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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Do we love or tolerate?

As I was reading Philemon, this scripture stood out to me.. Paul is writing,  “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. Philemon 1:12

In particular these 3 words.... ‘my VERY HEART!”

Here Paul is ‘appealing’ to Philemon, and the "him" refers to Onesimus who was formely Philemon’s servant who is believed to have stolen from him but upon encountering Paul and accepting God’s gift of salvation is a ‘new creation’.. or better put by Paul in verse 11. “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

I wonder if we are the kind of people who have bought into the religion of the day, i.e. "tolerance", or if we have the biblical understanding of "love." Now certainly the Bible teaches "tolerance" in certain instances, but far more than simply "tolerating" those with different beliefs we are to "love" them.
 If I merely tolerate you then you do not sense that I love you, desire the best for you, would be eager to help you in times of difficulty, etc., but rather that I merely don't wish you any harm and will "put up with" you while we have to be around each other.

Also, I wonder if we are the kind of people who love repenting sinners, or if we merely accept them as possibly being Christians, but somewhere down deep we feel that, because of their past, they are somehow second-class Christians.
We note the response of the prodigal son's older brother, when the prodigal came to his senses and turned away from his sinful living and came home. The older brother's response was one of toleration. He accepted his younger brother, barely, but certainly did not evidence love for him.

25 "Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!'" Luke 15:25-30

I notice that the older brother depicted his own life as that of obedience, in contrast to the younger brother's sin and rebellion.. He also made reference to the past of the younger brother, plus he refused to celebrate the return of the younger brother. These are all characteristics of those who are self-righteous and hypocritical.

We see this same attitude displayed in the Pharisee who was praying in the Temple:
11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:"God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." Luke 18:11-12

Are we like that? Or are we like the Apostle Paul who, when seeing the work of God's grace in turning Onesimus away from his sin and rebellion, truly loved him from his heart. We see the display of Paul's love for Onesimus in his  willingness to write a letter of recommendation for him and his desire to repay the debt of Onesimus, and  the affection Paul used for Onesimus ("son", "beloved brother", "my very heart"). Paul did not merely "tolerate" Onesimus, nor did he half-way "accept" him; oh no, he dearly loved him and made his love quite open and known to others.

If we have "older brother syndrome" it is because we do not see the depravity of our own heart. Do we think, somehow, that we don't fit into verses like these:

10 as it is written:
"None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one."
13 "Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of asps is under their lips."
14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known."
18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:10-18

While some people have not chosen to be morally impure through sexual impurity, drunkenness, drug usage, etc., and there is indeed much value in that. However, when examining the flesh of all mankind we see that there are not two kinds of flesh. There is no such thing as "depraved flesh" and "good, kind, and upstanding flesh." All flesh is the same. The hearts of mankind are identical by birth - hard, uncaring, cold, and dead. You and I are identically like the prostitute, the drunkard, the drug addict and the gambler. Maybe we have not become ensnared in these sins, but our hearts are the same and our nature is the same unless God changes it by His amazing grace.
And if He does change our hearts, one way the change will evidence itself is in our loving others. When we see a sinner who turns away from his or her sin, we rejoice in our hearts and praise the God of grace Who likewise changed our own hearts. When we are around the one given grace, we delight in hearing his or her story of how God saved them from a life of sin, turned their hearts away from their rebellion, and brought them to the Lord Jesus. We don't even consider their pasts in a negative light, but instead we understand that God uses all things to bring glory to Himself and to do good to those who are chosen and called to Him (Romans 8:28).
We do not think ourselves better than anyone, we do not compare ourselves in a favourable light to anyone, nor do we at all remind them of their past (which can be so wounding to the sinner who is keenly aware of his error). No, instead we love them, embrace them, seek to encourage their growth in the Lord, accept them fully, and never bring up their past.

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. Philemon 1:12

Onesimus was Paul's "very heart." In other words, Paul loved Onesimus. His heart beat with love for that man who had rebelled and repented, who had now become a beloved brother in the family of God, and who was now useful to all. May we love LIKE THAT. May we love LIKE PAUL. Paul, who pointed Onesimus to the forgiveness available in Jesus Christ, Paul who exhorted Onesimus to repent of his sin, Paul who went before Onesimus in preparing for Onesimus' return to his master, Paul who did not merely "tolerate" but who loved. THAT is how we are to love.

"Oh God, please send us someone today who has sinned against light and knowledge, who has spurned your grace and defied your sovereignty and Lordship, please send us that one who has so rebelled against you that he or she does not feel worthy to be called your son or daughter, nor does he or she fully understand all your grace for him or her. And then, oh Lord, please enable us to love him or her, with a godly love, with the same love Paul had for Onesimus, with the same love with which you have loved me and forgiven all my sins.
 In Yeshua’s Name, amen!"

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