God wants those who love him, his own dear children through Christ, to love like he loves. We are to forgive as he for Christ’s sake forgave us. We are even held to the lofty standard of loving our enemies and praying for them.
The list of qualities that mark Christians (fruits of the Spirit), listed in Galatians 5 begins with “love“. The most complete chapter in the Bible about love is 1 Corinthians 13. It is most often used in weddings. But God had in mind something far more than a sentimental reading for two people about to be married, he wanted it to be descriptive of the lives of his children. The numerous problems with the immature and sinful church members in Corinth could be completely solved by loving like this.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13 )
When I read these words and compare myself to this grid of Christ-likeness I find myself far short of where I would like to be. And, I am likely not alone.
The recent wave of damaging weather events has caused me once again to reflect on my own life and to examine how I love others. The recent weeks have also given opportunity to think about how other Christians love those who have lost so much. These are some of the conclusions I have realized.
We tend to love those who are most like us.
In response to a tornado, flood, or hurricane churches usually respond first to those of their denomination, in the hard hit area. My church is no different. I think this truth is largely because we are more comfortable interacting with people with whom we have more in common. And of course, in our case, almost every cent of each dollar is donated by Church of Christ people and those donors want to help their brothers and sisters. The good thing is that relief funds are managed by local church leaders in communities they know well and the result is that dollars go far and there is little waste. It is the most natural thing in the world to want to help family first, that is the way we are made I suppose. If there is a severe weather event north of Ft. Worth my first call is going to be to check on my grand daughters and their parents. It would be unnatural to do other wise! But, …aren’t we called to be unnatural?
One thing that is clear about the life of Jesus and his benevolence is that he was indiscriminate. His feeding of crowds, giving sight to the blind, healing, raising the dead, and choosing disciples, cut across any cultural or family or religious lines.
I’m only speculating, but what if we gave money to help people in a town that had flooded with these stipulations. “Help the poorest, most needy people in town first, without regard to their church affiliation or lack of it. After we have done what we can for the weakest we will then try to help others.” I think of the devastation in Tuscaloosa and a friend who prayed for direction when he drove into town wanting to help. His request brought him to a small trailer park off the beaten path were no one had been there to offer help. I know this good man didn’t poll them to find out what church they attended before he started to help them. Isn’t his a good plan? It seems to me it is.
Here is the objection and the Scriptural proof I’m wrong. “Brother Royce the Bible teaches we are to help Christians first.” And then this passage will be referenced or quoted.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
( Galatians 6:9-10 )
Well, it does say “especially to those who are of the household of faith” and that would be Christians. And, I agree. But what is the text really addressing? I think it’s worth looking at the context. The immediate context is not concerned primarily with charitable giving but is stated in verse 6.
One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. ( Galatians 6:6 )
Paul is making the case that those who are teachers deserve to be supported. This passage in no way that I can see is about who we should help after a damaging storm. He stresses his point by saying “…Do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith“. If we should be doing good to everyone how dare you not help one who has taught you the Word of God! What kind of Christian would you be if you helped everyone except your teachers?
We tend to love those we think we can make like us.
I fear that far to often when we as churches reach out to the unchurched we do so with a view of making them like us. And our desire bleeds over to not only religious identity but cultural as well. I have heard many reports of people visiting church plants in Africa or some other foreign country where the preacher is dressed in suit and tie while the members are dressed in the colorful garb of their culture. How foolish for us to try to “Americanize” indigenous preachers!
I remember well a Southern Baptist missionary who was for many years supported by a church in Asheville, N C. This good man traveled to many small villages walking and by bicycle. The church decided to purchase a motorcycle for him to make his travel easier. After a short time an apologetic letter was read to the church saying that he could not live better than his people. Not one of them had a motorcycle so it had been sold and the money given to the poor. I thank God for the tender heart of this African missionary and the lesson he taught me long ago.
I wonder, if we were to go to a town of very poor people, steeped in sin, to help them. How much would we help if we knew up front that none of them would convert to our brand of Christianity? I think the answer is obvious.
We tend to love those we can get credit for loving.
First, I say “we” and that includes me. I really, really, like a pat on the back. An acknowledgement from a church leader, or a comment from a fellow church member really inflates my ego. This is a confession, not anything more or less.
Just as I, in my prideful self, want credit for good things I do, so do most others. If the Southern Baptists are handing out food and water at a storm event there is always a large banner to announce it. And of course the same is true of Churches of Christ and every other brand I can think of. I don’t think this is a terrible dark sin but is for a fact emblematic of the fact that we want credit. I honestly doubt that Jesus gladly approves.
I should be just as happy if people get the emergency goods and services they need if those things come in a truck from Catholics, Methodists, Mennonites, or any other church or civic group. Shouldn’t I? And further, if as a result many people come into a saving relationship with Jesus shouldn’t that alone give me joy and rejoicing without regard for who the messenger was or where they worship?
Love is the greatest. Love never fails, or ends. Faith will run it’s course and hope will be swallowed up by the true reality but love, yes love is eternal, it is God’s essence. The love God calls us to show to our fellows on this earth is sacrificial, generous, gracious, unselfish, and unconditional. You see, God didn’t find anything in you and me to make him want to love us. What he saw in us was the reverse. He saw sinful rebellion, pride, selfishness, and all the manifold lusts of the human mind and body, and he loved us anyway!
My prayer is that I can do a better job of loving others. I think loving the truth may be a prerequisite.
For love like His,