I (not to mention likely every pastor you have heard) have often said that scripture is like a picture … and a mirror. It pictures God —Jesus Christ being the very image of God— and it reflects man. In reading what God is like we can see how far we are short of that. But as important as it is to see the true reflection of ourselves with all of our failings, it is equally as important for us to discern the true nature of God. A lot of people lose sight of His true nature in the characteristics that flow from that nature.
We can see from reading Scripture what is the true nature, the overarching characteristic, of God— it is His love. In fact the Bible goes beyond that. It does not merely picture God as loving, it reveals God IS love! In fact this is the ONLY picture the Bible gives us of God’s fundamental nature. Love is not one of His characteristics, it is His very character. (1 John 4:7,8,16)
Oh, but I can hear some say, God is also Judgment and Justice and Righteousness and Holiness. Well that is true. He IS all of those things. But, with the exception of Holiness, those are expressions of His character, not its core. And even “holiness” describes what He is, not who He is. You see, holiness is a description of position, not of nature … though the two cannot (in fact must not) be separated.
“Holiness”, and its related adjective “holy”, in Hebrew is kodesh. It means “to be apart”, “to be separate”, and “to be exalted”. Both meanings denote position. They also connote a state of absolute purity that is reserved only for God. In Greek the root word for “holiness” and “holy” is hagios, meaning “to be set apart”. It thus came to mean “to be devoted”. And as something “set apart and devoted” it connoted to the Greeks (as it should to us) “something sacred”. But again, the word describes position. Interestingly, it derives from the ancient Greek word hagos, meaning “something awful” (in that word’s original meaning of “terrible” or “filling with awe”.) Indeed the very Presence of God whose very visage radiates His Holy, Pure and Righteous position as the First Cause, the Great Creator, and the Eternal Sustainer, turns men to utter weakness and abject terror. Even the great apostle John, called and so greatly used of God, when at last in the Presence of God—even the Lamb whom he loved and Who loved him—says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). Before the great Throne of God, the great prophet Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:5)! And Moses, who received the very law of God from the very hand of God, caught a glimpse of Him, and so terrible was the sight that he cried, “I exceedingly fear and quake” (Hebrews 12:21b)! No wonder the terror, for Exodus says, “No man shall see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20b). Yet, in Christ, we can indeed look upon the face of God.
“Righteousness” (Hebrew tzedek, Greek dikaiosune) means "absolute rightness" and "purity of justice". Righteousness is the expression of God’s position as one set apart and exalted, and the manifestation of His fundamental nature and character— which is “love”.
“Justice” (Hebrew mishpat; Greek dikaiosune — which, as we have just seen, is the same word as the one for “righteousness”) means the discerning and execution of correct judgment. It is a facet of God’s righteousness, as the Greek makes clear in its combining of the two meanings (righteousness and justice) into one word.
“Judgment” in Hebrew is the same word as the one meaning “justice” (mishpat), thus indicating to the Hebrew mind that the two cannot be separated. They are two facets of the one thing: discerning and executing that which is right. In Greek the word for “judgment” is krisis. It means “to render a legal decision” either to judge something “just” or something “unjust”, or to declare someone “innocent” or “guilty”.
In summary— because God IS love, He must thus be absolutely righteous because pure and true love cannot condone unrighteousness of any kind; the expression of His righteousness thus requires the execution of justice; and the execution of His justice necessitates the imposition of correct judgment: one reward for the wicked, one for the just.
My point in all of this is to demonstrate that love is the ONE core characteristic of God, and that all else in God's character flows out of that. And that point —that the essential character of God is love— is the underpinning for what I am about to say.
Because God IS love, the Holy Spirit in describing Himself to us ensured that He—in the midst of ALL of the instruction on how to live as one who is indwelt by Him—placed a full and careful description of what love is. God devotes the entire 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians to the topic. And in verses In 4 to 7 He tells us that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV). Now we often read those words and think of them as a description of what love is. But the truth is that, since God is love, these verses are actually a description of who God is. So let us substitute the word God for Love.
“God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. He is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of personal wrongs. He does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Now, God has revealed Himself to us by and in Jesus Christ. Jesus indeed is “the radiance of God’s glory and the express image (the exact likeness) of God” (Hebrews 1:3). So let us substitute the words Jesus Christ for God.
“Jesus Christ is patient, Jesus Christ is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. He is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of personal wrongs. He does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
There! Do you see how what we sometimes read as a definition of the word “love” is actually a description of the very character of God … as revealed to us in, and by, His Son? Think of the life of Jesus Christ and compare everything He said and did with this description. Do you see how He fulfilled it to the uttermost? THIS is the picture of Christ that we must always hold before us, that we must always hold out as our goal until we “be conformed to that image” (Romans 8:29) being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit as we daily surrender ourselves to Him.
But remember, we said that Scripture is not only a picture of God, it is a mirror in which we see ourselves reflected. And that reflection, if we look with honest hearts, will reveal us as we are.
So now let us use our passage of scripture to see that reflection and see how Christlike we may be. Substitute your name for the subject.
“I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I do not boast, I am not proud. I am not rude, I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of personal wrongs. I do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.”
Hmmm. Now I see the real Adrian. Now I see just how far I have yet to go. There is indeed nothing in me of which to boast. And everything that I may see that manifests some good in me I know is Christ in me, not me.
Years ago I saw the wonderful woman of God, Corrie Ten Boom, appear on The 700 Club. This was almost 40 years ago, long before the Jim Bakker PTL scandal and the growing apostate nature of Pat Robertson. Back then it was good Christian television. Pat gave her a tremendous build-up, calling her one of the greatest among the living saints of God. He spoke of her tremendous character as she survived the Nazi death camps while watching her entire family killed. He told of her love, her forgiveness, her gentleness, and on and on. And then he called her to the stage.
Corrie arrived on camera—a tiny frail old lady—holding her head and exclaiming “Oh. My head hurts.” Robertson was clearly concerned and asked her if she was alright, did she have a bad headache, what could they do for her. He shouted to staff off camera to get her some water and he guided her to a chair. But as she sat down Corrie Ten Boom looked at him with a pained expression as she held her head and said simply, “My halo is too tight!” Robertson was clearly taken aback and did not know what to say. She continued, “You say ‘Corrie is loving, Corrie is gentle, Corrie is forgiving, Corrie is not angry.’ No, no , no! Corrie is not loving, Corrie is not gentle, Corrie is not forgiving. Corrie is angry , Corrie is bitter, Corrie has hate for those who destroyed her family. THAT is Corrie. What you are seeing is not me. It is Jesus Christ IN me. Jesus has taken the old Corrie and replaced her with a new Corrie, fashioned after His image.”
Corrie Ten Boom may have been a living example of what Jesus Christ can do in an individual, but she knew all too well her own character apart from Christ. Despite all she had accomplished in the world since her liberation from the concentration camps and the end of the Second World War, she knew that it was only Christ in her. That image of Corrie and what she said has stuck with me ever since. What a great example! And I am sure that as she read the description of Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, she could see His perfection and her own fleshly imperfection.
How about you? What did you see when you replaced the “love” and the “it” of that passage with your own name?
If you are like me, it was likely the cause for great “gnashing of teeth” as the Bible so colorfully puts it. But while the image of yourself against His perfection may depress you, never let it discourage you! Remember that it is GOD who is at work in you both to will and to do what He desires. (Philippians 2:13) Remember that HE is the Author and the Finisher of your faith. (Hebrews 12:2) Remember that HE is able to present you faultless, without blame, before the Presence of His glory. (Jude 1:24) Your role, my role, is to keep persevering in our desire to please Him. After all, the final descriptor of love is that “it always perseveres”. If we truly love God we will persevere in trying to please Him. As we do that, God will gradually change us from glory to glory into the very image of His Son. This is the fulfillment of the promise in James 1:12— “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” The word “endureth” in the Greek is a word meaning “to abide”, “to remain”, “to persevere”. See? perseverance is a manifestation of love.
In the meantime I thank the Father that I have been declared fully righteous because I am in Christ who has provided His righteousness to me. (2 Corinthians 5:21) That is my eternal position, although my condition may differ at the moment. There is a great lesson in Christian living to be learned in the comparison of the righteousness of 2 Corinthians 5:21 and the righteousness of 1 Peter 2:24. But that is another lesson for another time.
Let us conclude this message with the following reminder: The Holy Spirit through Paul tells us in that great love chapter of First Corinthians that we can perform all kinds of religious activities for the Lord God—some at extreme cost to ourselves— but if they are not an expression of the kind of love that characterizes God, they are worth nothing. They are, as it says, nothing but “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Let us remember also to never forget that the Bible is not just a picture of Christ but a mirror of ourselves superimposed on that picture. Let us not be, as James says, “forgetful hearers” … forgetful mirror gazers who are merely deceiving themselves.
“22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty (God’s Word), and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." (James 1:22-25)