How Loving Are We – Really?
There seems to be an emotional high that comes with Easter. Many report experiencing the closeness and joy of God after joining others in the act of worship. Yet just the other day I read the following statements which tell another story: “The church is almost indistinguishable from the world…Our growth in love for God does not necessarily translate into a more mature love for others…Our inability to resolve conflicts maturely remains one of the most pressing problems in our churches.” Pete and Geri Scazzero list these findings, among others, in their book, Emotionally Healthy Skills 2.0.
I imagine you are as alarmed as I am by these findings. How did we get to this place? Especially in light of Jesus’ words to us in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Apparently this is still a “new command.” The church is nowhere close to loving others the way Christ loves us. Its not that we haven’t read his teachings, or repeated them countless times in church Sunday School classes and Bible studies, impressing upon those around us our vast knowledge of scripture. I’ve sat in these settings and have noted the biblical literacy of many. What we express, however, outside of our churches – and sadly, even within the churches we attend – is a lack of attention to the ways we are communicating to others the love with which God embraces us.
I like what Jesus says about loving our neighbour (Matthew 19:19), but he can’t mean the one who throws loud Saturday night parties that last late into Sunday morning – can he? I like what Jesus says about loving your enemies – emphasis on “your” enemies, not mine (Matthew 5:44). I assume it must be easier for you to love your enemies than it is for me to love mine! I don’t believe you’ve met mine. My enemies have real hang-ups. They somehow bring out the worst rather than the best in me. Jesus can’t expect me to love “my” enemies and pray for them can he?
Paul seems to have no trouble telling us what Jesus means about loving God’s way (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). He talks about patience and kindness as being two of the hallmarks of God’s way of loving others. He mentions pride and boastfulness as definitely not being part of that same list. And that qualities like trust and loyalty and the willingness to persevere and hang on to hope – when its the last thing anyone else is hanging on to at the time – that, says Paul, is what it means to really love someone God’s way.
Paul reminds me that keeping track of someone else’s mistakes may be something that appears on my own agenda, but it is never on God’s. God ties his character to things like grace (John 1:17) and mercy (Matthew 12:17) faithfulness (Matthew 25:21) and forgiveness (Luke 23:34) – even when the other person is the last one to concede to having done anything that may need forgiving.
I like all that Jesus and Paul have to say about love – at least what they say about the way that God loves each of us. How I learn to apply the characteristics of God’s love to my growing relationships looks like it will involve daily learnings and a lifetime commitment. I’m ready for that, because frankly, I’m saddened by the stories I’m hearing of good people, looking for a better way to live, feeling the doors shutting in their faces from other good-intentioned people who have tied themselves to values that sound noble but are not biblical. Its time we take another look at how serious we are – in and out of the church – with really following the ways of Jesus, and not substituting what we think is reasonable for the kind of costly discipleship that Jesus taught and lived before he died on that cross to seal the deal forever – in our favour.
I join you all every day on this journey of learning how to love God’s way. And I am appreciating the skills I’m learning from Pete and Geri’s work on the subject of learning how to transform the way we love God, ourselves and others. In fact we’re starting small groups on this topic at MBC in the coming months. If you’re interested in joining, I would invite you to contact our church and register today.
Grace to you!