Love that Never Dies

original photo credit: Yale Law Library via photopin cc
original photo credit: Yale Law Library via photopin cc

Critics of the modern Christianity often complain that our modern Bibles lose something in meaning due the difficulties of language translation. In part, they are correct—although I have found that digging deeper into the original languages is common practice for most of the scholars and pastors who approach Bible interpretation with a great deal of care and humility.

There is one particular Hebrew word, extensively used throughout the Old Testament, that is rich with meaning but does not translate well into English. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains (DBL Hebrew) defines the Hebrew word hesed (also spelled chesed) as:

loyal love, unfailing kindness, devotion, i.e., a love or affection that is steadfast based on a prior relationship [1]

One of the best known uses of this ancient word can be found in the sixth and final verse of the much loved twenty-third Psalm:

photo credit: Waiting For The Word via photopin cc
photo credit: Waiting For The Word via photopin cc

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (NKJV)

The word translated as “mercy” here is actually hesed. Various versions of the Bible also translate hesed as “love” (NIV), faithful love” (HCSB), “unfailing love” (NLT), and “lovingkindness” (NASB). As you can see, limitations in the English language make it difficult for us to get a full understanding of the word’s intended meaning.

Adding yet another layer of significance to Psalms 23:6 is the Hebrew word for “follow” (yirdpuni), which, according to the DBL Hebrew can be translated to mean chase, pursue, and even hound.[2] Do you see it? God’s faithful, undying love will pursue His children all of the days of their lives! God loves everyone ever born, but His hesed is now only fully expressed to those who have entered into a New Covenant relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. What an amazing privilege it is for us to be the apple of God’s eye!

photo credit: Candida.Performa via photopin cc
photo credit: Candida.Performa via photopin cc

Plumbing the depths of God’s undying love for His children, however, is not my primary purpose for addressing this concept. The nature of New Covenant Christianity merits a paradigm shift from following lists of rules (in order to gain God’s acceptance) to returning God’s faithful love with a faithful love of our own. Just as two married people are to be faithfully devoted to one another for all of their days, so, too, God’s children are to practically live out their love for their Lord and Savior.

There is nothing nebulous about genuine love. God’s grace both frees us and compels us to live in a manner which is very different from the cultural mindsets that constantly seek to define us. The Christian life is in no way defined by adherence to the Mosaic Law, but by a faithful covenant love that finds its expression in three specific areas as identified by three Greek words for love –agape, philia, and eros—that were used in the writing of the New Testament.

Over the next several posts, we’ll use this foundation to build a framework by which we can see how New Covenant love is to govern the manner in which we live out our Christian faith. I know I’ve gone a tad technical with this post, but this stuff is too good (and important) to ignore!

[1] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Almost Gospels – Part II

Do you have a favorite Super Bowl commercial? I sure do. Do you remember the one from several years ago in which cowboys were herding cats?

I guess this commercial strikes a chord because it reminds me so much of ministry. Leading and guiding people can at times be akin to the futility of trying to direct independently minded felines. This dynamic makes our final two Almost Gospels extremely tempting.

The Gospel of Behavior Modification

The Apostle Paul put it well: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Romans 6:1-2 (NASB)

Salvation is by grace and not by our merit or works, but the Gospel of grace provides no blank check for selfish, ungodly behavior. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t fully comprehend (primarily because we don’t teach about it) the transformational power of grace.

When we gather together sinful, imperfect people, doing our best to make them feel welcomed and accepted, it’s no surprise that certain types of undesirable behavior will begin to surface. Some might simply be nuisance-type activities (e.g. double parking), while others can have significant ramifications (e.g. bringing drugs to youth group meetings). By far, the easiest and most effective (in the short-term) means to modify people’s behavior is to make a list of rules. Do NOT double parking. Do NOT bring illegal drugs onto the premises. Do NOT stick gum under the pews. Do NOT carry on annoying conversations during the service…. I think you get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong; there are times when rules are necessary for the immature. I’m always amused when I hear a parent trying to reason with a two-year old. At that age a child needs a rule and not an explanation. But as that little one grows older, he/she needs to develop an understanding behind the behavior. Try to impose a two-year old’s rules on a teenager and I guarantee that problems will result.

For people to properly mature, a healthy internal motivation for desirable behavior must be developed. If we don’t understand how the Gospel does this, or fail to communicate these things in an understanding, loving manner, all that remains to maintain order is to resort to the gospel of behavior modification. Thus, we’ll find our sermons filled with must’s, should’s and need to’s, while our hearts remain constantly frustrated by the ongoing lack of maturity among our people.

The Gospel of Social Service

Another near miss! There are so many needs in our world, and love will not allow us to close a blind eye. Issues of poverty and injustice carry moral ramifications every bit as much as abortion and sexual immorality.

When we do step out to help the poor and marginalized, why something powerful happens! You know that good feeling you get when you do a good deed for somebody? It’s a form of common grace that God provides for all humans. The result can be awesomely intense experiences in our service to God.

The problem is that we can do these things without actually walking with God. Rather than resting in the power of the cross, we find ourselves seeking validation through the magnitude of our sacrifices. Our lives are defined by a self-validating love—if there is such a thing. This, of course, is a trap for anyone involved in ministry or service; it doesn’t take much impurity to corrupt a small flow of pure water.

It’s amazingly easy for well-intentioned Christian leaders to fall into the Almost Gospel traps. Vigilance and persistence are both necessary even though we’ve been given the most powerful message ever to grace this earth! Through my next several posts I will lay out my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope we’re all both encouraged and challenged!