Friday, December 28, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday after Christmas

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25–32)
We must seek an explanation worthy of God’s purpose as to why, as is written in the Gospel, “Simeon, a holy man and one pleasing to God, awaiting the consolation of Israel, received an answer from the Holy Spirit that he would not perish in death before he saw the Lord’s Anointed.” What did he gain from seeing Christ? Did he have only this promised to him, that he would see him, and derive no profit from seeing him? Or is some gift worthy of God concealed here, a gift that the blessed Simeon both merited and received? “The woman touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment and was healed.” If she derived such an advantage from the very edge of his garment, what should we think of Simeon, who “received” the infant “into his arms”? He held him in his arms, and kept rejoicing and exulting. He saw that the little child he was carrying had come to release captives and to free Simeon himself from the bonds of the body. Simeon knew that no one could release a man from the prison of the body with hope of life to come, except the one whom he enfolded in his arms.

Hence, he also says to him, “Now you dismiss your servant, Lord, in peace.” For, as long as I did not hold Christ, as long as my arms did not enfold him, I was imprisoned, and unable to escape from my bonds.” But this is true not only of Simeon, but of the whole human race. Anyone who departs from this world, anyone who is released from prison and the house of those in chains, to go forth and reign, should take Jesus in his hands. He should enfold him with his arms, and fully grasp him in his bosom. Then he will be able to go in joy where he longs to go. Consider how great a saving act had taken place earlier, so that Simeon should deserve to hold the Son of God. First he had received an answer from the Holy Spirit, that “he would not see death unless he had first seen the Lord’s Anointed.”

Then he entered the temple—but not by chance, or naively. He “came to the temple in the Spirit of God.” “For, as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Therefore the Holy Spirit led him into the temple. If you wish to hold Jesus, and to embrace him with your hands, and to be made worthy of leaving prison, you too must struggle with every effort to possess the guiding Spirit and come to God’s temple. See, you stand now in the temple of the Lord Jesus—that is, in his Church. This is the temple “built from living stones.” But you stand in the Lord’s temple when your life and your conduct are worthy of the title “church.”

If you come “to the temple in the Spirit,” you will find the child Jesus. You will lift him up in your arms and say, “Now you dismiss your servant, Lord, in peace, according to your word.” At the same time, notice that “peace” has been added to the dismissal and the sending forth. For he does not say, “I wish to be dismissed,” but to be dismissed with the addition of “in peace.” This same thing was promised to the blessed Abraham: “But you will go to your fathers in peace, after you have been cared for in a good old age.” Who is the one who dies “in peace” if not he who has “the peace of God, which surpasses every perception and guards the heart” of him who possesses it? Who is the one who departs “in peace” from this world if not he who understands that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself”? Who if not he in whom nothing is hostile to God or opposed to him, but who by good works has acquired all peace and harmony in himself? Thus he is dismissed “in peace” to go on to the holy fathers, to whom Abraham also went forth.

Why do I speak about the fathers? He is to go to the very prince and Lord of the patriarchs, to Jesus, of whom it is said, “It is better to be released and to be with Christ.” He who dares to say, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me,” he possesses Jesus. Therefore, let us pray that we too might stand in the temple, hold the Son of God, and embrace him, and that we might be worthy of release and of going on to better things. Let us pray to Almighty God, and let us pray to Jesus himself, the little child. We long to speak to him and hold him in our arms, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen.

Origen, Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 15

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Whom Are You Seeking?

People want direction and meaning in life. As we grow, we generally imitate what is modeled by our families, but sometimes branching into other pathways and assessing alternate philosophies of life. Whichever way we choose, the impetus behind the search is to answer two basic questions: 1) Where am I going in life? and 2) How do I get there? Once a course is set, changes are made along the way as we refine our understanding in the light of new information and circumstances. This is especially true when our lives have been greatly affected in a spiritual way. Two such occasions are recounted in the Gospel of John: two scenarios in which people had been greatly affected by God’s intervention but were faced with unsettling circumstances and decisions. Searching for answers, they met an inquiring Jesus.

John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, had made a following for himself. Living in the countryside, he looked like a fanatic dressed in his camel hair garment, eating only locust and wild honey, yet he struck a cord with his call to repentance. The Jewish elite did not know what to make of him, asking outright if he was Elijah or another prophet: they wanted to know if he was safe. Indeed, he was not. As they approached in what was certainly a feigned act of piety to demonstrate their self-made righteousness, John called them a “brood of vipers.”

Two who had become John’s disciples, Andrew and another unnamed, at some point heard the Baptizer speak of another in a most remarkable way:
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). (John 1:35–39)
These two disciples had already recognized their sinful selves before a holy God and were received by John through their confession with baptism; but now John is pointing all to One who, by virtue of the title proclaimed, had a divine mission that transcended John’s ministry. The difficulty was knowing how to engage Jesus, but He began by asking what they were looking for.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus had met and healed many people from various ailments. While many were sent back to their friends and family as a witness, others followed Jesus to assist in whatever might be needed. One of these followers was a woman of little notoriety. All we know of her is her name, hometown, and what Jesus had done for her—Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. Grateful for what had been done, Mary was one of a small group of women who agonized nearby as Jesus was nailed to a cross, died, and buried. Their world had been turned upside-down. To make matters worse, when the women went to the tomb for final burial wrappings, they found it opened with the the body missing. What else could it be but goons sent to desecrate the remains? Then Jesus comes to her.
But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:11–15)
Searching and being found
What were they looking for? Did the two disciples or Mary even know? Was it a prophet who would turn hearts to God? Was it a teacher to show them the way more correctly? Was it a healer who would ease the suffering of a world groaning under the effects of the curse? Was it a martyr to serve as a rallying point? Was it a friend who loved without reservation? Somehow I doubt they had any idea. They were not sure what they were looking for. All they understood was the import of the moment: something had to be done, and they were seeking an answer. Wonderfully, the answer was more than they could ask or think. What they sought found them and chose them as His own. They found the teacher, healer, etc. and so much more: they found a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Patristic Wisdom for Christmas Day

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–5, 14)

The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father's Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required. Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation 9

Monday, December 24, 2018

Patristic Wisdom for Christmas Eve

The Dream of St. Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. (Mt 1:18–25)

The Evangelists help us to recognize both the divine and corporeal birth of the Lord, which they describe as a two-fold mystery and a kind of double path. Indeed, both the divine and the bodily birth of the Lord are indescribable, but that from the Father vastly exceeds every means of description and wonder. The bodily birth of Christ was in time; his divine birth was before time. The one in this age, the other before the ages. The one from a virgin mother, the other from God the Father. Angels and men stood as witnesses at the corporeal birth of the Lord, yet at his divine birth there was no witness except the Father and the Son, because nothing existed before the Father and the Son. But because the Word could not be seen as God in the glory of his own divinity, he assumed visible flesh to demonstrate his invisible divinity. He took from us what is ours in order to give generously what is his.

Notice here too the order of a mystery: The devil first spoke to Eve the virgin long ago, and then to a man, that he might administer to them the word of death. In the latter case, a holy angel first spoke to Mary and then to Joseph, that he might reveal to them the word of life. In the former case, a woman was chosen unto sin; in the latter case, she was chosen unto salvation. In the former case, the man fell through the woman; in the latter case, he rose through the virgin. The angel therefore said to Joseph, “Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David, to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

And he added, “She shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” But this name of Lord which was given to Jesus from the virgin's womb is not new to him but old. For Jesus translated from Hebrew into Latin means “Savior.” This name is agreeable to God because he says through the prophet: “Just God and a Savior; there is none beside me.”* Lastly, when the Lord himself would speak through Isaiah about the bodily origin of his nativity, he says, “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.”† His name is certainly not strange, for Jesus was called according to the flesh (i.e., Savior, who was a Savior according to divinity). For Jesus, as we said, is rendered as “Savior.” This is what he said through the prophet: “From the body of my mother he named my name.”‡ And that he might more fully show us the sacrament of his incarnation, he went on to say, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword ... he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.” By the arrow he signified his divinity; by the quiver he assumed a body from the Virgin in which his divinity was covered with a garment of flesh.

Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 2.1, 3-4.

* Isaiah 45:21
† Isaiah 49:1
‡ Isaiah 49:2

Friday, December 21, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Advent

And you, O Bethlehem, House of Ephrathah, though you are fewest in number among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be ruler of Israel. His goings forth were from the beginning, even from everlasting. Therefore He shall give them up until the appointed time for her to give birth, and then the remnant of their brothers will return to the sons of Israel. And He shall stand and see, and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, and they will dwell in the glory of the name of the Lord their God, for now they will be magnified unto the ends of the earth. And she will have peace. (Micah 5:2-5a)

Ephrem the Syrian

In this night of reconcilement let no man be wroth or gloomy! in this night that stills all, none that threatens or disturbs! This night belongs to the sweet One; bitter or harsh be in it none! In this night that is the meek One’s, high or haughty be in it none! In this day of pardoning let us not exact trespasses! In this day of gladnesses let us not spread sadnesses! In this day so sweet, let us not be harsh! In this day of peaceful rest, let us not be wrathful in it! In this day when God came to sinners, let not the righteous be in his mind uplifted over sinner! In this day in which there came the Lord of all unto the servants, let masters too condescend to their servants lovingly! In this day in which the Rich became poor for our sakes, let the rich man make the poor man share with him at his table. On this day to us came forth the Gift, although we asked it not! Let us therefore bestow alms on them that cry and beg of us. This is the day that opened for us a gate on high to our prayers. Let us open also gates to supplicants that have transgressed, and of us have asked [forgiveness.] Today the Lord of nature was against His nature changed; let it not to us be irksome to turn our evil wills. Fixed in nature is the body; great or less it cannot become: but the will has such dominion, it can grow to any measure. Today Godhead sealed itself upon Manhood, that so with the Godhead’s stamp Manhood might be adorned.

Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity I

Friday, December 14, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday in Advent

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Cry aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Be glad and rejoice with your whole heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your iniquities and ransomed you from your enemies. The Lord, the King of Israel, is in your midst; you will no longer see any evil. At that time the Lord shall say to Jerusalem, “O Zion, be of good courage; do not let your hands grow slack. The Lord your God is with you. The Mighty One shall save you. He shall bring gladness upon you and will renew you with His love. He will delight over you with joy as in a day of feasting.” (Zeph 3:14–17)

Live now in utter delight, O Jerusalem, living in complete happiness and satisfaction; for God has removed all your lawless deeds and of necessity has rescued you from the power of the foe, to whom you were subjected in paying the penalty of punishment. The Lord will now be in your midst, showing his kingship by his care for you, so that trouble will no longer be able to approach you.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Zephaniah 3.11–15

As far as the deeper meaning of the passage is concerned, it clearly commands Jerusalem to rejoice exceedingly, to be especially glad, to cheer up wholeheartedly as its trespasses are wiped out, evidently through Christ. The spiritual and holy Zion—that is, the church, the holy multitude of the believers—is justified in Christ and only in him. By him and through him we are also saved as we escape from the harm of the invisible enemies, for we have a Mediator who was incarnated in our form, the king of all, that is, the Word of God the Father. Thanks to him, we do not see evil anymore, for we have been delivered from the powers of evil. He [the Word] is the armor of good will, the peace, the wall, the one who bestows incorruption, the arbiter of the crowns, who shut down the war of the incorporeal Assyrians and made void the schemes of the demons.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Zephaniah 43

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Living Hope by Phil Wickham

These days, music produced by Christian artists in the Praise & Worship genre may have a catchy tune or ethos suitable for your personal playlist, but biblical content is as scarce as hen’s teeth; so, when a current artist produces something Christ-honoring, it needs to be called out.

“Living Hope” by Phil Wickham

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope
Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Jesus, Yours is the victory, whoa!


Jesus Christ, my living hope
Oh God, You are my living hope

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Hearts Sprinkled; Bodies Washed

In recent years I have changed my position on baptism from something done to show what was spiritually accomplished at an earlier time to being the defining moment for identification with Christ. Why? Simply put, Scripture refers to baptism as the active agent (cf. Rom 6:1–4, Col 2:11–14, 1 Pet 3:21–22 Acts 2:28; 22:16). There are also passages like Titus 3:4–7 that do not reference baptism by name, but clearly bring out what is being done through washing. For years I had been taught to spiritualize this text because of the preconception that baptism is for making your faith public—which it does—but a good lexicon will tell you it refers to a ceremonial religious washing with H2O. A few months ago, my attention was drawn to another example of washing that I had previously read and spiritualized.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19–22)
Access to God had previously been restricted to the priesthood, and only the High Priest could enter the Holiest, and only on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:11–16). Since Jesus, in His high-priestly office, applied His precious blood on the heavenly mercy seat as the full final atonement, all believers, in their vocation as a priesthood, have gained access.

While the people were consecrated corporately as a chosen people through the sprinkling of blood and the Word of God (Exod 24:3–8), priests were consecrated individually (Exod 29:1–37) with their primary duty being the daily service (Exod 29:38–46). Part of the consecration rite involved the following actions:
Bodies washed
And Aaron and his sons you shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall wash them with water. (Exod 29:4)
Blood sprinkled
And you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar, and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments, on his sons and on the garments of his sons with him; and he and his garments shall be hallowed, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him. (Exod 29:21)
The parallels should be obvious: as the Levitical priests were washed with water and sprinkled with blood, in similar fashion, believers receive the same consecration for priestly service—though with a difference. The Mosaic covenant stipulated that Aaron and his sons were sprinkled with blood so that it spattered on their garments, whereas the author of Hebrews speaks of application on the heart, turning what had been a physical act to one that is spiritual. Since Christ was the last sacrifice, the blood would need to be Divinely applied. One might think that the washing is also solely spiritual in nature, however, the writer is careful to specify that their washing had been with actual water. Had he intended the communicate solely the spiritual, we might have expected “washing with the Holy Spirit” or some such wording. As written, we must conclude that water is used, and that the Holy Spirit is actively involved in the transaction in order to give the full sanctifying and consecrating effect as Cyril of Jerusalem instructs:
For since man is of twofold nature, soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul; that we may draw near unto God, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit, and our body washed with pure water. When going down, therefore, into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost: for without both you cannot possibly be made perfect. (“On Baptism,” Catechetical Lectures III.4)
The author of Hebrews used this association to the priest in order to build the case that these believers stood in a unique position with a holy vocation that their past life in Judaism could never afford: the recipients had the holy privilege of open access to God’s presence, so they should not lose heart and return to Judaism but persevere in their adversity. To do so, he recounts what has been accomplished in them through working of each Person of the Godhead, demonstrating how each part of the work stands within redemptive history as it was promised to His people and fulfilled in Christ. To turn back now would be paramount to unbelief and God’s wrath, but the writer was confident that they would remember their baptisms and confidently continue in the faith they had received.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday in Advent

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come into His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom you desire. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can withstand His appearance? For He enters like a refiner’s fire and as soap in one’s wash. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver and gold. He will purify the sons of Levi and pour them out as purified gold and silver, and they will bring an offering to the Lord in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:1–3 LXX)

“I for my part shall come,” He is saying, “whom you look to as punisher of sins. There will be present also the angel who ministers to the agreements I have often made with you. When you seek him, you will find him punishing the transgression of your agreements with me.” While the prophet said this as a consequence of what preceded, it is not surprising that the same verse was cited at the coming of blessed John the Baptist, the statement being fulfilled in actual fact by the coming of blessed John as predetermined forerunner and minister, and by the emergence of Christ the Lord, who came at the same time as he and was testified to by him and in whom the salvation of all people was destined to be achieved.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Malachi 3.1

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Greatest Commandment

Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. ‘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. “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31)

“So, all I need to do is love God and neighbor? Just as long is it doesn’t cost me anything.”
— Prototypical Response

When looking at Jesus’ response, I cannot help but be reminded that the scribe, being associated with the Pharisees as a scholar of the Mosaic Law, would have known every commandment, statute, etc. that God had instituted for His people, as well as a complete body of knowledge codifying how a Jew would carry out each requirement. The doing of the Law within the framework of the added codes became the standard by which one could objectively demonstrate their level of devotion. The only problem is that the devotion was to themselves and their own self-righteousness.

Love is antithetical to self: it is sacrifice. And loving with all we are means sacrificing all. Who can do this? As we look to Jesus, we see the epitome of love for God and man. Notice how He speaks to His Father:
I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.… I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. (John 17:4, 6)
And also to His disciples:
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:12–13)
The next day, our Lord Jesus followed up His words of love for God and man with action as He willingly gave His life on the tree. This is how love manifests itself—while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). It is this love that we are to demonstrate.
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (1 Jn 3:16–18)
Some may balk thinking that laying down one’s life is too difficult: how could a person do that without reservation? Yet that is exactly what God does in us because of Christ. Are we able to love God and neighbor the way He desires? Yes and no. In our own power, we are completely unable to love beyond what may be natural affections to those closest to us. However, it is because He first loved us that we are able to love Him and one another fully. Trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross, that ultimate sacrifice for us, we are enabled and empowered to love as God has loved us as we look to the final day.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. (1 Jn 4:17–19)