“1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news — 2 which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures — 3 concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness. 5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name, 6 including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling:
7 To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s primer on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ begins with a greeting that does everything he can to point the focus at Jesus Christ rather than at the reader. All in all, in just this way of saying ‘Hello, it’s me Paul,’ contains close to 20 references to God and only 6 to the reader. There is no doubt, from the first moment, that this letter has an agenda. That agenda is to direct believers, new and old, toward the undeniable truth that God is the center, Christ is the focus and the Spirit is the One who draws us there.
There is such a relief, such a freedom, that comes from having the focus shifted off of us and onto Jesus Christ. The first steps of discipleship then echo that call to come and die to self, and to then, inturn, live to Christ. Even in saying hello, it is apparent that this new endeavor of the soul is going to create a rhythm that is based in Him, on Him and for Him. This life of being a disciple isn’t anything that might look like our old life, that might resemble whoever it was that we used to be. Instead, we begin in that first step to do what we will be doing in eternity, namely kneeling and confessing His Lordship over all. We begin by confessing Whose we are, as Paul does in the inaugural 6 words, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” and in being owned by Jesus, again, we find such freedom. The weight and responsibility of ownership shifts off of our insufficient shoulders and rests firmly on the shoulders of the One who carried the weight of humanity’s sins on His own shoulders. So, in our kneeling, He makes us able to stand. In confessing His Name, He gives us a new identity. In submitting to His Lordship, He makes us Hiis grace-covered ambassadors to the nations.
All of this confirmed in a simple greeting by a man the readers haven’t even met yet.
As we greet each new day, week, month, moment, opportunity or year, as Christians, we a compelled to remember our discipleship and where the focus of our life really rests. Each day is meant to be a practice of His presence and a rememberance of His grace-filled love. As disciples, we cannot look to self, but to our Master. This new life is a complete retooling of the entirety of our being. We are being reset, recast, into His image, His likeness. All of life then, has its lens adjusted, focused and dialed in to the heart of God by the blood of Christ and the direction of His Holy Spirit. We gain a new direction and in turn find contenment in Him. We give over the controls for the lens of our heart to Him, knowing that He knows better than we ever could what will bring richness, joy and purpose into our lives.
Paul’s introduction echoes these senitments, and so much more. This is about Him, not about us. The rhythm of grace that compells us to GoLove others in His Name finds it foundation in the beating of His heart, not in the compulsions of our flesh. The struggle that ensues, between flesh and Spirit, will wind up being a major topic of conversation as this amazing letter progresses. But as for us, let us greet this day with the rememberance of Whose we are, and use these moments we have to draw the hearts of others around us to see what we have found when we come and die, finding life abundant in Jesus Christ.
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV
Sometimes there is an impression on Christians that we must say so much or do so much in order for our faith to be validated, which is partially true (James 2:14-26), but we tend to rely on our own strength or the power of our personality to see it done. Living faith means living love, not just living loudly. Love isn’t noisy by nature, is rarely pushy and usually doesn’t come off with an ultimatum before being shared. Love isn’t forced, or it comes across as phony, and if it doesn’t follow up, it appears insincere.
Rather, love lived in faith, and faith lived in love, will result in a noteworthy life that bears its own witness without being forced, pushed or weakly shared. Faith that is lived out in the Lord’s strength,and according to His Word is a faith that makes its own impression, leaves its own mark and draws hearts because of its sincerity. Love lived well is a love noticed and appreciated. Love lived well creates its own impression in a very positive manner. Love lived well tells a story of how the love is shared and where it originally comes from. Love lived well is a love story gladly shared, openly told and widely distributed.
Just like a newly engaged woman shouts her joy to the world and shows that ring off as a symbol of the love promised her, the Christian who loves well shows how well they have been loved. They share it without being prompted and they GoLove out of the joy that has been poured out into their heart by God. If a Christian doesn’t love well, it creates a false impression that God doesn’t love well, rather than communicating the truth, which is that their heart is distracted and their love is then conflicted.
If we are to GoLove in a way that shares Christ positively, we must give Him, and only Him, our hearts. A love divided is a love weakly lived, shared and returned. A love that is wholehearted is a love that leaves an eternal impression and that inspires others to tell about it as well.