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The Bible: Rule Book or Love Letter?

That we have been forgiven, gratis, of all our sins, past, present and future, is a truth beyond our immediate comprehension. The reason we have difficulty accepting such “child-truth” is because we do not really know what God is like.
The way that the bible has been taught to us; as a book of rules rather than a love letter we have come to believe that there are certain people whom God likes and dislikes, and have been encouraged to cultivate types of behaviour that will please Him, but we do not know Him. We know about Him and have even seen His acts, but we do not know His ways.
And this is what makes the Apostle John’s second characteristic of the Child Phase so interesting. The apostle simply and matter‐ of‐factly says that the Little Child “knows the Father.”
What do little children, who have the privilege of being raised in a healthy family environment, know about their father? I think the answer is simple – they love and trust their dad. Although they know only some details about their father (what he does, what his middle name is and such), that does not prevent them from trusting their father totally and unquestioningly.
When my children were growing up they followed a ritual which used to absolutely terrify me every evening when I came home from work. Regardless of what I might be carrying or doing, as soon as they heard my arrival, they would come flying out of their bedroom where they had been playing and hurl themselves down the stairs screaming, “Daddy!” When I say “hurl” I really mean hurl – they would literally fly through the air at me. They took it for granted that I would catch them. I do not think it ever occurred to them that I would not, after all, I was their Daddy. I can tell you there was more than one occasion when I thought that their confidence was misplaced. But that is never the case with God. Lit‐ tle wonder that the Lord should say to the disciples,
“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not ...”
(Matt. 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16 KJV).
God can be trusted. We can place our confidence in Him because of who He is.
I must tell you that my entire Christian experience changed in an instant the very moment I knew the Father. I can say for the first time in my life that I felt safe and sound. When I was perusing John 4 one day, I came across something that I had read many times before, but it was as though I had seen it for the first time in my life. And it stunned me. In the eighth verse, the Apostle John makes this startling statement: “God is love.” Notice that he did not say, “God loves” but rather, “God is Love”. I knew from thereon that I would be unable to separate my understanding of God from my understanding of love. If God is love, I thought, what then is love?
In my book, The Bonsai Conspiracy, there is a chapter entitled What’s Love Got To Do With It? which provides a full discussion on this most critical statement – God is love. Nothing in my life to date had prepared me to engage with the depth of this state‐ ment. The best I had known hitherto was a tainted self‐love; an agenda‐stained love. Most of us are familiar with the brand of love that effectively says to us, “I love you because I need you.” What we are to discover is a love that says, “I need you because I love you.”
There are only two words in the Bible where each word merits a chapter dedicated entirely to describing it: Faith (Hebrews 11) and Love (1 Corinthians 13). Faith is the revelation of the second phase of the Christian life (the “Young Man” phase), but love is the foun‐ dation without which all faith and all activity are worthless. The realisation that God is love ought to thrill our souls and cause us to soar, to run and not grow weary, to walk and not grow faint. Sadly, for some (if not, all) of us, the concept of love causes us to hesi‐ tate. We are cautious of it, suspicious even. That, I would suggest, is due to our becoming more accustomed to the counterfeit rather than the real thing where experience triumphs over hope resulting in our tendency to withdraw, to be compulsive, inhibited, rejected, disdainful and to mistrust. These fear‐inducing introjections have caused us to run from, and not run to, God.
Let us remind ourselves of the Apostle Paul’s poetic definition of the nature of love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove moun- tains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 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. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13)
When the Apostle John wanted to ascribe a word to capture the essence of what the Apostle Paul described as the nature of love, he did not rely on the classical Greek words phileo and eros. To the Apostle John these two were inadequate. In fact, eros would become the antithesis of the word that he would use for love. Eros is lust (self‐love) and not other‐love.
You’ll be familiar with the image of Cupid who is depicted with a bow and arrow. These arrows are the flaming darts of the enemy for which we have the shield of faith to deflect the sting. The word eros literally means, “I desire for myself the highest and the best”. So, instead of the eros, the apostle chose an unused Greek word, agapé to convey his meaning. Agapé means, “I desire for others the highest and the best”. Agapé is “me for others” and this agapé is as absurd as it is outrageous. To the religious mind, it is risible but yet, it is the truth about the God of the Christian Bible.
God is love and God loves us and His love is unconditional. To love us is both His heart’s desire and His fixed choice. Agapé finds its meaning, purpose and fulfilment not in acquiring all it can for itself, but in being all it is for others. It is in giving and not getting that agapé finds its fulfilment.
I believe that the Apostle Paul (who is by his own admission a master builder – 1 Corinthians 3:10), rather than pouring these characteristics into a bowl like some pleasant smelling potpourri, has in fact thoughtfully placed them in ascending order. Indeed, each of the characteristics not only builds the profile of agapé but equally importantly, completes, step by step, an ascent of Mount Carmel until we finally arrive at the breathtaking summit.
Agapé is patient is kind cannot envy does not boast is not proud is not rude is not self‐seeking is unprovokable keeps no records of wrongs thinks no evil rejoices in the truth bears all things believes all things always hopes always perseveres never fails Because as a Child we “know the Father” and the Father is, in the essence of His Being, love, I want to spend the following chapters journeying together with the Apostle Paul through each of the characteristics of agapé. Through understanding these different facets of love we will come to a greater understanding of the nature of the Father and how He views each one of us.
I would ask you not to rush, but to take time to admire the view at each vantage point. To help you, I have provided a series of personal reflection questions at the end of each characteristic. Take time to ponder the questions and grasp the enormity of each staging post.
Th characteristics of love a described in full in my book Safe & Sound
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