A few weeks ago, a couple of bumper stickers caught my attention. And I was disturbed. One, I didn’t agree with what was written. But more than that, I felt provoked. Because these were displayed on the window of the left side of the car. They were strategically placed so that when I turned to the right, there they were, staring right back at me. To me, it felt as if the driver was saying, “In your face!” And her messages… “Don’t believe in God? Join the club,” and “Good without God.” And so, as I sat there, I felt my anger rise. But not because of her belief – or unbelief – rather, because I felt attacked by the placement of those stickers. Because of their prominent position, I felt like the driver drew the line in the sand. To me, she came across as divisive and offensive. Simply put, I felt hate and not love. And when you stop and think about it, isn’t that what a lot of bumper stickers promote? Divisiveness and hate.
I have to admit, though, one sticker gave me cause to pause. The slogan Good without God settled on my heart for a week or two. Because in reality, there is good out there. And not just by Christians. Atheists and people of every religion do good things. So what about that, I wondered. That’s when I came across a letter written to the church of Sardis.
“I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent.” Revelation 3:1-3
This is a letter written to Christians… believers in the message of the Gospel. And oddly enough, I believe they were practicing just what that bumper sticker proudly declared… Good without God. And so, today, I have to question myself and my actions. See, it’s a fact that I can do good things. And not just me, but every other being on the planet can do good things. However, personally, I just have to ask, “If God isn’t in it, then should I be doing it?” And what is God? God is love (1 John 4:8). In essence, if what I’m doing is not motivated by love (or God), then is it a God thing? If love (or God) isn’t driving me, then perhaps what I’m doing is no different than the empty works performed by the church of Sardis. Basically, if I find myself mindlessly doing things for God, but love is absent, then they’re incomplete.
Jesus said to “strengthen what remains,” and to “remember therefore what you have received.” And so, I remember… I received His word (James 1:21). And it’s the very words given to me that remain, for God says, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever!” Isaiah 40:8. God’s word remains. His word is what lasts. And what does His everlasting word tell me, but…
Love never ends.
But as for prophecies,
they will come to an end;
as for languages, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know in part,
and we prophesy in part.
But when the perfect comes,
the partial will come to an end. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10
Works without love are incomplete… fragmented… partial. Like a bumper sticker placed on a window to provoke rather than uplift. Works without love can so easily fall apart. But, love is the bond of perfection which holds these deeds together. Love is constant and never fails. And as I sit here and contemplate the truth about God & me, I think it’s pretty clear what I lack. I’m pretty sure love has been absent from my life as evidenced by the bad feelings I harbor towards a complete stranger who was simply exercising her freedom of speech. She’s the very one I should love. And on top of that, I see that some of the works I have accomplished in my own strength – devoid of love (or God) – are empty and incomplete in His eyes. These loveless works of mine will not remain.
You know… the church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive. From the outside, they looked good because they were doing good things. But Jesus said they were dead. Incomplete. And you know what I think? I think love was missing. I think that perhaps they were very busy people, but their works were futile. I think they were simply doing good without God. And I don’t want that. I want what I do here to matter… to remain. And so, clearly, love (or God) is what’s required to bring the work to completion. I believe there cannot be any lasting work… without God. There can be no true good that remains… without God.
As for me… I’m waiting for “the perfect to come.” And the good news is, He already has. His name was Jesus, and He was perfect. Through Him the law was fulfilled… completed. Because of Him, there’s really only one thing we need to do… love. We love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might. How do we know we love Him? We follow His commands. And what is His command? That we love our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34-35). That we serve one another through love (Galatians 5:13-14). That we exercise our faith through love (Galatians 5:6). That we walk in love (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Oh, yes. We’re to serve Him and to have faith in Him and to walk with Him. But in love and through love. For it’s love that completes and fulfills and remains. And God is love. And it’s the One who remains that tells us to love. And we can do so because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in Him. In this, love is perfected in us…” 1 John 4:16-17