Friday, October 13, 2006

Love, discernment of spirits, and the church...

I usually don't post long sections of Scripture to read, but I'm going to today. Since it's God's Word, it certainly won't hurt you. It's 1 John 4:1-21 (ESV).

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the
world already.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

What little teaching I've heard on the beginning of this passage about testing the spirits usually emphasizes "every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God." I find it very interesting that in context there is a much more practical side to this discerning between the spirit of the antichrist and the Spirit of God. That is, if there is true love for others, then you know that the person is abiding in God and He in them. If there is not true love for others, that person does not know God. Just to clarify even further, the Bible defines what love for our brothers looks like:

1Jo 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

Eph 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

Phi 2:3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Phi 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

This is a great help both in discerning dangerous false prophets/teachers, and in guarding against false assurance of salvation both in ourselves in others. At times in my life when I have battled with hate and anger toward anyone God has used
1 John to convict me, change me, and ultimately reassure me of His love for me and power to sustain me.

So what's the point of all of this? Well, I've been freshly reminded of the main function of the church. It is to love. Love as Christ loves. Love God, love our brothers, love those who are still lost sinners in the world. If the church is not love, it is not the church. Of course we won't love perfectly, but love is to be our aim, our highest mission statement. We're on a mission as God's ambassadors (2Co 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.) and we are to be 'Jesus with skin on' as Jackie Pullinger says. Few of us are actually willing to love in the same way as Jesus did and does. I think that's why some of us battle with a sense of unfulfillment or failure sometimes. I lack power, but power is available to us to do God's work. I think I need to get to the Garden of Gethsemane and finally cry out from the depths of my being "not my will, but yours be done!" Right now I don't have the kind of love that makes me willing to really lay down my life for others. I'm spending all my effort trying to avoid it, with the excellent excuse that noone has laid down their life for me . Noone except God himself, that is.

And that's very true. The fact that God loves me and laid down his life for me should be more than enough to satisfy me and fill me with all joy and thankfulness, not to mention love for him. BUT, and here I must be careful, he intended that we as the church LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Why? He created us in his image, and we are to display his character in his body, his bride--the church. His love is so wonderful and powerful that it changes us forever. It makes us want to love him and it makes us want to demonstrate his love to others. This brings him amazing glory. That the most foolish, selfish, sinful creations on this earth could undergo such a complete transformation as to love others more than themselves testifies to a God of unestimatable power and ability and love.

And here comes my personal testimony. Hopefully I've shown some evidence in Scripture to support my personal experience, because experience alone is not enough (though I don't think truth without experience is any good either).

Basically, what I need is to experience God's love. Normally (not always), God has bypassed humans much of the time to directly manifest his love to me. But, over the past few days, he's been doing something a little different. He's used people instead, you know, imperfect people-- strangers,acquaintances, good friends, and family. It's a bit of a revelation in some ways. I've been and am being reassured of God's love for me and that always drastically improves my outlook on things. I think the main purpose of all this is to take our dogmatic intellectual belief" the church is so important, we need the church!" and make it real, if you know what I mean. We are experiencing our need for the church, it's no longer just head knowledge.

For the first time we are seriously considering becoming members of the church we've been attending over the past few months. The other night we went to a kind of worship and ministry service (that would make some of you very uncomfortable lol) and it was so refreshing to be in an atmosphere of love and peace and power. One of the pastors layed hands on me and prayed for me, knowing a bit of the situation, and then actually talked to us for a long time afterward. It's always such an amazing experience to be with people who embody God's Spirit and his love. I've only met a few people like this, and they're usually older. You can tell they've spent many years knowing God, and that's how I want to spend my years. We're realizing that this kind of love is far far more valuable to God than any amount of theological understanding. And this time I'm not going to qualify that. It's really true that

1Co 13:2 "And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. "

So that's my update. It's long, isn't it?

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