October 16, 2008

Love is learning to see GOD in people

We all know what love is. Love is the central tenet of Christianity, the very ethic the church is built on. Love is the goal. You’ve probably recently been in a class, listened to a sermon, and even talked about the importance, and need for love.

For love is all the rage right now. We are to be a loving church. We are to love our spouses. Love is the remedy to the ills of our culture, to war, to hate, to racism. Love your friends, love your enemies. Love. Love. Love. Certainly if the Beatles sang about it then we must need it. We all know how good, how right, and how loving love is. For God so loved the world, love your neighbor, God loves you, Jesus loves you.

The fact is, we love to love love.

But enough with that nonsense.

Jesus boils down all the commands into two laws: love God and love your neighbor. But we like to take these commands and make them sequential. First I’ll learn to love God and spend all my time doing the things that I think are loving to God: spending time in church, praying, reading my Bible. Then I’ll learn to love my neighbor and maybe spend some time doing it.

So we often get bogged down in the steps of love, spending our time not in the actual doing of love, but in the study of it. For anyone who has made themselves vulnerable in love or sacrificed time and comfort for the sake of love knows that it’s much easier to talk about and ask questions who are neighbors are then to be a neighbor. We do this because the idea of love is much prettier and romantic then the reality.

I’ve seen this point more clearly in my own life recently. Charlotte and I thought for a while that we’d move to East Austin, so we could live a life of love where we resided. So we could live in a place of real need and share our lives with those different from us.

A few weeks ago we began looking for a new rent place. A couple times in our search we talked about being in a neighborhood with need, but in the end we found a place where the niceness of the rent home and the convenience of its location won out to any preconceived ideal we had. When it comes to the actual work of love, it seems life and reality get messy.

The reason I believe Jesus places these two commands together as he does, is because they are inseparable from one another.

I’ve heard it said that “the way we love others is the way we love God.” The writer of 1 Jn says that if “we say we love God , but hate our brothers and sisters then we are liars.” I like to reword Jesus’ commands to read:

"Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as if they are all you have.”

We simply cannot separate our love for God and our love for others. There is simply no separation between love we get to study and think about and love we get to live out.

Jesus reveals this fact with a story in Matt. 25:31-46, where he tells about when he will return and judge the nations, including us. In this story, Jesus separated the crowd not based on what they believed about love, but how they practiced it. And in practicing love for the prisoner, the hungry, the poor, the outcast of their society, the sheep were actually practicing love toward God but didn’t even realize it.

By loving the most unlovable, the sheep were getting to know and spend time with their Creator, their redeemer, with Jesus himself.

Now I don’t mean for this sermon to be a guilt trip or to make us feel bad for how much we don’t love,
But rather awaken us to the truth that love lives not in our Sunday school rooms, but in our, offices, and jobs and classrooms;
not in our thoughts and dreams, but in our daily routines,
and not simply in our study but how we live towards our enemy.

If living out love were easy, then Christ had no need to die for the love’s sake, but exactly because God suffered and took on our burden, he has made the life of love a real possibility.


Anonymous said...

You are a very good writer. I was captivated from the word go and was dissapointed when I came to the end simply because I was not ready to stop reading. You have a gift. Continue to use it, honoring God in all you do.

I have always seen love of our neighbor as the overflow of our staring intently in the face of God, loving Him with all we have. I have always seen our love for others (our "practicer") as Christ's reflection of Himself on to others through us as a result of our seeking Him. It is His love radiating from us as a result of our loving Him.

What do you think?

JoeBumbulis said...

I'm not sure if I follow exactly, but I do believe that if we love it is from the grace and love of God. The only danger I see is with using this kind of language, love can get "spiritualized", so that love for neighbor becomes impossible because we are always focusing on "spiritual" things.

That's not to say we shouldn't focus on spiritual things, ie disciplines like prayer, fasting, reading scripture, etc; as long as we see ourselves as a conduit in which the Holy Spirit fills us with love and that love overflows into the lives of others.

Anonymous said...

I should have written "love our neighbor" instead of "love of our neighbor".

I think I agree with your response based on you saying "love for neighbor becomes impossible because we are always focusing on "spiritual" things" and "as long as we see ourselves as a conduit" except I would change one word. I would say "as long as we are conduits".

My point was that the only way that we can love our neighbor is if that love comes from God because we are incapable to truly love our neighbor on our own. When we truly love our neighbor it is only Christs love for them overflowing out of us. This can only happen when we are intently gazing at His beauty. :)

We display evidence of love when we are doing. If we arent doing there is not evidence. We need to question if we are truly loving (or for that matter a believer) if we are not displaying evidence of loving others.

That however does not rule out prayer, fasting, reading Scripture, etc... These are areas that in some form allow us to gaze at His beauty. If we arent doing these then we cant truly love. God is the source of love. Doing evidence of love. Doing not only involves feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, etc...Doing involves intently studying Scripture, praying, fasting seeking the Lord's will in all that we do.

That's how I see it anyway. What do you think?

I cant figure out why I cant publish under my name but this mike...maybe like Lucas, you have your Calvinist filter on. :)

mi familia said...

Sorry for the typos and other mistakes. Im at my office trying to answer the phone and take care of clients etc... :)

mi familia said...

It worked WOO HOO!

JoeBumbulis said...

I'm mostly going to respond to this, because I do agree with much of what you are saying Mike.

"My point was that the only way that we can love our neighbor is if that love comes from God because we are incapable to truly love our neighbor on our own. When we truly love our neighbor it is only Christs love for them overflowing out of us. This can only happen when we are intently gazing at His beauty."

I think you mean by true love, love that is sacrificial for another person's good, dignity and life. (correct me if I'm wrong).
There may be such a thing as prevenient love or maybe one could even argue that all love is God's love.

Yet, I have seen and know first hand that nonChristians, people who despise the Christian faith even are capable of being as if not more loving then those who practice the classic disciplines for opening ourselves to be the conduit of love.

So, I'm not sure what exactly to do with that. Here is probably one of the reasons I take issue with Calvinism's total depravity. I agree all of humanity is broken, yet there is still good in us. I believe we love not just from staring intently at God's face, but we love out of our true humanity.

This is why God became human...Jesus was the "only" true human. Thus, b/c we are created en imago dei, we love also.

What I believe Christ makes possible is the ability to look beyond our national, ethnic, and cultural differences and love our enemies, the despised, and unlovable. We love b/c Christ first loved us.

JoeBumbulis said...

oh and I'm glad it worked for ya. I'm not sure they make a calvinism filter, but if they did...

just kidding.

mi familia said...

I do not disagree that there are others who are opposed to Christianity who are able to love. When my wife and I were in S.E.A. in areas where the people there had never even seen (or possibly heard of) a Westerner, they displayed hospitality like no one on this side of the world has ever shown me. These people were willing to kill their only chicken so that we might be able to eat. And these were people who did not know where their next meal was going to come from. Yes people are able to display love but the love that they displayed terminated on me. It was not pointing me to Christ which would be ultimate love.

Calvinists have never said otherwise. In fact Total Depravity has little to nothing to do with with the ability of unbelievers to love or whether or not there is good in people...THAT IS IF...that love/good is described in terms of it being proximate love/goodness.

Calvinists would say that we are only proximately able to love anything without having Christ in us. What I wrote previously, I was speaking of ultimate love; love that does not end at the person it is being directed at but its ultimate intention is to glorify God as a result of loving that person.

Here is a quote that I love:
"True love aims at satisfying people in the glory of God. Any love that terminates on man is eventually destructive. It does not lead people to the only lasting joy, namely, God. Love must be God-centered, or it is not true love; it leaves people without their final hope of joy."

Hopefully I have done an OK job at explaining what I meant.

God bless,

mi familia said...

You closed with:
"We love b/c Christ first loved us."
...are you a closet Calvinist? ;)