Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.” 2 Peter 1:5–7. The margin of many Bibles, tells us that the word meaning love is translated as charity.
We have been climbing Peter’s ladder, and we find ourselves now at the top rung. Some of the rungs along the way can be kind of slippery, we have found. They are evasive; we just cannot quite get a hold on them. But through perseverance to which God has called us, we can climb the ladder.
There are seven rungs in Peter’s ladder. With the ladder resting on the foundation of faith, we lift our foot up to the first rung of virtue,
and we begin to climb. This is not a casual climb. Jesus calls it the narrow way, which means that it is uphill; it is a difficult climb.
Although Peter’s ladder is a narrow ladder, not a broad ladder, it has a sure destination. When we reach the final rung in the ladder, we, with God’s help, have completed the climb to perfection.
Charity, the word that is translated here, is from the word agape. In the seventies and sixties, we heard a lot about agape almost to excess. It was almost to the point that people, when they heard the word agape, would shy away from it; they did not want to hear any more about agape. Even though we may feel burned out, it is something that we need to hear. It is essential for us. The word agape used in the New Testament reveals the different attitudes of God—the attitude toward His Son, His attitude toward the human race generally, and His attitude toward those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ particularly.
The word is also used to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude toward one another. Charity or love is an abstract, and the only way that we can define such a term is in the way it is performed or acted out. It is an emotion, and an emotion cannot be defined except as expression is given to it. Once it is expressed, then we can identify it.
Defined in Actions
1 Corinthians 13 tries to define agape. It gives a lot of illustrations concerning it, because it is only as it is acted out that we really understand this word charity or love. God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son. But this act of love is not the result of complacency or affection. It is not drawn out by any favoritism. It is an exercise of the divine will in a deliberate choice.
I do not believe for a moment that God enjoyed giving His Son to die. It was a deliberate choice, because there was a need. Love rises above the emotional feeling of making a decision based upon whether we like something or not. It is a matter of getting above that, seeing the need, and then making the choice to supply that need.
That is where God is. God rose above what He would have preferred, because He saw a need. When Jesus was here on this earth, He gave to us a perfect example of this kind of love. We still stand in awe wondering how it can be fulfilled in us. “Love your enemies,” Jesus instructed. (See Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35.) “No, Lord, I am not going to love my enemies. I hate them; I cannot stand them.” That is why they are enemies. Jesus loved His enemies.
Do good to those who despitefully use you. (See Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28.) What was it that prompted Jesus to do good to those who despitefully used Him? Agape love. A deliberate choice, a choice that raised Him above every level of every other human being that ever walked the face of the earth. Jesus was never beholden to who He was humanly. He was beholden to what was right and true. If He had been beholden to who He was, He was a Jew. And Jews had a culture that did not like other people, especially the Gentiles. They hated them. Jesus rose above that and made deliberate choices contrary to every cultural line that ever existed. He displayed love to them in how He treated them and what He did for them.
He demonstrated the reality of i Corinthians 13. We wonder how such platitudes can ever be fulfilled in our lives. Can they? Absolutely, they can! “Love is patient, love is kind, [and] is not jealous; love does not brag [and] is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong [suffered], does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails . . . .”
1 Corinthians 13:4–8 NASB.
View From the Top
God’s law is love. (See Romans 13:8, 10.) God’s law will never fail and crumble, but the law of God will stand forever. Why? Because it is based on agape love. As we have been climbing the ladder of Christian character development, we find love is at the top. From the vantage point of the top rung, we are able to see from a heavenly viewpoint, if you please.
Did you ever place a ladder on the side of a building and start climbing it to try to see what is beyond? All you can see, as you are climbing, is the wall that you are climbing against. Your view is hindered; you are not able to see. But when you reach the top, then you are able to look around with a view and a vision that you cannot see as you are climbing.
This is what God wants for us. He wants us to climb the ladder. He wants us to always look up as we are climbing, not down. It is said that if you look down while you are climbing, you will get scared. Always look up! Once you reach the heavenly perspective of God’s love and you begin to see everything in that light, your life will be changed forever.
It is from this viewpoint that things concerning Christianity really begin to come into focus, because now we are able to see, not from our viewpoint, but from God’s viewpoint. We have been hindered all along the climb, because we have tried to see things from our viewpoint but never from God’s viewpoint. That is why we have the difficulties and the problems and the strifes and the troubles that we do, because we have never looked from God’s viewpoint.
Love is the greatest and most powerful force in all the world. When all else fails, love will win, for God is love. (See 1 John 4:8, 16.) I want to share with you a quotation from The Acts of the Apostles that brings into focus where God would have us to be as a church: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men.” Ibid., 9.
Now how is that going to work? Is it going to work because we have the best mechanics, the best organization, the best logistical set-up so that programs and plans can be executed to get out the word? All those things are necessary, of course, but they are subservient to something else.
Mrs. White continues: “It [the church] was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory.” Ibid. Who are the members of the church? That is us! We may not have our names on a book, but if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Saviour, we are a member of His church.
Is the picture coming into focus at all yet? I hope so. “The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God. Ephesians 3:10.” Ibid.
God has a plan for every one of us. He wants each one of us to display to “‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God.” He wants you to climb that ladder to the top rung, to step up on that rung, and to look and see what is out there. Then reveal the great, grand, glorious plan of God that has been interrupted by this reign of sin. God wants us to have a part in that.
Stand in Amazement
A father took his son up to the top of a high hill one day, trying to teach his son to appreciate the great, grand creation that God had created. He told his little son to look to the east, to the west, to the north and to the south as far as his eyes could see. Then he said to him, “Son, as far as you can see, that is as far as the love of God.”
The little boy, after gazing off into the distance in each direction, replied to his father, “Daddy, if God’s love is to the east and to the west and to the north and to the south as far as we can see, then we must be standing right in the middle of it!”
How true it is. There is no better place than to be right in the middle of God’s love. For that to happen, we have to know, to appreciate, and to want His love to be a part of our lives. Man hates; God loves. Man wounds, but God heals. Man destroys, but God builds up. His love is different; it is a love that we really do not deserve. That is why John tells us in 1 John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love . . . .”
This word, behold, means to stand in amazement, in awe. There was no one who could stand more in amazement of the love of God than John, as he was known as a son of thunder, one who was a rabble-rouser. When that revelation of love came to John, he dropped everything and followed Jesus. He followed so completely that the night of the last supper he laid his head on Jesus’ breast. He was called The Beloved.
John knew what that love was all about. He took his responsibility very seriously and tried to convey that love when things began to unravel and fray within the church of God because they were living too worldly. Some had climbed the ladder a few rungs and decided that it required too much effort, or they were fearful of heights, so they came back down. They began to scrap around with one another, to entertain all kinds of false theologies.
John also wrote John 3:16: “God so loved the world . . . .” God did not consider Himself. God did not consider what it would cost Him. “God so loved.” As human beings we consider each issue as to whether or not it is going to cost us something.
We ask what the cost will be to us if we get involved—time, energy, emotion? If it is a drain, then we may not be interested. Let me tell you something. It was a drain on heaven for Jesus to come and to take human form. But God did not let that stop Him, because the principle of His love was so far above ours. He saw a need. He made a choice. In order to experience the fullness of God, we must experience in our own hearts His great love—the love that is as broad as the earth; the love that completely encircles the world; the love that reaches the lowest sinner.
The devil loves to remind us of our past. He loves to bring it up and to haunt us with it to the point of despair, so that we feel there is no hope for us, that God’s love is not enough to save us for the kingdom of heaven. We may think we have gone too far; we have done too much; we have been too bad, or that God’s love, centered in righteousness, cannot include us.
All God wants is for us to experience His wonderful love in our hearts. It has such a transforming power that it can change us, and it can bury our past. That is God’s desires for a people who will give the final display to the principalities and powers.
Think no Evil
“If we keep uppermost in our minds the unkind and unjust acts of others we shall find it impossible to love them as Christ has loved us; but if our thoughts dwell upon the wondrous love and pity of Christ for us, the same spirit will flow out to others. We should love and respect one another, notwithstanding the faults and imperfections that we cannot help seeing.” Steps to Christ, 121.
Do you have imperfections? I do. But by God’s grace, I am climbing the ladder. I would hope that in my own experience, as I am climbing Peter’s ladder, that I do not look at you and see only your imperfections. What God commands me to see in you is perfection through Christ.
There have been multitudes of people who have stopped climbing, after they have started up the ladder with Christ, because someone was there to point out their faults to them. Do you think that they were not aware of their faults? Oh, let me tell you, a lot of folks wear their faults on their sleeve, and they are very sensitive to their own character imperfections. They do not need to be reminded. What they need to be is encouraged.
That is what God’s love does for us. It encourages us so that we can help others to rise above those principalities and powers that are trying to draw them down. If we are reading 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, this is going to happen in our experience. It says in verse 5 that love thinks no evil.
Christ-like love places the most favorable construction on the motives and acts of others. That is what God’s love does for us. That will be our experience when we reach the top rung of the ladder. God’s love places us in the most favorable position possible before the entire universe.
Our sins God could hold up before the universe like laundry on a line, but the blood of Jesus washes our sins away, and the universe does not see them. What they see is what Jesus has done for us. They see His righteousness, His perfection. And so the love of God when it is truly operating in our hearts, is going to place everything in its most favorable position.
Love does not expose a person’s faults needlessly. Love does not listen eagerly to an unfavorable report, but rather tries to bring to mind the good qualities of others. And this is the attitude in the heart and mind of the Christian, which will usher him into and through the gates into the kingdom of heaven.
Perfection of Love
Who is greater than God? Nobody, no thing, nothing. This is because God is the ultimate in perfection of love. As we climb the ladder, claiming the divine promises, we become partakers of the divine nature. And the divine nature is a nature that always extends the hand of forgiveness. It erases all evil thoughts that we might have against our fellowmen.
God’s love will silence every gun that roars in war. It will cause us to pray, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Love has the ability to stop quarrels in the church and in the home. By God’s grace, those in contention are shown what God’s plan is and are told about His love, so their hatred may be turned to love.
It is not something that is human. It is human to hate. It is godly to love. Our sins killed Jesus. And from a human standpoint, humanly speaking, we would hate the one who destroyed our offspring. But not so with God. “God so loved . . . that he gave,” that we might be redeemed.
Gift of Love
In the days of Cromwell (1599–1658 a.d.), a soldier was condemned to be executed. The time for his execution was set to take place when the evening curfew bell was rung. The soldier was engaged to be married to a beautiful, young lady. She went to Cromwell to plead for the life of the one that she loved more than anything else. But her words were in vain. So she went to the judge who had sentenced him, only to find the same, cold response.
The preparations were made for the execution to be carried out when the evening bell tolled. Everyone waited expectantly to hear the clang. The bell ringer, who was old and deaf, that evening made his way to the bell tower and grabbed the rope in his hand to toll the bell. As he pulled on the rope, there was no sound, but being deaf, he did not know. So he continued pulling the rope as he did each evening.
You see, the young lady had climbed the belfry stairs before the old man arrived, caught the clapper of the big bell in her hands, and held on, at the risk of her own life, as he pulled the rope. And so the bell did not ring.
When the young lady came down from the tower, wounded and bleeding, Cromwell was standing there demanding to know why the bell had not rung. She stepped forward and told her story again. She showed him her hands, bruised and torn; her sweet young face haggard with the pain and anguish. Cromwell was overwhelmed with a sense of pity, and his eyes moistened. He said to her, “Go, your lover lives. Curfew shall not ring tonight.”
Dear friends, when we were condemned to die, Christ’s great love compelled Him to intervene on our behalf. The Bible says “He [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: . . . and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5. All heaven now expects each one of us, when we behold this wonderful love, to respond to it with all our heart. God’s love, as it is revealed in His Son, will be found in the lives of His followers. They will do as He has done. They will follow His example, because He has made it all possible. Do not ever say that you cannot do it. Christ’s death on Calvary assures you that you can.
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make [you that ye shall] neither [be] barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know [them], and be established in the present truth.” 2 Peter 1:4–12.