons. It tells us the good news about Jesus, the early church, and establishes a theological foundation on which we now stand and gives us the hope of how the story ends. But even among those letters, there is an affinity towards Paul’s works. This is not borne from malice — the cultural gap is much smaller than the Old Testament, it’s familiar, and his straightforward and rationalist approach simplifies the exegetical process. In the Old Testament, the language is incredibly different, theology is filtered through narrative, and the cultural differences seem more pronounced. It is enigmatic.

A didactic curriculum revolving around Paul (and other epistles) almost to exclusion of much else immediately presents two problems. First, there is a pedagogical element which incorporates not just what is being said, but also how. That is, if the locus is syllogisms and deduction, we can miss how the Old Testament speaks to the whole of human emotions. Since we are not simply brains on a stick, we must reckon with Scripture which discusses this wide range, including things like joy and sorrow, mystery and doubt. Second, we risk diverting people from a love of Scriptures if their experiences and the questions they wrestle with are absent from our teaching. That is, if a person needs to cry it is helpful for them to see others in Scripture cry (like King David and other psalmists) and not just talk about crying.

As a remedy to this, it is helpful to consider ways that a thorough and holistic approach to the canon of Scripture can form Christians in a fuller manner. To that end, here are three examples of how the Old Testament pictures the full range of human emotions.

  1. Joy

There are moments we’ve experience of unbridled joy, such as when the Cowboys (or your favorite team) make the playoffs, an engagement occurs, or a friend receives that promotion they’ve worked for. Life is hard and celebration is uplifting, but is helps to witness it instead of merely discussing it. For example, in 2 Samuel 6 David dances over the return of the Ark of the Covenant. The king of Israel, one of the most important figures in the OT dances. Was it the Wobble? The Floss? We can only speculate, but his happiness is palpable. Hannah rejoices in the Lord in 1 Samuel 2 and joy is found littered across the Psalms — Psalm 95 drips with euphoria.

  1. Anxiety and fear

Likewise, people have moments of great distress, of lament, fear, and doubt. After all, Jesus was a man of sorrows. These things do not define us, but are a part of life that everyone experiences. Marilynne Robinson puts it well when she says, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” And this brokenness is common to the Old Testament. Moses exhibits trepidation at going before Pharaoh in Exodus 3-4, and we see many examples of grief over the death of a child, too (Gen. 37:34; 2 Sam. 12:16; Job 3). And among the many psalms, there is an entire book of lament. This feeling can overwhelm even those who have done great things, as we see in Elijah, who, having just defeated the prophets of Baal, flees for his life (1 Kings 19) and is later comforted.

  1. Beauty

There is a profound sense of beauty to which the Old Testament speaks, which we can easily miss when focusing exclusively on granular aspects of Pauline exegesis. Psalm 104 is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry ever written and unparalleled in its evocative imagery.

The complexity of language in Ezekiel is illustrative of what he witnessed, profundity exhibited not only with the words used, but the ones unused too. Even the Genesis story testifies to the beauty of creation by incorporating poetic elements with a careful and meaningful creation story.

In the Old Testament, theology is extolled through stories. Happiness, fear, pain, confusion, struggles, and liberation all compose the history recorded from Genesis to Malachi and provide valuable insight into how these elements have played a role in the story we share.

However, it is not important simply because the text teaches us, but also because people approach the text with hopes that it can address their situations too. When a person becomes adept in theological concepts but has no bearing of comfort, we have missed an opportunity to speak truth and speak love into their life. The Bible has application to people through history and across cultures, and we should take steps to connect the text and its application to our congregants to ensure they are fully formed, emotions and all. This is one of the values of preaching and teaching from the Old Testament as it speaks to the complex emotional experiences we all go through, shaping us in every facet from our rational approach to faith all the way down to how our emotions interact with our beliefs too.

How do church leaders apply the OT themselves?

There are a few things this means for us and ways we as pastors, teachers, and leaders can apply this to our lives.

First, it highlights the importance of knowing deeply where our church members are and what they need, not just focusing on what we enjoy focusing on. Some churches may thrive on assiduous exegesis of certain passages while others learn better from biblically comprehending new portions of their childhood stories. If we fail to grasp what our people need we can miss the chance to teach and form them more fully into the image of Christ.

Second, this harkens us to turn our attention back towards the Old Testament. The text which was Jesus, Peter, and Paul used is one which we could all learn from. Instead of only discussing common stories of the Old Testament there is an opportunity to broaden people’s understanding of how God operates and how faith works in salvation history. It should remind us that the Old Testament should be regularly brought into discussion, if not for holistic formation (including the development of our emotions) but also because it will better prepare our people for understanding God’s Word fully and growing in grace.

Ultimately, it is important because our faith is not restricted to the New Testament. Common refrains note the huge differences between the Old and New Testaments, often artificial and lacking in substance. By including the Old Testament in our teaching, we actively find ways to connect the ancient roots of our faith to the stories about Jesus, bringing together one coherent, metanarrative.

The Bible is a dynamic book and we are complex people; our teaching ought to be treated as such.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Love One Another

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 02/19/2019 - 10:03

People frequently express their thoughts on the subject of love—whether in word, songs, or even in prayers. For example, last week, within which Valentine’s Day occurred, was filled with syrupy thoughts of love. Dionne Warwick sang about the need for love in a 1960s song written by Burt Bacharach entitled “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love.” The song’s lyrics went on to say, “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” This semester, Interim President D. Jeffrey Bingham has, on more than one occasion, concluded his closing prayers in chapel with the petition: “Lord, let us love one another.” The church of Jesus Christ could indeed use some “love”—love for one another—which in turn is very attractive to the world. Indeed, Christians are commanded to love one another (1 John 4:7–12). However, before we can know what it means to “love one another” as the Bible tells us, we need first to talk about love.[1]

What is love? The word for “love” in 1 John 4:7–12 is agapē, one of several Greek words meaning “love.” Other words denoting “love” include philos, usually a loyal or fraternal love, love for family, friends, or those dear to us. Erōs (not in the New Testament) is an intimate, sensual type of love. Agapē is a godly type of love, referring to a volitional choice to meet the needs of others whether or not there is any reciprocation. Agapē love is distinguished by an unconditional attitude of love not necessarily related to feelings like pleasure or excitement, etc. That being the case, we can be commanded to love one another. Our feelings, however, cannot be commanded. No one can command you to be thrilled about something or someone—say, the New England Patriots—you either are or are not. However, our will or volition can be commanded because agapē love is an action, which explains how we can love the unlikeable and the unlovely in an agapē manner. We may not feel any emotional attraction toward others. Sometimes we may feel the opposite way. All of us can think of people with whom we perhaps cannot stand to be in the same room over the course of 30 seconds. But, we can “will” to meet their needs and “love” them by treating them as precious people for whom Christ died. Now, a feeling of fondness and attraction often develops when loving in this way, but this aspect is not particularly characteristic of agapē love. An illustration of this occurs in Ephesians 5:25, where Paul commanded husbands to “love” their wives (agapaō, the verb form of agapē). What did his command mean? In this case, the imperative “love” is further spelled out by the words “just as also Christ loved (agapaō) the church and gave Himself for her.”[2] The agapē love command here is to love like Christ did. Jesus committed to do the will of the Father (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). His love, despite our sin, took action: He went to the cross on our behalf to die for our sins.

Couples having marriage difficulties will often say, “I just don’t love him/her anymore.” That expression reflects a misunderstanding of what it means to “love” someone. When airing such sentiments, people usually mean that they no longer feel any attraction or thrill for their spouse. However, they have altogether missed the point. A Christian is to “love” whether or not there is any emotional or physical attraction or response. You can still love in this sense: to want the very best for others regardless of their attitude toward you. Christians need to obey the Word of God, and if you love in the agapē sense, maybe the feelings will also eventually follow.

To be sure, true Christians love God and one another (1 John 4:7-12). The Apostle John emphasized the criterion of loving fellow believers as a necessary mark for assurance of genuine Christian profession (cf. 5:13). He commanded his readers to “love one another” because “love is from God” (4:7). That is to say, agapē love comes from God; He is the source of all true love.

John maintained that believers must love one another because this is God’s nature (4:8). Anyone who does not display this nature of love does not know God. The Greek construction of “God is love” (4:8b) makes love a description of God—not a definition.[3] In other words, “love” is not all that God is. He is also holy, righteous, sovereign, etc.

Moreover, John urged his readers to love others because God demonstrated His love for them in the death of Christ (4:9–11). Believers can know that God loves them because He sent His Son to be the propitiatory sacrifice (hilasmos: “satisfaction”) for their sins (2:2). And because of that act of love, they ought also to love others.

Furthermore, John instructed his readers that if they loved each other, they would make the presence of God, whom no one can see, a visible reality to others (4:12). That is to say, when believers in Jesus love one another, it shows that God has indeed come to dwell in them, and that is how God’s love is being perfected, i.e., brought to its goal or proper end (4:12). When followers of Christ practice loving one another, it is evidence that God is at work in their lives because agapē love is God’s love fulfilling its ends and bearing fruit.[4]

People talk a lot today about love, but unfortunately, much of it is superficial. We need to guard against such superficiality. Even a person outside of Christ can recognize phony love. I have visited many churches over the years. Several folks in those churches would describe themselves as a loving church, or as a church whose members love one another. If that’s indeed true, then that is laudable, because you are practicing what Scripture teaches! For love involves action, not just talk. If you really love folks in an agapē manner, you will not quit loving and caring for people the first time they displease you, because whether they please you is not the reason for your love. Remember that agapē love seeks to meet the needs of others and loves them without reciprocation. We love because Christ first loved us (cf. 4:10) despite our sin, quirks, and faults, and despite our displeasing Him. Know this: people are profoundly impressed whenever they meet a group of believers in Jesus who truly love one another and genuinely love them. This should come as no surprise, because Jesus said, “All people will know by this that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Lord, may it be so in our lives. Amen.

[1] This essay greatly reflects the excellent teaching on 1 John of my friend and former professor, William E. Bell, Jr. He loved his students, and we loved him.
[2] All Bible translations in this article are mine.
[3] In Greek, the word agapē does not occur with the definite article.
[4] The last four paragraphs were borrowed from a section written by me on 1 John in my co-authored book, Faithful to the End: An Introduction to Hebrews through Revelation, with J. Daryl Charles and Kendell Easley (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 194–95.

Categories: Seminary Blog

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