Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Jun 30 2013

When babies are born, the hospital staff immediately checks for certain vital signs.  Is the baby breathing?  Crying?  Is
the cry healthy or weak sounding?  How much does the baby weigh?  Just as breathing, crying, and size are all
indicators of a newborn’s physical health, there are spiritual vital signs that can tell us how healthy we are.  And the most
vital sign of all is love.

When we become born-again believers in Jesus Christ, we receive the new heart and spirit promised to us in the new
covenant (Ezekiel 11).  This is nothing less than the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us.  Without him, there is no true Christian
experience.  “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).  Since the Holy
Spirit in us is God, and since God is love, then the essence of the one dwelling within us is divine love.  No wonder Jesus
said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).  God’s purpose for
giving us his Spirit was to make that life of love possible.

Love Plays No Favorites

When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colosse, he told them how he thanked God when he learned of “the love
you have for all God’s people” (Colossians 1:4).  Notice the spiritual health of that congregation.  It wasn’t measured in
attendance figures or magnificent buildings but in what really counts before God – love.  And it wasn’t just love for some
people who were easily lovable or with the same ethnic background.  No, he rejoiced in their reputation for loving all the
people of God.  What a great reputation to have before an unbelieving world!

Instead of a color-blind love like God’s, culture, ethnicity, and race dominate the atmosphere of too much of our church
life.  Some groups just know they’re not especially welcomed in some churches – it would be better if they stayed with
their “own kind.”  Others have experienced churches where anger and resentment roil beneath the surface.  It seems as
if many congregations build walls to keep out anyone not like them instead of welcoming their brothers and sisters – like
Jesus did – in love.  We like to talk about love, but it’s seldom the divine kind that encompasses “all the saints.”

Once while I was overseas, a friend of mine arranged a meeting with a small group of Christian businessmen.  He wanted
me to share a specific financial challenge our church was facing in downtown Brooklyn with hopes that these men might
be able to help us.  When I completed my short, informal presentation, they quite frankly laid out their position.  Although
blessed with great financial resources, and although extreme poverty rarely exists in their country, they said they only
helped “their own kind.”  The thought of reaching out in love to people who were not like them seemed unthinkable.

Too often, isn’t that our subconscious frame of reference?  If the people are “different” – meaning not our color or
ethnicity, or not a part of our congregation or denomination – their plight in life rarely touches our hearts.  But God’s love
knows no such parameters.  It’s free flowing and as wide as the world.  It recognizes no outward distinction and overflows
every human wall of separation.  It’s the love of God, his very essence.  God sent Jesus into a world that was as much
different or “other” to his holy nature as one could imagine.  But divine love has only one target group – the entire
human race!  God’s love plays no favorites.  His followers on earth were given the Holy Spirit so we could “be imitators of
live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to
God” (Ephesians 5:1-2, emphasis added).

Love Like a Nursing Mother

Earlier I mentioned that morning in a London hotel room when God made some passages in I Thessalonians come alive
to me.  Like most ministers, I had studied the apostle Paul in hopes of gleaning the secrets of such powerfully effective
labor for Christ.  I already knew his unchanging message – the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I had also analyzed his
methodology: he depended totally on the Holy Spirit.  Daily he was led and strengthened by the Spirit’s power.

But now a third truth began to jump off the pages of my New Testament – Paul’s motivation.  In reminding the believers
of his visit to Thessalonica, which resulted in their conversions and the founding of a Christian church, Paul said, “As
apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little
children” (I Thessalonians 2:6-7).  The picture here in the original Greek is of a mother pulling down the bodice of her
dress and nursing the baby at her breast.  What a tender picture of love and devotion.  When a mother nurses an infant,
it’s all about the baby, not her.  Paul declared that was how he was while among them – all the attention and concern
was for them, not him.  The apostle’s motivation was a fervent love for the believers in Thessalonica that could only be
explained by God’s own love controlling him.

But then he went further: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God
but our lives  as well, because you had become so dear to us” (I Thessalonians 2:8).  We love you so much, Paul said,
that we didn’t want to share only the gospel with you, but
our own lives as well!  No wonder his messages reached the
hearts of people.  His words were not only from his mouth, but also from a tender heart.  What would make a minister
want to give not just sermons to people, but his very life as well?  It was love.  He was willing to sacrifice his life because
these people had become so dear to him that no cost or sacrifice would be too much.  We see here a man motivated by
the strongest force in the universe – God’s love replicated in and through him.

I wept as I sat on the floor with my New Testament in my lap.  How short I had fallen from that kind of ministry.  I was too
self-absorbed and self-conscious to let go and let God’s love flow through me.  In my insecurity, I was too often just
trying to get through the sermon without fumbling and hoped that possibly someone might comment favorably.  Like a
mother nursing her baby?  Ready to give my life for the sheep?  No way.  I saw my mechanical, unloving efforts in God’s
clear light, and it kept me before Him in prayer for a long time.  I didn’t need my batteries recharged; I needed a spiritual
overhaul, a new way of living.

My prayer since then has repeatedly been that God would enable me to see people the way he sees them and to feel
what he feels no matter what.  Though I have failed countless times, that remains my constant petition at the throne of

A Life Worthy of Love

That kind of love is not reserved for a few select believers or special men and women involved in ministry.  It’s what Paul
calls “a life worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10), and it’s God’s purpose for every one of us.  Now that his love has
provided our salvation, how unworthy of him are lives lived in selfishness, bickering, and prejudice.  And after all of his
mercy, how can we be judgmental with other people?  Is that our experience with Jesus?  Has he jumped down our
throats when we failed?  Has he put us on some losers’ list because of our inconsistencies and broken promises?  No,
his love endures and has proved greater than all our faults.

A life of love is also the only way to “please him in every way” (Colossians 1:10).  Since God is an emotional being, he
experiences joy and sadness just as we do.  Our daily words and deeds can cause him displeasure or move him to
rejoice over us with singing.  What an amazing thought!  Today you and I can please the God of the universe.  Although
he is beyond our comprehension, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, his heart can still be touched by our loving
actions, even in commonplace activities.  What else but love could please a God of love?

Love is always the bottom line.  That’s why the Bible declares: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).  Even
though the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham was the circumcision of all baby boys, a new day has dawned and a
better covenant has been established.  Circumcision, race, talent, money, fame, education, or anything else we highly
treasure becomes irrelevant in comparison with love.  Each of us individually and every Christian church has been
ordained by God to reveal this love as the indisputable sign that we belong to Christ.

The Power of Love

A loving person, or better yet, a church full of loving people, has tremendous power to influence people for God.  A few
years ago, an older couple from a southern state visited our church.  We had a mutual friend, and the couple came to
my office after the service so we could be introduced.  They both seemed a little emotional as we chatted, and soon I
learned why.

“Pastor,” the man said, “I want to tell you something before we leave.  We go to a very conservative church, and the
service we were just in was very different for us.  But it was more than the loud singing, hands lifted, and the obvious
emotion of your congregation.  We understand that, and we were blessed by it all.  But you see” – he paused, his voice
cracking – “we’ve never worshiped with black people and Latinos before, never once in our lives.”  Then he continued”
What’s more, when you directed folks to greet one another, all kinds of men I’ve never met hugged me as if I was their
brother.”  Tears now filled his eyes.  “I felt more love this morning from strangers than I’ve ever experienced in my home
church for the past thirty years.”

What a blessing!  He never mentioned my sermon or how the choir sang.  What touched his heart and opened his eyes
was God’s love flowing beyond all the fences that had been carefully (and religiously) erected over the decades of his
life.  The love he experienced that day wasn’t something that could be taught to a congregation.  “Now about your love
for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other (I
Thessalonians 4:9).  God is the instructor and dean of students in the school of love.  For us he makes the lesson
amazingly clear: “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (I John 4:16).  There it is for all of us
to ponder.

discussions (not fights) have their place.  But it’s not our Calvinism, Pentecostalism, evangelicalism, or any
other “ism” that proves we live in God.  It’s only love.  It often seems to me that the so-called culture wars that take place
in the name of God and morality can often radiate more bitterness than love.  That defeats the purpose of Jesus’
message.  “Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).  Of course,
we’re not the first to need an attitude correction.  When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about whether they could eat food
that was sacrificed to idols, he started his answer by addressing the tone of the conversation.  “We know that ‘We all
possess knowledge.’  But knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (I Corinthians 8:1).

Nothing is accomplished when we fuss with others in an unloving way.  The outside world looks in and says, “If that’s the
way Christians are, I don’t want any part of it!”  If we want Christianity to be attractive to unbelievers, we need to
represent ourselves in a loving way.  Jesus was a friend to sinners.  It is love that drew people to him.  They liked to
hang out with him.  I wonder how many unbelievers could say the same about us.  “Whoever lives in love” – that’s the
final exam for each of us.  May God help us to remember it always.

Love in the Spirit

Perhaps the hardest question we need to address is, how did those believers in Colosse develop that strong love for all
the saints?  How did Paul get to the place of unselfishly caring for people like a nursing mother, willing to make any
sacrifice, if necessary, for their spiritual welfare?  Paul gives us the answer when he explains that another minister told
him about “you
love in the Spirit.”  It wasn’t an earth-based love that the saints in Colosse were experiencing; it was the
Holy Spirit’s love replacing their human limitations and carnal tendencies.  It was supernatural love because it belonged
to God – God, the Holy Spirit.

This is an important lesson for us.  Most of us know that Christ is the perfect model of love.  We know the message in I
Corinthians 13 about the preeminence of love, and we know that God is love.  But then we foolishly try harder, to love
more, in our own strength.  We make well-meaning deliberate attempts to overcome selfish habits and our natural
distaste for cranky, obnoxious people.  But when we react unkindly and sense failure, we just go back to the drawing
board, convinced that if we only try harder, or read more Scriptures, we’ll somehow get better at loving others.

But Paul spoke of “love in the Spirit,” which is something totally separate from human ability.  Remember his teaching to
the Galatians: “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22).  Love is a fruit growing within us from a supernatural
source.  It’s not your love, yet it is, since the Spirit works in you both to will and to do loving things that are on his mind.  
You never hear of an apple tree struggling to produce its fruit.  As long as sap flows within the tree, apples will form and
blossom.  And so it is with the Holy Spirit and love.  He is our life and bears the fruit – not us.  That’s why he was sent to
live in us.

How else could Stephen, as he was being stoned say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60)?  What else
could make Paul compare his love for the Thessalonians to a nursing mother and her baby?  Or say that he was ready
to give up his life for them?  Only the love of God could make them love like that.

Without the miracle of God’s love, life has a way of hardening all of us.  We become cynical, crusty senior citizens
without the glow of the “first love” we experienced at the beginning of our life in Christ.  This is not only bad for us but
also for the cause of Christ to a watching world.  But it doesn’t have to be that way: “They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:14).

Let’s ask for a fresh baptism of God’s love.  Let’s then walk in that love so everyone encountering us can have a peek
into the heart of God.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.