Monday, December 9, 2013

Love Suffers Long...


     Rachel. Rachel. Rachel. Jacob could think of nothing else, no one else. Had any man been more in love than he? Rachel, the most beautiful woman on earth, his beloved, his soon-to-be bride. He had loved her from the beginning, from the first day he saw her at the well. She had been a young girl then, innocent and bright-eyed. Now, seven years later - seven years! - she was well past the common age to wed, but the years had only added to her beauty. To him she was the most womanly, the most desirable, the most perfect wife a man could ever want. There was no cost too great for such a treasure. No amount of gold or rubies could ever compare to her worth. Even - Jacob shuddered at the thought - even seven more years would be worth it. Everything leading up to this day: the lonely nights, the homesickness, the thankless years of sheep tending, the treachery of his Uncle Laban, the whole mix-up with poor Leah... all of that was worth it, for Rachel.

     Did you know that there is another Biblical character who suffered much to gain his bride... even more than Jacob? He too was far from home. He worked long hours, and went without food and sleep at times. It wasn’t a smooth road. He was mocked and ridiculed, misunderstood, slandered, and betrayed. Like a shepherd, he gently cared for creatures who were terribly needy, yet hardly thankful. Many opposed him with fierce hatred. By their hand he was beaten, whipped, stripped and humiliated, falsely accused, and crucified. Yes, this man was Jesus, and He endured all this for His bride, the Church. Seven years doesn’t seem long at all when you consider the thousands of years He has been waiting. “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jer. 31:3b)  In the beginning, in the garden, Adam and Eve walked with God in sweet fellowship. We were created to love Him! But we were unfaithful. We rebelled. Do you think that broke God’s heart? His people, His beloved, forsaking Him? Yes, and He was angry, too. But He didn’t instantly destroy us when we sinned. He could have, but He didn’t. “The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy.” (Num. 14:18a) 

     Longsuffering. Not a word used very often nowadays, but the meaning is simple. Suffering + long. Undergoing pain for an extended period of time. For a holy, perfectly pure God to allow sin to remain in the world, was longsuffering. Justice must be served, but with God, mercy always precedes judgement. “The Lord... is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) He offers forgiveness! He didn’t just delay our punishment, He took it upon Himself at the cross! “Consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation.” (2 Pet. 3:15a) Can anyone deny that God is love?

     1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Because I love Him, I yearn for the day that He returns. Maybe that is today, maybe in seven years, maybe - I shudder at the thought - maybe not for another thousand years. We know neither the day nor the hour. Neither did the apostles. But what did they do? They loved Him, so they lived for Him. They underwent immense suffering because of it. However, they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”. (Acts 5:41b) Do we have that attitude? You are not likely to be facing prison or flogging, but we all have opportunities to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2) Living for Jesus means loving those around you; putting their interests above your own. That’s not easy. Forgiving someone again is not easy. Being kind to someone who has just mistreated you is not easy. Being bold enough to obey God’s leading is not easy. But it’s all worth it... for Jesus.

Written for Pathways To Serenity, Vol. 1, Issue 6: "Patience" 

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