Of all the questions mankind has asked, from poets to philosophers, academics to artists, this is perhaps the most profound and mysterious of all: what is love?
Love is so fundamental to the human condition that it forms part of our DNA. It is part of our nature to seek, hope for and long to love and to be loved.
No man is an island, as some wise man once wrote, and it is true. To be an island is to be separated and held apart from all others, and the most severe of separations is the separation from love.
But the challenge for all mankind is to learn to understand love not as man sees it, but how God sees it. To be separated from ones fellow man is dire indeed, but to be separated from the love of God is catastrophic, for to be in His love is life, but to be separated from His love is death.
Over my last few posts I have discussed the ministry gifts and spiritual gifts that are given to both individuals and to the church. These gifts are given for the purpose of building up either the individual or the church body as a whole.
The spiritual gifts are very important. They are critical to the growth and maturity of the church when they are operating correctly.
However, spiritual gifts are not the MOST important thing. They are not the be-all and end-all of the walk we have in Jesus Christ. Paul shows this after discussing the gifts in the previous chapter, which he finishes by saying, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” So let us now look at what could be better and what is “more excellent” even than the gifts of the holy spirit.
A number of things come to mind as I read these two verses. First is the stark contrast between the old and the ne covenants, especially as they were interpreted and put into practice by both the Pharisees and Jesus Christ respectively.
The Pharisees strictly applied the letter of the law, but without love. Their approach was without compassion, mercy or judgement. On the contrary, Jesus kept the law also but both preached and showed by His actions how it should be interpreted from the basis of faith, mercy, compassion, justice and most importantly, love.
The second thing that occurred to me as I read this is how wrong it is when many so-called Christians deliberately misinterpret the freedom from law we have in Christ Jesus by faith, and promote licentiousness. Paul is quite explicit in these two verses that this is not the purpose or function of freedom from law.
It is highly possible that the greatest quality of all that any person needs to exhibit to spread the gospel of the Lord, apart from faith, love and hope of course, is to show empathy towards their fellow man.
The apostle Paul knew this and was perhaps one of the greatest ambassadors of empathy that ever lived. This section of scripture clearly shows how through the application of pathway, Paul spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all men, and still today his words ring true.
Empathy is one of those human emotions that makes us human. It separates us from th animals, and in Christ, it separates us from the world. It is essential to people who work with people in all areas of life from nursing to sales, from customer service to the ministry and from counselling to politics. It is at the root of humanity and how we connect to one another. Without empathy there is no connection. It's that important.
In my previous post I wrote about the issue of knowledge versus love and how knowledge puffs up but love builds up. But in spite of this issue, knowledge is essential to our growth and understanding of the ways of the Lord.
In these scriptures today we see how we are to use the knowledge we have cautiously because knowledge can be destructive if used incorrectly. The example Paul uses is in relation to people who have been used to making offerings to idols and eating food offered to idols.
If we are to walk in the path that Jesus Christ set before us, then we need to learn how to walk in love with all people, especially new converts who do not have the knowledge that we may have of the ways of the Lord and are still in their infancy in Christ. The last thing we want to do is to do or say something that might destroy their faith or confuse them. We must learn to walk in love with all people, as Jesus Christ walked in love with the people of His day and with us still today.
Much of this section of scripture pertains to Paul speaking of his own ministry. The Lord called Paul specifically to preach the gospel to the Gentiles to bring the Gentile nations to the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ.
We then see Paul continue ministering in the letters he wrote to the churches he established. These letters defined the processes of the New Covenant; how it works, what it is, why it is the way it is and what they and we today need to learn and understand if we are to come into the fullness of all that God promised to those who seek Him through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
What we also see in these verses from Romans 15 is Paul's satisfaction with the early church in Rome saying they now had all they needed to be self-sustaining. It is this message too that we need to recognize today for it is quite different to how many modern ministers and ministries operate.
When Christ Jesus came to the earth He preached the gospel of the good news of the kingdom of God and established the means by which man could be reconciled to God and enter His kingdom.he selected disciples and taught them all they would need to know to make more disciples and to deal with the issues of this life as they walked with Him.
And then Jesus left. He left because He had no choice but to leave. He had to die otherwise we would not be able to enter the kingdom of God because the new covenant, through which we enter this new life of the spirit, could not come into being without the offering of a perfect sacrifice. Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice.
But before Jesus left, he established the brotherhood of Christians that is the church. And one of the key purposes of the church, both as individuals within it and collectively as a body, is to support and encourage one another.
Among Christians there are many beliefs, some of which have no basis in the bible, some that are a little strange to some people and some that seem unbelievable but are in fact based in the truth.
Some beliefs are quite harmless in the total scheme of things regarding the truth of Christianity while others are quite destructive. We need to understand the latter, and avoid them, but the former beliefs that some people hold are not of great consequence, unless or until those beliefs overwhelm the person and become more important than the truth of Jesus Christ.
Paul quotes two good examples in this section of the scripture where he speaks of those who believe they should not eat certain foods or meats, or those who believe that certain days are more important than others. Neither of these beliefs is critical to salvation for both are based in works and salvation is by faith alone.