Monday, July 20, 2009

I Have You in My Heart

A couple of weeks ago I ended a series on what it meant to love as Jesus loved us (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) by presenting some thoughts about the Church and the Apostle Paul from Acts 20:17-32. But I didn't get to comment on the final few verses in the chapter, in which we learn of the great love and deep affection he and the brothers had for each other.

Paul loved the believers at Ephesus as Christ loved him. And so in Acts 20:36-38 you see tremendous affection.

36When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again And they were accompanying him to the ship.

I read this and I rejoice, because this affection is only right! It makes every bit of sense! Paul loves the Ephesian elders as Christ has loved him -- that is, by presenting Christ to them. And so the believers are delighted by Paul. They have a deep affection and love for Him.

Can you find traces of this in your life? For me, I am delighted by my brothers and sisters, and I have a deep affection for my brothers and sisters because they minister Christ to me! They present to me what is most delightful to see and gaze into: Jesus!!!

This challenges, though, our understanding of what fellowship and love for the brethren are. When Christ said they'd know us by our love for each other, he didn't mean that we would enjoy each other based on favorite sports teams, common hobbies, musical/artistic preferences, or anything else. The deep affection you see the New Testament believers having for each other is because, as partakers of grace (Phil 1:7), they minister grace to me. As partakers of Christ (Heb 3:14), they minister Christ to me.

Like I said, that presents a challenge to me: Why do I like my Christian friends? Do I like the Christian friends I have because they're Yankee fans and I'm a Yankee fan? Is it because maybe we're just generally nice and polite people who don't step on each other's toes enough to be genuinely upset with one other? Is it because we like the same movies, or exclude the same people from our clique, or because we're all pretty funny and clever and make each other laugh? Do I like them because they stroke my ego, seem interested in any insights I might have, tell me that they really like what I say? Or do I have them in my heart, does my heart rejoice when I see them, because I know that time spent with them will be time spent with my Savior? Do I love them for the sake of Christ?

A similar challenge is: Why am I liked by my Christian friends? Is it just because of our similarity in worldliness? For the reasons listed in the above paragraph? This understanding of the affection for New Testament believers challenges me to love my brothers and sisters, and therefore be delightful to them, by benefiting them with Christ.

So one way I can measure my love -- my true, Christlike, 'Love-as-I-have-loved-you' love -- for my brothers and sisters is whether I am engendering that true, godly, affection in them. They rejoice at the prospect of seeing, talking, spending time with me because I bring to them their greatest benefit, because I present to their mind's eye the beautiful glory of their Savior. But remember, I can be of no benefit to them if I am not benefited by Christ myself. And so even true, Godly fellowship depends on a vital, thriving relationship with God in the study of His Word and in prayer. And to the degree that we are rooted in the Word -- to the degree we are benefited and affected by Jesus -- to that degree we ought to be delightful to our brethren.

May those who fear You see me and be glad, Because I wait for Your word.
- Psalm 119:74 -

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 1:3-8 -

I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together.
- 2 Corinthians 7:3 -


Monica said...

Mike: I don't like you for wordly reasons: you like peanut butter and baseball (I'm not a big fan of either), and so on (I'm sure the list could be pretty long). But I do love to see Christ in you: whether that is when you teach Sunday School and get really excited about God's Word, or the way you look at Janna sometimes and talk to her and try to be a benefit to her. I've told you this before but seeing that fills me with a joy I find hard to express.

I appreciate your challenge a lot. It makes me realize how free we are from the wordly things around us and in us. Our likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc have a tiny relevance compared to what we share in Christ. That's so freeing! And it makes sense when I think about counting everything as rubbish because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord. I think it also helps with knowing that our life is hidden with Christ in God, that our true identity is in Him and not in the things of this world.

It's hard for me to see, believe and apply that sometimes, so your thoughts were really helpful in that regard.

Mike Riccardi said...

(I'm sure the list could be pretty long).

I'm glad you used the abbreviated list. :o)

Your comment was extremely encouraging to me, Monica. I'm very thankful that you shared these thoughts with me. Knowing you're filled with a joy that's difficult to express fills me with a joy that's difficult to express. :oD

And I really am benefited by your insight about how freeing this truth is. It is indeed freeing! And so it's joy-producing!

Thanks again for your thoughts.