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BIBLE READ-THROUGH: DAY 36 REFLECTION (ROMANS 1 – 1 CORINTHIANS 16:24)

“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”

DAY 36: AUGUST 27

ROMANS 1 – 1 CORINTHIANS 16:24

We’re now in the final stretch of our 40-day run. If you’ve been with us from the start, you’ll know it’s been quite a marathon. We can see the proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but the road ahead is still rocky and long. We need to keep our focus now more than ever. It’s tempting to slack off when you think you’re almost at your final destination, but remember that Jesus was tempted by the devil not at the beginning of his 40-day fast, but at the end. So keep going, my friends! This is where your prayers for strength and endurance will kick in.

  • Paul’s letter to the Romans makes a clear distinction between those who were born genetic Jews and those who are reborn spiritual Jews by the will and grace of God. This is the context for his teachings on faith. Paul explains that in God’s new covenant with his new people, as expressed in Jesus in the New Testament, you no longer have to be genetically Jewish (that is, children of Israel) to live the promise of God. Since the time of Jesus, the promise of spiritual rebirth and admission to God’s Kingdom is given to all people, whether genetic Jews or not.
  • You have to imagine how revolutionary this concept was at the time Paul wrote it. Most genetic Jews were still stuck in the mindset that they were God’s chosen and that gentiles were shut out of the prophesied promise by virtue of their genetics. But Paul had already experienced first-hand that gentiles were being reborn and filled with God’s Spirit, and God also gave him the vision (as we saw in yesterday’s reading) showing him that God put no distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals, and by extension “clean” (i.e., Jewish) and “unclean” (i.e., gentile) people.
  • Faith, then, in this context, was not presented as a contrast to works but to genetics. Paul argued that genetics no longer mattered, as it was through faith (not through genetics) that we become children of God. This was clearly prophesied in the OT, but it was also just as clearly overlooked or misinterpreted by those who stood to lose their exclusivity status with God.
  • The theme of justification by faith rather than genetics continues in Paul’s insistence that circumcision needs to be of the spiritual heart (that is, the core of our being), not of other parts of our body. God looks at the hearts of people, not at their outward words and deeds. This, too, is scriptural, and this, too, was clearly overlooked in scripture (and is still overlooked) by those who stand to lose from it.
  • Pau’s description of becoming a follower of Jesus compares it to dying and coming back to life. I think we can all agree that death is a major life stage. If spiritual rebirth in a person’s life is as definitive and monumental as death, then it is by far the most significant and defining event we will ever experience on Earth.
  • If your spiritual rebirth does not look like Paul’s or like the disciples at Pentecost, you’re not genuinely reborn. This is not an accusation or a judgement; it’s just a spiritual fact. Rebirth comes over you like a spiritual earthquake that is off the Richter scale. There is no “I think I’m reborn” or “my pastor says I’m reborn” or “I was reborn at baptism when I was three weeks old” in genuine spiritual rebirth: It’s as definitive as death and as earth-shattering as a mega-earthquake.
  • Also in Romans, Paul assures the Jews that they’re not all entirely cut off from God’s grace, but that they will have to overcome their dependence on “dead works”, that is, keeping the statutes and ordinances of Jewish law, and look instead to making their hearts right before God. What constitutes making one’s heart right before God is described towards the end of the letter and can be summed up as putting God first in everything you do and treating others as you want to be treated.
  • The letter to the Romans also includes a long list of the sins of the age. Not much has changed over the centuries. Sadly, Paul could be describing Western culture today.
  • Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has a completely different tone than his letter to the Romans. That’s because the Corinthians were facing different issues than the Romans, mainly squabbles and divisions among themselves and spiritual immaturity. Already, believers were forming into camps, adopting this or that doctrine while disputing the validity of others. We suffer from the same issues today. The only way to resolve them is to be in good standing with God and Jesus, know scripture, and apply what you’ve learned to your everyday life, regardless of the circumstances.
  • God doesn’t expect or even want us to get everything right (“mistakes keep you humble”), but he does expect and want us to keep doing our best to follow the example of Jesus, which is what Paul always strived to do. God rewards half-efforts with a half-reward. But if you give it everything you’ve got, even if you’re wrong in some aspects, you’ll get your full reward. God looks to your heart and to your efforts; not to what you say you’ll do, but to what you actually do. To God, the effort you make to do his will is what counts, not whether you’re right or wrong about this or that doctrine. The direction of your will towards him is all that ultimately matters. Even so, we should rarely be wrong about doctrine if we’re following Jesus as our example and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul also explains the difference between living in the world and living in God’s Kingdom. The wisdom we receive from God as his child and follower of Jesus is “foolishness” to those who haven’t received it. I certainly thought it was foolish before I was reborn. I thought everyone who believed in God was an idiot. Little did I know that I was, in fact, the idiot.
  • Make note about Paul’s teaching on lawsuits. Believers can use the threat of a lawsuit as a kind of weapon, but it should never be taken any farther than a show of force, just as a weapon should never be used to kill or wound, but as a show of force to deter violence. Paul says it’s even better to suffer being defrauded than to take someone to court before a worldly judge. Just before I was reborn, I had three lawsuits before the courts. The day of my rebirth, God showed me that I had to drop them all, and I did.
  • Scripture is words in a book, but not just words in a book: it’s guidance for a course of action. Use lawsuits as a show of force, just as you would use a weapon as a show of force, but never follow through with lawsuits or violent acts. We don’t do those things anymore. In nearly every case, a show of force is sufficient as a deterrent. If it isn’t, Paul says let yourself be defrauded, and Jesus says give them double what they ask, and turn the other cheek. Again, this looks like foolishness to the world, but it’s God’s economy, and it will all work out to your benefit in the end. Do what’s right in God’s eyes, not the world’s.
  • 1 Corinthians also includes two major teachings about caritas (God’s love working through us) and the use of speaking in tongues (that is, in a new holy way or in a foreign language that you haven’t learned). I’ve written here about caritas and here about speaking in tongues. Both gifts are supernaturally given from God; caritas is a selfless love that enables you to love your enemies, and tongues simply means speaking in a language you haven’t learned or speaking with words you haven’t spoken before. TONGUES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BABBLING ON IN INCOMPREHENSIBLE GIBBERISH, unless you think Greek or German is incomprehensible gibberish. Tongues, in scripture, either refers to speaking a foreign language or speaking in a way that radically differs from how you used to speak (which is what happens when you’re born-again and start preaching and teaching the Word). Do not be fooled by people who tell you that speaking demonic utterances is speaking in tongues. They are lying to you, whether purposely or not. Be fools for God, not fools for deceivers.

Like the Gospels, Paul’s letters are dense and difficult to discuss in a read-through approach. Even so, God wants us to grab whatever jumps out at us now and hold onto it, because those are the things we’ll need to put into practice in the weeks and months to come.

What jumped out at you in today’s reading? How do you think you’ll be putting it into practice in the rough and rocky road that lies ahead? Whatever it is, maybe you should start practicing it now, so it will be second nature to you by the time you really need it.

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The BIBLE READ-THROUGH schedule is presented in PDF directly below. 

THAT IS FAITH

I find it interesting that Jesus lambasted his followers not for sinful living or breaking Commandments, but for not having enough FAITH. He didn’t even yell at Judas when he betrayed him, but he did frequently let loose on the disciples for their lack of faith.

If faith is that important to Jesus, then it should be that important to us.

But what is faith?

Paul calls it “evidence of things unseen”; I call it “the means to and measure of our relationship with God”. Faith is difficult to define (or at least to reach a definition consensus on) mainly because its very existence is opposed to fact and logic, the same fact and logic that is applied to creating definitions.

No matter how you define it (or choose not to define it), faith is central to being a follower of Jesus. With no faith, you will sink under the waves like Peter. Remember that he did walk on water for a few seconds, but when he thought about what he was doing (that is, when he tried to rationalize it), he started to drown.

Jesus never engaged in debate with people who tried to rationalize faith. He did not preach to unbelievers or to those who said they were believers but did not welcome his Word. He only preached to those who were open to hearing the gospel on faith.

Faith operates like that – it works only through those who welcome it and are open to receiving it. Uh, oh – did I say “receiving it”? Does that mean that faith is a two-way channel, not something that originates in us but something that flows to as well as from us?

Yes, I did say that. You have to be open to faith to have faith.

See? I warned you not to rationalize it. Faith doesn’t make any sense rationally, but for those who have faith, it’s self-evident.

I mention the importance of having faith because many of us tend to live by the witness of our eyes rather than of our faith. If you, as a believer, view the state of the world today using your physical and rational eyes, you would run into the deepest cave you could find and never come out again. But if you view the world through the “eyes of faith”, you would still see the horrors, but you would also see God’s righteousness moving through people and circumstances, and running and hiding would be the last thing on your mind.

Having faith means never giving up on God, no matter how bleak things look.

Having faith means believing in the expressed and potential goodness in people, regardless of the horrible things they might do and say.

Having faith means believing that God will keep his promises, and that we, as born-agains, live in the long-awaited Kingdom of God, where we are safe from our enemies and able to perform the same miracles Jesus did.

The disciples lacked sufficient faith not because they didn’t love God and didn’t want to follow Jesus, but because they were relying on their understanding rather than their belief.

When I was a little kid, I didn’t know anything about how the mortgage got paid or dinner appeared on the table; I just knew beyond a doubt I would have a roof over my head and food in my mouth, and I always did. In other words, I didn’t have to understand how they got there in order to believe that they would be there. I never doubted for a second.

Jesus tells us to be like little kids. A big part of being a little kid is believing not because we see or understand, but because we simply take it for granted as being self-evident.

There is no doubt in belief.

Doubt is what gets you in trouble. Doubt is the devil getting a toe-hold in you, just enough to keep you from having faith by questioning your belief, by trying to get you to apply fact and logic to something that has no place for fact and logic.

We say we believe in God, but do we really if we don’t have faith?

We say we have faith, but do we really if we don’t believe God’s Word?

We need to stop staring at the waves under our feet, telling ourselves there’s no way we can walk on water, and instead fix our eyes on Jesus and simply believe we can do it.

We walk on water not because we understand how, but because Jesus says we can, and we love and trust Jesus beyond a shadow of a doubt.

That is all.

That is faith.

GOD MEANS BUSINESS

Just a reminder

God means business.

The “everyone gets a gold star” mentality has no place in God’s kingdom on Earth. Not everyone is going to make it to Heaven. In fact, most people, as a result of their own free-will choices, will end up in Hell.

This is the hard-core reality that should govern everything we do every day.

Jesus spent a lot of time haranguing his disciples for their lack of faith. He nagged them and goaded them solely to remind them that God means business. It’s not enough to be Jewish. It’s not enough to be born-again. It’s not enough just to “believe” or to do “good works”.

You must have faith, and you must also demonstrate that you have faith. You do this by submitting 100% to God in everything you do. Not just a little bit, not just in some things, and not just on Sundays, but in everything, every day, all day.

Faith is trusting only in God and doing God’s will even if it is contrary to the way of the world. Faith is submitting to God for no other reason than it is the right thing to do in God’s eyes. Faith is not only knowing that God knows best, but showing that God knows best. You do this by making God-inspired choices every day, all day. Faith is lived, not just spoken about.

We all have an expiry date on our bodies. Our souls will go on, but our bodies will die. The expiry date of our body is our own personal End Of The World. This could happen at any time, even today. Where we are at that time in our relationship with God (in other words, the extent of our faith) determines where we’ll spend eternity.

God means business. He loves us all the same and he wants us all to come home, but if we aren’t submitting to him 100% in everything we do for whatever time we have left on Earth, we can’t go home. There’s no place in Heaven for rebellion against any aspect of God. It’s God’s way or no way.

Jesus showed us what full submission to God looks like. He lived The Way and taught The Way, and our job, before our expiry date arrives, is to live it and teach it just as Jesus did.

God means business. I cannot stress enough how real and how permanent Heaven and Hell are. Heaven is the best we’ve experienced and can imagine; Hell is the worst we’ve experienced and feared. We can choose our way to Heaven, or we can choose our way to Hell.

This is the hard-core truth: Most of us will end up in Hell.

Jesus said that the path home is narrow, and those who find it are few.

Not everyone gets a gold star.

God means business.

Just a reminder.

 

HEAVEN SEVEN

Bye-bye

As born-agains, the spiritual tools we value the most, use the most, and need the most have no place in Heaven.

Imagine that!

The Ten Commandments are obsolete.

The directives God gave us through Jesus don’t apply.

We don’t have to pray.

And there aren’t even any Bibles (King James or otherwise).

Imagine that!

Faith, hope and charity have value only in this life.

We don’t need faith in Heaven because, as Paul told us, we’ll see and know God fully as he is.

We won’t need hope, either, because we’ll have everything we want and there won’t be any adversities to overcome.

And we won’t need charity, the self-less love that’s expressed by obedience to God’s will. There won’t be any need for charity in Heaven because we’ll all have the mind of God, so we’ll all be doing God’s will automatically.

As for praying, we won’t need to do that any more because we won’t have to talk to God and Jesus in faith, trusting they hear us; we’ll be able to talk to them face-to-face.

So you see, there’s no ‘faith, hope and charity’ or praying in Heaven because there’s no need for them.

And there’s no free will, either (to which I say: THANK GOD FOR THAT!).

I’m glad God gave me free will, but I’ll be even gladder to kiss that double-edged mother good-bye.

It’s caused me a lot of problems.

Bye-bye, free will!

Bye-bye, Bible!

Bye-bye, faith hope and charity!

Bye-bye, loving your enemies!

Bye-bye to everything but God’s will and God’s goodness, because that’s all we’ll need when we arrive in Heaven. God will provide us with everything else, just like he provides for us on Earth.

And the last thing we’ll say good-bye to is good-bye itself, because there are never any partings in Heaven. Everything and everyone are there to stay.

HEAVEN ONE

training wheels

Free will is a misnomer. God let us misname it so we’d have the notion that we’re ‘free’. Certainly, we are free, but only in the sense that we can either choose God’s way or not choose God’s way. That’s the extent of our ‘freedom’.

Frankly, I wish I didn’t have even that much freedom. I wish I didn’t have the option to choose against God’s way. Cold, hard, miserable firsthand experience has taught me that every time I choose against God’s way and every time I question him, I’m wrong, and I suffer for it.

This is where faith comes in. Faith doesn’t question. It no longer needs to question. Faith has progressed beyond questioning, in the same way as a child progresses from training wheels to no training wheels when learning to ride a bike. Faith declares: “I’m through with free will! I’m through with questioning!” Faith automatically chooses God’s way because those who choose faith have come to realize that God’s way is always – ALWAYS – best.

When we choose to live by faith, we suspend our free will. We still have free will, but we choose not to use it. It’s like the little kid who keeps the trainer wheels on her bike, even though she doesn’t need them anymore. She can use them if she wants to, but if she falls back to relying on her training wheels, she loses her balance and rides crooked again. She leans heavily to one side or the other, and her progress is slow and ungainly. She’s no longer cycling; she’s in a suspended state of falling.

We can fall back to choosing not to live by faith. We can resort to our squeaky rickety training wheels. We can doubt God. We can question his wisdom and find fault with his methods. But if we do so, we’re always wrong. If nothing else, that’s one thing we can count on – always being wrong if we choose against God.

I’m glad God gave me free will if only just to show me how inferior it is to faith. I’m glad he wants me to freely choose his way rather than to be forced or feel obligated to choose him. I’m glad he lets me make mistakes, and I’m glad he lets me suffer for it. I’m glad he lets me feel the consequences of my actions rather than glossing over my mistakes and pretending everything’s OK. It would be a lot easier for God just to gloss over our mistakes and let us get away with things. Then he wouldn’t have to deal with our tantrums and our sulking. But God is a perfect parent, so he does things the right way, even if they are the hard way for us and for him.

We suffer not because God is sadistic and not because we’re suffering for the good of other people – we suffer because we’ve made mistakes and chosen against God’s way, consciously or unconsciously. We suffer to the precise degree that we’ve earned that suffering — not one ‘ouchie’ more or less.

God’s justice is perfect.

If we’re smart (and God made us to be smart) – if we’re smart, we’ll learn from our mistakes. God is patient. He’s teaching us and he wants us to learn at our own pace. Heaven has very high behavioral standards. Paul gave us a partial list of the types of behaviors that don’t belong in Heaven, and warned us that those who practice those behaviors won’t make it there, no matter how big their congregation is or how much money they’ve donated to charity or how ‘good’ a person they consider themselves to be.

Heaven isn’t a “free gift”: it’s earned by our free will choices. We are rewarded with Heaven not because Jesus sacrificed himself as a repayment for Original Sin but because we’ve shown God, to his satisfaction, that we prefer his way to all others. We show him that we prefer his way by choosing his way, over and over and over and over and over again, to our dying breath.

We choose our way to Heaven. Jesus opened the door, but we have to make the choices that will bring us through that door. Just wanting to go through it is not enough. We have to show, by our free will choices, that we want to go through that door more than through any other door.

There is more of a curse in free will than there is a blessing. It’s best, if and when you can, to move beyond free will to the level of faith where you are no longer tempted to choose against God. Living by faith is how Jesus lived and how Paul lived and how Abraham lived and how Moses lived and how Noah lived. Be like them. Ditch your training wheels, get in the God groove, and roll your way on up to those pearly gates.

God groove

FAITH

mustard seed

Throughout the gospels, people ask Jesus to increase their faith.

 

Interestingly, he doesn’t. He just tells them that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. He also constantly berates his followers for their lack of faith.

 

Faith seems to be a pretty important part of being a follower of Jesus, yet how many people actually know what it is (or how you can increase it)?

 

Paul defined faith as being “evidence of things unseen”. This view of faith quantifies it much like Jesus quantifies it in comparing faith to a mustard seed. Faith here is a measurable and palpable ‘thing’ that can even be used as evidence (presumably, in God’s court of law). But this definition doesn’t explain how faith can be increased or why it’s so important.

 

Here’s another definition that expands the idea of faith to include its mechanism of growth: “Faith is the means to and the measure of your relationship with God.” If we see faith both as a “way” (a means) and a quantity (a measure), faith becomes dynamic. In other words – we not only see that faith can grow, but we see how it can grow.

 

Every time you know God’s will and choose to do it, your faith grows. Every time you know God’s will and choose not to do it, your faith shrinks. It’s a very simple dynamic that even a child can understand. People who claim to have “lost” their faith actually still have a tiny fraction of faith (God never lets our faith balance go to zero), but their choices have put them in a near faithless state. That’s a sad and painful place to be. They got there by their choices, not because of something God did or didn’t do to them.

 

Faith is not something that someone else can increase for you, so Jesus could not have increased his disciples’ faith just because they asked him to. Faith is something you have to increase yourself. You increase it by your choices, just like you decrease it by your choices.

 

When a soul enters a body, it’s given a measure of faith. This is the capacity to be obedient to laws that God’s written on our hearts. Everyone knows those laws, though most people ignore them. Each time we ignore the laws written on our hearts, our faith decreases. But each time we heed those laws, our faith increases.

 

We born-agains have an even greater potential to increase our faith because of our one-on-one relationship with God through his spirit. We don’t have to guess whether or not we’re doing God’s will, we can know for sure simply by knowing scripture or asking God directly. This is why Jesus’ faith was so strong. He knew scripture, he had a one-on-one relationship with God, and he always chose to do God’s will.

 

Many people confuse faith with belief or a set of beliefs, but these are not faith. Your faith is intensely personal and entirely unique to you. It’s quantifiable and measureable. You’ve built it over the course of your lifetime. Every time you choose to do God’s will, you expand it. Every time you choose not to do God’s will, you shrink it.

 

OK, you say. I get it. I understand faith, and I understand how I can increase my faith. But why is faith so important? And why did Jesus always get in his disciples’ faces about their lack of faith?

 

We know faith is important because Jesus told us it was. We need great faith not to move mountains but to have the best possible relationship we can with God. The greater our faith, the closer we grow to God; the closer we grow to God, the greater our faith.

 

And here’s the kicker – the closer we grow to God, the more God can work through us in the world.

 

This is why having great faith is so important. This is why not only knowing God’s will but choosing to do it is so very, very, very important.

 

God works through the strength of our faith. God loves through the strength of our faith. God makes the world more endurable through the strength of our faith. God brings people back to him through the strength of our faith.

 

People of great faith can do great things not by their own power, but by God’s.

 

We are all gifted with an equal measure of faith. How great that initial measure of faith grows depends on the choices we make in our lives. The more we choose God’s way, the greater our faith grows, and the closer we grow to God; the closer we grow to God, the more likely we are to choose God’s way, which in turn increases our faith, and so on, and so on. This is how faith grows exponentially.

 

This is also how a thing as tiny as a grain of mustard seed can turn into a great spreading tree, through which God spiritually feeds and shelters his loved ones.

mustard tree

HEART WORDS

words

There are two types of words: the ones you speak, and the ones you mean.

You know what I’m talking about. You can say something or write something, but inside you’re thinking something quite different, maybe even the opposite.

God is not a lip reader. He reads hearts. He is aware of the words that come out of your mouth or flow through your fingers, but they count for far less than the words he hears coming from inside you. He knows and records every single one of your heart words, and he’ll use them as evidence against you (if he must) come Judgment Day.

Jesus warned us not to be hypocrites. We might fool some people, but we won’t fool God.

Our heart words have the power to justify our salvation in God’s eyes, and they have the power to condemn us and cause us to lose our salvation.

If our heart words justify us in God’s eyes, we go to heaven.

If our heart words condemn us in God’s eyes, we go to hell.

It doesn’t get any plainer than that.

Jesus said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

We need to pay very, very close attention to this. He didn’t say: “Just believe in me, have faith in me, and you’ll be fine.”

No, he said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

He didn’t say if you’re baptised in my name or born again, everything’s fine and you have nothing to worry about.

He said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

He didn’t say he’ll do everything for us so that all we need to do when we get to the pearly gates is to say: “I’m with Jesus!”, and we’ll be fine.

No, he said: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

You determine your salvation by the words you choose to speak and the thoughts you choose to permit. You can ALWAYS choose your spoken or written words. No-one can force you to speak or write anything. That power is yours.

And while you can’t always prevent thoughts from coming to your mind, you can choose whether or not you permit them to stay there. That power is also yours.

As with everything in life, the only way you’re going to get through this minefield of heart words is with God’s help. Paul says to pray without ceasing. He means, never cease being conscious that God’s spirit is with you. If you’re constantly aware of God’s presence, you’ll be more likely to ask for his advice and also more likely to heed it.

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you … whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

Paul says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. He didn’t say you’re born again, so you’re good to go and heaven’s a sure thing.

No, he says: work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Watch what you say.

Watch what you write.

But even more so, watch what you choose to think.

“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

                        Matthew 12:37

HAPPY CARITAS DAY!

loving snowmen

When I was in university, I had to read excerpts from the Bible for a comparative literature assignment. I was an atheist at the time and hated the Bible or anything that spoke of God in a positive way. I thought believers were idiots and I had zero patience for them.

 

The assignment specifically required me to read passages from Paul’s letter about faith, hope and charity. As an atheist, I had a difficult time reading the New Testament because all the words ran together and I couldn’t make head or tails of what was being said. Trying to read the New Testament for this assignment was no different; none of the words made any sense to me. It was as if they were written in a foreign language that I had no knowledge of.

 

In discussing the assignment in class, my professor talked about “caritas”, or charity, as a type of love that was distinct from other forms of love. He was a kind man and a diligent instructor, and I can still see him struggling to convey a meaning that can only be understood by people who are born again. I doubt whether he, at the time, was born again, or even if anyone in the class believed in God. I certainly didn’t understand what my professor meant by “caritas”, but I dutifully picked up enough of his explanation to regurgitate it on the exam and get a pass for the course.

 

Caritas is often translated as “charity”. It means self-less love, the kind that God gives us. God loves us selflessly, even arrogant university students who spit venom at the sound of his name. He gives of himself without expecting anything in return. As an atheist, I could not fathom a type of love that wasn’t feelings-based and wasn’t meant to be reciprocated on some level; to me, love without palpitations and weak knees just wasn’t love. Sure, I understood that my parents and grandparents loved me without palpitations and weak knees, but that was different. I was expected at least to show my respect to them, so in this they got something in return for their love.

 

But to love expecting nothing in return – what kind of fool would do that? My atheistic mindset had no place for such as concept. To me, the notion of caritas made the idea of God all the more far-fetched.

 

Muddying the waters even more was my personal experience of the charity industry. I saw charities as seedy organizations whose sole purpose was to separate people from their time, energy, and money. How could these organizations truly be called ‘charities’ if they gave tax receipts for monetary expressions of love? Wasn’t real charity supposed to be done selflessly and without expecting anything in return?

 

Despite his best efforts, my professor could not bring me to an understanding of Paul’s concept of charity, nor make me grasp why Paul considered charity to be the highest virtue. It was only after I was born again and able to read the New Testament that I started to get a feeling for what Paul meant.

 

Jesus said to give freely without expecting anything in return, to love your enemies, and to treat other people as you want to be treated. He also tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This is the caritas that Paul was talking about – being kind to people without expecting to be treated kindly in return, and giving freely to those in need without expecting anything in return (including a tax receipt or even a thank-you). And to do it all sincerely, and with a smile in your heart.

 

To Jesus and Paul, charity simply meant to love as God loves. No palpitations or weak knees are required. Caritas is initiated in us by an act of our will, not a feeling. It is an act that is done for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do; no personal gain is involved. This is the selflessness that my professor struggled to convey all those years ago.

 

When we say “yes” to caritas, God loves through us. The simple nod of our will gives God permission to work through us so that we can, in fact, love as God loves: fully and selflessly. In saying “yes”, we feel God’s love flow through us, and we know there is no greater love.

 

HAPPY CARITAS DAY, EVERYONE!