Welcome to the February 2021 edition of Ezer Equipped!
There’s a verse in an old song called, “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”, that says, “second verse, same as the first.” And that is a little bit of how January 2021 has felt. It feels like the broken record of 2020—the same old conflict and division on repeat. My emotions have run the gamut over the last twelve months—frustration, self-righteousness, lament, disbelief, and confusion. And to be honest, I am growing weary—weary of seeing believers eviscerate one another over politics, Covid, vaccines, riots, and whatever hot topics arise. Maybe you’re weary too?
It grieves me to know that we could be a beacon of hope in a time such as this. But instead, when the world looks to see how we will respond, they find us embroiled in controversy, posting snarky comments online, slandering people we don’t truly know, spreading gossip, contributing to division, and demonizing those who think, believe, and vote differently. James teaches that the cause of conflict and quarrels among us is divided loyalty. We fluctuate between God and our worldly desires (James 4:1-10). It seems our loyalty to our own personal comfort, our desire to be right, our political parties, and even our religious beliefs have overshadowed our love of God and love of neighbor.
In the book of Deuteronomy, there is a prayer called the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Twice a day, Jewish men and women would pray these words, which served to recalibrate their hearts, minds, and bodies toward the one true God. This is what it meant to belong to Yahweh—to love him wholeheartedly.
Many years later, when Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, he quoted the Shema: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” But he didn’t stop there; instead he added a second command: “A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40). This is significant and weighty! Loving God and loving our neighbor fulfills all of God’s desires of us. This is how citizens of God’s kingdom live. Love is so important, in fact, that Paul said it doesn't even matter what kind of spiritual gifts we have, what kind of good deeds we’ve done, what kind of ministry we’ve been involved with—if we don’t love others, we’ve gained nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
The New Testament writers clearly connect our love for God with our love for neighbor. As you read through the Scriptures this month, pay close attention to what Jesus, John and Paul say about how we are to respond to the love that God has shown us. Like the Shema, these passages give us an opportunity to recalibrate our hearts, minds, and bodies toward our neighbors. We want to live in such a way that our allegiance to Christ is clear and unquestionable.
Most of us know that we are supposed to love our neighbors. So why is it so hard to practice? One reason is that we misunderstand what love is and how we are to love. We often equate love with an emotional feeling. However, the Scriptures do not confuse love with passive emotion. The word often used in the Greek New Testament passages is agape, which means to show goodwill and benevolence toward another; it is to actively show preference toward the other person.
A second reason we struggle is that we mistake whom we are to love. We often assume that we love those who love us or those we are in agreement with, but that is not exactly what the Scriptures teach. Jesus taught that we are to agape love our enemies as well (Luke 6:27-36). In fact, Jesus said that it is of no benefit to us to love those who love us. Even sinners do that. Instead, we should love those who threaten, mock, bully, agitate, wound, disrupt, or betray us—then, the love of Christ is most visible through us.
God went to incredible depths to display his love for us while we were his enemies—putting on flesh and subjecting himself to betrayal, abuse, rejection, mockery, and abandonment of the very ones he came to love and serve. How much more so shall we gratuitously, recklessly, and lavishly love our neighbors, even those with whom we disagree? If we find it hard to love our neighbors in both word and deed, we must intentionally remember and reflect on God’s immeasurable kindness and mercy toward us—reconciling us with himself at the great cost of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. We, who have been loved that much, must love much in return.
This month, we want to learn what the Scriptures teach us about what love is and what it looks like to love as citizens of God’s kingdom. And our Outreach team created a new resource to help you determine some next steps you could take toward loving and serving your neighbor.
May we honor King Jesus in the way we respond, love, and actively engage all of our neighbors. May we shine as lights. And may the love of Christ be visible through us.
Above all, may we clothe ourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14
Grace Church Women’s Discipleship Advisor
Take some time this month to read what the Scripture teaches us about love as citizens of God’s kingdom. As you read each passage, note the following:
- How does the author describe love?
- What is the source of this love?
- What is the expectation of believers?
As you read these words of Jesus in these two passages, remember that his listeners were religious Jews who were familiar with the Shema and the teaching of the greatest commandment. Imagine their surprise when he added a new commandment and how disruptive that might have been for them.
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
This passage reminds us that our true citizenship is in heaven, while giving us direction for how we are to live here on earth—waiting for his Kingdom to come again.
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
This passage gives us a simple way to examine ourselves: If we have experienced God’s love it will affect how we treat one another.
“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.”
This passage clearly describes how our capacity to love others is hinged to the love that God has demonstrated to us. Let these words both comfort and challenge you.
“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”
Video with Bobby Raulerson
In this video, Bobby walks us through why loving our neighbor's matters and helps us discern our concerns vs our responsibility, how our individuality intersects with opportunities, and practical steps to begin moving toward our neighbors in love.
Link to Outreach Serving Tool here.
Journeywomen Podcast with Jen Oshman
This podcast frames our understanding of the fruit of the Spirit within the context of Galatians and reminds us that our ability to love others is a work of the Spirit.
“Agape is a love that is selfless, it’s a love that takes action, it’s a love that moves on behalf of people. A love that lays itself down on behalf of others.”
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self-reflection and for discussion within your community.
- Our capacity to love God and one another is made possible because of God’s love for us—which he demonstrated on the cross. What does “love for God and neighbor” look like in our current cultural and political climate? Why is it so hard?
- Think about what it means to “put on the love of the Lord” (Col. 3:14). How would you live differently if you really believed that God loved you? How is our identity in Christ intended to shape the way we live?
- As citizens of heaven, our primary call is to love God and one another. We love others not to earn God’s love, but in response to it. What is at stake if we don’t? How does the world currently view the church and believers?
- Agape love actively shows preference to another. What might it look like to show preference to another? Do you find that easy or difficult to do with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, those who believe or think differently? Why or why not?
Scripture warns us to not just be hearers of the Word but to be doers of it as well. All of life is repentance. What is a believable next step God is calling you to take in response to all you’ve learned? Pick one or two of the below steps to take.
- Who do you find it most difficult to love right now (specific person, group)? What steps could you take to move toward them? If it is someone you disagree with, how could you listen to understand rather than talking to be heard?
- Following Jesus’ command to love our neighbor includes our speech—including what we share and post online. Spend some time reflecting on recent conversations you’ve had. Scroll through your Facebook and Instagram posts. How would you characterize the words you’ve used or the posts you’ve shared over the last year?
- Often one of the obstacles to getting involved in someone’s life is that we don’t know where to start. Maybe you are overwhelmed or feel overly concerned about everything. Our Outreach team created a resource to help you sift through all of that and gain clarity. Listen to this explanation video and then print out and work through this resource.
- Loving others well requires intentionality. Who in your life could use the love of Christ displayed through you? Ask yourself, who is God calling me to love? How will I do it?
Wednesday's Word Devotional, by Paul Tripp
Book, by Paul Miller
Book, by Phil Ryken