© 2018, Charles A. Clough
Our Relationship with God in 2018: Estranged or Intimate?
A Study of the Character of God as He has Revealed Himself
vs. the Substitute Idols of our Neo-Pagan Culture
God Alone has a Demonstrated PERFECT LOVE
2018 North Stonington Bible Church Labor Day Conference
Charles Clough Lesson #05
September 2, 2018
[Note: The slide numbers referenced throughout refer to the
number in the lower right corner of the slides]
I’m going to list now our deep inner needs because we are made in God’s image, we’re not God, but we’re made in His image, and so there’s an affinity, or maybe we could use the word “resonate”—His attributes resonate at a deep level in our hearts. So, here’s one attribute: assurance that someone is in charge of reality; now what attribute is behind that one? The first one: God is sovereign, and so it’s assurance that someone is in charge.
Notice, Someone, a person; there is a personality in charge, not a group of natural laws that’s the final determiner of the way history works out. Someone is in charge, and we need to know that. We want to know that. And when we are deprived of this in a secular mindset, at a certain deep level in our hearts we are not assured. We need to know, not only is there an order and a process, but there’s somebody behind the order and the process, because we’re people, we’re not “its,” we’re not molecules—we’re beyond that. So, we’ve got the answer to something.
Then we have another need: we need a transcendental standard of right and wrong. It can’t be my idea or your idea or the latest Gallup poll idea of what is right and wrong because we intuitively sense that that changes. We can’t have a standard of right and wrong that’s changing all the time. We need that stability. So there’s a need for a transcendent standard of right and wrong. Well, what’s that? What attribute satisfies that? God’s righteousness—God is holy, God is righteous, and that attribute answers this deep need.
Then we can come to a third one: the hope that ultimate justice will be done. We are never satisfied with injustice. At a certain level it bugs us to see injustice. It’s ironic that in his recent book, Ravi Zacharias has pointed out that he’s dealing with the new atheists. Here’s what he writes about this: “With God denied and evil necessarily gone.” Notice what he is saying here: if you deny God, you’ve denied the transcendent source of right and wrong.
So he says: “With God denied and evil necessarily gone, justice will soon be a thing of the past, as the very generation that cries out for justice has empowered legions of thugs to behave unjustly when their own desires are jeopardized. This is a society without moral moorings. Such are the shenanigans we play in the name of reason.” (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods, pg.47)
So these are needs, these are basic needs, and our secular society can’t meet them. It’s not that even that it won’t meet them; it’s just that it can’t even if it tried to meet them. There’s no basis for it. The hope that ultimate justice will be done, you can only get that from God’s eschatology. That’s why eschatology is so important.
That’s God’s justice. So now we’ve got God’s sovereignty, we’ve got His righteousness, we’ve got His justice. These are satisfying our deep needs. Then we have God’s omniscience—confidence that it’s possible to know real, enduring truths. If we don’t have the assurance that thinking about things, discussing things, doesn’t lead to truth, what’s the sense of even expending the effort to find truth if it’s not worthwhile, if it’s not going to be around? Where is the incentive to learn? The very incentive to learn presupposes there’s truth out there worth learning. God’s omniscience is a foundation found nowhere else. There’s no other source of this kind of assurance that it’s possible to know real, enduring truths.
We have another one: the assurance that the laws of logic in nature stay the same and that those we interact with have a reasonable degree of stability. We need stability; we need to know things don’t change. What attribute of God is that? God is immutable: “I am the same yesterday today and forever,” Hebrews 13:8.
In Heaven, in eternity; just think about this for a moment, just use your imagination. Say by the time we die to the time that we have resurrection bodies and so on, whatever the final state we’re talking about, for the next, say, 10,000 years, we’ll have an opportunity to talk to some of the characters of the Bible. They might sit and discuss with us, and probably at some point they’re going to say, if we ask questions say of Moses or Isaiah or someone, they’ll probably say back to us, “Well, didn’t you read my book?”
But the point is that in these imaginative conversations in eternity, when they describe their relationship with God, it’s not going to be foreign to us because they have a relationship with the same God we have. There will be a fundamental unity among the people in the ultimate and eternal kingdom of God. We all know the same Person, and it will strike us, I think, as very refreshing to know that knowing the Lord, it’s the same Lord of the Old Testament. We have a little bit more revelation in the New Testament but it’s about the same Person.
These are the five attributes that we’ve gone over and tonight we’re going to look at the attribute of love. We want to introduce that, again by referring to the story I told on Saturday about a friend of mine who was on a train in Europe, and he and his buddy were talking to a Hindu on the train and they developed a conversation and they had rapport. Then they decided that they’d move the conversation what are some of the differences between Christianity and Hinduism?
They were going through different aspects of it until they raised the issue in the conversation about Jesus Christ dying for our sins, Jesus being God incarnate, and when they got into that area of the conversation the Hindu looks at them and he stops them in the middle of the sentence: “That’s the difference! That’s the difference! None of our gods ever died for us.” That struck him as very fascinating; that here you have a pagan worshiping thousands of gods—they’re all over the place in Hinduism—in the thought; and he says of all the hundreds and hundreds and thousands of gods, none of them, none of them, ever died for us. So central to the Christian faith is the death of Christ.
When we look at special revelation, because that’s always our first stand here, we are starting to deny the satanic thing: God hasn’t said; well God has said, and we’re going to listen to what God has said about Himself, and what God has said about Himself in the Bible shows that He is a God of love. We want to look at how we know that from the pages of Scripture. Before we get to the death of Christ, which is late in the sequence of revelation, we want to go a little bit earlier and notice a characteristic of God.
Here’s the fundamental covenant that sets apart the counterculture for all of history. Here’s the origin of the Jewish race. Here is the program going to run through only part of the human race. Jews had been selected at this point, 2000 BC, to be the custodians of the Word of God. God is not revealing Himself to every people group, and you say, “Well, gee, that’s discriminating.” Well, yeah, it is discriminating, but the answer is: Why is it discriminating? What had every people group done at Babel? They rejected God, so God has a right, if He’s rejected by every people group, to say, “Alright, I’ll start a new one.”
So here’s Abraham and the Jewish point. But there’s something about this statement so let’s see if we can take the statement apart and notice something about it. “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” Genesis 12:3. Do we notice something about the first two clauses? Do you see that one is talking about plurals and the other one is singular?
Look at it again: “I will bless those,” plural, “who bless you, and I will curse him,” singular, “who curses you.” There’s a certain asymmetry going on here and this is followed throughout the Bible, and it suggests that God is more willing to bless than He is to curse. People who have a very cursory, shallow understanding of the Old Testament think, “Oh the God of the Old Testament is a meanie God.” Well, no He’s not a meanie God. He is a loving God, and He is reluctant, in a sense, there is a hesitation on His part to talk about cursing, as though it’s almost unpleasant for Him to be in that position. So “I will bless those,” plural, “who bless you, and I will curse him,” singular, “who curses you.”
Let’s follow this line of reasoning a little bit more. Here is Mount Sinai. Notice again the asymmetry that’s going on in this verse: “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands to those who love me,” Exodus 20:5–6.
Those sentences; they’re not parallel; one is narrowed and focused and the other is a universal statement, and I think this hints at something deep within the character of God Himself. He’s not out to be a meanie God. He curses when it’s necessary to curse, but His first line, His first thing He wants to do is bless. The interesting thing about the third and fourth generation is, remember in that day three generations would usually be contemporaneous with each other; the fourth generation maybe, so by saying the third and fourth generation He is saying these are a generation that collectively coexist at one time, and probably what’s going on here is the fact that you have the nuclear family and the greater family.
So you’ve got two or three generations. You’ve got grandparents, you’ve got sons and daughters, and you’ve got grandsons and granddaughters. There are three generations, and you might have some great grandchildren there in the process. I think what God is warning about here is that families can transmit, perhaps unintentionally, can transmit sin patterns that are repeated because the sons and daughters pick it up from their mom and dad and then their children pick it up from them.
It seems as though God wants to restrain that, and if you think about the results, prior to this in history, how many generations followed Abraham before they were removed from the land? Four generations, wasn’t it? It was Abraham, then it was his sons Isaac and Ishmael, and then it was Jacob and Jacob’s children, and then they went off into captivity.
At the nucleus of the whole Jewish race God intervened after three generations because what happened there was that after Abraham, even with Lot you had this, they were caving in to the culture of their time. Remember Lot? He wanted the great business and Abraham said, “Okay, you can have the fertile land, but this is my land and we’re going to stay here.” It was probably harder for Abraham and his business than for Lot down there in Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was a choice he made. After the third and fourth generation you have the stories of late Genesis there. Joseph is sold into slavery, his brothers try to kill him, Genesis 37.
You’ve got the scene where Judah, who was supposed to be the leader of all the sons of Jacob, Judah is having sexual relationships with a woman on the road and he, in the Hebrew, calls her a “temple prostitute,” not just a whore but a temple prostitute, Genesis 38. So that clicks when in your mind you realize that this guy is going in with the whole pagan religion. It shows you the deterioration that happened in four generations.
So, God says, “I’ve had enough. I’ve got to preserve this family. They’ve got to survive. I’ve got a job for them to do, so I’m going to take them and put them in Egypt.” What’s the significance of putting that Jewish family down in Egypt? You read about it in late Genesis (Genesis 46), because after they come down there and they’re having dinner with Jacob and Joseph. There is a little comment in the text: they eat by themselves because Egyptians don’t eat with Semites (Genesis 43:32).
There was a segregation. They were put into a segregated society that segregated them from the Egyptians. There was a social structure in Egypt, and God made use of that social structure, because if they were segregated, they’d stay by themselves and they wouldn’t absorb all the elaborate theology of the pagan Egyptians. So that’s a background for verses like this one.
Now let’s go all the way to Matthew 25 and see what Jesus says about the final judgment: “Then he will say to those on his left hand, ‘Depart from me you cursed into the everlasting fire,’ ” and notice it’s prepared for whom? It’s “prepared for the devil and his angels.” What’s interesting about this is that hell, the eternal Lake of Fire, was not originally designed for people. God didn’t bring the human race into existence to send them to hell. There’s a reluctance there.
Hell, the Lake of Fire here, everlasting fire, was originally set up because of the satanic revolt in the angelic realm. That’s what it was for, and it’s sad that another kind of creature, human beings, wind up there. But the design wasn’t to get human beings; human beings get there because of the Fall, and so forth and so on.
So my point in showing these kinds of verses is that there’s a reluctance on God’s side to make cursing equal to blessing. There seems to be a divine preference to bless and I suggest that is an Old Testament evidence of the fact that He is ultimately a God of love; He’s not a meanie Old Testament God.
Well, now we come, of course, to the fact that we have love in the New Testament and we have these verses repeatedly. It tells us something about what the Bible means when it uses L-O-V-E. I want to emphasize these verses. We read them, we’re all familiar with them, but I want to set these verses over against what is going on in our culture. In our culture today, I was talking that romanticism earlier, romanticism has eaten away the foundations of substantive, active love.
Today L-O-V-E means largely feelings, and the problem with this is that pleasure is not always part of loving. Loving, in Scripture, means to take action, to help people. We may experience the blessings and the positive emotions that come from that, and we certainly receive the positive emotions when we are loved and people do things for us, but the romantic makes the “feeling” the center of it.
Watch what is the center of it; let’s look at this verse: “God demonstrates his own love” (Romans 5:8). How does He show it? By sharing His feelings? “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Now if you unpack that verse, there are a lot of truths in there.
First of all it’s a demonstration, and you can’t demonstrate it unless love “acts.” The first thing we notice about that is real love “acts” and that’s how you see it in action. Another thing is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. It’s not like He died for us after we said, “Would You please die for me, I need You?” Rather the cross was previous to us and our need for it.
He died while we were still sinners and so love went out on a limb here because He’s acting in a loving fashion to people who have basically declared themselves independent of Him. Love is risky that way, because it’s going out and acting to help someone whether or not the person is going to reciprocate.
Another verse. These are all familiar to us: “By this we know love because he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16), and then John picks it up, “We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” But laying down our lives for the brethren is following the pattern of Him laying down His life for us. So again, it’s love “acting”. See, the problem with this romantic notion that love is “how I feel in my heart,” is our bodies, going back into a biochemical thing here for a moment. We have hormones, serotonin and other things going on that give us the sensation of pleasure, those hormonal products can cause us to feel nice. But other things can also cause serotonin.
Johns Hopkins did a study last year, and they are able, because of the new technology, they can map what’s going on in our brains by watching which neuron area of the brain is firing under certain conditions. So they would do maps of how our brains look when we’re doing certain things, or we’re thinking certain things, and they noticed that the map of a person who is an alcoholic or a person who is a drug addict has a certain pattern in the brain—certain neurons are firing to do certain things, and certain pleasure centers are activated.
The most recent one is they looked at juvenile, young children who are addicted to digital devices, and I don’t mean just looking at them, I mean this is a 12-hour-a-day thing with them. They noticed that when they map their brains that, doggonit, the neurological firing looks exactly like an alcoholic or drug addict.
So, backing up from this, what is this teaching us? I think what it’s teaching us, neuroplasticity is the term they’re using, I think what it’s teaching us is something we should have known from anyone who practices a skill.
Think of the hours and hours a pianist puts in to get their fingers on keys, and one of the videos which we didn’t show on that four-part series from ICR. They’re dealing with a pianist, and he’s pointing out that by mapping the brain, they’ve realized that a skilled pianist is seeing the music 100th of a second ahead of their fingertips. Now how do they get that skill? By hours and hours of practicing.
How does an athlete coordinate? You think of gymnasts and what they do with their body, how did they get that way? Practice!
So, what does this tell us about our whole bodily system? It tells us that our body is designed to improve itself; to conform itself with what we are trying to do.
Now that’s great if what we’re trying to do is righteous and justice. But it’s also true, tragically, that when we want to sin, the body is saying, “Oh okay, if that’s what you want to do let’s get better at.” So, we repeat the sin, repeat the sin. The more sin you repeat the more pleasurable it becomes. So, the body accumulates, it accommodates itself to our intent, and that’s why the Word of God, long before Johns Hopkins and neuroplasticity was ever discovered, Paul, the apostle, is warning us against repetitive sin—deal with it while it’s still deal-able before it becomes an addiction, because it will become an addiction and then you’ve got all kinds of problems.
Then you’ve got physical problems: you have depression, you have euphoria. You have these things. Those are medical conditions, but the problem is that in most of these cases it’s a medical condition brought about by habitual behavior that’s precipitated by that which is a spiritual issue. It doesn’t say every kind of disease is spiritual. It’s just saying that the body has this adaptive capacity in it, and we know that from athletics and skills like playing the piano.
Here what we’re saying is that God laid down His life for us. That’s an act, and therefore we ought to lay down our lives down for the brethren. Laying down our lives means dying for people. I’ll give you an illustration of that as we finish up this attribute tonight.
Here again, John is apparently very sensitive to God’s love for him, and possibly it was because in the Gospel narratives you read about John as “the Son of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). When the villages didn’t accept them, “Call down fire from heaven!” That was John (Luke 9:54) and so obviously John had to be sanctified here in this area.
It’s striking that when he writes he emphasizes love. It was probably a personal struggle with the apostle from his own anger. He would just be an angry guy that would react, and he had to learn. So he writes like this: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
You’ll notice again, the love of God in passages like this is initiated from God’s side, not our side. It’s an act that God has done and the initiative for the act came from God Himself prior to any hope of reciprocity. Jesus died for everybody and not everybody is going to reciprocate by believing on Him.
That’s the second thing we learn: that love biblically “acts”. It’s not just the feeling, it’s the act, and it’s the act and its initiative that does things regardless of a hope of reciprocity. So that’s pretty strong stuff and that’s the model that we have for love.
Now we want to go a step further and I want to show you some more verses, but I want to move now to the doctrine of the Trinity. God always loved. But here’s the problem: if we do not have a Trinity, who did God love before He created? It would seem that if God is a solitary God, He would have to create something outside of Himself to have an object for His love, unless He’s a great narcissist who loves Himself.
We know that narcissism isn’t what the Bible is talking about here. So, here again folks, is why you can’t let go of certain fundamental biblical truths. We can’t mess up here. We don’t have to be apologetic for the Mormon or for the other people who deny the Trinity. They’ve got a problem. We don’t. Here’s why: because in the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, had personal interaction and they loved one another for all eternity. Love didn’t start with the Creation. Love preexisted the Creation. It was internal to the Trinity.
Here are some verses. John 15: “As the Father loved Me, I have loved you: abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:9–10).
Now it’s true, this is the Son of God in human form post-incarnation, but He’s talking about the love between Him and the Father. Other verses will show that this was going on prior to the incarnation.
See, the Trinity is important. This is not a side doctrine that we don’t want to get into. It’s essential because it preserves the idea of functioning love for all eternity. God did not have to create an object outside of Himself to have an object to love. If He had to do that, He’s not self-contained and you do not have an independent God—He has to be dependent on a creature then in order to be fully God and loving the world.
This is why we have verses like this: “As I have declared to them Your name.” This gets into the Trinity part, “As I have declared to them Your name, that the love with which You loved me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:26). Notice where the love was prior to the incarnation: the love was functioning within the Trinity. God the Father loved God the Son, God the Father loved God the Holy Spirit, God the Son loved the Father, and so on. You’re going to have 6 or 7 love relationships going on inside the Trinity. So the Bible fits together when we think through these things.
I think we have one more verse, and this is important from the standpoint of our social experience. It gets into the darkness of a fallen world. Jesus says, and remember, this is John 15. He’s briefing His disciples because He knows He’s going tp leave, and actually He’s going to leave in a week here, in a few days. These are His last words to the believers, and they’re going to be groping around on their own here very shortly and so Jesus wants to give them instructions: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own: but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you … He who hates Me hates My Father also” (John 15:19, 23).
You see, this is a declaration of something. This is the absence of true love, and it’s arguing that the spirit of this world has, we won’t say it’s identical to the love God has, it has an allegiance. And this is why John speaks to that in his first epistle. He’s talking about the fact that even though there are debates going on, there’s a sort of unity in the world system that reacts against the intrusion of God.
Even though you can have unbelievers fighting one another, the thing that will unify them is attacking the Christians and we see this all over. The world may be at odds with itself internally, but they sure can come together and argue against the believers. Why? Because believers who walk with the Lord are an offense that reminds their heart of hearts that they are aliens, they are aliens from God, and they don’t have a relationship with Him. A Christian in the environment just reminds them of that and it irritates them.
It doesn’t matter what kind of unbeliever they are, at bottom they just don’t like to be reminded of God and their lack of relationship with Him. So that’s an explanation for why you see this persecution developing. The persecution is on college campuses with the intellectual elite of the globalist variety. The same kind of hatred is in the world with the Muslims, with the Hindus. I mean if you think about it, what unites liberals, Hindus, and Muslims and everybody else in that ilk? It’s their hatred of the God of the Scriptures. That unifies the world, and I think that’s what Jesus is addressing here.
If you were of the world, the world would like you because you’re not a threat to them. We have to get used to the fact that we’re walking around and just because we are believers and we’re walking with the Lord we have a target on her back, and that’s the deal. It’s not because they’re attacking us personally. They’re attacking us because of that which we represent—so it’s almost like an impersonal reaction.
That’s the special revelation we have about God’s love, very hastily presented, granted. Our point #2 as we present this is: what is the finite analog in our own creature? We are creatures made in God’s image, that’s easy. It’s giving love and receiving it. We have that experience—we know it’s good and we like that experience. So, there’s not any real debate about our own finite ability here or our finite experience.
Point #3 is what is the unbelieving and pagan perversion of love? I’ve dealt with that in the background when I’ve been raising this issue of romanticism—don’t think of romantic in the male-female kind of thing. Romanticism is bigger than that. It’s a movement, started right here in New England with Walden Pond, about getting back to nature, and feeling. We don’t want to just think about things, which is true, we do want nice feelings. But the problem with the romantic movement is they made feelings the center of the issue, and this has resulted in Freud and the whole 9 yards about: “I’m going to identify who I am by my feelings in the area of sex; that identifies me.” No, it doesn’t. What identifies me is God made me in His image; that is my identity (Genesis 1:27).
The second area of perversion that’s going on today is, I showed you that thing with the [Keith] Getty and [Stuart] Townend’s hymn where they wanted to change that lyric “the wrath of God is satisfied” (In Christ Alone). They didn’t like that because that speaks of sin and righteousness and justice.
What we have is, and this is my term for it, we have Santa Claus theology where what is right and what is wrong is divorced. God is a divine Santa Claus that hands out gifts, that’s all He does—hands out gifts. That is not the biblical view. It’s not love divorced from His righteousness and His justice.
Let’s think about that. When God loved us what did He do that demonstrated the love? His Son died for us. Why was it necessary, if God loves us, to send His Son to the Cross? Because God was not going to compromise His righteousness and justice. He can’t do that—that’s not the God He is. You can’t artificially divert love and separate it from justice and righteousness, because if you do, you wind up denying the whole necessity of the Cross of Christ. You’ve got to keep those attributes tugged together.
The love of God is the love of a righteous and just God that will not tolerate sin in spite of the fact that He loves us. So, His love is demonstrated because He goes out of His way to make a way for us so we can have unity with Him and His righteousness. But it took a special act for Him to do that for us. And He did it, again, without the thought in mind of everybody reciprocating by believing Him and turning around and loving Him. Love risks lack of reciprocity.
Another example we have today is narcissism—the idea that I love me; the I’m okay, you’re okay kind of thing; let’s all love one another; let’s look at our navels. And so we have this egocentric kind of thing. That’s not biblical love either. When we deny the whole issue of God as the source of love, we’ve got a problem in our social relationships because we are designed to be loved. That’s part of being made in God’s image. We miss that, and so what happens is we try to fill it with some human being, some finite, sinful person, and we want to suck everything out of them so we can feel loved. No human being is sufficient to satisfy that deep down need for us to be loved. It’s not going to happen.
The only way we satisfy our deepest need to be loved is to let the love of the Lord work in our hearts. No other person can fill that void completely. Partially, yes. Of course, we love people and we are in relationships where that love is reciprocal, but it’s not going to fill the deep need of us made in God’s image. Only the love of God can fill that need.
What is our conclusion? We go through these points of every attribute. The first benefit is that we have an empowerment to endure strife in the world that hates us. God loved. God sent His Son into a world that was hostile to Him. Jesus Christ could have gotten angry at the way He was treated. He could have rejected it and said, “I don’t like this. Why should I bother giving My life to these people? They don’t care for me.” That could have been His attitude. But he didn’t. He went ahead, and He did it in spite of the anger of the world.
Today we have many illustrations of Christians in persecuted lands and their attitude. My wife and I subscribe to some of the magazines like Open Doors and The Voice of the Martyrs and others just because we want to keep exposed to what’s going on in the persecuted realm. What is amazing to us is when these people who are killed—they’re being mutilated; they’re being put in jail—you know what one of their responses is? “Don’t just pray for us; we’re going to pray for you.” What are you praying for me for, you’ve got the problem. I’m not being persecuted like you are. But it’s amazing to listen to their testimonies. “We are praying for you people in the Western civilization.” They sense that we are sort of dreaming about what’s going on when they see the reality of it. So, they’re praying for us.
Well, here is an article that we got from Voice of the Martyrs, and here’s an example of a group of Christians in the second worst country on earth; the worst country, of course, is North Korea. When I was speaking at a church in Tampa (http://bcctampa.sermon.net/main/main/21291699; Click SORT OPTIONS on the right side of the page, select SPEAKERS and then scroll down to Charlie Clough) there was a Korean lady there who was married to a retired Marine and I was having dinner with them. And because she was Korean, you know I’m not that informed on Korean history, and so she was a Christian Korean. So, I was asking her about North Korea—what is the deal going on there? And she said my mother told me that when I was a little girl growing up in Korea, that at one time Pyongyang, which is the capital of North Korea, was called the “Jerusalem of Asia.”
She said, “My mother told me that we in the South had the gospel given to us by missionaries from North Korea;” that’s a little point in history. Then World War II came up and, of course, the Russians dominated North Korea and they appointed the Kim family and for three generations this family has gone after the church. Why have they gone after the church to the point where in Korea if there’s a gift of food you have to go to the statue of the old man Kim and present it to him? Now if you don’t think that that’s a worship of an idol, then I don’t know what is, but that’s what’s going on in this dark kingdom.
The reason the Kim family, apparently, the reason for the Kim family’s constant hatred of believers goes back to what I said earlier: Christians are a threat because Christians believe in transcendent truth that is above the authorities and the authorities don’t like that. They want you and me to adhere to: “They are the authority.” No, they’re not. They’re a temporal, limited authority, but they are not the source of transcendent right and wrong. So we are, in one sense, a threat just because of our belief, not because we’re threatening some military coup. It’s the threat of believers.
In Eritrea, which is in eastern Africa; the same kind of thing. The guy that runs this country [Isaias Afwerki (b. 1946)] was raised in a Christian home. All of a sudden he gets into power and he decides he’s going to go study. Where? In China. And what is he going to study? Mao Tse-tung and how he dominated China. He goes there to graduate school, see, another graduate school that produces this kind of stuff, and he comes back to Eritrea and he goes after the church. The church is a target because it’s offensive to him.
Well, this this family, this man, lost his wife because she was tortured to death in a box. They took these women, and some of the men, too. You’ve seen these trailer trucks that carry these containers from ships, and they put 40 people in a container, allowing them out half an hour a day in the heat of Eritrea. You can imagine the living conditions inside the container. Many of them died, of course, and so his wife was in there and she eventually died just because of the physical things.
But look at his attitude. Here’s a man with his family, with his kids, that survived. He walked miles and miles and miles to get out of Eritrea and all the time they were hunted. They had border guards and everything else, but he said, “Look, I’m not going to sit here and have my whole family destroyed. At least I got my kids left.” He walks at night, through all kinds of obstacles, to get to a place where they have a refugee camp. Here’s what he says, after all that suffering and heart ache of losing his wife: “The Bible taught us that we should take up our cross … We have to lose our life for Christ, and it happened to my wife. This is the history of Christianity,” and look at this. This is amazing. “This is the history of Christianity. I don’t hate the Afwerki government.” Afwerki was the man, who was raised in a Christian home, studied in communist China, and came back and set up a dictatorship. “I don’t hate the Afwerki government because they tortured my wife. They didn’t know what they were doing.”
Did you notice that statement? Who was the first martyr in the New Testament? What did he say when they were stoning him? “They don’t know what they’re doing” (Acts 7:60). Now why do they say that particular clause, “They don’t know what they’re doing?” You know what that’s implying? It’s implying that these martyrs, Stephen included, in the Book of Acts, knew and recognized that the people persecuting them were puppets of the principalities and powers. They were deceived people who themselves didn’t realize what they were doing. They were captives of the prince of the dark side, the dark powers.
I think that’s a fascinating aspect, that these people recognize that the people who are so vicious and so cruel to them themselves are puppets, and they feel sorry for them. So, he says: “They didn’t know what they were doing. I would like all Christians in the world to pray that our government will accept the gospel.” Can you imagine this response to a persecuting thing that has half destroyed your family?
How do they do this? Because the Holy Spirit’s ministering to these martyrs. It’s so uplifting to share in their stories and see their resilience. These are martyrs that someday we’ll be with in eternity. And you know some time we may feel ashamed if they come up to us and ask, “How was it in New England in 2015, did they put you in jail?” Well, no. Not that our lives are messy here, but the point is that these people have had to live under the most difficult conditions and look at the attitude they have as a result—absolutely amazing. And that’s their confidence that they are loved. Their value is determined by God, not by the way they’re treated.
The second point under the blessings of God’s love is that our sense of personal value grows less dependent on what others think of us. That’s a vital lesson. Our sense of value comes because we perceive God’s loving us irrespective of other people and how they treat us. These people couldn’t survive and say these kinds of things if they didn’t have this inner sense that: “I’m valuable, not because of Afwerki, not because of his minions, not because of the puppets that he has of the principalities and powers; I don’t rate my value by that.” He’s saying, “I rate my value because Christ died for me and I know God loves me, so that counts. How I’m treated doesn’t count.”
The third thing that I think we have to think about with the attribute of love is that it should incentivize us to be thankful. Over and over again in the Bible we’re told “in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
It’s hard to give thanks in painful situations. It’s hard to move from the pain and the sorrow and the heart ache back to the God who operates in history. Sometimes it’s hard to do, but if you can do that, it gives you that uplifting feeling where you know your value, you know you’re loved, in spite of all kinds of stuff happening to you, that you are blessed for all eternity.
“Father, we thank You for the manifestation of Your love. We thank You that the Word of God can penetrate like a two-edged sword into the depths of our heart. And we’re so thankful that Your Holy Spirit has been so patient with us, and may we understand that Your love was there and Your love initiated a blessing to us, independent of whether or not we would respond. And we pray that that kind of love would permeate our lives and control our relationship with others. For we ask this in our Savior’s name, Amen.”