23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24, NKJV)
Jesus did not pronounce this stinging condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees because they were careful to tithe herbs (this was commanded in God’s law to Israel, Leviticus 27:30). He pronounced woe upon them for abandoning the principles and motives that characterize acceptable obedience to God. They strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel with their minute correctness while failing to obey God out of justice, mercy and faith. They “passed by justice and the love of God” in their zeal to keep the law (Luke 11:42). Unfortunately, this passage is frequently used as an “either, or” proposition to justify disobedience in the name of justice, mercy, faith and the love of God. Jesus did not say that. He taught that careful obedience is useless unless it genuinely expresses faith, mercy and justice. Obeying God does not contradict justice, mercy, and faith. While being faithful to obey God, be just and merciful to others. Do not “pass by the love of God” lest you fall into condemnation (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8, NKJV)
Without strength. Ungodly. Sinners. Such was our spiritual condition when Christ died for us. We are impotent to save ourselves from our sins. Ungodliness is powerless to cleanse the ungodly. Sinners are incapable of freeing themselves from the bondage of sin. We were neither righteous nor good when Christ died for us. That Christ died for us cannot be attributed to our own righteousness or goodness. It can only be ascribed to the great and matchless love of God. The defining trait of God’s love is that He sent His Son to die for us when we were His unloving, unlovable enemies (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). The depth of God’s love for us compels us to love one another, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Love is not merely stated, it is demonstrated. God has shown us true love. Now, let us go and love as He has loved us.
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37, NKJV)
Jesus demands our first allegiance. The closest relationships we have are not to be given greater importance and priority than our faithfulness to Jesus Christ. In this matter, Jesus does not ask of us what He did not also do. Jesus did the Father’s will, even when His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Jesus gave preference to those who follow the will of God instead of His own mother and brothers by saying, “whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50). We cannot choose family over God’s truth, because truth sanctifies us, not family (John 17:17). Jesus was very clear about what discipleship requires. It requires loving Him more than we love our parents, our children, our siblings and everyone else. Otherwise, we are not worthy of Him and cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:26). The general religious community does not know this Jesus. The world certainly does not know this Jesus. Not a few Christians have trouble knowing this Jesus, too. But this is the true Jesus! Family does not define faithfulness and fellowship with God in the Lord’s church – the word of Christ does (1 John 1:5-7; 2 John 9-11). When you choose to follow Jesus, you are choosing to love Him more than your earthly family.
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8–10, NKJV)
The abiding superiority of love over the temporarily miraculous spiritual gifts (a discussion of which Paul had introduced in 1 Corinthians 12:1) is the “more excellent way” that was to control the use of those gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31). The partial things in this passage are the miraculous gifts given by the apostles through the laying on of their hands (Acts 8:14-17; 19:6). In this context, that “which is perfect” is the completed result of those gifts, namely, the full and final revelation of the gospel of Christ. When the miraculous gifts served their purpose of revealing, inspiring and confirming the gospel of Christ, they were “done away” with, like so much scaffolding around a building whose construction is complete. The “perfect” in this text is not Jesus, nor is His second coming in view (that is a forced and arbitrary interpretation). The Corinthian Christians needed to learn and use love as they exercised their miraculous gifts. The gifts would cease but love never ends. Love must be the compelling motive of all we do. Always. Because love never fails. It never vanishes away.
5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. (1 Timothy 1:5–7, NKJV)
To faithfully teach the gospel one must first be willing to be taught (see 2 Timothy 2:2). Commitment to the commands of God produce love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith. Love for God, for truth, and for others compels us to learn God’s word before trying to teach it. Desire to teach the gospel without having a knowledge of it may well result in leading a person astray from the very truth he desires to teach. Like zeal without knowledge, desire to teach that is not fettered to knowing the truth produces vain, yet confidently asserted babbling, instead of “godly edification which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). Take time to study and learn God’s word. Examine your motive for desiring to be a teacher of the word. Is it “love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith?” And remember, faithful teachers never stop studying to learn and know the truth they teach.
9 But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; (1 Thessalonians 4:9–10, NKJV)
The apostle uses two words for love in this passage; philadelphia (brotherly love) and agape (love). We are to have both warm affection and the abiding welfare of our brethren in our hearts and in our lives. There is always room for improving our brotherly love. God teaches us to love one another, and so we must earnestly strive not to take each other for granted. Brotherly love holds its brethren in high regard and responds with kind consideration toward them. Such love is not confined to our own circle of saints, for instance, just the local church to which we belong. The Thessalonian Christians’ love included the saints in the surrounding area. Furthermore, there is no limit to love. While Paul commended them for loving their brethren, he urged them to increase their love abundantly. The warm affection of brotherly love (philadelphia) must be coupled with the love (agape) that selflessly attends to others before itself. Agape is an exercise of the will, and so are commanded to “love (agapao) the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17). Let us strive to mature in love (agape) and in the warm affection of brotherly love (philadelphia).
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV)
In identifying and nurturing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), love is set at its pinnacle as the crowning element of the fruit we must bear. Love is outward-looking and outward-acting, always conducting itself in the best interests of others before itself. William Barclay defines agape (love) as “unconquerable benevolence” and “undefeatable goodwill” (Flesh and Spirit, page 65). Love is the fundamental trait that moved God to give His Son to die for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). God acted in our best interest, to provide salvation for us, even when we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-8). So, it is God’s love that stirs us up to love one another as He has loved us (1 John 4:7-11). To have such love, we must begin by having this kind of love for God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Only then can you “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Love is not only a noun, it is also a verb. Love is a word of action. When we act to please God rather than ourselves, we show love for God (1 John 5:3). When we act with goodwill for others, even for our enemies, then we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit.