Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Agape

Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The Apostle John affirms this in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” God does not merely love; He is love itself. Everything God does flows from His love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely (us!), not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is His nature to do so, and He must be true to His nature and character. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the Cross, where Christ died for the unworthy creatures who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), not because we did anything to deserve it, “but God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The object of agape love never does anything to merit His love. We are the undeserving recipients upon whom He lavishes that love. His love was demonstrated when He sent His Son into the world to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and to provide eternal life to those He sought and saved. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves.

In the same way, we are to love others sacrificially. Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us, or even hate us, as the Jews did the Samaritans. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling, but a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own. But this type of love does not come naturally to humans. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love—that agape—can only come from its true Source. This is the love which “has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5). Because that love is now in our hearts, we can obey Jesus who said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should also love one another” (John 13:34). This new commandment involves loving one another as He loved us sacrificially, even to the point of death. But again, it is clear that only God can generate within us the kind of self-sacrificing love which is the proof that we are His children. “By this we have known the love of God, because He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Because of God’s love toward us, we are now able to love one another.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

HOPE

Trustful expectation, particularly with reference to the fulfillment of God's promises. Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God's guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world's definition of hope as “a feeling that what is wanted will happen.” Understood in this way, hope can denote either a baseless optimism or a vague yearning after an unattainable good. If hope is to be genuine hope, however, it must be founded on something (or someone) which affords reasonable grounds for confidence in its fulfillment. The Bible bases its hope in God and His saving acts.
Words for Hope In the Old Testament the words which are most often used to connote “hope” are tigwa (“to look for something with eager expectation”), batach (“to rely on something reliable”), and yachal (“trust”). In the New Testament “hope” is the proper translation for the verb elpizein and the noun elpis. Other words which belong to the vocabulary of hope are pepoithenai (“to trust”), hupomenein (“to endure”), and prosdokan (“to expect” or “to await”). It is important to note that the reality of hope is often present where the exact words are absent. A case in point is the New Testament Book of Revelation. The word “hope” does not appear in its pages. The message of Revelation, however, is permeated with the reality of hope. A complete examination of hope would have to include all of the exhortations, prayers, promises, and future tenses in the Bible.
The Ground and Object of Hope In the Old Testament, God alone is the ultimate ground and object of hope. Hope in God was generated by His might deeds in history. In fulfilling His promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), He redeemed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. He provided for their needs in the wilderness, formed them into a covenant community at Sinai, and led them into the successful occupation of Canaan. These acts provided a firm base for their confidence in God's continuing purpose for them. Even when Israel was unfaithful, hope was not lost. Because of God's faithfulness and mercy, those who returned to Him could count on His help (Malachi 3:6-7). This help included forgiveness (2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 86:5) as well as deliverance from enemies. Thus, Jeremiah addressed God as the “hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble” (Jeremiah 14:8; compare Jeremiah 14:22; Jeremiah 17:13). Likewise, the psalmist called on Israel to “hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalms 130:7-8 NIV; compare Psalms 131:3).
A corollary of putting one's hope in God is refusing to place one's final confidence in the created order. All created things are weak, transient, and apt to fail. For this reason it is futile to vest ultimate hope in wealth (Psalms 49:6-12; Psalms 52:7; Proverbs 11:28), houses (Isaiah 32:17-18), princes (Psalms 146:3), empires and armies (Isaiah 31:1-3;2 Kings 18:19-24), or even the Jerusalem Temple (Jeremiah 7:1-7). God, and God only, is a rock that cannot be moved (Deuteronomy 32:4,Deuteronomy 32:15,Deuteronomy 32:18; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 62:2; Isaiah 26:4) and a refuge and fortress who provides ultimate security (Psalms 14:6, Psalms 61:3; Psalms 73:28; Psalms 91:9). An accurate summary of the Old Testament emphasis is found in Psalms 119:49-50. “Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life” (NIV).
A significant aspect of Old Testament hope was Israel's expectation of a messiah, that is, an anointed ruler from David's line. This expectation grew out of the promise that God would establish the throne of David forever (2 Samuel 7:14). The anointed ruler (messiah) would be God's agent to restore Israel's glory and rule the nations in peace and righteousness. For the most part, however, David's successors were disappointments. The direction of the nation was away from the ideal. Thus, people looked to the future for a son of David who would fulfill the divine promise.
The New Testament continues to speak of God as the source and object of hope. Paul wrote that it was the “God who raises the dead” on whom “we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10 NIV). Furthermore, “we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men” (1 Timothy 4:10 NAS). Peter reminded his readers that “your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21 NAS). In the New Testament, as in the Old, God is the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13).
For the early Christians, hope is also focused in Christ. He is called “our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1), and the hope of glory is identified with “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27). Images applied to God in the Old Testament are transferred to Christ in the New. He is the Savior (Luke 2:11; Acts 13:23; Titus 1:4; Titus 3:6), the source of life (John 6:35), the rock on which hope is built (1 Peter 2:4-7). He is the first and last (Revelation 1:17), the day-spring dispelling darkness and leading His people into eternal day (Revelation 22:5).
New Testament writers spoke of Christ as the object and ground of hope for two reasons. 1) He is the Messiah who has brought salvation by His life, death, and resurrection (Luke 24:46). God's promises are fulfilled in Him. “For in him every one of God's promises is a “Yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NRSV). 2) They are aware of the unity between Father and Son. This is a unity of nature (John 1:1; Colossians 1:19) as well as a unity in the work of redemption. Because “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19), hope in the Son is one with hope in the Father.
The Future of Hope While the New Testament affirms the sufficiency of Christ's redemptive work in the past, it also looks forward to His return in the future to complete God's purpose. Indeed, the major emphasis on hope in the New Testament centers on the second coming of Christ. The “blessed hope” of the Church is nothing less than “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
This expectation filled the horizon of the early Christian community. Jesus Himself spoke of it (Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:28; John 14:1-4). His disciples were promised that “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Apostolic preaching reiterated the theme (Acts 3:19-21; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31). References in the epistles are numerous. Paul reminded the Philippians that “our conversation is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 NAS; compare1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Timothy 6:14). Christ “will appear a second time… to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 NRSV). Christians are “shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). If the Lord's coming seems delayed unduly, it is still certain because “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Peter 3:9). The last book of the Bible begins and ends with a reference to Christ's return. “Behold, he cometh with clouds” (Revelation 1:7). “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
The content of the hope which will be realized in the future is described in different ways. Christians will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 NRSV); realize their hope of “righteousness” (Galatians 5:5); be “transformed into his likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:12-18 REB; compare 1 John 3:1-3); acquire possession of the inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), and experience the resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:21,1 Corinthians 15:50-55).
Hope is not merely individual in scope, however. It has cosmic dimensions as well. God's purpose is to redeem the whole creation. Thus, Christians expect that “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Peter expressed it like this: “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
The Assurance of Hope Christians live in hope for two basic reasons. The first reason is because of what God has done in Christ. Especially important is the emphasis the New Testament places on the resurrection by which Christ has defeated the power of sin and death. “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 NRSV).
The second reason is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). Furthermore, the Spirit is the “first installment of our inheritance, so that we may finally come into full possession of the prize of redemption” (Ephesians 1:14 Williams). “Hope never disappoints us; for through the Holy Spirit that has been given us, God's love has flooded our hearts” (Romans 5:5 Williams). Hence, Paul's prayer that “the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
Given the assurance of hope, Christians live in the present with confidence and face the future with courage. They can also meet trials triumphantly because they know “that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). Such perseverance is not passive resignation; it is the confident endurance in the face of opposition. There is, therefore, a certitude in Christian hope which amounts to a qualitative difference from ordinary hope. Christian hope is the gift of God. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19NIV).

Monday, 6 February 2012

Faith

Faith is the simplest of all things, and perhaps because of its simplicity it is the more difficult to explain. What is faith? It is made up of three things—knowledge, belief, and trust.
KNOWLEDGE…
Knowledge comes first. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14). I want to be informed of a fact before I can possibly believe it. “Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17); we must first hear, in order that we may know what is to be believed. “Those who know your name will trust in you” (Psalm 9:10)
A measure of knowledge is essential to faith; hence the importance of getting knowledge. “Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). Such was the word of the ancient prophet, and it is the word of the gospel still.
Search the Scriptures and learn what the Holy Spirit teaches concerning Christ and His salvation. Seek to know God: “For he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). May the Holy Spirit give you the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord! Know the gospel: know what the good news is, how it talks of free forgiveness, and of change of heart, of adoption into the family of God, and of countless other blessings.
Know especially Christ Jesus the Son of God, the Savior of men, united to us by His human nature, and yet one with God; and thus able to act as Mediator between God and man, able to lay His hand upon both, and to be the connecting link between the sinner and the Judge of all the earth.
Endeavor to know more and more of Christ Jesus. Endeavor especially to know the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ; for the point upon which saving faith mainly fixes itself is this— “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Know that Jesus was “made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). Drink deep of the doctrine of the substitutionary work of Christ; for there lies the sweetest possible comfort to the guilty sons of men, since the Lord “made him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Faith begins with knowledge.
BELIEF…
The mind goes on to believe that these things are true. The soul believes that God is, and that He hears the cries of sincere hearts; that the gospel is from God; that justification by faith is the grand truth which God has revealed in these last days by His Spirit more clearly than before.
Then the heart believes that Jesus is verily and in truth our God and Savior, the Redeemer of men, the Prophet, Priest, and King of His people. All this is accepted as sure truth, not to be called in question. I pray that you may at once come to this. Get firmly to believe that “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son, cleanse us from all sin” (1 John 1:7); that His sacrifice is complete and fully accepted of God on man’s behalf, so that he that believe on Jesus is not condemned. Believe these truths as you believe any other statements; for the difference between common faith and saving faith lies mainly in the subjects upon which it is exercised. Believe the witness of God just as you believe the testimony of your own father or friend. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater” (1 John 5:9).
TRUST…
So far you have made an advance toward faith; only one more ingredient is needed to complete it, which is trust. Commit yourself to the merciful God; rest your hope on the gracious gospel; trust your soul on the dying and living Savior; wash away your sins in the atoning blood; accept His perfect righteousness, and all is well.
Trust is the lifeblood of faith; there is no saving faith without it. The Puritans were accustomed to explain faith by the word “recumbency.” It meant leaning upon a thing. Lean with all your weight upon Christ. It would be a better illustration still if I said, fall at full length, and lie on the Rock of Ages. Cast yourself upon Jesus; rest in Him; commit yourself to Him.
That done, you have exercised saving faith. Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation. That is one way of describing what faith is.
Let me try again. Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.
- Charles Spurgeon

Hell

There are two descriptions of hell in the Bible. One is of a burning fire. Jesus often used the word GEHENNA to describe hell. Gehenna was...