Monday, September 16, 2013

God Is Love

Today is the first day in our 37th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* this week are:

  •  Isa 45-48; 1 Cor 13
  •  Isa 49-52; 1 Cor 14; Psalm 69
  •  Isa 53-55; 1 Cor 15; Psalm 128
  •  Isa 56-59; 1 Cor 16; Psalm 70
  •  Is 60-63; 2 Cor 1

In our OT readings today, we hear God consistently and repeatedly saying that there is no other God but God.  

From Isaiah 45:
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

“Shower, O heavens, from above,
    and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
    let the earth cause them both to sprout;
    I the Lord have created it...

12 I made the earth
    and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
    and I commanded all their host...

18 For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
    (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
    (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
    he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other...

21 Declare and present your case;
    let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
    Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
    And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
    there is none besides me.
22 “Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn;
    from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance.

From Isaiah 46:9 - "...for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me..."

God repeatedly contrasts His one and only divine existence to the people's idolatry and self-idolatry.  He mocks those who worship created images, and those who worship at the temple of Self.

There is one God and only one God.

Our church's statement of faith (The Baptist Faith and Message, 1963 edition) says:
There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.
Yesterday in Sunday school class, we discussed exactly what this means.  Either it means that all the gods are the same, since there is only one God; or it means that all the other gods are false, since there is only one true God.  
So, which is it?  

This can be answered in the simple expression, "God is love."  1 John 4:8 says, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

This means that when you ask whether all the other gods are the same as our God, or whether they are all false gods when compared to the One True God, all you must do is ask the question, "Is this god a god of love?"

There are many religions that conceive of gods who are to be feared, and certainly we believe that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10)."  But fear of God is only the beginning.  1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love."  The quaking-in-your-boots kind of fear of God is reserved for those who have not received God's grace.  Those who have received the forgiveness that can only come from Jesus experience a healthy respect and awe of God, but trembling takes on more a sense of excitement before the Lord than dread of His presence.

Many religions go beyond the idea of fearsome gods, and move on to gods who should be revered.  Habakkuk 2:20 says, "the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”  Reverential respect for God keeps your perspective straight.  Christians must understand what it truly means to be "children of God," and not take their newfound positions as God's family, and elevate themselves to the status of Christ.  

Fear and reverence are found in many religions, but if you want to find out whether members of other faiths are worshiping the One True God, then ask yourself, "Is their God primarily characterized by love?"  

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a describes love's eternal qualities:  

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

I invite you mentally replace the word "love" with the name of some deity from another religion, and see if it rings true.  

"Kali is patient and kind..." Hmmm...if you know anything about that Hindu deity, you'd know that's not true.

"Zeus does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude."  Nope...Misses the mark again, doesn't it?

"Allah does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoings, but rejoices with the truth."  If this were true, then there would be no such thing as jihad.  

"Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Jesus never fails."  Yes--in the words of Captain America in The Avengers, "Now THERE'S a God!"

In fact, this whole section of 1 Corinthians 13 describes Jesus, the humble and meek servant to his servants, who does not force His way into our hearts but waits for our invitation.  Jesus the merciful; Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; Jesus who never fails.

So, are all the gods just other names for Jehovah?  Or is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--the Divine Trinity--the one, true, and living Lord?  God answers that question Himself in Isaiah 45:23 - 

Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn;
    from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance.'

*All scriptures are from the ESV.

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