"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16).
“We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Here is one more gleaning from Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Early Christianity, subtitled “How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.” Stark notes that the Christian teaching that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that love is the proper response to God and also to one’s neighbor would have puzzled pagans who only knew gods that were impersonal, capricious, or cruel:
The simple phrase “For God so loved the world…” would have puzzled an educated pagan. And the notion that the gods care how we treat one another would have been dismissed as patently absurd.
From the pagan viewpoint, there was nothing new in the Jewish or Christian teachings that God makes behavioral demands upon humans—the gods have always demanded sacrifice and worship. Nor was there anything new in the idea that God will respond to human desires—that the gods can be induced to exchange services for sacrifices. But … the idea that God loves those who love him was entirely new (p. 211).
In the new paganism of our own times, perhaps this proclamation will be just as novel. Let us be faithful in our generation to hold forth these basic truths: God is love. He delights in the love of his people. He calls on us to love our brethren and to have that love spill over to our neighbor.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
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