An older couple stood in front of Lowe’s arguing. He insisted they could not go in the door they were in front of because the sign said, “Exit.” With purse strap over the shoulder and purse clasped tightly under her arm, the old woman claimed that sign didn’t matter and they could go in there. The old man gripped his cane handle tighter. His bottom teeth met the front of his upper lip and his eyes squinted as though he were looking into the sun. He muttered to himself and drifted toward the door that had the sign that read, “Enter.”
I wondered at this sight and several questions came to my mind. How long had they been married? How many cycles of this standoff had they been through before I arrived? Had they always bickered this way or was there a time when they would have smiled and walked through the door hand-in-hand paying little heed to instructional directions? When had love cooled?
To many this exchange seems trivial. Some would think nothing of this kind of fussing and maybe even think it endearing. Perhaps, but we will never know more about these two so I think it’s best to use their momentary conflict as an occasion to think on love. I’m not thinking of marital love particularly, but rather the love we are to have for one another.
Do we really need to be told we should love one another? We could probably find something about it in every genre of Scripture. It’s in the law (Leviticus 19:18). It’s in the Gospels (Matthew 22:39). It’s in the epistles (James 2:8). It’s impossible to read the Bible without encountering it.
Most of us are innately sensible of a need to show and receive love. Unless we have hardened conscience over time through self-centered living, we feel the pangs when we fail to love someone as we should. Aside from the natural instincts though we actually learn who and how we are to love in God’s Word.
Paul wrote to the Roman Christians about loving one in another in Romans 12:9-16. He wrote that love should be genuine, without hypocrisy. He used a word for love in verse 9 that means a benevolent affection, a love that is outward focused and giving. In verse 10 he used a word that refers to the cherishing of kindred, a strong familial love, for the love we are to have for one another. He expressed a number of characteristics of the love we are to have.
He used a word in verse 11 that is translated “fervent.” It means to boil and so conveys the thought of heat and energy. He contrasted it with being slothful and gives us the image of a love that is hot and energetic.
Water is made to boil by applying heat and, if removed from the heat source, it will eventually cool to room temperature. Our love will also cool if it is not stirred and kept hot. How do we know if our love is cooling off?
I have devised a test from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to help diagnose love growing cold. This chapter gives us one of the greatest descriptions of brotherly love in the Bible. So I shall proctor this exam to see how we do.
- Charity suffereth long—If you are impatient with others, your love has cooled.
- and is kind—If you are no longer seeking to be useful to or to bless others, your love has cooled.
- charity envieth not—If you begrudge the honor or esteem shown to others, your love has cooled.
- charity vaunteth not itself—If you are seeking attention for yourself over or to the exclusion of others, your love has cooled.
- is not puffed up—If you are haughty or feeling yourself superior to others, your love has cooled.
- Doth not behave itself unseemly—If you are impolite, uncourteous, or disrespectful to others, your love has cooled.
- seeketh not her own—If you want yours first ahead of others, your love has cooled.
- is not easily provoked—If you are easily angered with others, your love has cooled.
- thinketh no evil—If you keep a tally of offenses against you by others, your love has cooled.
- Rejoiceth not in iniquity—If you are delighting in anything unrighteous or being attracted to it, your love has cooled.
- but rejoiceth in truth—If you have little joy in the truth, your love has cooled.
- Beareth all things—If you are not covering the faults of others but rather bringing them to light whenever possible, your love has cooled.
- believeth all things—If you have no confidence in others, your love has cooled.
- hopeth all things—If you take a dim outlook for the prospective growth and good of others, your love has cooled.
- endureth all things—If you do not remain with anyone you find difficult, your love has cooled.
What if I fail?
I assure you no one gets one hundred on this test. What if you are pricked in your conscience by some of these indicators? The best word I can give you is, “Repent” (Revelation 2:4-5). When love has cooled, repent and do the hard work of loving others. It’s easy to become cynical and bitter where we blame everyone else for our own failure to love them. It’s easy to rationalize that in our minds but we are wrong when we do.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
– John 13:34-25
Call me forty-one. That’s middle-age, if you’re optimistic. Of course, life expectancy is all statistics and probabilities. In real life, the hearse doesn’t only call at the nursing home and tiny caskets break many hearts. Whether our days are few or many, they are all together a brief mist, soon and easily dispersed (James 4:14).
By now you must think me morose and maybe bitter. No worries, I’m not at all. I’m my usual lighthearted and cheery self. I’m as fit as a pure cotton shirt after a hot wash and dry. I’m thinking sober thoughts about the number of our days. These are the kind of thoughts we are supposed to think (Psalm 90:9-12). The point of this reflection is not morbidity but rather to apply our hearts to wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and instruction (Psalm 90:12; Proverbs 2:2; 22:17; 23:12).
When we have the proper perspective on our birthday tally, we think about how we should best use the time we have. So I’m hitting pause and offering some reflections that may be a blessing and a help to my younger constituency.
The future is closer than you think
It’s easy to get along with the future when you are a ruddy youth. You hardly ever argue and all is bright and agreeable with the future. It’s a long-distance relationship for you. It’s going to arrive some day, but you have plenty of time to get everything in place for it. Or, so you think.
You can go quite far on the energy of what you’re going to do when you are young. When a fourth-grader announces he is going to be a neuro-rocket-surgeon, he is applauded and congratulated as though he has actually done something, and sometimes he starts to believe he has. Even into your twenties you can get by on what you’re going to do. You’re young. You’re responsibilities are few. You’re expected to be figuring things out and trying to get settled. You can now have bigger ideas than that fourth-grader and still get congratulated for the great things you’re going to do.
By the time you finish your fourth decade though, you realize you’ve been watching the future approach through a convex mirror and you’ve ignored the white-lettered warning, “Objects are closer than they appear.” The future is upon you and all the time you thought you had is hard to find. All your grand schemes for what you’re going to do are no longer congratulated when you haven’t actually done much. They’re no longer inspiring, even for you, and instead those big ideas are just sad.
If an eighty-year-old man, who has trivially frittered away most of his time, sits on the front porch talking about all the great things he is going to do in the future, you might question his lucidity. You might wonder if he is regularly swallowing all that’s appropriately and professionally prescribed. You are sure he is fooling himself if he is serious. That could be you. It could be any of us.
How do we avoid this shameful eventuality? Heed the words of the wisdom preacher. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Note that we are to do what is at hand to do. Brace yourself because I’m going to utter an abomination to popular dogma. Stop dreaming big dreams and start doing what is at hand to do. How did the artisan in Proverbs come to stand before the royals? It wasn’t by dreaming big dreams to get there. It was by being diligent in his craft (Proverbs 22:29).
Changes are coming
At twenty-years-old you can scarf pizza or burritos at 2 AM with virtually no ill effect. At thirty you can maybe do midnight. By forty, don’t eat pizza after 6 PM or you’re likely to suffer all night. Such are the effects of aging that we cannot envisage when we only have a pair of tens in our hand.
Assuming you have normal vitality, you can expect to see physical changes. Energy levels go down. More sleep is required but harder to get. Certain foods and drinks no longer agree with you, and many more such delights. This is where most of us become more concerned about the quality of what we’re ingesting and maybe even supplementing our nutrients.
A key point in all of this is to realize how these changes affect the way you feel, think, and act. When you’re tired, your tolerance threshold goes down. You’re impatient and irritable. Sometimes you are more negative and maybe even irrational. Sometimes the best thing we can do for the relationships in our life is to get some sleep. We have to be more deliberate about necessary rest and activity and understanding toward others in the same way.
You’re not a kid anymore
I can remember being a young lad and hearing grown-ups talk about how they wished they could be a kid again, or how they’d give anything to be able to go back to childhood. I thought those statements odd then and, frankly, I still think they’re odd. No thank you. I have no desire to go back to childhood days (1 Corinthians 13:11). We’re meant to grow up and discover the world’s vanity and fool’s gold, because we are meant for another world. This is just a brief sojourn.
One particular feature of childhood that differs from adulthood is pure childish joy. A child can experience pure joy without any trace of sorrow, worry, or guilt. Whenever anything upsets their delicate internal balance, an ice cream cone sets the world to rights once again. The cold, creamy goodness is a wonderful restorative to the single digits.
As a kid, I could read for hours for the sheer joy of reading without the least feeling of guilt for other things left undone. I could shoot around-the-world on the court for hours without any thought of anything else going on in the world. It was the same for climbing trees and running the ridges.
Such pure joy is lost in maturity though. Even our greatest moments of delight are tempered with sorrow and worries. It seems I have felt this acutely over the last couple of years. While I’m glad to gift my children with moments of pure joy, I’m unable to share it with them completely. They smile and laugh without a care and I smile and laugh with many cares always present. Maybe this is something of Solomon’s meaning that in much wisdom there is much grief and increasing knowledge also increases sorrow.
It seems we are doomed the rest of our days to eat ice cream with hot chocolate sorrow on top. Joy and sorrow are inseparable as our days advance. But is it better to go back to the childhood joys? I don’t think so. I will leave you to consider the words of Solomon once again.
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.
– Ecclesiastes 7:1-10
God is in Heaven, and that’s good for us.
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God thou art very great; thou are clothed with honour and majesty.
– Psalm 104:1
Like the Bible in Genesis 1, Psalm 104 starts with the reality of God. There is no proof, defense, explanation, or justification–God is. He revealed himself to Moses as the “I am” (Exodus 3:14). He explained himself as “I am that I am”–unlike any other. He is self-existent, uncreated, and unending.
He revealed himself to the prophet Isaiah as unlike any other (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). The Book of Isaiah reveals a God of majesty and power. He is the one who stretched out the heavens like a curtain and measured the oceans in His hand. His judgments are fierce and His wisdom silences all. Though He thunders, He also gathers His people as little lambs and carries them in His arms. He comforts them as a mother comforts her small child. He also atones for the sins of His people through the offering of His suffering servant and He pardons and washes as white as snow.
God is revealing himself and inviting us to know Him. God is there and He is not silent.
How does God reveal himself?
He reveals himself in His creation (Psalm 19:1-6) and in His word (Psalm 19:7-11). Psalm 104:1-35 shows how the order and constancy of life and the world testify of God. All of His works reflect His glory. He reveals himself specially in His word and in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:1-18). Only through His Son, Jesus, can we know God savingly (Matthew 11:27).
What is revealed of God?
God reveals himself to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. He reveals that He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. He is supremely sovereign. He is supremely holy. He is supremely knowing and wise. He is supremely righteous. He is supremely just. He is supremely true. He is supremely loving.
God is God. He is self-existent. He is alone worthy of praise and worship. He is greater and higher than all His creation.
How do we get it wrong?
God is the greatest reality. He is ultimate reality. He has revealed himself but we fail when we don’t acknowledge Him or we distort His reality. The Bible identifies at least six worldviews that fail because they are wrong about God.
- The fool thinks there is no God (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). He makes man the highest being and survival-of-the-fittest is his ethos. The fool thinks that whatever he has the power to do, he can do. There is no fearful looking for judgment with him, because there is no one to judge.
- The rich, worldly man doesn’t think of God (James 4:13-17). God may be there, or He may not be there to the worldly minded. It doesn’t matter to him, because he takes no account of God in his daily life.
- Pharaoh thinks God has no right or authority over him (Exodus 5:2). He judges the truth of God’s claims and can receive or refuse at his own discretion. He is deluded into thinking he can mediate his own reality. He was postmodern before it was cool. The man-on-the-street way of saying it is, “That may be true or right for you, but it is not true for me.”
- The wicked think that God is like them or like a man (Psalm 50:16-23). God may object to their thoughts and ways, but He can do nothing but thunder in the distance. If He objected to them, He should have spoken or forever hold His peace.
- Nebuchadnezzar thought that God was beside him (Daniel 4:29-37). He thought he could make his own way and maybe even that God owed him prosperity. He was an early prosperity preacher who made God a means to an end in order to get a little more comfort during his vaporous appearance on earth.
- False professors think God is their imaginary god (Matthew 7:21-23). They live their lives using God’s name, but they have actually put God’s name on the craft of their own minds and ultimately do not know Him at all.
We don’t overstate the case to say that knowing God is a life-and-death reality. God’s existence is the greatest truth, greatest reality there is. We come now to our last question.
How is God’s existence good for us?
If God is who He says He is and who He shows himself to be, how is that good for us? Or, what are we profited by it? God’s existence is good for believers and unbelievers. Let me explain.
Good for believers
God being there for believers means that daily you have answers to the questions of life. It doesn’t mean that you know everything, but you can know some things for certain. Being a believer means that God has specially revealed himself to you and you know truth that the greatest human mind cannot find out on its own.
God’s existence means you have purpose and meaning to life. You’re not left to drift and wander aimlessly. You have no need to question why you exist or futilely pursue fulfillment.You are set to pursue His righteousness and His kingdom. You have a purpose.
You can make some sense of suffering because God is there. You don’t know how it all works together or why one thing comes to one and not another. You know suffering isn’t pointless.
You have comfort for the sorrow of death. Death is a painful separation and a reminder of frailty. In death, you do have hope, though it is washed with tears.
You have forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Apart from God there is no atonement and no covering righteousness. Though you fail everyday, the blood of Jesus Christ washes your sins white as snow.
You have help. You are not alone, though there be no human beside you. You do not have to live and do of your own strength or wisdom.
You have guidance. Life can be a confusing maze at times and our way is one of the easiest things to lose. You have sure counsel from God.
You have hope. Everyday you live a life filled with hope. You have something to live for and something to die for. You have something to look forward to that outweighs all grief and pain now.
Good for unbelievers
It might seem odd to suggest that God’s existence is good for unbelievers because that means their condemnation is sure. Many deny His existence rather than face such reality. However, if you are not a believer, I’m glad you are reading this and I assure you God’s existence is good for you.
God’s existence means there is ultimate meaning to life. If there is no God, then all is random, chaotic, and meaningless. I know you are taught that continually but no one lives their life consistently with that view. You probably show kindness to others and care deeply about social justice. You likely want to help the hurting and relieve as much suffering as you can. If life was truly random and meaningless, why would you do any of those things? God’s existence is the foundation for all good things and makes life meaningful.
God’s existence assures you of personal worth and dignity because you are created in the image of God. The questions: Who am I? Why am I here?, have answers because God exists. You are a living soul worth more than the whole world (Matthew 16:26). You are not a waste nor an accident. You have been fearfully and wonderfully made by a wise and loving creator.
God’s existence means that God himself and truth can be known. You are not left to wander in a void. You are not left to doubt and fear with no comfort or sure knowledge. God can be known because He has given you witness of himself.
God’s existence means you can have eternal life. You can live forever in a new heaven and a new earth where sin will never enter and all is true, good, and beautiful.
God is there. God is not silent. God is good for us. Look to His creation. Look to His word. Look to His Son.