Love and religion should go hand in hand. But, as we well know, religion is often used for hate. What does a better ideal of religion look like? For Jesus of Nazareth, religion meant self-sacrificial love. God is love.


This talk was delivered on April 22, 2017 (Earth Day) in Ithaca, NY at the "Believe in Love" Conference. I was invited to speak on the topic of "Love and Religion." You can also read the transcript version of the my "Love and Religion" talk here on the Jesus' Economy Blog.

Subscribe now to the Jesus' Economy Podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud.

In Jesus' economy, things are reversed from what you would expect. The book of James tells us that that the poor are rich in faith, and thus heirs of a great blessing—God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, James calls us, who have much, into a deeper faith where we truly love our neighbor.

“Did not God choose the poor of the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor! … [If] you carry out the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and thus are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but stumbles in one point only has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:5–6, 8–10 LEB).

The poor of the world have the gift of to be rich in faith. You would expect for James to tell us that those who are rich are surely blessed, and thus are clearly the most thankful (and perhaps, by extension, inheritors of great things), but he doesn’t. The opposite is true.

If you want to find Jesus' greatest blessing, a life of faith, you look to the downtrodden. That's where Jesus is.

James goes on to confront us about that which we so easily forget: we’re called to love our neighbor, as we would want to be loved; and that means avoiding partiality. When we show partiality, we not only do wrong by others, but actually go against what James calls the “royal law” of God. When we stumble on the point of showing partiality, we are breaking the value of the entire law of God: loving him and others.

We cannot show our love for God without loving other people. Thankfully, God is always quick to show mercy and grace, but this does not make our mistake against the poor, marginalized, and outsider acceptable.

When reading James’ thoughts, I am struck by the fact that he presents us not just with a commandment, but with an opportunity. Here, in this little New Testament letter, it is revealed to us how God’s kingdom works. Here, in this letter, we’re given a chance to turn away from that which we think will fulfill us and turn toward the fulfilling work of God. We’re given a chance to show true love for the inheritors of God’s kingdom, the poor.

And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" (Luke 6:20 ESV).

To my brothers and sisters around the poor, I want to tell you good news: the kingdom of God is yours. To my friends around the world who are plagued by the trappings of wealth, I want to tell you that we will find God's kingdom among the impoverished. Let us join them in renewing our world.

In Jesus' economy, the value is not wealth, status, or prestige. The value is love. That's the currency. And that's why the poor, who are often well acquainted with grief and the need to be empowered, more easily understand the values of God's kingdom. They already know how the economy in this kingdom works.

James offers us a powerful opportunity and an incredible message—whether we’re wealthy or not. In God’s kingdom, the only difference between those who are wealthy and those who are not is the ease by which they enter his kingdom and join his work. Will you join his work today? Will you love like Jesus?*


Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.


*This article is based on my earlier article, "Everything in God's Kingdom is Reversed and That's Good News."

Faith without action is not faith at all. Faith and actions are inseparable. And that thought can change our world.

Consider what the biblical book of James says about this:

“My brothers, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with partiality. For if someone enters into your assembly in fine clothing with a gold ring on his finger, and a poor person in filthy clothing also enters, and you look favorably on the one wearing the fine clothing and you say, ‘Be seated here in a good place,’ and to the poor person you say, ‘You stand or be seated there by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1–4 LEB).

It is usually easier to build a friendship with someone who is like you than someone who is not. And most people want to befriend the most well dressed person in the room. I know this is obvious, but think on it for a moment. What are the ramifications of this inclination? What does it say about the type of people we are?

The inclination to favor one person over another reveals something about our view of God, others, and faith. When we show partiality to the wealthy person over the impoverished person, we betray a part of our very faith—love for others (Matthew 22:37–40).

God has called us to love others without partiality. He has called us to look at other people and do for them as we would want them to do for us—aside from how they appear or what they have to offer in return.

I am sure you already know this to be true, but are you practicing it today? Really, take a moment and think about it: are you loving other people without partiality? And if not, how can you change your behavior? How can you change the judgmental thoughts you have? For your thoughts are the place from which your actions emerge.

Imagine how incredibly different, and better, the world would be if we loved others without partiality. Imagine a world where Christians everywhere practiced their faith. Let's be people of faith and action.*


Want to go deeper into this subject? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.


*This article is adapted from my earlier article, "The Inseparability of Faith and Actions."

As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I am reminded of his statement:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Here's its original context, its origins, and what Dr. King would say to us today.

At the core of this statement, you can hear the prophetic voice. Let us remember that Dr. King also had another title—Reverend. He was a preacher.

In King's time, as in ours, many people looked at the injustices and simply ignored them or demeaned them. But for a person living in a country that treats them unjustly, these issues are not something that can be ignored. It’s only convenient to ignore injustices until those same injustices inconvenience you. King regularly pointed this out and mobilized people for action.

The Context of Dr. King's Words & Implications

Dr. King said the famous, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" in his work from Birmingham Jail, where he was imprisoned for advocating for equal rights of African Americans.

The context should remind us that this phrase cannot be a platitude; it must be lived. It means so much because of who said it and from the context in which it was said.

And it is injustice that we see today—all over our planet. The racial and economic inequality King was fighting against still exists today. So let us not just remember, but act. We have made progress but we must keep moving forward.

Near the end of his life, King was working to bring equality by creating jobs. And yet, so much of the world still lacks jobs, because we haven’t completed the task. This is injustice.

We look around the world and we also see those who are oppressed—who lack spiritual and religious freedom, who lack knowledge of Jesus. This too is an injustice.

We look around our own country today and we still see racism. And this isn't only within our nation (against one another), but it also has to do with the worldview many people hold. Many people view those from other places as outsiders (or less than Americans). There is racism and xenophobia on the global stage. This is injustice.

We must stand up, lift up, and rise up—to fight these injustices, boldly proclaiming that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The Statement's Origins: The Prophets Agree 

The prophets resonate with Dr. King’s words, with lines like:

“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!” (Isaiah 1:16 LEB).

“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been seized from the hand of the oppressor. And you must not oppress or treat violently the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And you must not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jeremiah 22:3 LEB).

“Remove from me the noise of your songs, and I do not want to hear the melody of your harps! But let justice roll on like the water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23–24 LEB).

The Bible’s cry is justice, mercy, and love. There is no other way that aligns with God’s desire.

Dr. King Would Remind Us to Fight Against Fear

Much of our world's problems come out of fear. We fear acting against injustice, because of the possible ramifications. We fear those we do not understand. And fear causes us to do terrible things and to not take action when we should. We must fight fear.

Fear cannot dominate our worldview. If any of us are to call ourselves Christians, we must believe in justice for all. We must love without bounds. We must lead out of mercy. This is the Christian cry. Jesus once said:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40 LEB).

Dr. King Would Remind Us to Live Love

Love means placing others before ourselves—to love God is to love others. The book of James puts it this way:

“If anyone thinks he is religious, although he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26–27 LEB).

Love is only truly practiced by those who can manage their own words—we must all work at this. Love also requires us to prioritize the needs of the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the outsider. We must believe that is what is good for the entire world is also good for us, because it is.

But love does not mean simply loving those who are hurting—although that is certainly a major part of it. Jesus also once remarked:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, because he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–44 LEB).

There is no us and them; we’re all simply humanity. God does not look on the world and smile upon one country over another. He loves the entire world equally. And we must do the same.

Love those you don’t understand. Love those on the other side of the aisle. Love those who protest. Love those who protest against you. Love in a way that forces you to self-examine. Love in a way that moves you out isolation and insulation. Love in a way that demands justice. Love with mercy. Simply put, truly love.

 

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This long-form article is part of our weekly series, “Living for Jesus.” It's adapted in part from my previous article by the same title and my article "4 Ways Justice Is Today's Christian Cry."

If we are to be truly Christian, we cannot let Christianity be merely an idea.

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. … For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:18, 26 ESV).

Christianity is about our life values changing—from our beliefs to our actions; from how we think about our money to how we spend it; from how we think about time to how we use it.

We cannot look at the suffering of our world and do nothing about it, and still call ourselves Christians. The way we view our faith should change absolutely everything about how we live—from our giving to our shopping, from our faith to our deeds. Being Christian should change the very way we view the world.

Our world is more interconnected than ever before. The opportunity to end extreme poverty is greater than it has ever been—meaning we’re more likely to do so. But for that to happen, Christians have to step up and live the values of our faith. 

Christianity must be a movement based on self-sacrifice. And the time is ticking for us to make that a true statement. Because there are people already exploiting our interconnected world: Think of the 2012 factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh; child labor being used to make products; and many other horrific atrocities that have resulted from manufacturing clothing alone. We don’t often think about it, but our purchase choices—when we buy cheap stuff, made cheaply—are contributing to global inequality. And this is just one example among many of where Christians should be setting a better example.

We Need to Be Better Informed about Fair Trade

We need to be better informed; we need to make better purchasing decisions. And we need to have more fair trade purchasing options—options that involve the fair treatment and payment of workers. We also need to empower the impoverished in the process.

Our world has already recognized the value of the interconnected globe, and the potential of developing economies, but Christians are struggling to catch up. 

We saw how connected our world was on the day that Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $19 Billion dollars. Think about that: $19 Billion. When Facebook made the purchase of the messaging system WhatsApp for this staggering figure, one of the main reasons cited by analysts was that WhatsApp customers represented an emerging market. And many of these customers were in the developing world! The emerging market that analysts had in mind were developing world customers. Wall Street is now calling the developing world an emerging market.

Our world is interconnected. The question is whether we, as Christians, will leverage these connections for the betterment of the impoverished or allow the impoverished to be exploited?

Leveraging Our Interconnected World to Improve It

We can leverage the connections in our world for the betterment of everyone. One idea: provide online commerce opportunities to the impoverished. Give them direct-to-customer access. At Jesus’ Economy, we’ve pictured this as an online Fair Trade Shop.

And lest anyone say that this won’t fix the problem. Think of this anecdotal evidence: Amazon.com is already valued at over $900 per share and many estimate it will cross $1,000 per share. Its wealth alone is much greater than many developing countries. That’s how much economic power there is in commerce. I think capitalism can be redeemed—for the good of everyone. Capitalism can help us create global equality.

Imagine What Could Be

Imagine if online fair trade opportunities were also connected into a global network of experts who could train the impoverished on hard business skills (such as accounting); moving through a product development cycle; and ethical business practices. And then imagine, if the impoverished who received this training had access to microfinance (small loans) to grow their businesses—to purchase tools or hire staff.

We must look at the world differently. By and large, the world has been looking at microfinance as something limited to a local economy. In current microfinance models, we have one poor tomato farmer selling to one poor cattle farmer—and dollars within the economy are just exchanging hands. One person may become wealthier but the overall economy is still impoverished. We need a new microfinance model.

What we need is money coming into an impoverished community from the outside. This is where global ecommerce comes into play. In our interconnected world, I can manufacture Jesus’ Economy branded t-shirts in Kampala, Uganda and bring money into the local economy simply through the purchasing power of U.S. buyers. In return, I can create jobs for a group of impoverished young people.

I can help not just with my giving but also with my shopping. My dollars say what I believe in.

This would mean a new economy. It would mean renewal. Money would sweep in from the developed world into the developing world and lift entire families out of poverty. This is the type of thing that Christians can do together—to end extreme poverty. This is one way we can show people that Christianity is more than an idea. This is one way for us to create a more just and equitable world.

 

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As a child, 95% of what I said could not be understood. But my mother insisted that I be allowed to enter school as a normal student and hired speech therapists. Nothing short of a miracle later, and a ton of hard work, I now speak perfectly. But I remember that I was once the voiceless.

Around our world there are millions of people who lack access to these opportunities. And there are millions who are kept poor because of their social standing, or the color of their skin, or corrupt regimes. And I cannot live in a world like that.

I cannot live in a world where there are people do not have a voice.

It takes more than ideas to change the world. It takes more than belief. But belief is a start.

Every significant advancement toward equality in our world has required sacrifice—more than ideas, more than belief. From the abolition of slavery, to the right for women to vote, to civil rights for African Americans, to the end of apartheid in South Africa—a movement of self-sacrifice has backed beliefs. 

The biblical book of James put it this way:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:14–16 ESV).

True faith requires sacrifice—for the betterment of others. True faith requires that we do more than pray, or wish others well, or have the right theories or ideas.

I believe in a few things that are worth sacrificing for: Jesus as my savior for starters. And that this same Jesus has in view a global economy that will make our world a better place. That there is such a think as a Jesus’ economy. 

When we talk about ‘economy’ we usually think of GDP, stock prices, and currencies. While I intend for the term Jesus’ economy to evoke these ideas, there should also be a part of the name that is a bit jarring. Jesus and economy aren’t usually paired together, but they should be.

Jesus believes that each and every life is of equal value. And thus Jesus’ economy is about empowerment of the impoverished. It is also based in the belief that empowering the impoverished is for the betterment of the entire world. Jesus’ economy is about creating a new spiritual and physical reality for the impoverished and marginalized—for those most in need.

Today, there are many people who claim faith in Jesus, but I ask: Where then is the action, the change, the renewal of our world? Why are there still millions upon millions of people impoverished? Prayer is not enough. Words are not enough. A mere claim to salvation is not enough. James puts it this way:

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:18–20 ESV).

A belief in Jesus requires action. As James puts it: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26 ESV).

Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice and its currency is love. It is a belief that the voiceless deserve to be heard. It is love in action.

Imagine what could happen if we all rose up and took action. Imagine how the world would view Christianity. Imagine the lives that would be renewed. Imagine.

 

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Every narrative, every act, is a call and response related to faith. Faith in—or for some, faith in nothing at all—is a thread that weaves throughout our lives. Jesus of Nazareth recognized this and questioned the religious status quo; he confronted people who used religion for power and gain.

Jesus was a rabbi whose followers believed he was God incarnate and who sacrificed their own lives to represent his teachings—they refused to back down from his message of love and the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. This is how incredible Jesus was—that he prompted a movement of people dedicated to living sacrificially for the sake of others. In their minds, love had come down as Jesus and changed everything about their lives. They believed that Jesus’ resurrection had given them freedom to live in full relationship with God and to spread his message of love and peace over the sword and hate.

Jesus articulated the incredible power of love. He spoke of how religion can and should be used for bringing love and peace to our world (Matthew 5:9; 22:37–40; compare Matthew 26:52). Because God is love, as Jesus' follower John put it (1 John 4:8).

Religion, though, tends to distort the eternal message of love for power and individual gain. Religion has been wrongly used to justify the Crusades, slavery, segregation, and acts of terror.

Each of us needs to represent, in our actions, a better solution. We need to express our belief in self-sacrificial love.

Jesus is an example of someone who faced oppressive religion and said, “You've heard this ‘hate your enemy’ and ‘get an eye for an eye’ ... but I tell you this: Love your neighbor, including your enemy” (see Matthew 5:38–48).

We can summarize much of Jesus’ message as: Be generous to those who persecute you, condemn you, stand against you. Live sacrificially, for the betterment of the impoverished, marginalized, outsider.

Jesus called the rich, the powerful, and each and every person, to account (see Matthew 5–7; 23). He says to live self-sacrificially for the marginalized and to practice a faith rooted in serving others. Jesus even claims that this type of love is how he will recognize his true followers (see Matthew 25:31–46). Something to ponder there—sacrificial love is how Jesus recognizes those who know him.

In one of Jesus’ last messages to his disciples before his crucifixion, he focuses on serving others. With his carpenter’s hands, he washes the dirty feet of his disciples (see John 13:1–17). This is a living testimony of sacrificial love. He shows them what true love means.

Just prior to his arrest, Jesus says, “love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13 LEB adapted).

These teachings are, in large part, what led to Jesus being crucified. He called those in power to change their ways and they killed him for it. Jesus died for this love and for the full weight of every wrongdoing we commit against our brothers and sisters.

Later, the book of James will summarize this message of love as: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27 LEB adapted).

Let us live as people who don't give into the pressure of our world to place ourselves before others—let's not let that nonsense stain our vibrant colors of love. Let's place the refugee, outsider, impoverished, imprisoned, and voiceless before ourselves. Let’s answer the call of love in word and deed (compare the book of James). This should be the narrative of religion woven through our lives, through our existence.

Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice. And his currency is love. This is true religion.

 

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This has been an odd week in the history of America: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy was celebrated on Monday. Friday was the inauguration of an unexpected President, surrounded by protests. And Saturday women across the country marched together.

For many, there are a series of open questions: What does all this mean? Where is America going? What will or won’t happen next? All of should be asking one question: What type of person will I be?

Each of us must define for ourselves and others what type of person we will be, no matter what may come next. In this regard, Dr. King sets a great example. Dr. King once said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

At the core of this statement, you can hear the prophetic voice. Let us remember that Dr. King also had another title—Reverend. He was a preacher. In his time, as in ours, many people looked at the injustices and simply ignored them or demeaned them. But for a person living in a country that treats them unjustly, these issues are not something that can be ignored. It’s only convenient to ignore injustices until those same injustices inconvenience you.

The prophets echo Dr. King’s words, with lines like:

“Wash! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Plead for the widow!” (Isaiah 1:16 LEB).

“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been seized from the hand of the oppressor. And you must not oppress or treat violently the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And you must not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jeremiah 22:3 LEB).

“Remove from me the noise of your songs, and I do not want to hear the melody of your harps! But let justice roll on like the water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23–24 LEB).

The Bible’s cry is justice, mercy, and love. There is no other way that aligns with God’s desire.

Fear cannot dominate our worldview. If any of us are to call ourselves Christians, we must believe in justice for all. We must love without bounds. We must lead out of mercy. This is the Christian cry. Jesus once said:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40 LEB).

Love means placing others before ourselves—to love God is to love others. The book of James puts it this way:

“If anyone thinks he is religious, although he does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26–27 LEB).

Love is only truly practiced by those who can manage their own words—we must all work at this. Love also requires us to prioritize the needs of the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the outsider. We must believe that is what is good for the entire world is also good for us, because it is.

But love does not mean simply loving those who are hurting—although that is certainly a major part of it. Jesus also once remarked:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, because he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–44 LEB).

There is no us and them; we’re all simply humanity. God does not look on the world and smile upon one country over another. He loves the entire world equally. And we must do the same.

Love those you don’t understand. Love those on the other side of the aisle. Love those who protest. Love those who protest against you. Love in a way that forces you to self-examine. Love in a way that moves you out isolation and insulation. Love in a way that demands justice. Love with mercy. Simply put, truly love.

 

Get more free articles like this one, our daily devotional, and updates: Subscribe now.

This long-form article is part of our weekly series, “Living for Jesus.” Image courtesy of Logos Bible Software.

Hurricane Matthew has devastated whole communities—from Haiti and the Caribbean to the U.S. East Coast. In Syria, a war is raging that is killing men, women, and children alike. Part of Nigeria faces a severe famine. The pain of all this is completely overwhelming. It can make us feel completely helpless. We all know that a single person cannot fix the world’s problems. But to sit idly is equally wrong. How should we as Christians respond?

Unity in Belief

When we as Christians face a crisis of any kind, we must lean on our beliefs. Indeed, right theology results in right actions. We have a theology for crises. It starts with trust in a God who desires order.

If you look at the book of Genesis from an ancient Near Eastern perspective, you see that many of God’s creative acts are about bringing order to chaos. Take a look at the third day of creation:

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven be gathered to one place, and let the dry ground appear.’ And it was so. And God called the dry ground ‘earth,’ and he called the collection of the waters ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:9–10 LEB).

In the ancient Near East, water was the ultimate symbol of chaos. In several ancient Near Eastern myths, gods tangle with the waters to show themselves superior. But for our God, the Israelite God Yahweh, this is an easy task. He rules over these forces of chaos.

Later, Adam and Eve are appointed to steward God’s creation; God instructs them to bring order as he had done (Genesis 1:28). Our mandate as people, from the beginning, is to believe in a God who creates order and to bring the same order to our world.

Solidarity in Prayer

We serve a God who walks with us. Even when Adam and Eve sin against Yahweh, he is walking in the Garden in the cool of the day—he is seeking them out (Genesis 3:8–9). God doesn’t need a relationship with us, but he desires one. Today, we continue the conversation with God through prayer—having Christ as the means of a restored relationship with God (Hebrews 4:14–16).

When we see the pain of our world, we must acknowledge that it exists because things are not as they should be. The order that God desires is not fully present. Everything from natural disasters to warfare to famines can in some way be traced back to things being out of alignment with God’s ultimate will for the world.

This is why Paul the Apostle says:

“For the eagerly expecting creation awaits eagerly the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation has been subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its servility to decay, into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19–21 LEB).

In Paul’s era, many Jews were looking forward to a day when the Messiah would not just reign in Israel but restore order to the created world. They looked forward to a Messianic age. We have this same hope in the Lord Jesus—knowing that he will return and bring order:

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:1–4).

We must, like the apostles, pray for new creation for our entire world. We must pray, “Come, Lord Jesus come,” while also crying out, “Lord Jesus, please stand alongside the hurting of our world. And help me to be a person who stands alongside them with you.”

Camaraderie in Action

The gospel of Jesus requires us to take action. We cannot idly watch the state of our world and still call ourselves Christians. This is incompatible with Jesus’ theology. Jesus makes this clear when he says: “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:37 NKJV). The Letter of James also articulates this idea:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 ESV).

Note that James does not just speak of right action, but also a right spirit—being “unstained from the world.” In essence, he is saying that if we love the hurting, there is little room for the idleness that leads to sin (compare James 1:13–15).

For James, we—as those who bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27)—are representatives of God’s goodness to a broken and hurting world:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:16–18 ESV).

Therefore, as “firstfruits” of God’s labor, let us take action that represents him.

Let us as Christians be unified in our belief in the God of order. Let us have solidarity in our prayer, asking God to intercede on behalf of the hurting. Let us have camaraderie in action—serving the hurting together.

1 John 3:16

"We have come to know love by this: that he [Christ] laid down his life on behalf of us, and we ought to lay down our lives on behalf of the brothers" (1 John 3:16 LEB).

What does it mean to lay down our lives on behalf of our brothers and sisters? Who are our brothers and sisters? Can 1 John 3:16 actually refer to giving up our lives for someone else ... to the point of death?

Interpreting 1 John 3:16

One could argue that "the brothers" mentioned in 1 John 3:16 refers only to fellow Christians, since the apostles often refer to their fellow ministers of the gospel as "the brothers" (1 Corinthians 16:11; 2 Corinthians 9:33; 3 John 3; Acts 21:17). You could even quote Jesus in support of this argument:

"Who is my mother and who are my brothers ... For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother" (Matthew 12:48-50 NIV).

However, the book of James strongly urges us to show no partiality when it comes to loving others. James goes so far as to say that if we show partiality, we are sinning and are convicted under the law as transgressors (James 2:9).

Christ Shows What Impartial Love Looks Like

Christ is the greatest example of impartial love, for he went to the cross for all humankind, the unrighteous and the righteous alike. As the apostle Paul put it:

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8 NIV).  

We know we are meant to lay down our lives for all humankind, not just Christians or those who practice righteousness. But to what extent are we to go in order to complete this task? Are we really to die for someone else (1 John 3:16)?

To answer this, I will go again to the example of Christ. Christ's sacrifice shows that we are meant to love one another to such an extent that—though it may not be required of us by God—we would be willing to suffer the punishment of death on behalf of another. A love like this changes the world. 

Loving Everyone, Even Our Enemies

Christ once said:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and 'Hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, because he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?" (Matthew 5:43–46 LEB).  

Paul elaborated on this point in Romans 12:9–18 (LEB):

"Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; be attached to what is good, being devoted to one another in brotherly love, esteeming one another more highly in honor ... Bless those who persecute, bless and do not curse them. ...Think the same thing toward one another; do not think arrogantly, but associate with the lowly. ... If it is possible on your part, be at peace with all people." 

Many of the earliest Christians gave up their lives not just for the God they served, but also for the people they were serving. In the case of many believers, their lives were taken at the hands of evil men and women who hated God. And yet, their sacrifice has become an example of faith to us all (see Hebrews 11:36–38).

God Requests Self-Sacrifice and Love

God himself requires only one death from every believer: that we die to ourselves and live for Christ.

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all; as a result all died. And he died for all, in order that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died for them and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14 LEB).   

And in living for Christ, we become an example for all people of his love. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

So I urge you, brothers and sisters, to think this day about the life you have to give and to whom you have to give it. And I pray that in giving of our lives together, we can change this world for the better, for sake of the Kingdom of God.