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By Michael Hawkinson

1 Corinthians 13 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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."

The main block to unity is a lack of real love. We have discussed religion and its false righteousness, fake love, phony faith and forced works. The lack of love among the religious has been clearly discussed from many angles. I would like to take some time to look at the positive side of the unity that Jesus demanded of us, his followers.

The major confusion to us today comes from seeming contradictions. For the sake of simplicity I will use you and I as an example. Although it is true that I am to love you and you are to love me. That I am to submit to you and you are to submit to me. That you are to encourage, help, admonish, exhort, build up, care for and pray for me (and vice versa) ... The problem occurs when one of us demands these things from the other. That is where relationship and religion sharply divide.

What is the contradiction? Well, in a nut shell it is loving others who try our patience, disagree with us, worship differently or generally do not like us. What is the answer? There is only one answer. Love.

1 John 4:7,8 "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."

There are no clearer words than those of John. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." We are told to love our enemies. To give to them without expecting return. We are told to pray for those who persecute, turn our other cheek to those who strike us, give more than what is asked for and to love our neighbor as ourself. We are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty. The scriptures which show us how to love and what is expected are too numerous to ignore and yet too often we fall into the trap of religion and find reasons to withhold the love commanded of us.

Love is patient. Are you patient? Really? When family or friends are not on time, do you lose your temper? When you order something from Fingerhut and it takes 4 months to get it, do you let customer service know how you feel? When God is working on someones heart to spend more time with Him do you harp at them about praying or reading the Bible? Patient does not mean apathy. Patience means praying, helping, listening, sharing and not giving up on those who resist fellowshipping, struggle with bad habits, who do not like us or think us fanatics and even those who are trapped by religion. If God has not given up on them, should we? We run across people every day who try our patience. Have you stood in a 10 item line behind someone with 15 items? How about waiting for help from someone on the phone who is obviously on a personal call? Ever been in a long line at the bank with a teller who seems to have nothing to do but won't say "Next!" Whenever we worry about time, remember that Jesus let Lazarus die even though He could have rushed over and been there to heal him before he was buried. Take time to pray, ask yourself, "what can I do with this time?" If there are others around, try being friendly. If you are alone, get out your new testament and read a few verses.

Love is kind. (Also: It is not rude) Now here is a tough one. Mind you that I am not saying that any of these things are easy, at least not all of the time. Kindness. How easy is it to snap at someone? Especially those we love and yet who are around us all the time. Being kind takes some time. There are many ways to show kindness. There are many tasks we do every day and others that need to be done once in awhile. A simple thank you, a smile, a few minutes to share something positive, a "Good morning!" or even a hug can mean a lot. In this age of tensions, expectations and division--kindness goes a long way. Cards, emails, taking out the trash, cleaning your room, making dinner, etc. There are many ways to show kindness.

Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. If you are like me, by this time you are realizing that you are going to spend the rest of your life trying to do these things. (Not to mention trying to remember them!) Envying others is always a mistake. God made us and we have as much potential to serve him and have joy as anyone else. It is very easy to take credit for the blessings, abilities and skills we have... but easy and wise are two different things entirely. I think one of the most beautiful Psalms to those who envy is Psalm 73. Take some time to read it and think about what it says.

Psalm 73 "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, "How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?" This is what the wicked are like-always carefree, they increase in wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds."

It is not self-seeking. We are constantly around others. Family, friends, co-workers.. we are never far from the "maddening crowd." It is easy when serving others to tire and ask "When is it my turn?" I am sure Jesus had the right to think it many times and yet He did not decide to seek what was easiest for Him. An interesting thing is that many times we find our greatest joy in serving others rather than being served. While being served seems great at times, if it continues then it becomes taken for granted and we lose the gratitude and appreciation that makes being served a joy. On the other hand even if we love and yet think our service is unappreciated... then we tire of serving. But I want to tell you that you are never unappreciated. "Wait!" you say, "but people do not always appreciate us!" Yes that is true. But God does and He is very proud of us. It is God who puts love in our hearts and love which is at work in our lives giving us hope and joy in every circumstance. There is never a time that we can say we are unappreciated. As the Psalm above said, "And earth has nothing I desire besides you." and that includes the praise of others.

It is not easily angered (it keeps no record of wrongs.) Jesus told Peter, forgive 70 times 7. Yet we all know that He wants us to always forgive wrongs against us. In the famous prayer He taught, it says "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Those words have brought me to me knees many times. I know I cannot hold a grudge or be bitter about any action against me no matter how horrible. I must forgive. I must not let the sun go down on my anger. We all have pasts. We all hide things in our lives. Maybe not from everyone. What I am saying is that we do not drag out "the dirty laundry" for all to see every time. It is not necessary to do so, although we do need to be open and honest about our needs and struggles for God to work on our hearts and for God to work through others. People fail. You will be at peace if you do not tally up those mistakes. (And "people" includes you! Do not tally your failures... confess them to God!)

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. We do not find joy in or accept that which is evil. We do not rejoice when "they get their just desserts" or when "they reap what they sow." We rejoice when the wicked repent and when anyone comes to know the truth! What awesome joy when one can forgive those who repent. It is not God's will that the wicked perish, but rather that they would repent and be saved. As a side note, since truth always exists, should not we always be rejoicing? Evil never really triumphs. It may feel like it some times, but it is an illusion. Understanding love changes our perspective on many things.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. When we do not protect, when we stop trusting, when we lose hope or when we fail to persevere... we have failed to love and "Love never fails." We have forgotten God. I know that always is one of those words that makes any action seem impossible, but one day we will be like Him. Perservering means continuing against the odds or in spite of resistance. Failures and mistakes, by us and others, are not the defeat of God... they are the reason for God's plan and the very of the reason that God's love (from Him and in us) is so absolutely necessary. What does taking apart Paul's definition of love have to do with unity? Unity occurs when one loves another so much that the interests of another supercede our own selfishness. The only way to love someone that much in the right way is to love them as God does. To understand that "God is love." and to learn that to be obedient to God is to love. Many people love others and make sacrifices, but it is for an ulterior motive that involves some kind of gain for themselves. It is love which allows us to have the ability to listen, the compassion to help, the patience to endure, the selflessness to give, the kindness to forgive, the courage to protect, the faith to trust, the peace to hope and the grace to persevere. Without love we will fail in true unity and all apparent unity is but a lie and a game. It is but religion and does not have the ability to please God. It is on the basis on love that all unity must be built. Not false love, self love or love of anything other than God. In the coming months, each article will illustrate true love from false and hopefully help us to see how to deal with the challenges of todays religion.


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