(This is Part 2, if you just walked in you should click here and read Part 1 first)
So what is the Christian faith all about really? What is the main focus? What is at the very heart of the Bible's message?
How would you answer these questions?
What do most observers think the answer is, based on what they observe of our priorities in our churches and conversations?
When I visit a church to preach I often tell them I'm going to begin with a Bible quiz. This tends to make about 3/4 or more of the congregation in these nice Bible-believing churches squirm because most of them don't really know very much of the Bible first hand. But I start out easy and pretty soon they pick up on the theme. Here's the quiz:
What do most people consider to be the greatest single verse in the Bible? (John 3:16- "For God so loved the world that He gave...")
According to Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40, what is the greatest commandment?
According to Galatians 5:22 what is the very first fruit of the spirit?
According to Romans 13:10 what fulfills the law?
What did Paul tell Timothy (1 Tim 1:5) is to be the goal of all our instruction?
According to Galatians 5:6, what is the only thing that ultimately matters?
According to 1John 4:8 what is God and what is the final proof that we genuinely know Him?
According to Jesus (John 13:35), how does the world know we are really His?
According to 1 Corinthians 13, what is that without which all of our good works and even miracles and knowledge and faith are nothing? What never fails?
In each passage the focus is one and the same: Love. You have to read the passages to get the full nuances (e.g. Gal 5:6 speaks of "faith working itself out through love") but there is no doubt that if God and Jesus wanted to communicate anything through the Scriptures it was that Love is what it's all about. Miss this and you miss everything. De-emphasize this and you pervert everything.
But getting it right isn't easy. Once we've agreed in theory on the absolute priority of Love, we still have to figure out what that means and what it looks like in real life.
The first believers, as they came to realize the radical nature of Love, and how different it was from what most people meant by the term, created their own word, Agape and infused it with meaning derived from Jesus' teachings and life. Because today we are stuck with just one word, and that one word has become so infused with multiple and watered-down meanings ("I just LOVE bacon!" "I love the Yankees!" "I want to tell my fans, I love you all!") that it is hard to even understand, much less communicate what Love really is.
The Bible emphasizes that THIS love is the greatest power in the universe, able to overcome evil, satan, sin, death and ALL worldly powers. It is neither masculine nor feminine, it is not sentimental, it goes infinitely beyond "niceness" or "tolerance". And in the end, when all that is not Love has been defeated, it will reign supreme above every other power.
It will take a while to explain but first of all: Are you with me so far? If you don't agree that- according to God, Jesus and the Bible- Love is the center, the goal, the priority and the focus; then the rest of what I say won't be very relevant for you. And if you do agree, you can, by reflecting on Jesus and His Word, figure out the rest of what I will say for yourself. All I'm going to do is speed up the process a little.
But we do know this much already: If this is true, then every moment, day, week and season of life, every Christian should be focused on being a person who continually incarnates (embodies) the agape Love of God to a world of people that desperately need Love.
And because this isn't easy to do - our materialistic society and our own selfish desires keep getting in the way and demonic powers seek to confuse us as to what Love really means and how it really acts - therefore Church is a place where we help each other learn how to practice Love and encourage each other to keep to the narrow path of Love. Everything else we do is useful only as it feeds or manifests this Love, and is a hindrance if it interferes with Love, no matter how moral or religious or emotionally satisfying it might be.
So, what IS Love?