"God with us." Matthew 1:23
For more than 25 years I wrote Bible study materials for several publishing companies. I'm not trying to impress you. It's not glamorous-Philip-Yancey-kind-of-stuff. When you write Sunday School material you are trying to explain a passage of scripture so that a volunteer teacher can teach it to a class of adult students (in my case) who came to church that Sunday to learn about the Bible and gain some insight and encouragement for life. The goal is engaging exegesis, not exploring new theological vistas. So while it's certainly not glamorous, it's honorable, and I truly enjoyed it.
One of my editors for many of those years was Tom Hudson. Now, an editor is an interesting specie. They may know as much, or perhaps more, than you do, as was the case with Tom. They certainly know more about writing and the specifics of the assignment. So armed with this sense of omniscience they descend upon your writing.
Think about it. As a writer, you have ink in your bones. You labor prayerfully and carefully, pouring into your work your knowledge, passion, and deep desire to produce a moving work of biblical exposition. (All right, honestly you do sometimes get to the point that you simply want to submit the least acceptable 6000 words possible). You review it. Change it. Then you lovingly send it to THE EDITOR who takes your literary child and THEY JUDGE IT!
It's a vigorous relationship. One where the editor will listen very nicely to your explanation of why you wrote what you did the way you did and then go on and do precisely what they want. As I said, I did this for over 25 years, and, frankly, I really did love it. My editors were good, tough, and fair.
I spend some time letting you behind the curtain, so to speak, so you can understand a conversation I had a few months ago with my old editor, Tom. I was in the Nashville area, and called ahead of time for a visit with him and his lovely wife, Olive. We enjoyed lunch, then Tom and I spent some time just talking, remembering, and laughing.
At one point, near the end of our time together, Tom said "It's all about love, Terry. We just have to learn to love each other better."
There it is. Good editorial work. The whole of Christian theology summed up in a single word: love. To some people it sounds so pathetically cliche, they get irritated. We do talk about love quite a bit, of course, but there really is nothing better to talk about when it comes to God and His purpose and regard for us. Love is the key, and we should talk about especially on this Christmas Day.
Let's do a little word study. (Those work nicely in most assignments as long as you don't overdo it, per Tom).
The Greek language has a broad vocabulary and is very highly inflected, which means you get many shades of meanings with all of the prefixes and suffixes available. It's a language perfectly suited for philosophy, and later for the New Testament.
Greek has four words that can be translated as love. In no particular order they are:
Eros. This is romantic, sexual, or sensual love. It's not used in the New Testament. Don't read too much into that and think that Christianity is anti-sex. The Bible has a book that is very sensual, The Song of Solomon. Sex is actually sacred, two words that are not normally associated in our culture, but that's a topic for another GraceWaves. I use this word to describe part of my love for Leslie.
Storge. This refers to something akin to fondness. This word also is not used in the New Testament. I might use this word when I say I love my dog.
Philos. This refers to a love between friends. So part of the love I have for Tom is philos. This word makes a few appearances in the New Testament.
Agape. With only a few exceptions when you read the word love in the New Testament it's agape. It refers to a sacrificial love, in which the lover, or subject, puts the interests of the object above all considerations.
People are usually surprised to find out that this is the kind of love we are to have with one another. It sounds implausible, and it certainly is very difficult, but we are simply not given the option of deciding how much we are going to love each other. We are striving for a love that is devoid of our natural tendency for self-centeredness.
The real application I want to make today, however, is that this is clearly the kind of love God demonstrated at Christmas. Jesus came to us at a tremendous risk. God didn't orchestrate an easy, or even convenient, entry into the world. Jesus got here just like all of us get here, only it was in a stable. He made Himself totally vulnerable because of love.
God took the risk simply because He loves us and could not conceive of an eternity without us. Jesus came because God loves us deeply and even irrationally. He wants to be with us, simply because He loves us.
I hope you have a chance to pause and simply reflect on the fact of God's great love for you. Then I hope you reflect on your calling to strive to love the people around you in the same way. Life is so much easier when we accept it on the terms God created it to work. Love is everything and in everything. Just accept it and strive to bring it to life in you.
My editor has. All those years of ministry, study, work, and he understands more clearly than ever "it's all about love." God is with you because He loves you.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 25, 2016