Sunday, November 26, 2006

Honor of Humanity Part 14 - Love

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on his apologetics series on The Honor of Humanity Part 14 on 12th November 2006.

Among the disciple of Jesus, John is the youngest. This is the beloved disciple of Jesus, not because Jesus had favoritism but because he truly felt Jesus’ love for him. On the day Jesus was arrested, Peter followed from afar but John followed closely.

John stayed so close to Jesus that he came to understand the love of God like nobody else in the world. His words “God is Love” have surpassed the understanding of every religion and everyone in the world, including Peter and Paul. Only when we live in love, our life has meaning and satisfaction.

Religions talk a lot about God’s power, authority and justice. Very few religions talk about God’s love. At most they mention providence. Religion is the best ideal made up of fallen reason. Even though men have fallen, God has put that seed of faith in them. But this is not comparable to God’s revelation. When God reveals Himself, it surpasses all human religions.

The Scriptures say God is full of mercy and compassion. He takes care of us and generously forgives us. All these give us the understanding of God and how He takes the initiative to love us. This is not described by religions.

God told the Israelites, “You are the smallest among the nations. I choose you not because you are great but because I love you.” Here we see God’s sovereignty in election and love.

Because God loves us, He creates us. Because God loves us, He takes care of us. Because God loves us, He forgives our trespasses. Because God loves us, He redeems us. From creation to salvation, God continues to express His love.

Love is an active thing expressed on an object. When we say, “I love,” there must be an object that we love. But God is the eternal God. And God is also Love. Before God created all things, is this God in eternity still Love? If He is Love, whom does He love since nothing is created yet? This is a solemn question.

Apart from the Triune God described by the Bible, we have no answer to this. God the Father loves the Son. God the Son loves God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit loves God the Father. God the Father loves God the Holy Spirit. God the Son loves God the Father. Hence, before the existence of men, God is already Love. God is Triune, so there is love within the triune God. When it is extended forward, creation occurs. In the will of creation by God, implicitly the objects of creation enjoy His love. We cannot find this answer in other religions.

God is love. God made us in His image and likeness. So made in the created world, we can experience God’s love and understand the love of God. The psalmist tells us the all creation experience the love of God, but only humans can respond in love, because they are not made in the image and likeness of God.

What sort of image is this? How do we respond to God in love? Love involves emotion and is related to another person. It becomes the link of relationship.

The Triune God is related to one another in love. Wherever there is love, there is communication and relationship in life. He creates men who can love and receive love. The relationship between human relationships can be established.

God is filled with compassion. God is merciful. Is this a good description of God’s love? Not just that God is compassionate or full of mercy, but He is Love. This is the thing that only John discovers. From Adam till today, nobody has ever thought of written what John says, “God is love.” So John’s understanding of God’s love has transcended the level from God’s attributes to the essence of love itself. Even in the writing of the apostles, many of them would consider the love of God based on His other attributes.

When we think in this way, we will transcend the understanding of all other religions. God is love, truth, holiness, justice, goodness, the essence of all beauty. This is different from all other religions. He is the subjectivity of truth, of love and of holiness in itself. So God not only has goodness, but is Goodness Himself.

The love within the Trinity is the foundation of society and human relationships. Because we are made in the image of God, we have the function of love in which we can relate and communicate to one another with life. The more we are in love, the more we are like God. Because God is love, we will be able to judge a person’s spirituality by his love.

Gothold Ephraim Lessing stimulated the study of comparative religion. In his story Nathan the Wise, Nathan made 2 false rings in addition to the one true ring because he had 3 sons and he could not decide whom to pass the ring to. After he died, all his sons claimed to have the true ring but nobody could go back in time so the truth was forever buried in history.

Lessing summarized his view that it is impossible to go back in time so it is impossible to verify history. This thought shook the west on the principles and methodology in studying history.

How do we know what is true and what is false? The answer is in the power of the ring. In that story, the true ring would give the wearer the power to love God and love his neighbor. So it does not matter what he says or thinks, we ought to examine what power he has. Does he have power to love God and his neighbor? If he does, he has the true ring. Hence Lessing uses one’s actions and expressions to verify the truth.

True actions must come from real life so we use actions to affirm real life. Doesn’t Jesus Himself say by the fruits you will know the tree? Lessing’s thought has great impact on Christianity in 19th century. Between lower and higher criticism, they all abandon the lordship of Jesus Christ and only accept Jesus’ morality. So Christians only need to do good works. It seems right. This is a great thought but the negative effect is very clear, i.e. it denies the essence of faith and only relies on outward observations as verification.

Lessing uses the 3 rings analogy to represent the 3 main revelatory religions in the world. Judaism, Christianity and Islam claim to have revelation from God. He proposed that it does not matter what they say, we just need to see whether they truly love God and men. The one that does it is truly from God. In this, Lessing made new discovery of history and faith.

From this angle, we want to discuss love. God made us in His image and likeness. So all of us have the ability to love and we need love. A human baby is the most vulnerable and need love in order to survive. A person without love will be unsatisfied. If his love is not accepted, he will not be satisfied. We are made to receive love and to love. This is how the image of God is upon us. People will see the true expression of God in us when we love.

Like Christianity, Judaism and Islam express God’s justice, holiness and goodness. However, they cannot truly express God’s love. In this manner, Christianity is different from Judaism and Islam. John followed Jesus to Golgotha hence his understanding of God’s love surpasses everyone else in the history of mankind. He links the truth with the love of Jesus on the cross.

In order to express ourselves to the utmost potential to love, the only way is to go to Golgotha and reflect upon the sufferings of Jesus. Not only do we accept Jesus brings us salvation and new life, but Peter says He wants us to follow His footsteps. The motivation comes from the love of God. The love is given to us through the Holy Spirit, the first fruit of the Spirit. We can only prove that we love the Invisible God when we love our visible brethren. Not only do we receive the new life given by the Holy Spirit, we want to be obedient to the Holy Spirit in living a life of love.

May God bless us so that we may live in love. Those who live in love live in God. Not only are we made in the image of God, but in the work of the Holy Spirit by the power of Christ’s resurrection we are regenerated and in the Holy Spirit we receive a new life from God. When we so love, we will be people who truly reflect the image of God.


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