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Nine Words (Paperback)

1. THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY Love God. Love People.

Love makes a difference. It’s the difference between life and death. Love’s difference can be best seen in babies born either addicted to drugs such as cocaine or suffering from deadly diseases such as AIDS. The odds are stacked drastically against them. With a mother addicted or infected, a newborn infant receives little or no interaction, affection, or stimulation. As a result, these infants fail to thrive. The first few weeks of life often present more challenges to the life of the baby than his or her small body can withstand. With the body ravaged by chemical dependency or deadly disease, the newborn struggles to stay alive.

To combat these seemingly insurmountable odds against life, many hospitals and medical teams use a creative strategy: They recruit volunteers to stop by daily simply to hold, touch, and speak to these uniquely challenged newborn human beings. The results surprise even the most advanced medical researchers. By providing attention and loving care for the infants, these volunteers increase the addicted infants’ rate of survival dramatically. As the volunteers reach out to newborns who receive little or no other affectionate attention, fewer infant deaths occur. Fewer children succumb to “failure to thrive,” the medical term for the inability to gain momentum in living.

The truth is plain: love makes the difference. Put simply, humans need love. Without it, you will die. Failure to thrive really means “failure to be loved.”

Frederick II discovered this truth in a unique way when he ruled in the thirteenth century. He wanted to test babies to discover what language they would speak if they never interacted with adults but only with each other. Would they communicate in Latin or in Greek or in some other language unknown to adults? To find out, Frederick ordered a group of infants quarantined—separated from all adults other than a lone nurse who silently changed their diapers and provided some food each day. She interacted with the newborns for only the most basic needs: food and cleanliness. She offered no kind touches, no words of affection, no smiles. Essentially, having no interaction with a loving caregiver meant the children received no love.

As a result, Frederick was shocked when the babies did not learn to communicate with each other. Instead, they died. No love meant death. Instead of learning what language they would develop, Frederick discovered that without the love of a mother or caring adult, the children could not survive. Failure to thrive, absence of love, death—the truth emerged plainly: love is essential for our lives.

That’s where the Christian faith comes in. In the first century, Christians were certainly not the only organized group in the Roman world. Dinner groups met for social purposes. Burial societies were organized to provide social interaction and preparation of post-death arrangements. Philosophical schools created opportunities for people to gather around gifted teachers to pursue education and intellectual achievement. Pagan cults sought to give meaning to life through their seasonal rituals and sacrifices to the gods.

However, Christians were the only group governed and centered by the principle of love, the Greek word agape. The early Christians built their foundation on the idea of agape love. Agape love is selfless love. Generous love. Sacrificing love.

Perhaps that’s why the most famous words ever written about love emerged from the mouth of a Christian. Saint Paul describes love as the highest and best spiritual gift to be experienced in this lifetime:

But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do have not love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 12:31–13:8a)

Saint Paul’s thoughts spring from Jesus. After all, Jesus tells His disciples that the world will know they are His followers by their love. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Clearly, love is important. Love gives life. Love sustains life. And when we are at our best, love defines life.

How can we have this kind of love in our lives?

You Are a Child Loved by God

The Bible is a story of love: God’s love for the world and God’s love for His children. After all, God is love (1 John 4:8). Nowhere do we see the love of God more active than in Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

This famous verse captures the heart of the Bible, the heart of the faith, and truly the heart of God. Jesus came to us because God loves us. That is the supreme example of agape love. God loves us first. God takes the first step. And the birth of Jesus proves that.

In Jesus, we see God taking the first step to touch and shape our lives. In offering His son to you, God shows you His highest dreams for your life. He wants us to be like Christ. That is the-best-version-of-yourself. Just as Jell-O takes the form of the container it is surrounded by, so too are we shaped by what we are surrounded by. God desires to immerse you in Himself, Jesus. In Him, you can fulfill God’s dream for your life.

Jesus represents all that we humans can be. You are made in His image. As you become the-best-version-of-yourself, you become more and more like Jesus. Most of all, because He is willing to sacrifice Himself for us at the cross, Jesus represents love. That’s what agape love is: self sacrificial love. Agape love means thinking of the other person first and being willing to sacrifice in order to help that person.

Jesus is God’s agape love. God sent His son to us and then sacrificed Him for us. God loves you so much that He is willing to sacrifice His very own substance, Jesus, His son, on your behalf. That is the model of love. God loves us first.

Next, Jesus issues the invitation to us all: Love Him. Hear the words of Jesus: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21) When we worship Jesus in the Eucharist, we love Him. When we obey Jesus and fulfill His commandments, we love Him. Our actions and our service to Him become expressions of our love for Him. And when we love Jesus, we love God.

God loves us first. We then love Him in return. And the news gets even better! When we love Jesus, God in turn loves us and continues to show Himself to us even more. The relationship grows and strengthens. This is where our strength comes from: God’s love flows into our lives and provides us with a special power that is unavailable in the world outside of Him. When we love Jesus, we come to know who we are. God’s love becomes a part of who we are. Only then do we begin to realize the full potential that God has in mind for us. We start to understand who we are. And we also realize whose we are. We are God’s children. We belong to God.

As God’s children, and as lovers and followers of Jesus, we are invited to live in that love. “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” (John 15:9) Jesus invites us to spend our days and our energies in that love. Love becomes not merely something we feel, or something we receive; love becomes where we live. We live in God’s love. In fact, He is our dwelling place (Ps. 90:1). That is the most special gift of all. Jesus ushers us into a new life of love with Him and the Father above.

Self help books and self esteem courses can never replace the most basic fact that we belong to God. Only God can heal the human heart. God loves you. That is who you are: His precious child. God has dreams for your life. God has a blueprint for who He intends you to be. That blueprint gives your life meaning, direction, and purpose. And that God given dream begins with a simple word: love.

Who are you? A child loved by God.

Vertical Love

If Jesus had only one word in His vocabulary, it would be love. In fact, Jesus says all of His teaching can be summarized in that one powerful word: agape. When asked what the greatest teaching or commandment was, Jesus responded, “Love God completely. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34–40)

The critical role of agape love can best be seen in Jesus’s teaching in Mark 12. Perhaps paradoxically, this chapter of Mark shows the many ways in which Jesus disagreed with the Jewish leaders of His time. It is important to remember that Jesus was not always popular. In fact, He often found Himself mired in controversy. Some people loved to fight with Jesus or argue with Him. For example, in the gospel of Mark alone, religious authorities, demons, Satan himself, and even occasionally Jesus’s own disciples oppose Jesus and/or His teachings.

Therefore, it should not be surprising to open Mark’s chapter 12 and find Jesus in the middle of a series of arguments. One disagreement leads directly to another. All kinds of people—chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees—parade through chapter 12 quibbling and arguing with Jesus over various matters. First, in Mark 12:1–12, Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard, and the religious authorities realize that He “told this parable against them” (12:12) in order to criticize their failure to serve God with their lives. In 12:13–17, Jesus avoids the trap that the authorities seek to set for Him regarding the issue of the payment of taxes. Sadducees question Jesus regarding the resurrection in 12:18–27, and Jesus denounces the scribes’ ostentatious lifestyles in 12:38–40. He reinforces that denunciation with His observation of the supreme value of the widow’s offering of a mite in 12:41–44.

However, it’s easy to miss the point of this entire chapter. Unlike all the disputes in the rest of the chapter, in 12:28–34, Jesus and a scribe actually agree. Mark nestles this passage of agreement right between the first three disputes of chapter 12 and the final three disputes. In other words, the passage of agreement between Jesus and the religious authorities is located right at the center of chapter 12. This is the heart of the chapter, the centerpiece. The six stories of disagreement and debate only serve to highlight the focal point of the chapter: 12:28–34. This is the center of the chapter and the center of what binds believers together.

Well, then, on what do Jesus and the scribe agree? Love. That’s it. They both agree that love is the centerpiece of becoming the-best-version-of-yourself. Love is the fulcrum.

When the scribe asks what the most important commandment of all is, Jesus responds with His famous call to love God entirely with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength as well as to love your neighbor as yourself. Rather than disagreeing with Jesus, the scribe quickly responds, “You are right.” (12:32) Unlike all the other people portrayed in Mark 12, the scribe actually agrees with Jesus. Rather than no, he says yes.

Why does the scribe agree? Because Jesus perfectly captures the message of the Old Testament. Jesus’s answer expands on the basic teachings found in Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 6. God’s people are called to love God and love one another. What do the scribe and Jesus agree on? In a word, love.

The Old Testament and the New Testament converge in that one word: agape. Love that sacrifices self in order to love God with abandon. Love that gives in order to love your neighbors with joy. In contrast to all the conflicts in chapter 12 stands the central idea of love. Agape love.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying, it is important to remember that there were at least three basic kinds of love expressed in the Greek language. Knowing the difference helps us to know how to love God in our lives. Agape love is not brotherly love, like we feel for our families and friends. Nor is it erotic love, like that between husband and wife. Rather, agape love is self-sacrificial love. Love that gives. Love that considers others first. Generous love. Self-giving love.

Agape is not a word that Mark throws around lightly in his Gospel. In fact, he uses this specific term only a few times. He uses it carefully, because in his mind, God and Jesus are the examples of agape. We find the models for how we are to love not in other human beings but in God and Jesus.

Jesus teaches us that agape love is vertical. Love moves up and down. God’s love flows down from above and into your life. Love comes from God to you. The most significant example of that is in Jesus Himself. Jesus stepped out of heaven and came to you. God became flesh and lived among us (John 1:13–14). At Jesus’s baptism (1:9–11) and at His transfiguration on the mountaintop (9:2–8), Jesus is God’s “much-loved” son, the one for whom God the Father has agape love. Love that gives one’s own son. Hear the words of God the Father: “This is my Beloved Son.”

Mark explicitly shows that when Jesus meets the rich young ruler (10:17–22), He “loves” the ruler before He says, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” (10:21) Love considers the needs of others first and foremost. Jesus loves the young ruler enough to tell him the truth. More importantly, He loves him enough to invite him to take steps to become the-best-version-of-himself.

When Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard, the Master (God the Father) sends His “beloved son” (Jesus) into the vineyard only to have the son rejected and killed by the tenants. This is self-sacrificial love, love that is willing to suffer on behalf of others. So, when Jesus calls you to lead a life of agape love, He is inviting you to imitate the divine example of love seen in God the Father and Jesus the Son. God loves you first. And He loves you sacrificially.

God has agape love for Jesus just as Jesus has agape love for you. The Trinity expresses the love of God in relationship. God, out of love, sends His beloved son and offers Him to you. He then imbues you with the Holy Spirit to give you power on your own journey. Agape is not part of the point; it is the point. Love forms the centerpiece of your relationship with God. God offers His own son, even to death. The cross stands out as the ultimate example of self-giving, self-sacrificing love. The cross is love.

God loves you first. Best of all, He has always loved you. And His love flows generously down from above. Vertical love that saturates your life.

All you need is love: God’s love.

Horizontal Love

Rainwater fills a birdbath from above. When the birdbath fills to capacity, it overflows and spills its contents on the ground. In contrast, a sprinkler receives its water from pipes and then liberally distributes that water all around. Better still, the sprinkler can be strategically positioned to water exactly the plants or areas the owner desires. And it can be moved to other dry areas when it is needed.

God’s love operates just like rainwater. If you try to hold on to all the love that flows from above, you become like the birdbath. You cannot hold it all, so it just spills out haphazardly. In fact, you are in danger of becoming self-righteous as you hoard God’s love in your life and fail to notice the people around you. The-best-version-of-yourself operates more like a sprinkler. You receive the love of God abundantly, and then you share it generously in the areas and with the people around you who need it most. In that way, God’s vertical love becomes horizontal.

The point is simple: That same love that flows down from God and into your life shows up and gets expressed in how you treat other people. Because God has first loved you, He calls you to imitate that love and share it. That is horizontal love. Love is vertical as we love God above us and He loves us. Love is horizontal as God’s divine love moves from us into the lives of real people. We are conduits of God’s love to other people. You were made to be a sprinkler.

Having agape love in your life means that you will live differently from the rest of the world. “Jesus people” are different. Jesus captures that difference between God’s people and the rest of the world in Luke 10:25–37, His famous parable of the good Samaritan. You remember the story. A lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus helps the man answer his own question in the same way Jesus Himself answers the scribe in the story we just looked at in Mark 12: with a call to love God and to love people. But then the scribe asks, “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, what does agape love look like in real life? Agape love is not just an idea. It can be seen and touched in the world we live in. Agape love requires a decision and an action.

Thus, Jesus shares the marvelous story of the man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho on a Roman road when he is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead alongside the road. A priest travels that way, sees the man, and passes by him on the other side of the road. A Levite holy man does the same thing. However, in a shocking surprise, a Samaritan, an outcast and an alien in the eyes of the Jews, is “moved with pity” (10:32) and stops to assist the victim. He bandages the man’s wounds, anoints him with oil and wine for the healing of those wounds, and transports the man to an inn, where he offers to pay for the man’s care and recovery. In other words, unlike the two Jewish leaders, the Samaritan gets off his donkey and does something. That is love.

Jesus then asks the scribe, “Which of these three men was a neighbor to the man?” The scribe responds, “The one who showed mercy.” Then Jesus challenges him to “Go and do likewise.” Go. Do. Love.

Jesus’s point is clear: To have the agape love of God flowing in your life means that you will show mercy for other people. Why? Not because you are a good person. No. It is because we are God’s people! We love because God first loves us. We show mercy because God first has shown mercy to us. We have agape love in our lives only because God has shown His love for us in Jesus. God invites you to share that love generously with the world. You do not act on your own. You act as God’s beloved child, sharing God’s love with a hurting world. Just as God in Himself shares His son in your life. God is love. And the-best-version-of-yourself will be too.

To share the love of God, or to have agape love flowing in your life, means that you are willing to inconvenience yourself on behalf of other people. You are willing to sacrifice self for the benefit of others. Just as God has offered Himself as a sacrifice for His children, you offer yourself to God and to His people. Agape love is costly. Loving others will cost you something. The Samaritan sacrificed his schedule, shared his donkey and wine, and paid the innkeeper with a promise to cover any additional costs needed to help the beaten man recover.

Love may mean that you give more money away to serve the needs of others than you spend on your own needs. It may mean a lunch hour spent in the hospital cradling and rocking a newborn child whose mother is unable to care for the baby’s needs. It may mean an afternoon spent visiting a nursing home when we would really rather be playing golf. It may mean spending a vacation working on a mission team building a church in Honduras rather than surfing in Hawaii. It may mean praying with children in a classroom, or surrendering a prized seat to someone less able. Agape love is costly.

Agape love takes the initiative. It is active. Love does not wait for an invitation or a free moment. Love does not say, “I will do this when I retire,” or “I hope to get around to that someday.” Jesus Christ came into the world to die for our sins while we were still sinners. He did not wait until we asked for help. He did not procrastinate until it was a more convenient time for God. Love acts. As Jesus says, “Go and do. . . .”

A great Christian was asked how the Christian should live, and he responded, “Do all the good you can.” Love does. Love acts. Love takes the initiative to benefit others. Love finds needs and ministers to them. Why? Because God sends us out into the world to be different. You are sharing God’s own agape love in all that you say and do. No nobler purpose for life exists. And nothing else can satisfy your soul.

A good question to ask yourself is: How much love is evidenced in my life? At the end of this chapter, I will share with you five ways you can cultivate love as a bigger part of your life. Then you will be well on your way to becoming the-best-version-of-yourself.

Your Destiny in Love

One last thing about Jesus. He not only said that you are called to love God with abandon—with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength. He also invited you to love your neighbors with joy.

However, Jesus raised the bar even higher. In Matthew 5:43–48, He calls us to love our enemies. Listen to the words of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” (5:44–45a)

Loving your enemies? Why? Because you want to be more like Jesus. God loves each human being. After all, every person is made in His image. God loves even those who do not love Him in return. He still seeks them. God never fails to extend His heart to them even when He is rejected. Those who follow Jesus begin to look more like Jesus and less like the world. In the world, we all love our friends and people who love us. That is the easy part. Few of us love our enemies or even pray for them.

However, when you begin to apply what Jesus teaches, you learn remarkable lessons. When you pray for those who hate you or persecute you, your own prayers begin to change you. Of course, your prayers also begin to change your enemies. But the great miracles occur as your own heart changes. You develop a greater capacity to love, even learning to love those who do not return your love. This is loving as God loves.

As these changes occur, you begin to become more and more like God. God is love (1 John 4:16). And love defines the-best-version-of-yourself. When God’s love lives in us, it also is “perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12) He perfects us as we grow in love. Think about that. God is making you perfect, through love.

As we grow in love, we grow in holiness. As we grow in holiness, we begin to become the very people that God intends us to be. His blueprint for our lives becomes a reality. “For this is the will of God, your holiness . . .” (1 Thess. 4:3). Over time, you become a person of holy love, sharing yourself, your resources, and the love of God with all of the world. You become the-best-version-of-yourself, God’s dream for you.

Jesus makes quite a claim. God is at work in you to make you more like Jesus. In fact, Jesus is so bold as to challenge you: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Those are strong words. God’s dream for you is perfection—not perfection in math or in basketball, but perfection in agape love. That is your destiny.

God desires that your heart resemble the heart of Jesus. And it pleases God when your actions, even including the loving of your enemies, look like the actions of Jesus. He wants you to act like Jesus did. Even more, He wants your motives to be like those of Jesus. Motives that are based in love. Motives that love God and love people.

Jesus invites you to a life full of love. Enjoy!

Nine Words (Paperback)

by Allen Hunt

Discover the nine words that St. Paul used to describe the-best-version-of-ourselves, and learn 45 practical tips for letting those words direct the way you live.

Nine Words (Paperback)

by Allen Hunt

Discover the nine words that St. Paul used to describe the-best-version-of-ourselves, and learn 45 practical tips for letting those words direct the way you live.

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About Nine Words (Paperback)

Nobody grows up wanting to lead a meaningless or unsatisfying life. No one yearns to be incomplete or frustrated or to lack a destiny or purpose. Who would want that? Deep within each of us, God has implanted the desire to be the-best-version-of-ourselves. God has a dream for your life. And His dream for you is unique. Only you are you.

Nine words best describe the-best-version-of-yourself®. Saint Paul shares nine words in his letter to the Galatians. These nine words provide the blueprint to your destiny, the dream God has for your life.

This simple study will help you dive, in real ways, into God’s dream for your life in order to become the-best-version-of-yourself®.

Product Information

Alternative Headline A Bible Study to Help You Become The-Best-Version-of-Yourself

SKU 9WDSPEF

Author Allen Hunt

ISBN 978-1937509354

Publisher Beacon Publishing

Number of Pages 176

Book Format Paperback

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Fruitful read

By Kelly on Wednesday, August 30, 2017

This book expanded on a scripture passage that was speaking to me at the time I got it, and has enabled me to better cultivate into rich and strengthening action adding immeasurable quality to life. It is easy to understand but carries such important messages I have read it multiple times to feel I could suck all of its valuable stories and scripture deep into the fibers of my being. Each read I pick up on new messages. I recommend this to anyone looking to grow in their faith and to grow in their scripture reference. Great book.

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