Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
God’s creation is constantly revealing His nature to us. I pray to see the world around me ever-more-completely through the filter of His truth…And this is what I’ve seen!
And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. (Revelation 19:5, KJV)
There will come a day…
A day when all of this will have passed away…When the high places will have become low, and the low places will have been lifted up; when the crooked places will have been made straight, and the rough places will have been made smooth…
But today, we wait, day by day…
And while we wait…let us praise!
Let us, His servants, all of us who fear Him, both great and small, praise Him in all things!
Lord, today I praise You, the keeper of the heavenly storehouses of snow…
I praise You, Who painted every sparkling speckle on every curving fir needle…
I praise You that it is just as easy for You to scatter stars and solar systems and galaxies across the unknown reaches of the universe as it is for You to whisper to my heart to be still, to pause, and to be gentle…
I praise You that, while I sleep, You are ever at work and never tire…That, while I enjoy my Sabbath rest, You labor on unceasingly towards the fulfillment of Your efforts and the establishment of a perfect and eternal rest…
I praise You that the spring sunshine is only beginning to melt the winter snow, and that Your delicious air can hold both the freshness of spring and the crispness of winter, in a way that I can’t even see, but I can feel with every breath…
I praise You that I can stand in a still forest and stare up into the waving maple branches and the endless blue of the sky and feel that there is something around me, and that something is You, Your life, Your breath, Your ever-present Spirit, throughout Your creation…
Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things…(Isaiah 40:26, KJV)
I praise You for Your glory, Your majesty, Your mighty power, Your boundless wisdom, Your overflowing joy, Your abundant provision, Your perfect word, Your gracious salvation, Your enduring patience, and Your absolute sovereignty!
Hallelujah! He reigns!
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 19:6, KJV)
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself…(Mark 12:31, KJV)
~ as thyself ~
Two little words. Who would have thought that humans could make so much trouble, so much harm, so much wrong, out of just two little words?!
As long as there has been scripture, there has also been the warping, twisting, misinterpretation, false interpretation, misapplication, adding, subtracting, ignoring, distorting and misusing of scripture for personal advantage.
…in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16, KJV)
This is not a new phenomenon, because it is simply part of the sinful nature of mankind. Our enemy is an enemy of truth, the world is corrupted by sin, and so there will always be misuse of scripture present on the earth, even among those who claim to be following scripture.
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 1So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…(2 Corinthians 11:14-15, ESV)
But, somehow, this knowledge does not keep me from being quite surprised, at times, when I stumble across it!
First, let me say, that I live a sheltered and separated life right now. Not in the world very much, on a small homestead, learning to do a lot of things by hand, in a small town, way out in Downeast Maine, not in very typical worldly surroundings. In God’s word A LOT, reading the Bible with my family throughout the day, praying and meditating on His word throughout my daily work, teaching my children according to His word in each of their lessons, seeing my world through God’s eyes and sharing on social media with photography and scripture and devotional thoughts. And so, somehow, I never really noticed that this self-love teaching was so widespread and prevalent, and so it surprised me, though it shouldn’t have.
It surprised me because, if you spend a lot of time in scripture, you find yourself constantly encouraged in God, but at the same time constantly impressed upon by the fundamental importance of the denial of self. You can’t read about the lives of those faithful prophets without being touched by their humility and separation from the world. You can’t read about Daniel without noticing his entire abasement in the presence of Gabriel and the Son of Man. You can’t read the book of Job without coming face-to-face with our entirely proper and holy response to the presence and the voice of our God.
Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:6, KJV)
You can’t read the New Testament without being touched by the life of Jesus, our perfect example upon Whom we should model our whole lives, Who literally gave no thought to Himself, Who secured to Himself no possessions at all, Who time and again reminded us that His every thought was of His Father and not of Himself, so that by His entire obedience, even relinquishing His own life, we would see and know and learn that He loved and obeyed the Father in all things.
…for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do…(John 14:30-31, KJV)
You can’t study His teaching without noticing His constant admonishments to turn our backs on every attachment to the world and to constantly consider every individual as greater than ourselves, to consider ourselves only as servants to every single person who crosses our paths…
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. (Matthew 19:21, KJV)
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, KJV)
And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. (Mark 9:35, KJV) (also, similarly, in Matthew 20:26-27, and again Mark 10:44)
And you can’t help but notice that the apostles followed quite faithfully in his footsteps, not wasting time in thought of themselves in any way, but in all ways and at all times and in all words denying themselves in order to proclaim the Lord.
Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. (1 Corinthians 4:11-13, KJV)
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more…And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (1 Corinthians 9:19,23, KJV)
And I can’t help but realize that I have a long way to go, and every day remaining to me on this earth is too short a time for me to practice to attain to this beautiful self-denial and entire service!
And so, in my time in God’s word, I don’t find myself giving much thought to myself, except to notice that I still give too much thought to myself in the rest of my time.
But suddenly, in the space of one day, I encountered two surprising statements on social media. One was from someone I knew, and one was from a stranger.
The person that I knew said that the most important thing was to love yourself as God loved you. I said I was surprised to hear her say that, because the scripture actually says that the most important thing is to the love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. But she said that of course she knew that, but she had been raised her whole life in the church to love herself as God loved her, that it had made her a great mom to her children and a great person who loves and helps everyone, and that she was sorry if I didn’t believe people should love themselves, but to each their own.
The stranger posted a comment in response to a daily-verse post, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. She said, “Love yourself the most. Then love others like that!” I thought perhaps this person was simply being carelessly flippant, and so I replied that it seems to me that the weight of scripture points to denying ourselves and loving God the most. Her response was that obviously God was always first, that she would appreciate it if I would ask a clarifying question if I was too dull to understand her point, but that loving yourself the most was the next most important thing to do in our lives, and that religious nuts like me always want to encourage damaging levels of self-denial.
Two people, in the space of one day, so committed to a life-long practice of self-love that they believed it was the actual teaching of God. These were obviously firmly-held, much-cherished beliefs, beliefs that were not only deeply rooted and incorporated into the daily lives of these two very-unrelated individuals, but beliefs that were so sacred to them, that questioning their validity in light of the scripture that they claimed to be based upon caused angry and very personal rejection. And I wondered, how wide-spread is this idea of self-love?
Now, what I know about this topic comes directly from the mouth of Jesus, in direct answer to the direct question of what is the most important thing in life:
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and great commandment.And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40, KJV)
It’s pretty straight-forward. Jesus specifically says that loving our neighbor as ourself comes second, and is like the first and greatest command, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. But here were two individuals that had made the second command fully equal to the first, so much so that the first and greatest command no longer even merited a mention!
But Jesus established a specific sequence in this teaching, and He did it, as He does all things, on purpose: God, then others, then yourself.
This beautiful sequence has taught me over time – (as I have cried out to the Lord to know how I could love others better, because I am always aware than I am terrible at it) – that the way to love others more completely was simply to continue loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, because only He could show me, circumstance-by-circumstance, how to love others with His great love.
And when you consider Jesus’ teaching in His specific order, the most interesting truth materializes…
The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God. It defines the effort in which we should focus all our energies. It is our faith.
The second commandment is like it, to love our neighbor. This defines our daily thoughts and words and actions which should be the natural outpouring of our love of the Lord. These are our works.
And the final instruction is, as ourselves. This defines how we evaluate our love for our neighbor, that we should view and treat others always as we would desire for ourselves. This is our testing all things in the light of scripture.
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it…(Ephesians 5:29, KJV)
You see, scripture tells us that no man, ever, in all of history, regardless of what we think or say or feel, ever actually hated himself. Self-love is inherent in our flesh, because it became part of our very cellular makeup at the time of original sin.
And so the Lord puts this existing self-love both to good use and in its proper place; not first, but last; not to grow for ourselves, but to keep us honest in how we give to others.
As we love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, He will guide us in loving our neighbor; as we love our neighbor, we demonstrate our love for our Lord; as we evaluate our love of our neighbor by the baseline of our own self-love, we abide in the word that the Lord has given us. When taken in the proper order, this is an instruction for actively living God’s perfect love in this life everyday.
But with self-love teaching, the thing which Jesus placed last has been made first. And it turns out that this is a very popular new sequence!
I had a general idea that at some level, self-love permeates a lot of current teaching. The problem is that we are under constant temptation to promote self-love, and modern American Christianity frequently incorporates it at some level in efforts to fit in and be attractive within culture. Churches offer people a place where they can belong, a place where they will be accepted, a place where they can experience the unconditional love of God, a place where the God-shaped hole in their hearts can be filled…So I could see self-love as kind of a constant undercurrent, at least across the American Christian culture.
But even a quick internet search found the specific teaching on self-love, the specific philosophy that, as Christians, learning to love ourselves is a key to unlocking our abilities to properly love God and others, is apparently quite a popular and growing teaching these days! Sermons, blogs, articles, books, seminars, devotionals, everything. And yet, it is nothing new, because my personal acquaintance was apparently receiving this exact same teaching in the Catholic church in which she was raised over 50 years ago.
And, in fact, its origin dates back to the origin of time, to the most infamous character in all of Biblical history, to Lucifer himself…
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds! I will make myself like the Most High!…(Isaiah 14:14, KJV)
Lucifer sought, through his own efforts, to become like the Most High…And became the father of all who seek to do likewise, throughout all of history.
The serpent said to Eve that the forbidden fruit was good for wisdom and knowledge, for becoming god-like. Eve ate the fruit out of self-love. She desired to love herself the most, to love herself as God loved her, by her own actions to gain what God desired for her – perfect wisdom, perfect understanding, perfect godliness. But created beings cannot achieve perfection through our own efforts. Created beings are made perfect in obedience to our Creator. Eve sought to love herself best, and by disobeying God, she loved herself worst, and brought destruction into the world.
And so self-love teaching is simply the newest invitation down the same old path by the same old prince of this world.
There is great good to be found in seeking to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength; there is great good to be found in seeking to view ourselves through God’s eyes, precious, created for good works, corrupted by sin, but graciously redeemed; there is only destruction to be found in seeking to love ourselves.
This is a classic case of taking one scripture and enlarging it, warping it, twisting it, and reorganizing it to fit a desire, when the entire weight of scripture on this topic encourages us to consider ourselves as less-than-nothing and everyone else as more important than ourselves.
For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts…(2 Timothy 4:3, WEB)
It is nothing new, although it has been repackaged many times over the ages, in order to best adapt to the current culture. And yet, it remains so enormously popular that, in an age when God’s word is readily available to nearly all people with great ease, and especially available to all believers who are called to study it, in an age in which people have the opportunity to test their beliefs in light of scripture quickly and easily and diligently, it still greatly prospers! And I am sad.
The tragedy of self-love is that, as it seeks to achieve perfect freedom, it achieves perfect bondage to the tyrant who promises that every man will become his own god. Satan is, of course, a master of deception. He offers a crown, and when the deal is fatally and eternally sealed, it is only then revealed to be a chain.
But He who is in us is greater than He who is in the world! And if we persevere, if we are diligent to continue in our path, to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, if we daily deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him, if we count ourselves as lesser and others as greater, if we repent and despise ourselves in dust and ashes, if we depart from the path of self-love and enter into the straight and narrow Way of our Lord and Savior, then we will certainly enter into the eternal love that He has in store for us, the perfect gift that He alone can give us, not the pale counterfeit that we would give ourselves! And that is great comfort.
Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe…(John 11:14-15, KJV)
Is this a photo of a bright expanse of sunlit snow, crossed by deep shadows? Or is this a photo of deep forest shadows, broken by patches of sunlit snow?
The story of Lazarus is a story of light and shadow, a story that reveals a truth that had long been veiled, a story that ushers in a new age of enlightenment, a story that fulfills a long-awaited promise, establishing, once and for all, the true relationship of light and shadow in the story of our lives!
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…(2 Timothy 1:10, KJV)
We know that Jesus overcame death and the grave. But death and the grave are still a part of our daily lives, and not one of us will enter into the eternal life that Jesus promised without crossing through the death and grave that He overcame.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die…(Hebrews 9:27, KJV)
We still have to face death. We have to face it ourselves, and we have to face it in those around us who go before us. So what is the difference?
When Lazarus died, his sisters wept and mourned. Visitors came from nearby Jerusalem to weep and mourn with them. Death at that time was quite an extensive exercise in weeping and mourning over the loss of a loved one, the loss of a provider, the loss of a community member…
And we often skip ahead to the end, and remember the miracle of Lazarus in terms of the great good that Jesus did when He raised Lazarus to life. Raising Lazarus from the dead was a wondrous miracle; Lazarus was restored to his sisters, to their great comfort; many believed on Jesus because Lazarus was raised from the dead.
But Jesus teaches us that the very first great good that He did was to let Lazarus die.
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. (John 11:5-6, KJV)
First, it was a great good to Lazarus, and to His sisters. The scripture doesn’t tell us that even though Jesus loved them, He remained two days more. The scripture tells us that because He loved them, therefore He remained two more days. His great love for them was a primary reason why He would let Lazarus die, that He might do them an even greater good than He would have done them by saving Lazarus’ life.
It was also a great good to His disciples. His disciples had seen many miracles, so many that if they were all recorded, even the whole world could not contain the books that would be written…And yet, Jesus let Lazarus die in order that His disciples may believe.
It was, in fact, a great good to all mankind, to Lazarus’ family, to his friends and neighbors, to the nation of Israel, to all the generations of the world that would follow…
And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? (John 11:37, KJV)
Because, of course, this Man, which opened the eyes of the blind, could have caused that even this man should not have died. But instead, He let Lazarus die, because letting him die was the first great good, that would bring an even greater good than healing him.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? (Psalm 6:5, KJV)
When Lazarus died, the people wept and mourned, and Jesus wept. The dominion of death over the Lord’s people was painful and harsh.
Death at that time was the entrance into an unknown. It was a deep shadow broken only by the light of the hope that God is good. And Jesus was distressed in His spirit by this tyranny. And it was for this purpose that He was manifested, to destroy the works of the devil.
But Jesus did not, on this day, overcome death and the grave by casting them into the lake of fire. That day, though certain, is yet to come. Jesus did not, on this day, raise Lazarus to eternal life, teaching us to expect to always be healed and never face death. That day, though appointed, has not yet arrived.
Instead, He let Lazarus die. And He restored him to this life. And this miracle demonstrated who Jesus was, proved His identity and the truth of His word, validated the certainty of the heavenly kingdom that He promised, and that would be even more fully described in days soon to come.
And this began to change the landscape of the world that we live in, began to forever alter, diminish, and destroy the stronghold of death over our lives…
The light of hope did not remove the shadow of death, but it put it back into its proper place. In a short time, Jesus would give His own life, would willingly accept death and the grave, and be raised to new life, solidifying the revelation that began with the raising of Lazarus…
And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:15, KJV)
So that when Lazarus died again, and he would, there would be no more weeping and mourning, no more fear and anxiety and desolation, but only great, great joy in the certainty of the knowledge of our heavenly kingdom, in the welcome reunion with our heavenly Father, because our Lord has set us free!
Death is no longer an unknown. Now we know the joy that is set before us. It is the bright light of eternal, perfect life, a kingdom without sorrow or illness or tear, in the light of a heavenly Father and the company of a heavenly family, for all time. It is a new landscape, no longer tyrannized by shadow, but victorious in light. Death is no longer our destroyer! We no longer need weep and mourn the death of loved ones, but rejoice! We no longer need fear our own death, but anticipate that one, last offering to the glory of our Lord!
…that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13, KJV)
Letting Lazarus die overcame the shadow of death once for all time. Now, in place of a deep shadow of death broken by the light of hope, we live in the wide expanse of brilliant hope, briefly broken by the passing shadow of death! May we ever rejoice – though in this world we will have trouble, may we take heart, for He has overcome the world!