The paradox of godly love
James 4 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
The Christian life is full of paradoxes. The world will say that scripture contradicts itself and so is unreliable. In truth though, it is paradoxes, things which seem to be opposite but are actually two different sides of the truth, which the world cannot comprehend. Faith requires that we live in both the natural, physical realm and the spiritual realm as well. As Christians, we live both in this earthly kingdom and also as residents of the kingdom of heaven. The paradoxes of our faith are the result of applying heavenly principles to earthly situations. The world, our society and our culture, tries to define how we, as believers, should to relate to the world. They say that if we are followers of God and Christ, then we should love and accept all people. In that they are right. John 3:16 says: God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Jesus says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Yet in today’s text it says: You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Jesus Himself says: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. “ (John 15:18-19) How do we reconcile these apparent contractions in scripture regarding how we are to relate to the world and how we should expect the world to relate to us?
In addition to our dual citizenship, being residents of both this world and the kingdom of heaven, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of our language. We use the word love to express how we feel about the people who are closest to us, those we are intimate with, our spouses and also our siblings, our parents and our children. We use that same word love to express or define our feelings toward others, even those we don’t know well. We even use the word love to express how we feel about things. We love our cars. We love our houses. We love pizza. Hopefully how we feel about things is quite different than how we feel about people. There are four words for love in the Greek language, the language of the New Testament and there are at least three words for love in the Hebrew language, the language of the Old Testament. Additionally the word world has different root words in the original language of the Bible. If anyone truly wants to understand the love of God and the love we as believers are to have for the world, it is important to understand what is really being said in the language of scripture.
Looking at what James says: You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. We understand it through what Jesus says: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” Jesus chose us to be separate from the world, to be residents first and foremost of the kingdom of heaven. There is a human tendency to fear and hate what we do not understand and the world cannot fully understand heavenly things. 1 Corinthians 1:25 says: The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.1 Corinthians 3:19 says: The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. We are indeed to love all the people of the world. We are not to love, but rather remain separate from the systems of the world. We are to love people not as the world understands and defines love, not with the limitations of human love. We are to love them as God loves them, with a love that is beyond natural human understanding. We are not to love expecting that we will be loved in return, but rather we are to love knowing we will be hated. We are to love compassionately but unconditionally. Most of all what the world cannot or does not want to understand is that if we are to love the world as God loves the world, then we must give them God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who came to take away the sins of the world. (John 1:29)
The text says: Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. We cannot draw near to God, we cannot truly live in the kingdom of God if we submit to the devil and love the things of this world. We need to be single minded, first and foremost submitting to God and drawing near to Him. Only with hearts and hands cleansed by the love of God, given to the world in Christ can we love the world. If we love the world, then we too will give them Jesus and not the things of this world.
May the words of the psalmist be our prayer: Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it… The steps of a man are established by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Heavenly Father, as I delight in You make my heart like Your heart that I might love the world as You have loved the world. May I walk faithfully in the steps you have established for me, loving You with all my heart, mind and soul and loving others as I am loved, in Christ. Amen.