What’s love got to do with it?

Valentine’s Day is (for many people) about love.

  • But is there a way to know what love really is?
  • Can we fall in love and fall out of love?
  • When someone says, “I love you,” is there a way to know if he means it?

When couples want to be married, they tell me they love each other. When they want to divorce, they tell me they no longer love.

  • Are we victims of love?
  • Can we train ourselves to love?
  • What is love?

Love is indispensable to marriage, family and community. Relationships are miserable when love is absent. But we need an objective way to understand what love looks like. In Scripture, husbands are commanded to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25); Older women are to train younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4) and communities of Christians are to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:35).

The best available description of love is found in fourteen qualities of love listed in I Corinthains 13:4-8. This is one of the most quoted Scriptures in wedding ceremonies. To protect true love, we should often visit this description of it.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).

This is God’s prescription for great relationships!

Did you notice how love is anti-rivalry? It is protective of the one loved. It repudiates destructive conflict. Playful rivalry is not bad, but when a relationship deteriorates, some form of divisive rivalry is almost always involved. Let’s take a closer look at each quality of love.

1. Love is patient: It is bears long with others. It restrains anger when provoked.

2. Love is kind: It reaches out in acts of care and concern for others. Love patiently forebears and (in kindness), actively pursues the good of the one loved. Loving people are distinguished by kindness.

3. Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. An envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied.

4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the desire to call attention to yourself. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It does not need a stage. It does not seek an applause.

5. Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment permits (Romans 12:3).

6. Love is does not dishonor others: It is not rude. It is respectful of others.

7. Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.

8. Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered and short-fused.

9. Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation.

10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: Love rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.

And loves grand finale reminds us that,
“love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.” Love brings everything under its influence — “there is nothing love cannot face” (NEB). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT). Love is tenacious and faithful; brave and noble; love never fails.

Love is “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). “These three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).

Scripture reminds that God’s love was put on display when he loved the undesirable – “when we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus, the Creator, became a creature; the King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the sinless one was made sin for us; the High Priest became the sacrifice. This is love.

Let’s make a habit of evaluating our relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13.

We’ve printed these qualities of love (along with an eight point communication covenant) on laminated cards for easy use. Simply email your mailing address to office@millersvillebiblechurch.org and we will send several copies to you as our gift. Ask for the love cards.

Steve Cornell

How can I know he means it?

“He said I am sorry, but it’s at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to do. I know it’s my Christian duty to forgive and Lord knows I’ve tried! But each time I forgive him, he changes for a little while, and then returns to the same behavior. I have this gut feeling I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes and I just become more angry.”

What should I do?

Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation of a broken relationship is a process conditioned on the attitude and actions of an offender.

Those who commit significant and repeated offenses must realize that their responses and actions affect the timing of the process. Those who are genuinely repentant will accept this fact with brokenness and humility.

Forgiveness and reconciliation should occur together in relation to minor offenses.

Relationships shaped by the gospel are ones where, “love covers a multitude of sins” (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8). People who withhold restoration over minor offenses are lacking genuine love based on God’s grace and forgiveness (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1). Immaturity and manipulation will repeatedly threaten unity where this love is absent.

When we’ve been deeply or repeatedly betrayed, forgiveness does not necessarily require that one immediately grant the same level of relationship back to an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions.

Being forgiven, restored, and trusted again is an amazing experience, but those who deeply and repeatedly hurt others must understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process and timing of rebuilding trust and restoring a broken relationship.

In the act of forgiveness (which is always required by God), we surrender the desire for revenge. We do this in the presence of the God who said, ““It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is first about God. Forgiveness is an act of worship.  

When forgiveness is genuine, an offended person will be open to the possibility of reconciliation. Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and to regain trust (unless safety is at risk).

But when a person has repeatedly behaved in a hurtful and irresponsible ways, he must accept the fact that reconciliation will likely be a slow and difficult process.

Three considerations in the timing of reconciliation

  1. The attitude of the offender
  2. The depth of the betrayal
  3. The pattern of the offense (repeated offenses)

When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is to confirm whether the offender is genuinely repentant (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent a desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. He might even resort to lines of manipulation.

  • “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
  • “You just want to rub it in my face.”
  • “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
  • “I am not the only one who does wrong things, you know?”
  • “Are you some kind of perfect person looking down on me?”
  • “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

These lines of manipulation reveal an unrepentant attitude. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance. When relationships are broken badly, it is best to seek a wise counselor to assist in reconciliation (but only a counselor who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation explained here). 

Carefully and prayerfully use the seven signs of true repentance listed below. Words alone are not enough to restore trust in such cases. True confirmation can be found in the seven signs of true repentance below.

7 signs of genuine repentance

The offender…

  1. Accepts full responsibility for his/her actions (Not, “Since you think I’ve done wrong…” or “If I have done anything to offend you…”).
  2. Accepts accountability from others.
  3. Does not continue in the behavior or anything associated with it.
  4. Does not have a defensive attitude about the wrong he or she has done.
  5. Does not have a light attitude toward the hurtful behavior.
  6. Does not resent doubts about sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity (especially for repeated offenses).
  7. Makes restitution wherever necessary.

Steve Cornell

An Assault on God’s Care

There are only three narratives in the Bible that chronicle the voice of the devil speaking to someone else.

  1. Genesis 3-4 – Satan slandered God to man
  2. Job 1-2 – Satan slandered man to God
  3. Matthew 3-4 – Satan attacked the God-man

In those passages, themes emerge that provide significant insight into the character and strategy of Satan.

One theme that emerges is an explicit effort on the part of the evil one to assault the truth that God cares for His own.

In this audio message, I explore this assault.

Simply click here to listen: Caring For One Another

Steve Cornell

What does maturity look like?

In a class I teach for singles on how to make marriage one of your best decisions, we invest significant time discussing the importance of maturity to a good relationship. 

When I ask the class to describe maturity and immaturity, I encourage them to first examine their own lives before applying anything to others.

We are wise to focus first on becoming the person that your future spouse will need and be blessed with.

I also remind them that behaviors, perspectives and life-patterns rarely appear without a history behind them. Looking closely and honestly at our history is essential to breaking patterns that pass through generations. 

Consider the following characteristics of maturity and use the list for conversation. It’s obviously not an exhaustive description of a mature person, but it offers a starting point.

Ask yourself and others how you would go about learning whether a potential future mate would fit the various characteristics.

  • Not easily angered
  • Not overly sensitive (taking everything personally)
  • Can laugh at himself/herself
  • Avoids childish drama
  • Grateful for small blessings
  • Doesn’t choose a negative perspective
  • Doesn’t major on minors
  • Not narcissistic
  • Not manipulative
  • Patient,
  • Dependable,
  • Takes responsibility for his actions
  • Avoids the blame game
  • Rejects a mentality of victimization
  • Chooses honesty over deception
  • Makes thought out decisions
  • Shows respect to others
  • Practices tolerance
  • Shows compassion with discernment
  • Doesn’t take life too seriously, but takes it seriously enough
  • Willing to look beyond his opinions to empathize with others
  • Knows when to joke and when not to
  • Able to admit when wrong
  • Doesn’t gloat when right
  • A capacity to endure uncertainty
  • Accepts deferred gratification
  • Doesn’t take for granted important things
  •  Forgives without enabling

Steve Cornell

A perpetual dialogue of gratitude

large_be-grateful-titleBlessed Thanksgiving to all!

Even if you live in parts of the world where this national holiday is not celebrated, please join us in giving thanks! God’s call for all of us is to be an extravagantly grateful people. When our gratitude diminishes, our joy goes with it, and life becomes a more difficult journey.

Reflect for a moment on a few points about gratitude from Scripture.

1. A moderately grateful person or Church is not walking in the will of God, by the power of the Spirit of God or in the way of love.

  • The will of God – “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
  • The Spirit-filled life – be filled with the Spirit … always giving thanks to God the Father for everythingin the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18, 20).
  • The life of love – “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (I Corinthians 13:7, NLT).

2. A grumbler and faultfinder is certainly not a hope-filled witness to the good news of what God has done for us through Christ.

  • “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:14-15, NLT)
  • “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 16).

Some final thoughts on thankfulness

  • The Christian life cannot be lived as God intended apart from a perpetual dialogue of gratitude toward God and others. Initiate an intentional dialogue of thankfulness today. Start with a purposeful week of gratitude ands watch how it grows. What if God made you live today on only those things you thanked Him for yesterday? 
  • We all have bad days when we’re not the most cheerful persons. And there are proper ways to express disappointment. Yet we need to become more mindful of our witness for Christ if our attitudes are creating a negative reputation.
  • Those who walk in God’s will are distinguished by a grateful and gracious disposition. How can we expect people to believe our message of hope when our lives do not reflect hope? How can grouchy people share a gospel of grace? So if you’re a critical, crabby, grumpy grumbler, please don’t tell people you’re a follower of Jesus Christ.
  • Have you become a moderately grateful person? Are you slow to give thanks and quick to complain? Your heart has drifted from the Lord if you fit these descriptions.
  • I invite you to turn to the one who can restore the joy of your salvation and learn to be amazed each day that God, “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).
  • Remind yourself each day of something that cannot be changed no matter the circumstances of this life — “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21).

with gratitude,

Steve Cornell 

The God of the vulnerable

Reflect deeply on the way God is revealed in both His greatness and His love for the vulnerable. (Audio version here)

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. …. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:14-19).

Great thoughts on this subject “The gods that the ancient world worshipped were concerned with great people — the mighty and cunning, the swift and the gorgeous. The rest of humanity served as a backdrop — bit players, foils, and inconsequential fodder for the grand plans of kings, generals, and deities. Not so with the God of the Bible. We see God’s strange interest in the people on the margins carved upon every page of Scripture. It was evident in Yahweh’s selection of a nation of slaves to be his special people. It echoed in his choice of sheep-tenders to be the first to hear news of the Incarnation. We may miss how odd it actually is because we live in a culture that is deeply shaped by Christian assumptions. Though it is often violated, to care for the weak and vulnerable remains a Western virtue. This generally wasn’t the case in the cultures that surrounded Jewish and early Christian communities. Like modern Social Darwinists, ancient societies typically saw weakness as unworthiness to live. As the Roman philosopher Seneca described Roman culture during Jesus’ time, “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Consider then the marvel of a God who not only tolerates the feeble and lowly, but places special premium on defending and caring for them. What a contrast. We see God, the most potent and self-sufficient Power imaginable, continually expressing profound concern for the least potent and self-sufficient — the orphan in distress. The Law describes, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow …” (Deuteronomy 10:18 NIV). The Prophets echo the same truth: “For in you the fatherless find compassion” (Hosea 14:3b). And, again, in the psalms, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families …” (Psalm 68:5-6). As we grasp this outlandish, beautiful reality, we encounter the truth of God’s father heart. It pulses not only for the orphan, but for each of us as well. He pursued us when we were destitute and alone. He adopted us as his children. He invites us to call him “Abba” and to live as his daughters and sons. Of course, we must not miss the fact that God calls his people to do the same. We are to live out “pure and faultless religion” by caring for the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27). As we do this, we reveal God’s heart to the world. Whether by adoption or foster care or mentoring or supporting the local Church in care for orphans around the globe, we display that astonishing reality that the Great One cares passionately for the least. And in the process, we experience God’s heart more deeply ourselves as well — a peculiar, marvelous love for the orphan. A peculiar, marvelous love for us” (Rick Warren). This is our God

  • “A father to the fatherless, a defender of   widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalms 68:5).
  • “Though my father and mother forsake me,
 the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10).

A call to be like our God

  • “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3).
  • “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, …” (Jeremiah 22:3).
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”                                                        (James 1:27).
  • “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Steve Cornell

Grace and Responsibility

Does grace lead to responsibility?

When people genuinely experience God’s grace should it make a difference in their lives? Is grace transforming? 

Jesus told a story that made a profound and urgent connection of grace with responsibility. It’s a familiar story, perhaps too familiar. It’s the parable of the unmerciful servant. One New Testament scholar suggested that this story “is possibly the most forceful expression of how Christians should live” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent).

The parable of the unmerciful servant only appears in the gospel of Matthew and follows a question the apostle Peter asked about how many times he should forgive a person who sins against him (Matthew 18:21-22).

Before Peter asked this question, Jesus taught his followers to confront a brother or sister who sins against them. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). The goal of this confrontation is to address the offense that divides them with hope of restoring a broken relationship. 

If private confrontation is rejected, Jesus taught that it should involve others and could possibly, if repeatedly rejected, lead to a change in the relationship. “If they still refuse to listen,” Jesus said, “tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

After this instruction, Jesus taught about the far reaching extent of forgiveness. Peter 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 (Matthew 18:21-22).

Jesus’ parable contrasted an unimaginable act of forgiveness by a merciful King who released his servant from a massive debt (Matthew 18:23-27) with an unmerciful act of the servant who had just been forgiven (Matthew 18:28-30).

At this point the story takes a dramatic turn. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:31-35).

Jesus used an extreme amount of debt to make the point that we will never be able to earn or deserve forgiveness and that we are hopeless doomed apart from the mercy and forgiveness of God.

Two truths 

  1. We will never forgive others any where close to the extent that we have been forgiven by God.
  2.  Forgiven people who withhold mercy and forgiveness from others are not going to do well with God (v. 35).

A disturbing question – The parable raises a question about the role of works and obedience in relation to God. 

Q. Are God’s mercy and forgiveness conditioned on or withdrawn from us based on our mercy and forgiveness toward others?

  • Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
  • Matthew 6:14-15 – “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
  • Mark 11:25 – “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Three essential facts

  1. We cannot earn or deserve God’s forgiveness by forgiving others.
  2. God’s forgiveness of our sins is the basis for our forgiveness of others.
  3. God expects forgiven people to forgive and they will (Eph. 4:31-32; Colo. 3:13).

Ethical motivation

The ethical motivation for Christian forgiveness and for treatment of others is responsive and reflective.

1. Responsive to God’s prior action toward us in mercy, forgiveness and love

I John 4:16-19 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment …. We love because he first loved us.”

2. Reflective of God’s prior action toward us in mercy, forgiveness and love

  • Luke 6:35-36 – “But love your enemies, do good to them, …Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
  • Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
  • Colossians 3:13 – “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
  • Ephesians 5:1-2 – “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Summary thoughts (from “Stories With Intent” by Klyne Snodgrass, pp. 74-76)

“The community cannot tolerate sin without confrontation and reproof, but must always love and forgive without limits… Sin has disastrous and eternal consequences, confrontation and discipline are necessary, and excommunication from the community is a real possibility. At the same time, God searches out those who stray and wills that none be lost, and the community can lay no bounds to its forgiveness or forget that its forgiveness is modeled on God’s forgiveness of its members’ own much larger debt.

We … feel the tension we feel between reproof and love…  Matthew has insisted that the community address seriously issues of obedience and sin, if possible in discrete ways, even if that leads to starting all over with those it rebukes, treating them as outsiders.  At the same time…insisted that humility and forgiveness dominate the efforts.”

“The parable prevents any presuming on grace. The church has often presented a grace that did not have to be taken seriously, but biblical grace is transforming grace. When you get the gift, you get the Giver, who will not let you go your way.”

“All the focus on obedience, however, is based in God’s prior action. The indicative of God’s forgiveness precedes the imperative of our response. …the ethic is a responsive ethic, a response to God’s grace and calling.”

“The fear of works righteousness is far too exaggerated. Would that there were an equal fear of being found inactive. Works righteousness is not the problem of most modern Christians. We would do better to realize that if we do not work, we are not righteous.”

“In the end we should recognize that God is the only one who ultimately can hold humanity accountable.  The concern of the parable is God’s forgiveness and the seriousness of failing to mirror God’s mercy, not an atonement theology or a general discussion of judgment.”

“God’s mercy must not be treated cavalierly. Mercy is not effectively received unless it is shown, for God’s mercy transforms. If God’s mercy does not take root in the heart, it is not experienced. Forgiveness not shown is forgiveness not known.”

“…grace always brings with it responsibility. The forgiveness of God must be replicated in the lives of the forgiven, and the warning is clear. Where forgiveness is not extended, people will be held accountable.”

[If only the church] “spoke truth taking care to guard the privacy of the offender as much as possible without ignoring the sin, set no limits for forgiveness, and emphasized the necessity of a forgiveness modeled on God’s own forgiveness, knowing that judgment is severe for those who do not forgive?”

“The message of this parable is badly needed by churches and individuals who live in a society where people insist on standing on their rights and division marks our churches, families, and societies. The teaching of the parable is counterintuitive, but it is possibly the most forceful expression of how Christians should live. Christian living—rather than insisting on rights—should be a continual dispensing of mercy and forgiveness, mirroring God’s own character and treatment of his people.”

“Society also cheapens forgiveness so that sin is treated lightly, but the focus on judgment in Jesus’ parables warns that forgiveness brings with it a call for reform. If forgiveness does not effect change, it is not experienced.”

Steve Cornell