Only on the Only – Love Is the Answer
by Fred Pruitt
(The core of this below was written initially to a good friend regarding whether we were seeing a particular facet of the truth the same way, but as often happens, it ended up being greatly expanded when I thought about posting it.)
… I’ll share your word with you! It’s the same with any of us, isn’t it? I mean, we run full-on in the green light! God sorts it all out! I’m glad we don’t have to get together like a committee or something and have to figure out what is “right” for us to believe! Norman used to say “Major on the major,” but I’ll expand that and say, “Only on the Only!” What do we have except God Only? What else is there or could there be?
Let’s consider this:
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” (1 Jn 4:7-13).
In the previous chapters of this letter, John solidly promotes Jesus Christ, “in the flesh,” as the bedrock Truth of the gospel. Without negating the truth that “Jesus Christ [is] come in the flesh,” which stands alone as truth needing nothing other than the statement of its fact, is another further truth, that is both a fulfillment of the truth that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and at the same time stands alone as Truth, needing no other witness except itself. This further truth is simply this: “For love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”
All the years I have read that passage, it has seemed in a sense to stand alone – that he who loves is “born of God.” Wow! Now, that is something! John is basically equating the expression of genuine “for others” love (and I’m certain that’s the kind of love he means), with knowing God! That IS knowing God, John is bold to say!
If we do not know love, we DO NOT KNOW GOD, he says! We’re caught, one way or the other! But most especially the one who professes to be a “Christian” is caught, the “Christian” who thinks his correct “beliefs about Jesus Christ” are his salvation, and at the same time it is others’ incorrect “beliefs about Jesus Christ,” that are the cause of their destruction. What John is saying to us, is that the gospel’s effect in us is a new love. We have loved ourselves only, and others as they are an advantage to us, but when Christ comes in He brings His love, so that we are unable to help ourselves being overtaken by this love, and it automatically flows outward from us, as Paul said, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom 5:5).
The first thing most of us experience in Christ, is that exchange of “loves.” As I said, we had loved ourselves only, but in Christ, a new love overtakes us, that begins with loving God as He is in Himself. And at the same time, we experience a new love for other people, too! We cannot help it, because just as selfishness and self-love were natural to us before when we lived in the kingdom of darkness, in the same way self-for-others love flows out of us naturally, because of the One Who is within us.
But what of those who do not profess Christ, as we have been discussing? Can they love like that? Here is what Paul says: “For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law … it shows the work of the law written in their hearts,” Rom 2:14.
Who might fit that bill? What about Rahab, the whore, who sheltered the spies sent by Joshua to Jericho? She appears in the list of famous faith people in Hebrews 11. A whore. Someone who had sex for money.
Or perhaps, “the Good Samaritan?” Samaritans were considered heretics from Judaism, since they were a mixed people, probably partly Canaanite and partly some of the lost tribes, and from the days of the northern kingdom had allowed the faith of Israel to be corrupted with Canaanite deities and beliefs. Yet Jesus points out this outcast-heretic and racially-mixed man as the example of a man who showed love to his neighbor, even when the pious and holy priests and Levites of Israel, who knew the scriptures from A-Z as well as the correct orthodox interpretations, passed him by in disgust, leaving him wounded and bleeding by the side of the road. In the Apostle John’s terms, the Samaritan’s loving act was the expression of God’s love, God loving by means of the Samaritan, something any Jew of the day would have found preposterous. Almost as preposterous, perhaps, as some of us modern-day evangelicals would be hard pressed to believe that love such as that could come from a homosexual, or a Muslim, or a Communist.
I can hear the questions and objections forming: “Are you saying a non-Christian can exhibit God’s love and know God through that love, even without confessing Jesus? Is that not “justification by works?”
I do not know how to answer that question. Partly because this has never been about theology to me. Perhaps in a sense it started out that way, if we consider seeking the truth about Jesus of Nazareth, whether or not he was the Christ, to be “theology.”
I was looking for the “right” answer – is Jesus the One, or not? I did not just want to know; I hadto know! And when it finally took me that yes, indeed, Jesus IS the Christ, the Son of the Living God, it did not come as theology, but as Light from heaven, as the Living Word of God. Not as intense or in the world of the senses as much as Paul may have experienced, but just as real and just as forcibly. Because once the revelation came, and took me over, Eternal Life became me, and not one thing has been the same since. From that moment on something changed – my “conversation” had previously been in the wrath (self-oriented continual discontent, unfulfilled desire, unrelenting loneliness, spiritual bleakness and fear), but the Water of Life cooled the wrath, so that my conversation from then on was in heaven. (Phil 3:20).
I had not been looking for the right “intellectual” answer. I had already rejected that path, and had gone seeking through the eastern “experiential” route.
Most Christians I knew back then did not seem to be alive in their beliefs, to me. (I was in no position to “judge” correctly, but that was how I perceived things then.) I was not looking for the right set of beliefs to put my check mark by, but the answer to life, and I knew it was something I had to live and experience rather than a rote set of beliefs on which to hang my religious hat.
The disciples were always wanting to know “who” is saved and who is not. (Not much has changed in that regard since then.) But it was hard to pin Jesus down on stuff like that.
Luke 9:49,50 – “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
Matthew 12:30 – “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”
They’re thinking – “Ok, Jesus, let’s see if we can get what you’re saying here. He that isn’t against us is for us, and we do not discourage them, right?”
“Yes,” Jesus answers.
Then they ask, “Alright, you also said that he who isn’t with us, is against us, correct?”
“Yes again,” Jesus replies. “Any other questions?”
“UHH …. no,” the disciples moan as they walk off to think about it.
Interesting choice of words Paul uses, “the ‘work’ of the law written in their hearts.” The “work?” To me it means something more than just the concept that everyone in the world knows good and evil or right and wrong, even though I believe that is true. The “work” of the law “written” in “THEIR” hearts! Paul is neither speaking about the Jews nor Gentile converts here. He is speaking of Gentiles who are living outside the covenant, who have yet to believe in Jesus Christ, and of THOSE people, he says the law is written in THEIR hearts!
The “work of the law” Paul refers to, means that the law, in those particular people, has not remained in them as if just a code written on tables of stone and put up in the courthouse of our town, to be admired as our founding tradition and ignored in practice, but that it has done something, it has had an “effect.”
The effect comes as a result of their “doing by nature the things contained in the law.” Oh, no! There’s that “doing” word again. Are we returning to “works” again? No, I am saying that the “work” of the law written in their hearts causes them to “do by nature,” i.e., doing it naturally, not by self-effort, but as an expression of the inner law in their hearts. Paul does not say all Gentiles do this. He simply witnesses that those who do, show or demonstrate, that even without a codified outer written law, it is still written in them inwardly, in a discernible way. And, that it has accomplished a “work” in those individuals. The “work” is, they are not living the law as an attempt to be obedient, but as an outer expression of that which had apprehended them inwardly.
Then this “inner law written on their hearts” begins to almost sound like one of the major themes of the New Testament, from Jeremiah 31:33,“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
One could say, well, they’re not of the house of Israel, and I would say, neither am I, according to the flesh. But the true Israel is not the flesh children of Abraham, but the ones who are circumcised in the heart! God knows who they are.
Am I saying those folks are saved? No, I am just pointing out what the scripture says. God holds the mystery of each person’s salvation within Himself, and in each individual.
People are always asking “who is saved and who is not” questions. It seems to be a major preoccupation with some. But I learned early on that is God’s business. I am not in an office in which I can judge that. Understand my meaning, please. Certainly we are aware when we are with people who have no thought or heart for God, but making that determination is not the point. We cannot size other people up like that, ultimately.
I found that out in the very beginning of my Christian life, when I attended a friend’s church. At the end of the service, when I came to shake hands with the Pastor in the line going out, I thought I would mention my wife’s father was a Baptist minister. That Pastor laughed and said, “He ain’t saved, then!” That was good education for me. I had thought all Christians were one big happy family.
I don’t know why I’m running in this direction, well, maybe I do. It’s because this life we live is a reality, and not a mechanical expression of our doctrinal beliefs. We receive people loving them all the same as if they are Jesus Christ coming to visit us. Love is indiscriminate regarding its recipients. In other words, the same loves goes out to all, without partiality toward who to love, with no consideration of advantage or disadvantage to the lover, but only that its recipient be “loved.” Ah, but where we see the love pop up in response, would that not be a smoking flax or a bruised reed, a “small” fire-life that needs to be fanned, not snuffed out, or someone bruised and broken, with only a little life left?
The Prodigal Son was justified and fully restored in the moment of his inner turn. The moment he “came to his senses” in the pig sty, and decided to return home to his father, even if in shame for his wastefulness and riotous living, was the moment his life became wholly new. As I have written somewhere else, that if we had met him on the road when he was returning to his father, probably we would have just seen a destitute man, overcome by all the trials of life and almost destroyed. He would smell like pigs and everything that goes with them. We would not think he had new life, but we would have been wrong. Appearances are not the best judge of truth.
This is why it is so important that we see through to Christ in everyone. Even though my “theology” (that I share with others) says that those who have not come to the new birth yet, still live in the inner wrath of the evil one, I have never seen people that way in practice. Instead, my “theology” equally says, the He is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9). To see them in my faith’s vision as Christ, rather than Satan, seems to me to do them a service. To hold them in my faith’s vision as Satan, can only tend to make more concrete that which I would like to see dissolved. Where is my faith? Are we not as Abraham, who called things that did not exist, as existing? I see Christ!
And I also take to heart Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, (2 Tim 2:24-25):
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive [be quarrelsome]; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
I think it has taken me almost all this time to become human, which, for me, is too see people. I’ve had a lifelong case of the “see-ats.” It is like looking at people as a flat, two dimensional image, in relation to me. I see and “get,” mostly what’s on the surface. To “see at” them. Norman always used to say, “Don’t be a see-ater, be a see-througher!” He meant, see through whatever it is to God at the center.
But the vision the Spirit gives fills in a lot more detail, too. I start with not “seeing-at” the situation, by seeing through to God, who purposes everything for our good. But the Spirit also fills in the landscape more, too. Because I learned to not just “see-at” the situation, but also to not just “see-at” the people. Every person is a reservoir of something divine that can be brought out. Every person is precious in the Lord and to the Lord and to us. Everyone has something to be, do and give. No one is unimportant. Everyone has a story, their own story, and we long to communicate with all that their their own story is God’s story in them. Whatever our story has been, when we discover God in the whole history of our lives, even in the days when we did not consciously “know” Him, we begin to realize that every facet of our story has always been, still is and always will be, the Life of Christ in us, in the world. Then we realize ultimately that God has always intended for us to be “bread for others,” that others might eat Life from us, and come alive themselves!
I read a book back in the 90s called “A Far Off Place,” about an adolescent white boy who through a series of circumstances found himself living with Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. Besides the Bushmen, there were also other Africans as integral parts of the story, and they had the most interesting greeting of each other. Instead of saying, “Hello, how are you doing?” as we would in our western ways, they would say, “I see you!” In other words, it meant, “I recognize you, I respect you, I value you, I know you are there and that you are a man like me.”
So I think here then we come back to the John passage above. He is basically telling us, first the truth of Jesus Christ and His Life in us, while at the same time telling us, in modern vernacular, “Look folks, all that stuff about Christ in you and the Spirit being your teacher is true, but you’ve got to get it out of your head like it’s just a bunch of dead beliefs that are just that – our beliefs – and realize this is your everyday life, with real people, real situations, and the true and right expression of these things you have come to believe, come out in your everyday life as you go around loving others, which is being Him in expression.”
Love may expend itself, but it cannot give up its reward. Its reward is to get to see the Beloved in the beloveds.
As Job said:
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27).