Most of us avoid forgiveness like the plague because we do not want to look at our wounds. Wounds are scary, they are nasty, they are icky, it is why most of us look away when we donate blood. It is way easier to take all of that emotion and channel it into rage at another person.
In a stunning example of forgiveness, the Muslim father of one of two eight-year-old boys killed when a car crashed into a school in Sydney in November 2017 publicly forgave the woman who killed his son. He said, “We have a special message here for the lady that was involved in the accident. We want to sit with her and talk with her and tell her ‘we forgive you’. No retaliation is coming from the family of the boy, they have forgiven”. The boy’s family also disapproved of any harassment of the driver involved in the accident that killed the boys.
This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on Forgiveness by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan. It’s not an easy topic because we live in a broken guilt-driven community. But it shows the benefits of living a forgiven life – forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.
Forgiveness is a readiness to pardon offenses, to overlook personal wrongs against oneself, and to harbor no desire for retaliation. It implies reconciliation, peace, tolerance and considering others.
According to the Bible, forgiveness brings many blessings. It speaks about God’s act of individual and corporate forgiveness. God gives us the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others. Groups and communities can also come to forgiveness. The New Testament also puts a very special emphasis on believer’s mutual forgiveness. God forgives us and asks us to forgive others.
The Bible says to believers, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32NIV). It says:
– God forgives, while believers receive God’s forgiveness. Their guilt is removed and they can live well in this world and in the world to come.
– Believers are commanded to forgive others as God forgave them in Christ Jesus. This is the standard of a forgiven life.
Christian forgiveness is like a coin; it has two sides. One side of the coin is accepting God’s gift of forgiveness. The other side is extending that gift of forgiveness coming from the Lord to others wherever we are. So forgiveness is both a divine gift and a task involving our relationship with others.
Forgiveness is a gift
Forgiveness is a gift from God. The Old Testament uses the following Hebrew words for forgiveness in relation to salvation.
Kapar means “God covering human sins by offering a sacrifice as a substitute for the life of a sinner”. It’s not accepting a sin and saying “that’s alright”, or “let’s forget about it”. It’s an act of God taking everything seriously. Saying sin offends. Sin brings chaos and calamity. Sin has consequences. In the Old Testament, the whole idea of atonement is based on sacrifice; the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. This means that sin is a serious offence. Forgiveness is a serious virtue which God is providing. The greatest example of this is when Jesus died for our sins and we can accept that offer and be free from the guilt and penalty of our sin.
Nasa means “guilt being taken away from the sinner. It’s removal of the burden of guilt when we accept God’s gift. While sala means the “function of forgiveness”.
Maha expresses God “wiping away” sins and kasa conveys the idea of “covering or concealing the person”. When God judges sin, He protects forgiven sinners.
The New Testament uses the following terms of forgiveness.
Apolyo expresses the analogy of sin as debt and it means “God removing the debt and releasing the sinner from it”. It involves sacrifice, payment and freedom. That’s what we see on the cross of Calvary.
Paresis means God “passing over” sin. God doesn’t consider the days of ignorance, but passes over them. When we come to Jesus, His death, covers everything that we have done. While aphesis conveys God “putting away sin completely and unreservedly”. Forgiveness brings us to an unconditional standing with God, including the privileges of God’s kingdom, the privileges of God’s promises, and the privileges of God’s children.
Charizomai expresses “the graciousness of God’s pardon” and God’s “act of blotting out sin” and granting the sinner freedom. God isn’t going to recall our sin; “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He [God] removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Do not live in guilt. If you trust in Jesus Christ, you have peace, reconciliation, and restoration with God. And you can celebrate your life in Christ Jesus. Relax in the presence of God.
So Christian forgiveness is the once-for-all pardon that we receive when we accept God’s promise in Christ Jesus. It’s as simple as that. And it’s also the way to maintain a close living fellowship with our Lord and His people. You forgive yourself and you forgive others and you accept the forgiveness of God. God’s act of forgiveness is a gift of grace that displays God’s love, freedom, deliverance, care, perfection, cleansing and restoration. Forgiveness involves everything that we need to live as children of God.
One of the greatest passages on forgiveness as a gift is, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15). This is a summary of the salvation experience. As God has taken away our sin and brokenness, we are called to live for His glory. We not only receive God’s forgiveness, but we must give that forgiveness to others. Then our relationships can be heaven-like. An unforgiving spirit is a weakness.
Karl Bath exclaimed, Christians “live by forgiveness” and every Christian should begin a day with a confession: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”. At death, one has nothing to confess but “God’s gracious act of forgiveness”. Hence a genuine Christian life is lived in full awareness of forgiveness, accepting that God sees me anew and adopts me anew in His light. Bath recognized that believers are also commanded and enabled by God to be merciful to forgive their debtors, to comfort others, and to outshine the light of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a task
Giving forgiveness is a command that brings to others what believers have received from God. Christian forgiveness is a gift that commands practice. So it is a task that should be a way of life. Forgiveness frees us from bitterness and replaces bitterness with joy. Forgiving someone brings joy. Christians are commanded, called and enabled to enjoy forgiveness and live daily with its benefits.
Jesus taught that forgiveness is a duty of the forgiven. No limit can be set on the extent of forgiveness and it must be granted without reserve. Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Lk. 17:3-4). It’s hard isn’t it? But it’s more than this.
In another passage “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Mt. 18:21-22). Jesus increases it to 77 times a day! That’s a pattern of life.
And Paul wrote, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). The standard that we are to forgive others is the forgiveness of the Lord to us. How many times does the Lord forgive us in one hour? That’s how many times we are to forgive our spouse, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our neighbors, and those we fellowship with in church. Showing forgiveness is like bringing heaven down to earth.
The condition of forgiveness is repentance and confession on behalf of the offender. But Jesus says that if the offender fails to repent, the offended is not released from the task of forgiving. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Mt. 18:35). Whether someone is repenting or not, we are obliged to forgive them. It’s very difficult.
Jesus said, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). Forgiveness isn’t only when you have done something wrong. It’s also for when someone else has wronged you. That’s what we are commanded to do.
Michael Bird says, “this form of forgiveness does not mean that I do not continue to feel the hurt from someone’s sin. But I forfeit my right to show my hurt at someone’s painful actions”. It’s a choice that we make. At the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). That’s love and mercy rather than resentment, anger and a desire for the punishment of His persecuters. Jesus was a model for His followers by willingly forgiving those who persecuted Him.
That’s what Mrs Gladys Staines did after her husband Graham and two sons were burnt to death in India in 1999. She made a choice to forgive them. It’s the choice of the strongest, not the weakest.
Forgiveness is a destiny
Forgiveness is the destiny for human life. The forgiven life that we have been given is going to continue. Believers are going to become like Jesus Christ. The purpose of God’s gift of forgiveness to fallen humans is to create a new being; “to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). This is Christ-likeness. So forgiveness has implications for this life and the life to come. God’s work of salvation saves sinners from the guilt, penalty, power and the presence of sin to the presence of God. It starts here and takes us to eternity. It’s the same with forgiveness; the healing begins here and brings restoration and freedom and it takes us to eternity to be like Christ in perfection. Forgiveness is a gift given and a task practiced to bring an amazing outcome of wellbeing and wholeness to human existence. This is the ultimate destination of salvation and God’s gift of forgiveness.
The greatest problem in extending forgiveness today is an unforgiving spirit. This can show in many ways. And it can control us. It’s part of our fallen nature. Jesus said, “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15). Refusing to forgive doesn’t grant us power. Instead it enslaves us to further sin like bitterness, greed, and discouragement.
Mahatma Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong”. For example, God is all powerful and He is happy to forgive us.
And Frederic Luskin of Stanford University exclaims, the spirit of unforgiving is a spirit of timidity. He argues, why are we afraid to let go of our grievances when forgiving can bring healing and wellbeing? He says, unforgiveness is like being trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for what someone else committed. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves as well. We are freeing ourselves of burdens by taking power over situations and managing them well to “become a hero rather than a victim”. Otherwise we will feel unnecessarily victimized. Forgiveness makes us heroes, while unforgiveness makes us victims.
The benefits of forgiveness
Many psychological studies have been done on the benefit of forgiveness of others. Luskin calls forgiveness a “trainable skill of the strong”, not the weak. Moreover, he claims that forgiveness “reduced anger, hurt, depression, and stress while increasing feelings of optimism, hope, compassion, physical vitality, self-sufficiency (power), and confidence”. Forgiveness also improves physical and mental health, reducing hypertension.
The IDEA Fitness Journal stated that “people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illness, including depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer”. So forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.
Lisa Firestone concludes, “forgiveness is the final act of love” and “the greatest gift you can give yourself and someone else in psychology today”. Yes, forgiveness is the most beautiful form of divine-human love that reflects a person’s greatness, goodness, inner wellbeing, soundness, confidence, and wholeness.
So extending forgiveness has tremendous benefits to the self. There are benefits in the forgiven life. Forgiveness is worth it. This is where Christianity excels.
Forgiveness is a gift that God freely lavished on us when we were sinners. And forgiveness is a task that God commanded us to practice in our relationships with others. Forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing. Finally, forgiveness is the believer’s destiny. God wants them to live well here and in eternity in Christ-likeness. They are being transformed every day into Christ-likeness.
If you have forgiveness, give it! If you don’t have it, you can’t give it! But you can seek the gift of forgiveness which is available through Jesus Christ.
However, if this post doesn’t work for you, you can follow the advice of Oscar Wilde, “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much”!
Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.
Posted, August 2019
I have received the following comment about a post on whether Christians should gather together on the Sabbath day.
I am so disturbed to learn that we as Christians have decided that the Sabbath which was commanded by God can be dealt away with. There is nowhere in scripture we are told to change that. In face Jesus says if you love me follow my commandments. There was no new commandment set by Jesus to abandon the sabbath. He said I came to do my fathers will. Sunday worship comes from Rome and the worship of Roman gods. The same goes for Christmas and Easter. All these are pagan celebrations which has infiltrated the church. The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabath. In the book of Revelation, John declares he saw seven golden candle sticks, a symbol from the old testament and Christ was in the midst of this. The God, Yahweh has never changed and will never changed. His laws remains the same till the end of time. I truly believe its satan worship if we tell Christains to worship on Sunday’s and don’t follow the laws of God. That’s against everything God stands for, if you love me keep my commandments. Which commandments? We still obey the laws because we Gentiles are the spiritual Israelites, but our path way salvation is Christ not just obeying the Law. I dont understand why anyone will teach this to the Christian world that you can disobey the Creator because of what man has decided it’s the new religion. Wake up and come out of Babylon, we are called by God and not by man. There if God says 7th day is the week is the day of worship, nothing changes because Yahweh doesn’t change. The first day of the week is the worship of the Sun God, do some research and you will know Constantine started this with the Roman Church. You cannot change God’s Law or command. Jesus said I came to fulfill, not to change. Jesus said I came to do my fathers will. So there is no where Sunday worship was instituted and declared the Holy Day of the Lord. Brother George ask the Holy Spirit for deep teaching and insight so you don’t deceive his children. Shalom
This post is based on a survey of the instances when the Sabbath day (7th day of the week) is mentioned in the New Testament between Acts and Revelation inclusive. These are the books of the Bible that apply to the Christian church, which began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In the previous books of the Bible (Exodus to John), the Israelites (or Jews) are God’s special people on earth who are commanded to obey the Mosaic law (which included animal sacrifices, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath). Because there is no Jewish temple (with altars for sacrifices) or priesthood, today it is impossible to practice the Mosaic covenant as it was followed in the Old Testament.
We will see that the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.
In this post we look at whether the instances of Sabbath day observance between Acts and Revelation are a command, a model to follow or merely a report of events. Instances of Sunday (1st day of the week) observance will be considered in the same way so the two can be compared.
Is Sabbath day observance a command, a model or a report?
The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not worth following today.
Sabbath observance commanded
I am not aware of any command to observe the Sabbath day between Acts and Revelation in the Bible. It is interesting to note that the other nine of the ten commandments given to Moses are repeated as commandments for Christians in this portion of Scripture, but the 4th commandment isn’t. Also, when they joined the early church which was largely Jewish, the Gentile Christians weren’t commanded to keep the Sabbath (Acts 15:19-20). Furthermore, Sabbath breaking is never mentioned as a sin in this portion of the Bible.
But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?
Sabbath observance modelled
During his first missionary journey, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue at Pisidian Antioch on two Sabbath days (Acts 13:14-49), but the message was rejected by the Jews. Then Paul preached to the Gentiles and they accepted the message. Paul and Barnabas left this town when they were expelled by the Jewish leaders (Acts 13:50-51).
During his second missionary journey, at Philippi Paul went outside the city gate to the river on the Sabbath day, where he expected to find a place of prayer (Acts 16:13-15). Paul must have preached there because Lydia responded to his message. But Paul and Silas had to leave this town after they were imprisoned. According to the NIV Study Bible, there were so few Jews in Philippi that there was no synagogue (ten married men were required), so the Jews who were there met for prayer along the banks of the Pangites river. It was customary for such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water.
Next Paul visited Thessalonica where: “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:2-4). After this the Jewish leaders forced them to leave the city.
When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 18:4-5NIV). But when the Jews opposed him and became abusive, Paul went next door and preached to the Gentiles.
So on his missionary trips Paul had a custom of visiting synagogues on the Sabbath. Why did he do this? What did he do there? From the four accounts summarized above we see that he preached that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament. Paul kept on doing this until he was forced to leave because of Jewish opposition. Then he preached to the Gentiles. So the purpose of this custom was to preach the message about Jesus to the Jews because they knew about the Old Testament. Paul only went to the synagogue on the Sabbath because there was an audience there for his message.
What is the example for us to follow? It is about preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity and not about observing the Jewish Sabbath day. The other main occurrence of preaching to the Jews was Peter’s address on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). This was on a Sunday because the day of Pentecost was the 50th day after the after the Sabbath of Passover week (Lev. 23:15-16). So the apostles preached whenever the Jews were gathered together, whether it was on the Sabbath or on Sunday. The day of the week they preached wasn’t important to them.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that the early church met on the Sabbath. The meetings that Paul attended on the Sabbath during his missionary journeys were meetings of Jews held in a synagogue.
But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded or modelled for the church, is it reported?
Sabbath observance reported
I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to observance of the Sabbath day. The only other occasions the Sabbath is mentioned are in Colossians and Hebrews.
Paul prohibits Christians being condemned for not following particular food or drink regulations and for not observing particular religious activities that are held on an annual, monthly or weekly basis: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17NIV). The examples given in this passage are arranged in the order of annual, monthly, and weekly. From Numbers 28:9-25 it is clear that the religious festivals were the annual Jewish festivals (such as the Passover), the New Moon celebration was the monthly Jewish offering, and the Sabbath day was the weekly Jewish Sabbath. As Christ has come, there is no value in keeping these things that foreshadowed His coming. Observance of these holy days is no longer required. Today we celebrate the reality, not the shadows.
Also, the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4:1-11, is different to the Sabbath day. This is the spiritual rest of salvation through faith in Christ (Heb. 11:2-3) that is likened to the physical rest of the Sabbath. Christians rest in the completed work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30).
How does this compare with what the New Testament says about Sunday observance?
Is Sunday observance a command, a model or a report?
Sunday observance commanded
I am not aware of any command to observe Sunday (the 1st day of the week) between Acts and Revelation in the Bible.
But if Sunday observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?
Sunday observance modelled
When they visited Troas during Paul’s third missionary journey, Luke reported “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight” (Acts 20:7). In the previous verse it says that they stayed in Troas for seven days. Although he was in a hurry to travel to Jerusalem over the next month Paul seems to have waited until he could meet with the local church when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6, 16). This is the most likely meaning of the saying “we came together to break bread”. It didn’t mean an ordinary meal, because they would have had these during the rest of the week and because Paul preached and taught as well. The Lord’s Supper and the apostles’ teaching, which are mentioned on this occasion, were two of the corporate activities of the early church (Acts 2:42). Therefore, the statement in the comment that “The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabbath” is false.
Was this an unusual farewell meeting, and not necessarily indicative of normal practice? The fact that Paul spoke to midnight was probably unusual as the reason given for this is “because he intended to leave the next day”. But there is nothing in the passage to indicate that their celebration of the Lord’s supper was unusual or that Paul speaking after this celebration was unusual. In fact the prime reason given for meeting together on Sunday was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There is a spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper and Sunday – the former symbolizes Christ’s death and the latter His resurrection.
So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and carry out other corporate activities.
When Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth he urged them to support needy believers in Jerusalem, “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Paul doesn’t say exactly how this money is collected, “set aside” or saved up. The Greek noun translated “collection” (Strongs #3048) only occurs I these two verses and none other in the Bible. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexion, in this context it means “money collected for the poor”. The passage seems to promote systematic giving. There was to be a collection each week so that the amount could accumulate over time and there would be no need for a collection when Paul came. So it was a corporate collection, not one done individually (if it was individual, there would need to be a collection when Paul came). If Paul wanted the collection to be done “at home” he could have included this phase as in 1 Corinthians 11:34; 14:35. This means that the finances of the early church were centralized as they were amongst the apostles when Jesus was on earth (Jn. 12:6; 13:29). So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians when they gathered together on the first day of the week to collect money from each other to support the needy.
Although Sunday observance is modelled for the church, is it reported elsewhere?
Sunday observance reported
I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to Sunday observance. The only other possible mention of the first day of the week was when John said he saw a vision of Christ “on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). The only other occurrence of this Greek adjective (Strongs #2960) in Scripture is a reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). According to the NIV Study Bible, “The Lord’s Day” is a technical term for the first day of the week because Jesus rose from the dead on that day. It could indicate that John and the early church treated Sunday in a special way among all days.
Some think that Romans 14:5-6 addresses Sabbath or Sunday observance, but there is no evidence of this from the context of this passage.
Sabbath observance and Sunday observance compared
We have seen that the Greek noun for Sabbath (Strongs #4521) is associated with Paul preaching in the synagogue. It’s an example of Paul adapting to the customs of the Jews in order to win them to the Lord. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Cor. 9:19-20).
On the other hand, the phrase “the first day of the week” (Strong’s #1520 and #4521) is associated with gathering together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). This phrase is also linked in the gospels with Christ’s resurrection (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk.24:1; Jn. 20:1). So the resurrection of Christ seems to be the reason why the early church met on Sunday and this practice has continued down through the ages. Of course Christians can meet on other days of the week as the Bible doesn’t prohibit this. But there is no spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper (and His resurrection) and the Sabbath day.
I am not aware of any command given between Acts and Revelation in the Bible to the early church to observe either the Sabbath day or Sunday. There is no biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be a day of worship.
It seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and to carry out other corporate activities including collecting money from each other to support the needy. But it’s not a day of rest or a holy day like the Sabbath was for the Jews. The only Christian practice in the Bible that’s related to the Sabbath is preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity. As one of the opportunities was when Jews gathered on the Sabbath, that was when Paul preached (until he was rejected by the Jewish leaders). There is no model to follow for the church to meet on the Sabbath. It was only the Jews who held their services on the Sabbath.
A study of the portion of the Bible written about and to the early church (Acts to Revelation, inclusive) shows evidence for Sunday observance of the Lord’s supper and other corporate activities by Christians, but there is no evidence of Sabbath observance.
So the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.
Written, September 2015
Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses. Is this true?
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God what does the Bible say about this topic?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
Why the new covenant is better
Is insistence on Sabbath-keeping legalism?
Revealing the Invisible God
The early church was characterised by a strong love for one another. In this article we look at what the Bible says about this love.
A Divine Love
The New Testament uses a unique word for divine love; the Greek noun “agape”. This word and its derivatives are mentioned about 172 times in the letters written to the church between Acts and Revelation. It is used in three main ways: God or Christ loving people; Christians loving God or Christ; and Christians loving one another. Of these three types of divine love, which do you think is referred to most often in these passages?
From the usage of the word “agape” and its derivatives in these passages summarised below, we see that it is most frequently used to describe Christians loving one another.
|Context of “agape” (Acts to Revelation)||Frequency (%)|
|Christians loving one another||51|
|God or Christ loving people||22|
|Christians loving God or Christ||15|
|Husbands loving wives||3|
|God is love||2|
These relationships may be represented by a schematic diagram. God is the ultimate source of this love. “God is love”; it’s part of His nature (2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Jn. 4:7). We know this because He sent His Son to die for us. God loves people, which is indicated in the diagram as a vertical relationship (1 Jn. 4:11). Christians receive this love from the Holy Spirit; it’s a fruit of the Spirit and part of the divine nature (Rom. 15:30; Gal. 5:22). Christians love God, which is indicated in the diagram as another vertical relationship (1 Pet. 1:8; 1 Jn. 5:1). Furthermore, Christians are told to love one another, which is indicated in the diagram as a horizontal relationship (1 Jn. 3:23; 4:21; 2 Jn 5). This love, which has been implanted in each believer, should flow out to all other believers; those in your congregation and those in other congregations (1 Jn. 5:1).
This diagram illustrates how God’s love is shown today: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 Jn. 4:12NIV). The invisible God, who was revealed to the world in the gospels through Jesus Christ, is now revealed to the world through believers. His love is only complete in achieving its goal if we love one another; otherwise, God’s love is invisible. That is amazing!
The other usage of “agape” in these passages is when husbands are told to love their wives, which is love between two particular people (Eph. 5:25, 28, 33).
There are two important commands in the New Testament; “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us” (1 Jn. 3:23). The first is to believe what the Bible says about the Lord and to follow Him. The second is to love one another.
The second command is repeated, “And He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another” (1 Jn. 4:21). So this is a love between any two believers. The reason is given as, “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). In fact, Christians owe this love to each another (Rom. 13:8).
Elsewhere this command is expressed as a specific example of “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2;8). Believers should have a desire to do the will of God and loving one another is one of His commands (1 Jn. 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 5-6).
Other commands in Scripture about loving one another are: to love your fellow believers (1 Pet. 2:17); to “do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14); to serve one another humbly in love instead of biting and ravaging each other (Gal. 5:13); to bear one another in love (Eph. 4:2); above all, to love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Pt. 4:8); and to walk in the way of love by following Christ’s example (Eph. 5:1-2).
Not only is this love for one another divine and one of the Lord’s commands, it is also a sign.
A Sign Of A Believer
The apostle John wrote the letter of 1 John to Christians of his time saying, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13). He wanted them to be assured and certain of their inheritance of eternal life. To do this he gave them some tests to distinguish believers from non-believers, which were based on people’s characteristic behaviour. These tests were: obedience to God’s word, love for one another, beliefs about Christ, and righteous living. So love for one another distinguishes a believer.
Loving one another is evidence of our Christian faith (1 Jn. 3:14). John also wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8). Furthermore, if we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen (1 Jn. 4:20).
Christians tap into God’s love and their faith gives them the ability to love one another. According to the Bible, those who do not love their Christian brothers and sisters are not God’s children (1 Jn. 3:10).
The best examples of loving one another are given in the Bible.
Recognizing Love For One Another
Loving one another is an example of the command to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13:9). This means, loving others as we love ourselves. It is not selfish. It’s what can we do for that person, not what can we get from them. Remember the Good Samaritan who helped a stranger. It includes helping others, kind deeds and generous support of the needy (2 Cor. 8:8, 24; Heb. 6:10; 1 Jn. 3:18). Remember the Lord who sacrificed Himself for us (Eph. 5:2). It’s an unconditional love; He loved us before we loved Him. It’s a giving love; He gave Himself for us.
This love is described as being “for one another”. We are to love because each believer is “another”. It’s an acceptance, an interest and a concern for another believer, just because they are another person. All other things about them are irrelevant, such as whether we like them or not and whether they may reciprocate our love. Such supernatural love of one another is a conscious decision of the will and not a feeling or emotion. Otherwise, we couldn’t love those that are difficult to love. Loving one another is an attitude towards them that is a motive for all Christian behaviour (Gal. 5:13).
A well-known description of this love is: “Love is patient, love is kind … rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). It is associated with being gentle to others (1 Cor. 4:21). It is the most important Christian virtue (1 Cor. 13:13; Col. 3:12-14; 2 Pet. 1:5-7).
This love builds up others by thinking what is best for them and supports others by praying for them (Rom. 15:30-31; 1 Cor. 8:1). It involves making allowance for each other’s faults (Eph. 4:2) and overlooking minor faults and failures in other believers (1 Pet. 4:8). As the Lord showed His love in giving (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 5:25), we can show our love by giving our time, our abilities, our money, and our lives to others.
But, unfortunately, we can grieve the Holy Spirit by not loving one another.
Absence Of Love For One Another
The Bible gives signs of what life is like when we don’t love one another. Instead of loving we harm, we covert what someone else has, we steal from them, and this pattern of behavior can lead to murder (Rom. 13:8-10). Thinking of others in a way that leads to pride (1 Cor. 8:1); hating other believers (1 Jn. 3:11-15; 4:20-21), quarrelling with them (Gal. 5:13-15); and placing burdens on them (2 Cor. 11:11; 12:14-16) is also characteristic of a lack of love.
The well-known description says that when this love is absent, instead there is jealousy, boasting, pride, dishonouring of others, self-seeking, anger, keeping records of wrongs and delighting in evil (1 Cor. 13:4-7). This is self-indulgence.
When this love is absent, we need to get right with the Lord by confessing our sins (1 Jn. 1:9) and get right with others we have hurt by apologising and confessing before God’s love can flow through us again and out to others.
Lessons For Us
Loving one another is a command and duty; it is not an option. Its frequent occurrence in Scripture shows that it is of prime importance. In a world that is always looking for love, Christians are the only channel for divine (agape) love. Such love is a distinguishing characteristic of Christians.
Paul told those at Colossae to put on love above all the other aspects of Christian character (Col. 3:14). Let’s put on love every day by: living so God’s love can flow through us to one another; deliberately loving one another; giving ourselves for others; filtering all our conversations with such love (Eph. 4:15); being kind, thoughtful, considerate, patient and tolerant of each other’s views; and being known as people who love one another.
Paul told the Corinthians to excel in this kind of love (2 Cor. 8:7) and prayed that this love would increase amongst Thessalonians and it did (1 Th. 3:12; 2 Th. 1:3). Let’s make this our goal as well.
John wrote about a love that is active: “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). It asks, what can I do to help? This includes doing things that others can’t do and encouraging them to do things they can do and to make decisions that only they can make. We can only encourage someone in this way if we know what life is like for them by spending time together and listening to others; and not talking too much ourselves (Jas. 1:19). Hospitality is good for this.
Finally, in Hebrews we are urged to consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching (Heb. 10:24-25). Let’s spur one another on towards increasing love for one another.
Written, October 2008