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Posts from 2020-09-06

Sermon Love as 'ghesed'

Romans 13:8-end

Love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus said the same in the famous passage in Mark 12:29-31. 

The words we always use at the Prayer of Penitence during the Holy Communion service :29 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Not only in the Bible, but in nearly everything it is all about love. Love is in the air, love is in the music, love is the keyword for our society, love in the family, love is now the keyword for describing God, and so on, but what is love? And what is love in a Christian context?

Just google the word love and you’ll find over 13 billion references. And, when you google love in Christian context you’ll get just over 2 billion hits, so that’s somewhat less.

Strangely enough, even when there’s such a lot written about love, no one has to learn it. Love is a language everybody understands and speaks. 

So when Paul repeats the words of Jesus how loving your neighbour is the fulfillment of God’s commands, it should not be an impossible thing to understand or to exercise. It is something we should not have to learn, because it comes naturally.

And then at the end of this chapter about love, Paul merges his words love in the one sentence; ‘But, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul asks this because Jesus Christ is the Embodiment of God’s love. Paul wrote that only a few chapters before in chapter 5: 8 ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ 

This simply means that God’s love cannot be disconnected from Jesus Christ. So, when Paul asks us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, it means accepting and receiving God’s love. 

The question remaining however is; how are we going to live by and demonstrate in our own lives this love of God. 

The complication is that we are limited by our humanity to understand the depths of God and of His love. In the end, we are only human beings and fall short in our understanding of metaphysics and the transcendence of God.

On the other hand, it is not too complicated either, because the word for love in the Bible is not simply a word, but even more so a concept which we can all understand and simply do.

When we hear or read in the Old Testament the word love it is translated from a few Hebrew words. When it relates to God and His love it is often from the Hebrew word ghesed like for example in Jeremiah 32 where it says that God will show His steadfast love to many. The same is said in Psalm 98 and 117 about God’s enduring kindness, or Psalm 35 which mentions how the earth is full of God’s unfailing love.

It is this concept of ghesed, the word for enduring kindness, steadfast and unfailing love which has found its way into the NT as the word for love.

So, when Paul repeats the words of Jesus about loving your neighbour as yourself and putting on Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God’s love he is referring to this concept of hesed.

And this concept is not difficult to understand or to live by. It simply means returning good for good. When you do something good for somebody else and you’re repaid in evil, that hurts. It is something you should not expect and when it happens it causes animosity and anger. 

In one of the 16 volumes of Botterweck’s famous Dictionary of the Old Testament it is described in summary like this: The concept of ghesed constitutes of 3 elements: it is active, social and enduring. Hesed not only designates a human attitude, but also an act emerging from this attitude. 

It is an act that preserves and promotes life. 

It is intervention on behalf of someone suffering misfortune or distress. 

It is a demonstration of friendship or piety and it pursuits of what is good not of what is evil. Together it means that the most appropriate translation of hesed is goodness, grace and kindness. 

When you help someone, or someone helps you, it creates a kind of bond and reciprocal duty, an unwritten agreement. 

Ans this is exactly what God has given to us in Jesus Christ and in His ministry. God has done something for us through Jesus Christ. As in the Old Testament did good for the Jewish nation by supprting and helping them, so now God did a similar good to us all. No longer is God’s care offered to one nation only, but instead to the whole world. God was often disappointed in the nation He saved and cared for, because it was a kind of active ghesed shown to them. But, instead of returning God’s loyalty with their own loyalty, they offered to other gods and disobeyed his commandments. 

Living according to God’s commands in this day and age, is simply returning God’s love given to us in and through the ministry of Jesus Christ, His ghesed, by staying loyal to Him. 

As to live like how the word ghesed is used in Micah 6:6-8: ‘With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself for God on high?... He has shown you what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’  


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