Not All God’s Love Is Unconditional: How To Become A Friend Of God

Do you ever feel like God just loves you because that’s something He does for everyone, not because He actually likes you?

That’s how I started the seminar I gave back in December, which I’m finally getting around to sharing on this blog. I’m willing to say that I’m not the only person who’s ever felt this way about God’s love, at least some of the time. There are a couple different things that play-in to this idea, but I think at least part of it is that usually when we talk about love in the Bible, we focus on the Greek word agape, which describes God’s unconditional love for all people. But there’s another word for love that talks about God’s affection for His friends. Depending on which resource you look at there are up to eight different words for “love” in Greek, though most people focus on these four:

  • Agape — selfless, benevolent love
  • Philos —  friendly, affectionate love
  • Storge — natural, family love
  • Eros — passionate, romantic love

We’re going to talk about agape and phileo, since those are the two used in the Bible. Together, agape and the root word agapao appear a total of 263 times in the New Testament. Philos and the closely related word phileo are used only 54 times, though it also appears in several compound words like philadelphos (brotherly love) and philostorgos (family love).

It would be pretty easy to look at these numbers and say agape is the most important kind of love in the Bible. And considering it’s the word used in the phrase, “God is love,” I’d say that’s a pretty good description. It’s also the word for love that’s defined in 1 Corinthians 13. There isn’t any other word gets such a thorough analysis in scripture. But maybe our emphasis on agape, even though it’s correct, comes at the expense of a good understanding of another important word, phileo.

Do You Love Me?

The difference between agape and philos might not seem significant at first glance. But there’s a conversation in John’s gospel that illustrates how different these two words for love can be. This conversation takes place after Jesus’ resurrection. His disciples had gone fishing and He met them on the beach, had dinner with them, and then asked Peter a question. In most Bible versions I’m familiar with, both agape and philos are translated in these verses as “love.” I like the World English Bible, since it makes clear that there are two different concepts at play. Read more

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The Things That Happened When God Died

The Passover commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice. He told us to continue keeping it in remembrance of Him, and that’s what we did just a couple days ago. And now we’re beginning the holy week following Passover — the Days of Unleavened Bread. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the meaning of His sacrifice.

When Jesus gave His life to save sinners, that was God choosing to die for us. The being John calls “the Word” whom we now know as Jesus was God along with the Father throughout the Old Testament. He gave up that glory to live as a human and sacrificed His life on our behalf; the Creator dying for His creation.

Such a sacrifice as half the original Godhead dying shook the world, both literally and figuratively. In the moment Jesus died the temple veil tore from top to bottom, the earth quaked, rocks split, and dead people rose from their graves (Matt. 27:50-53). And as time passed, the Christian believers learned more about what that moment meant on a spiritual level as well.

The Things That Happened When God Died | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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End Of The Old Covenant

Covenants are the basis of God’s relationships with people. In the first covenant, God included a revelation of His laws, statutes, and judgements which Ancient Israel agreed to follow (Ex. 24:7). But the people fell short of the Divine standard and that brought on them a death penalty. Someone had to pay for the broken covenant.

In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word used for “covenant” is the same as “testament.” The writer of Hebrews was inspired to use this comparison in explaining what effect Jesus’ death had on the Old Covenant.

For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a last will and testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him who made it. (Heb. 9:15-16, WEB)

Jesus’ sacrifice paid the penalty for human transgression of the covenant. Since He was the God who made this covenant, His death also ended its claim on our lives. And it made way for a new and better covenant. Read more

Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires

Last Sabbath, I was at a young adult weekend centered on the theme “Desire What The Lord Requires.” All the seminars focused on Michah 6:8, which reads:

He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (WEB)

One speaker mentioned something that really stuck in my mind. In this passage, God doesn’t tell His people to be just, merciful, and humble. He uses specific verbs instructing us to act, love, and walk in certain ways. This passage is focused on actions that come from developing God’s character. It goes beyond being like God to actively walking with Him. And though it doesn’t say so here, this should be something that we want to do rather than something we do just because it’s a requirement. God has always been concerned with the state of our hearts and the motives behind why we follow Him. We please Him when we do what He requires willingly and desire the same things He does.Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Act Justly

Matthew Henry’s and Adam Clarke’s commentaries says that to do or act justly means “to give to all their due.” Giving everyone what they are “due” from us includes giving God all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, treating our neighbors as we would like to be treated, and also treating ourselves the way God intends.

Basically, acting justly is summed up in the two greatest commands (Matt. 22:36-40). That’s because the concept of justice is tied to God’s law, and the entire law hangs on the commands Jesus shared about how to love God and our neighbors. Read more

Be Of The Same Mind: God’s Intention For Peace In His Church

If God says He hates something, is it a thing we should be doing in the church? Of course not! Those who love God do things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22). We don’t always do that perfectly, but it’s supposed to be our goal. And when we miss the mark, we repent and change and try again.

One of the things the Lord hates and considers an abomination is “he who sows discord among brothers” (Prov. 6:19, all scriptures in this post are WEB version). In Hebrew, “sow” is shalach (H7971), and it means to send out or shoot forth, as in a growing plant putting out leaves. God hates it when someone plants and spreads strife or contention (medan, H4090) among those who are metaphorical or literal family (ach, H251).

So what does it say about us as a church body when there are divisions, disagreements, and rifts in our relationships and beliefs? In some cases, we can disagree on things that are open to interpretation and still fellowship peaceably, which is the right thing to do (Rom. 14). But all too often, when people in the churches disagree they start attacking or ignoring each other rather than working through their issues, resolving doctrinal conflicts, and seeking peace and unity as God intends.

Be Of The Same Mind: God's Intention For Peace In His Church | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Menary via Lightstock

Strife Does Not Come From God

The greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love you neighbor as yourself. In contrast, strife is stirred up by hatred, not love (Prov. 10:12). And the people who spread strife are called perverse, lovers of disobedience, greedy, and angry (Prov. 16:28; 17:19; 28:25; 29:22). Those aren’t the sort of things God wants to see when He looks at the people in His chruch.

Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are … hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy … of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21)

More than half the things in this “works of the flesh” list have to do with discord and disunity. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Those are the things that stop arguments before they even start.

This Goes Beyond Not Fighting

Scriptures make it quite clear that God puts a high value on peace. Though He warns us that following Him will set people against you (Matt. 10:34-36; John 15:18-21), there should be peace in the church among God’s people.

So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. (Rom. 14:19)

On your part, you’re supposed to do what you can to live peacefully with everyone you meet (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). This is especially important in the church, where it’s an attainable goals because all the believers are supposed to be working toward peace (1 Thes. 5;13). God intends for there to be unity in His church. Read more

How Much Have You Grown In A Year?

As we approach the Passover season, it’s traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination. It’s good to have moments like that where we consider what God has to say about our lives, the areas where we need to repent, and different ways we can continue to grow and change.

At my Messianic congregation, they’ve shared that certain rabbis teach that if you are still in the same place you were a year ago you have backslid. We can’t maintain a sort of “status quo” in our walk of faith. Either we’re moving toward God or we’re moving away. There’s no place for complacency in a Christian life.

God expects growth. That doesn’t mean we need to be constantly on-edge and second guessing if we’re “good enough,” though. He doesn’t expect us to already be perfect, but He does expect us to keep going that direction. Such growth involves becoming more like God in every aspect of our lives. The more we grow, the more His character, desires, priorities, etc. are reflected in our own lives.

How Much Have You Grown In A Year? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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In Touch With The Great  Commandments

What are the most important things to focus on as we try to grow as Christians and learn more about God? You’ll hear various answers. Some say preach the gospel, citing the great commission as our primary goal. Others devote themselves to good works. Some study prophecy. I like to point to the passage where Jesus identified the greatest commandments.

Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, 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 mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, WEB)

We can all tell how important these commands are from the way Jesus describes them. But I think we too often see them just as a starting place when they should be a continuing focus. We should never stop learning how to love God and our neighbors.

In Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian church, He said, “I have this against you, that you left your first love” (Rev. 2:4, WEB). We’re not told exactly what that first love is, but since the first commandment is to love the Lord your God I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say the Ephesians’ problem was related to losing touch with the greatest commandments. Read more

Who Was “God” In The Old Testament?

Almost four years ago, I wrote a post addressing the phrase “the God of the Old Testament.” Little did I know then that it was going to explode from being an interesting point of doctrinal dispute into a contention that could split churches. I know of at least one group that has already divided over the question, “Who was the God of the Old Testament?” And now the related issue of whether Jesus was created by the Father or existed before His human birth is starting to tear apart one of my local churches.

In the post from four years ago, I described the phrase “God of the Old Testament” as coming under the category of “stupid things we say in the church.” I still believe that. The wording is misleading and confusing, often causing inaccurate statements and doctrinal fallacies. In reality, the God we worship today is the exact same God (two beings in one) that has always existed. Scripture is quite clear on this point. And trying to argue that either the Word who became Jesus OR the Being we now know as the Father was the only “God of the Old Testament” is an exercise in futility (and quite possibly blasphemy as well).

The arguments on both sides are no longer just an intriguing discussion about scripture. They’re becoming a stumbling block . I’ve heard that some people in the group I mentioned which has already split are so confused they don’t even know who to pray to anymore. And studies into this topic, which may have started out with good-hearted Christians seeking to understand the word of God more fully, are turning into schisms, contentions, and heresies that cannot be pleasing to God. He does not look kindly on those who generate endless debates (Tit. 3:9), fracture His body (1 Cor. 1:10; 12:25), or lead His little ones into error (Matt. 18:6). This has to stop.Who Was "God" In The Old Testament? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Why Is This So Contentious?

I think part of the issue with resolving questions like this is that we often fail to look at the Bible as a whole. We get so focused on digging out the slightest variations in meaning for a specific scripture that we don’t look up from analyzing a single sentence long enough to see there’s a whole narrative that clears things up. That’s something I talked about in my post titled, “Why Does It Matter If Jesus Existed Before He Was Human?

Another way we fall prey to deception in this area is what I call the two ditches problem. Human beings aren’t good at finding balance in our ideas. We tend to avoid the middle of the road. So if we discover that we’ve been taught an extreme view in one direction (for example, that Jesus is the only “God of the Old Testament”), there’s a temptation to head straight for the opposite ditch (e.g. that Jesus wasn’t around at all in the Old Testament). In trying to avoid one error we come up with a new one.

Something else that might be playing a role for certain people is the temptation to come up with their own doctrine. If you’ve been lied to by church leaders in the past (and far too many of us have), we might want to question everything we’ve been taught. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. In fact, following blindly is a great way to end up in errors that could be avoided if we were studying the Bible for ourselves. But if you start feeling like you have to come up with a new or alternative way of seeing scripture that is “your own,” then you can run into problems. Chances are, you’re not the only person God is revealing “new truth” to. And if you have to argue your point out of obscure commentaries or a possible mistranslation when the people who believe something else have myriads of clear scriptures and the bulk of Biblical scholarship to back them up, then there’s a good chance you’re the one who’s wrong.

“God” Has Always Been Two

Let’s dive into the scriptures now. Some of this is going to be a repeat of the post I wrote four years ago, but I doubt most of you have read that and it’s good for context. We’ll begin in Genesis. Read more