Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 12/09/01.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (I Cor. 13:1-2, NIV).
This lesson is about love, what it is and what it is NOT! Have you ever been in a family that fought with each other? How about a church where people got so mad at each other that some of them packed their bags and left? These things happen every day, and most certainly are NOT fun, and definitely ARE NOT an example of the kind of love Paul is describing here either. We've had a big brouhaha on the Internet Forum that Lenny and I participate in, which unfortunately, I must confess, I unintentionally started. The question of reincarnation came up, and I have passionate negative feelings about it, which I expressed forcefully. One thing led to another, until the man who believes in reincarnation announced that he was leaving the forum because of the "contempt" he felt from those of us who disagreed with him. That disturbed me because I have learned in my many years of walking with God that no one has all the answers except Him, and we all need to talk things out rather than reacting against each other. This is what Jesus commanded us to do. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another"" (John 13:34,35, RSV).
I have long found it interesting that Jesus did NOT say that the world will know us because of our excellent theology or our correct doctrine, or the fact that we all agreed with each other. He said the world will know that we are His disciples because we love one another. How easily that rolls off our tongues, but how difficult it is to do, beginning with family, and continuing on with church members, friends, and business associates. After mulling the situation over, and talking to the Lord about it, I wrote to this group that I really was persuaded that the best thing I could do was to be the one to drop out of the forum, since it was my comments about reincarnation which the one man interpreted as contempt towards himself personally. I told Lenny that I could see no reason for staying, but as I usually do, I went to the Lord with it. Walking around outside on the farm, I told the Lord my plans, and He said, "Stay a little longer. You are a moderating influence." Since I practice quick obedience to the voice of the Lord, I stayed.
What I wanted to be true in this situation, was that I could love each one as much as God loves me, so much so that nothing would ever break the bond of peace between us. Truth compels me to say that this was not the case. I was troubled about the whole thing, waiting for the Lord to show me the blessing that is always hidden in these "moments of madness." Meanwhile, another friend on the forum had e-mailed us a portion of his mission statement: "It is more important in WHOM we believe than WHAT we believe," and that has always been the passion of my own heart. The Glory Road Internet ministry would have stopped as soon as it began if that were not what God has placed on my heart. The reason is that people do NOT agree on doctrine and dogma. They never have and never will.
The Jewish Rabbis have long debated about what the Law of Moses required and meant by what it says, and Christians are so divided in their opinions about what the New Covenant requires or does not require that there are more denominations than Carter has liver pills, as they say around here.
Let's look at this passage on the subject: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, FORBEARING ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE, eager to maintain the UNITY OF THE SPIRIT in the bond of PEACE. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is ABOVE all and THROUGH all and IN all. But GRACE was given to each of us according to the MEASURE of Christ's gift" (Eph. 4:1-7, RSV).
In these verses, Paul, who was in jail for his beliefs, admonishes us to forbear with one another in love. The dictionary definition of forbear is "to refrain or abstain from; desist from, avoid, shun." The obsolete meaning is "to endure." All of us in less than perfect family situations know what that means. (You refrain from slapping someone silly who annoys you because they are family and you will all get over it, given time). I just happen to have a good example of that.
One of my family members recently asked me the question, "Do you believe in hell? Does it even exist?" in the presence of another family member, who definitely believes in hell!
I replied, "Yes, I believe in hell. I have been there several times."
She leaped in, and with contempt in her voice said, "She doesn't believe in it. I read what she writes. I listen to Jesus. He taught about hell and I believe it. Hell is on every page of the bible." Now, you want to talk about being slapped down? I was slapped down, without defense. This woman, who is very dear to me, operates from the premise that if you love her, you agree with her. Sadly, many churches and many families operate exactly like that, with the "my way or the highway," mentality.
I have learned that these painful situations have something in them for me to learn about God and myself. So, I said "Lord, there is a blessing in here somewhere for me and I'm going to hang in there until I get it." Sure enough, a few days after that hurtful experience, I saw that since God is in charge of all things, and He is the one who consigned men to disobedience in the first place, SO THAT He may have mercy upon all (Rom. 11:32), then our petty disputes really don't mean a "hill of beans" in His eternal plan. It is interesting to notice, as long as we're on the subject, that reincarnation was part of the same Pagan doctrine as hell fire and eternal damnation. It was at the top of the list of punishments and eternal hellfire was at the very bottom. The belief came out of Babylon and Egypt, and one writer, Thomas Thayer, wrote a scholarly work in 1855, called The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment. (See link at the end). In it, he traces how this belief, came into Jewish thinking. It was not there in the Old Testament, but by the time of Christ, belief in hell had crept in to Jewish thought.
There are endless debates in Cyberspace about eternal punishment versus God's reconciliation of all. It is a heated subject. Clearly, reincarnation is as well. All week, the forum was a flaming mass of accusations, heated rebuttals, and judgment, with little love in evidence. It was quite a mess, making me wonder how we can ever come to peace with each other. I have had a LOT of counseling to get through the trauma of my divorce and to help me cope with other problems in my life, and while it was a wonderful experience, counselors "with skin on" can only operate on the soul level. The Holy Spirit (THE Counselor), moves through our spirit and transforms our mind into His image and likeness, and that is where the deliverance comes. It is also where we learn to forbear with one another in love, even as He loved us and died for us, when we were "in the ditch" (See link at the end), "in the pigpen," "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2: 12).
The pay off for this forbearance is that it brings us to "the UNITY OF THE SPIRIT in the BOND OF PEACE." Notice that the Apostle does NOT say or even suggest that we come to unity of doctrine, agreement on principals, or that we all think the same thing. There is one Lord, one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, but there are many parts of the body, and as Lenny often points out, different parts of the body operate differently, have a different mission statement, assignment and function. In that powerful passage in I Cor. 12, Paul said, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many" (I Cor. 12: 12-14, NIV). He goes on to say that the foot does not function like the hand, nor the eye like the ear (I Cor. 12:14-17), and he continues, "...in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body" (I Cor. 12:18-20, NIV). He concludes, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (I Cor.12:27). This is true, even if we do not act like it at times. It is true because what God declares, He will bring to pass.
Yet, experience shows us that in spite of what Hallmark cards leave us to believe, in family and church situations, we sometimes have problems getting along with each other. Churches split and families feud, a scenario as old as Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau. I believe that God allows this to happen for a reason, so that as we rub up against each other, seeking what we cannot find, getting disappointed over and over again, eventually, we discover that only God, NOT DOCTRINE, can make us whole.
Each of us is on a path back to the Father from whom we came. In 1987, I began a personal journal of my very painful journey to wholeness, and it was during that time when the phrase, "The glory road," came to me, even though in those days, the road was "more gory than glory." During that time, Lenny and I entered a "Codependency Recovery Program." It is a 12-step program, very powerful, and it was there that I really got to the roots of my people pleasing behaviors, and my need to control my world and everyone in it.
A verse that helped me see that I really have no control in my life, is this one: "In him, according to the purpose of him who ACCOMPLISHES ALL THINGS according to THE COUNSEL of HIS WILL" (Eph. 1:11, RSV). When God shined the light on that verse, quickening it to my spirit, I GOT it! I SAW it! I was FREED by it! IF He works all things after the counsel of His own will, then I need never worry again about accomplishing anything or failing to accomplish anything by MY own will. His will IS done on earth! GLORY!
In Paul's statement in Eph. 4, he says that "GRACE was given to each of us according to the MEASURE of Christ's gift." I ended my post to the Internet group, by saying that it is my prayer for us all on the forum, and indeed, for the world, that we begin to see that grace in action.
I'd like to tell you that all is well and folks are now happy and reconciled to their differences on the forum, but that is not the case. Love unites, but insistence on doctrinal agreement causes division. Lenny pointed out to me that what he sees there, is the same thing he witnesses among some in the Baptist Sunday School class he attends. The reason it is futile to debate about what we must do or not do, believe or not believe, is because our LIFE is found only IN CHRIST, not in doctrine! It is only by the Spirit of God, not the religions of men, that we come into oneness with the Father, and when we grasp on a cellular level, that we really are one with God, then and only then, can we be one with each other.
The fate of the forum is still not known. Will it be a place where people hungry to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ are free to come with their questions and concerns, or will it veer off into Eastern religion, and explore the vast outer reaches of the human mind and imagination? I will go or stay at the Father's pleasure, trusting Him to flow through me in love, no matter what anyone believes. As this week has shown me, I am incapable of loving others unconditionally on my own steam, but when I trust the Christ within me, He can love them through me. Religion comes out of the carnal mind of man, and is about WORKS, rather than LOVE. Our Life in Christ is LOVE, which we received from Him and which then flows out as living water to the thirsty world. Life in the Spirit does not come by talking ABOUT God. It can only come from the indwelling Christ. IN HIM we find peace, and love, and mercy and kindness, and experience the Glory of God.
Thus we see that "Peace on earth, good will towards men," is not just a great line for a Christmas card. It is the eternal will of our Father, the purpose of His glorious light of truth, to show us that He was on that cross, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. (II Cor. 5:18-20, NIV). Once we understand that in HIM, we have been totally reconciled back to God, then we can see that He has reconciled us to our fellow men, no matter how much we disagree with each other. If we, who profess Christ, cannot love each other as He loved us in spite of our differences, and if the Holy Spirit has not shown us that LOVE is more important than theology, isn't it obvious that we can never "speak peace to the heathen?" (Zech. 9:10). Anger, strife, and dissension are works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, and peace, by which God loved each of us into His kingdom, and only that kind of unconditional love flowing through us can bring anyone else in. The cry of my heart is for the love of God flow out of me in such measure that others will be drawn to HIM! Christ is the answer to all our confusion, for "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that IN HIM we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21). Since WE ARE the righteousness of God, not based upon our actions, our will, our anything, but only because of Christ's righteousness IN us, it behooves each of us to stop amidst the hustle and bustle of this holiday season dedicated to the Prince of Peace, and ask God to open our spiritual ears so that we can hear the angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14, KJV). With that eternal truth ringing in our ears, may God's grace flow through us in peace and good will toward everyone in our lives, and to all men everywhere. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment" by Thomas Thayer
"The Man in the Ditch," by Jan
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 12/08/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 11/04/08.