Complete Love Binds Us in Unity
Last Sunday we had a guest speaker at church who gave a wonderful sermon. He is a seminary student, and like his father who is a pastor, his sermon style is more what I would call teaching than preaching. The lesson he shared on Sunday helped me to look at a piece of scripture in a new and exciting light, so I wanted to share what he taught and my reflections on his lesson.
The topic of his sermon was “Desiring Holiness.” He shared what he has learned are five characteristics of holiness that throughout the history of the Christian faith different people or groups have believed were the core of holiness. Those five characteristics are:
- Following the moral code set forth by God.
- Being pure and unblemished.
- Being set apart from unbelievers for God.
- Total devotion to God or complete conviction of faith in God.
- Perfection or sinlessness.
While each of these characteristics is a component of holiness, he asserted his belief that none is the true core of holiness. In addition, each of these characteristics, taken to the extreme, can actually lead to the opposite of holiness or result in a crisis of faith when one is unable to live up to their own expectations under each standard.
Then he shared what he believes — and I tend to agree or I wouldn’t be sharing this — is the core of holiness: Love. Without knowing it, the Gospel lesson he chose to speak on in support of his conclusion was the same scripture we had read for our Wordstrong passage just the day before. As a result, the majority of the congregation had recently been thinking about this very passage.
Love for Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV).
The last sentence of this passage is often quoted in support of the idea that to be holy we must be perfect, sinless, pure, set apart, and that we must follow all of God’s moral law. But our speaker pointed out that we must view Jesus command to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” in the context of the whole passage. The Greek word for “perfect” in this passages is telios which means complete. In the context of this passage in which Jesus is speaking about loving not only your neighbor but your enemy as well, perfection is properly viewed as complete love.
Jesus is our perfect example of holiness. It is true that He led a sinless life, that He was pure and unblemished, that He was totally devoted to the Father, and that He followed the moral code of God perfectly. But that is not what makes Him truly holy. If He had done all of those things and then lived to a ripe old age, dying in His sleep of natural causes, He would not be our perfect example of holiness.
Jesus is our perfect example of holiness because He modeled for us complete love. He came and died not only for the righteous, but for sinners. He came to die for the enemies of God because He loved us with a perfect and complete love. He loved in a way that put all others before His own life and comfort. And as He hung on the cross and was about to die, He prayed for those who persecuted Him.
If we want to be holy we must do more than follow rules or set ourselves apart from those who do not; we must do more than seek sinless perfection. If we want to be holy we must love with a complete and perfect love that does not discriminate, but loves all the same.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV).
Linda, I hadn’t heard holiness put in that way either, but I loved it – having read some of the book I’m working on, you can understand why! It fits so beautifully!
By the way, I like the new pic at the top of your blog. Very warm and, I think, inviting.
Pete, You actually crossed my mind when I posted this. Love – real love like Jesus modeled – is really the answer to all the world’s problems. I’m so glad you like the new banner picture. It is a wood carving my son made for me just the other day! He’s also working on a drawing for me that includes the many names of Jesus and a cross in the middle. I was anxious for him to get it done so I could post it, but now that I have this one I can be a bit more patient as the drawing will definitely be more work for him. Peace, Linda
I was convinced that Jesus loves the unholy the day he scooped me up and rescued me from the life I was living… a gift so full of love and mercy, who could ever forget?
The pastor’s five learned characteristis for holiness made me think we were on “recipe day”… all the ingredients needed to make a perfect Pharisee! : ) I suppose we all think those things sometimes…
My favorite part of today’s teaching is the translation of “perfect” into the Greek “telios” which means “complete”. Being complete is certainly more manageable than trying to be perfect. Who can love the unloveable when we ourselves are defeated by religious thinking that dwells on our sins and not on the joy was can bring when we love like Jesus.
I love this stuff… could go on all day… could start talking about all the messed up people I’ve learned to love in AA, and how my heart belongs to all of them.
Great post, lasting rewards for all who believe! : )
Linda, I’ve known for a long time that love is really the key to the Christian faith – God’s love for us and our love for others. After all, Jesus did say the first commandment was to love God and the second (which is like it) is to love our neighbor. But I had never put this together with the idea of being perfect before. It was a great sermon and I am so glad I could pass it along. Peace, Linda
Thank you, Linda
This is a great post! Thanks for sharing 🙂
As a child, I remember an inscription over the door of a church I attended: “holiness to be God’s standard for living”. I came away with the thought of halos and angels wings … As far as I could tell, I most certainly could never attain holiness 🙁
“If we want to be holy we must love with a complete and perfect love that does not discriminate, but loves all the same.”
The years have taught me much and each day I continue to learn. After my first brush with holiness, I later learned “Be ye holy, for I am holy ” (Ref 1 Pet 1:16) and over time, I came to see holiness differently. What you shared today is a brand new take on the issue! I thank you for letting us experience this with you.
Praying He will “Purify my heart ” and teach me how to truly love.
Ann, I can relate to your feeling of never being able to attain an impossible standard of holiness. I know I will never be perfect; and at the same time know Jesus called us to be perfect. By looking at holiness in terms of love I feel like it is something I can, with His grace, attain. Thank you for sharing the video. I love that song. We used to sing it in church, but we haven’t sung it in a long time. Peace, Linda
Wow Linda! I have never heard that before either and it blessed me so much. I was taken up again, reading your posts, by Jesus dying for His enemies, sinners, and the righteous alike. That really drives home what love is, what holiness is. Thank you so much. You share such great truths in such a Jesus way. So glad He has you doing this! God bless you and your life lived out for Him!
Deb, I can’t take credit for the whole idea. But when I hear a message like this that is so wonderful and helps me to grow, I just have to share. I am so glad He has me blogging, too. Peace, Linda