“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” Acts 1:14
Lord, I felt I needed to stay where You had started me in following the progression in Acts. But two messages in church yesterday morning really got me thinking. And since two thoughts are much to deal with at once, I’ll just start with the one. And to do that, I actually have to jump forward in Scripture to Galatians 5:14, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Here’s the thing. Last time I checked, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” consisted of seven words. Words really matter to me, Lord. So that kind of bothers me. It’s like it’s crying out for me to read deeper. Because I’ve also learned that if the Hebrew hearer were to hear that phrase, right away it would take them back to the Old Testament and all the verses around it. It would take them back to Leviticus 19:18 where You told Moses to tell the people, “You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Now think about this. This has nothing to do with loving the stranger laying on the road. This is about loving your brothers and sisters in God. But that’s not the part I think we’re supposed to focus on. I think You were just trying to straighten out the thoughts of a crooked people. You were just starting here. But that wasn’t even the real beginning. The real beginning comes at the end of this phrase above, “I am the LORD.” Now, I’m going to hold that thought and jump on to another.
I’m jumping to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. That’s the Shema. Every Jew knew it. They had it written on a small scroll and placed in a little box on the side of their door. And every time they entered or left, they were to touch that box and recite the Shema. Listen to verses 4 and 5, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” There is that idea of one again. But what does one mean? Does it just mean one single number of that type of thing? Or does it mean something more?
One. That’s a little word and a small number. But maybe it’s a bigger word and a bigger number than we think. One. This Greek word in Galatians 5:14 is “heis”. It can mean a primary numeral, like our number one. That’s the Greek expression. But we have a Hebrew speaker, who was influenced by Hebrew thought and speaking it in Greek. Now let me jump back to Deuteronomy again. “Our God is one LORD.” This is the Hebrew word “echad.” And it does mean first in order, but it also implies united. There’s a big difference between being one solitary thing and being one united thing. Well, at least I think so.
Now here is another word that makes me think this is important. Back to Galatians again. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word.” Word, in Greek is “logos.” Sound familiar. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Can any good words, or good intentions fulfill the law? Can loving my neighbor fulfill the law? Is the law fulfilled by my loving my neighbor as myself? Or is the law fulfilled in the One Who Is the WORD, the LOGOS? Now logos can be something said or reasoned or computed. But if Paul thought anything like John about You, Lord, then it was also used for Your Divine Expression. See, You are the Divine Expression of loving your neighbor as yourself.
You define neighbor differently because when You look on us, every last one of us is Your creation. Every last one of us is potential family of God. You long for every last one of us to be restored to You. You love each one of us as though we were a part of You because we are. Every last one of us was created in Your image, in the image of the triune God, in the image of the united One. You created each one of us for the sole purpose of our being united with You in love and in Your works.
So, if I’m called to love like this, then I must love in unity with You. I must allow Your love to be divinely expressed through me. I must speak like You, reason like You, be motivated like You. My calculations about people ought to mirror Your calculations. So, how did You love Your neighbor?
Maybe I do get to share that other thought today too. Listen to Psalm 18:35. It says, “You have also given me the shield of Your salvation: and Your right hand has held me up, and Your gentleness has made me great.” I heard another interpretation yesterday that worded it this way, “You stooped down to make me great.” That Hebrew word for gentleness is “anavah” and it means condescension. So what does it mean for You to condescend to make me great?
It means everything. It means that You, Jesus, God, descended from the privileges of Your superior rank and dignity, to do some act to an inferior, which strict justice or the ordinary rules of civility do not require. (Webster’s definition) It meant that You submitted, You yielded, as to an inferior, and thus relinquished Your rights and distinctions as God. It means that God of Heaven’s armies, gave up His ability to have the angels at His beck and call rescue Him from the cross and instead chose to submit to man’s hatred and the wrath of God because You would rather love me, Your neighbor. It means that You gave up everything You deserved to shower me with love and acceptance and forgiveness and unity that I didn’t deserve. It meant that You gave up Your honor to give me a right standing before Your Heavenly Father. You became nothing to make me great. Only, my greatness is in You. Because by You becoming less, for my sake, Your Father glorified You and You brought me to a place where I am glorified in You. You stooped down to make me great. And that’s what You call each of us to do for others. Because it’s only in my condescension that I allow You to be glorified in my life which gives You the opportunity to be glorified in the lives of others. And when You are glorified in us, we are made great in You!
A shepherd has to stoop down to pick up his sheep. But this is the wonderful thing about the relationship that You desire for us. Shepherds always remain shepherds and sheep always remain sheep in our world, but not so in Yours. See, You turn Your sheep into images of You. You stoop down and pick us sheep up and then You make us shepherds, to carry on Your work. See, You pick up Your sheep and tell them, “Feed my sheep.” When was the last time a sheep fed another sheep? Do sheep feed sheep? Or do shepherds? How amazing is that?
Well, maybe my reasoning is hard to follow today. I don’t know how it looks on the outside. I just know that all this jumping around I’ve been doing today is because this is such exciting, wonderful stuff! And that takes me back to Acts 1:14, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” What united these believers to pray with one accord? What united them to pray unanimously, with one mind, “homothumadon”? Or should I say Who? Now I realize they are waiting on the Holy Spirit and He has not arrived for these believers at this moment. But they have started to see. They’ve been caught by the vision of the Divine Expression of love. It’s changing their lives. It’s changing the way they see each other. And it will change they way they treat others their whole lives.
Lord, I want to catch Your vision. No, I want to more than catch Your vision; I want to be filled with Your vision. I want to live united with You. I want my life to be so entwined in You that You are divinely expressed through me. I want you to make me great. But here’s the thing, only You are great. So that means that You have to be great in me and there is nothing I want more than for people to see You when then see me. Or rather, they can just see You and I would be so ecstatic about that. Because the only way I’ll ever be great, is by You making Your greatness known. Express Yourself through me and in me. Be the One who picks me up and empowers me. Be the Divine Expression of Your will in me. Yes, the Lord our God is ONE and I want nothing more than to be one with Him. Thank You, Lord, for not only inviting us into Your oneness but making the way for us by loving Your neighbors so selflessly so that I can go forth and love others like You love me.