“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
“On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the prophets.”
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The early church was known for its love – people saw how much the church came together (Acts 2); cared for widows and orphans. In the ancient world, children who were exposed usually met one of three fates: death, slavery/prostitution or Christian “adoption”. Of the followers of the way, it was said, “Falsehood is not found among them; and they love on another; and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he who has, gives to him, who as not, without boasting. And when they see stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother.” Apology of Aristides the Philosopher 15, c. A.D. 125
But are we known for love today?
Or are we more often known now for what we are against.
I read a lot and there is a lot that is troubling regarding what Christians are known for.
I read studies. There is a study from the University of California Berkeley Social Psychological and Personality Science department that found that atheists are more compassionate than Christians. Atheists give out of a empathy/sympathy for the cause (often have a personal connection), whereas Christians give out of sense of religious obligation. Meaning Christians may give more out of doctrine, communal identity, or reputational concerns, rather than just compassion for the cause.
I read blogs like “why I don’t cry to Christians any more,” a personal account from a survivor of abuse/rape/assault, regarding the response she gets from the Christian community. She states how she is not asking for answers from friends, but rather just wants a hug, a smile, a pat on the back, someone to listen. What she gets instead are platitudes like “Well, I don’t think you should complain, God has a plan you just need more patience,” or cryptic bible verses, invitations to church. Friends who refuse to visit her in the hospital or discuss her illness because it “gives the Devil power through acknowledging the illness.” Male friends who walk away when she cries as to not give the wrong impression of emotional intimacy. And how these responses are causing her to simply ignore the hurt within the Christian community, since she cannot find authentic community, love, and support within.
I read the opinions from waitstaff and studies that reveal Christians to be seen as horribly bad tippers. From leaving Gospel tracts instead of a tip, to messages like “I give God 10%, why should I give you more.”
I read experiences from Disney cast members who dubbed Night of Joy, the Christian music festival in the park, Night of Terror because of the rampant theft, drugs, and sex that was occurring throughout the event. Cast members who hated shifts those nights more than any other day in the park. More theft during Night of Joy than during Grad Nights, another special event for a similar aged group.
I read news items regarding churches like the Village Church in Dallas and its controversy with a member and missionary who divorced her husband following a discovery of his involvement with child pornography. While the husband entered a “process of walking in repentance,” the wife was disciplined by the church and held to her membership covenant because she sought an annulment from her marriage and rescinded her church membership after the discovery. I bring this up because this isn’t a fringe sect. This is a church headed by popular pastor Matt Chandler. The church has since apologized for its handling of the situation.
And this does not even start to touch on the issues that have come up with regard to the improper mixture of politics and religion over the past couple of years.
To get a little more personal, I think to an event from Jamie’s early years in teaching, where a student was surprised to hear Jamie was a Christian. This revelation hurt Jamie because she wants to be the kind of Christian where it is apparent, and it caused her to worry that she was not being “enough” of a Christian. But when she dug in for an explanation, she found the student associated “Christian” with hateful, judgmental, narrow-minded, etc., and since Jamie was not any of those things, it was surprising to them that Jamie would identify herself as such.
So again that raises the question – are we known for our love? I know that there are stories that can be pointed to of Christian love and charity, but I fear we are becoming more and more known for the kinds of stories that I cited above.
We’re given clear instructions on how to love and why it is important. The two greatest commandments are summed in the first verse cited above as to love God and to love people. On these two commandments hang everything.
Jesus then further gives us insight into how to love God. “If you love Me, you will keep My commands.” John 14:15. Notice it’s not in the reverse. It is entirely possible to obey God’s commands and not love Him. This was the Pharisees problem. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” Luke 11:42. But if you love him, you must obey His commands.
In Luke 10:27, Jesus provided four ways to love God – heart (emotional), soul, (spiritual), mind (intellect), and strength (physical being; our abilities). And from scripture we see that to love God is to love people is to love God. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” I John 2:9-11. “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” I John 4:19-5:3
We then come to loving people. And I think we forget how radical this commandment is. Notice it does not come with a limitation. It’s to love everyone, even our enemies. But since Jesus first announced this commandment, we’ve been trying to find exceptions. Trying to limit the definition of who is our neighbor. “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Luke 10:29. From there Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. How a man, presumably a Jewish man had traveled a particularly treacherous path from Jerusalem to Jericho, from mountain to sea level, and had been beaten, stripped, and left for dead by robbers. He was passed by two “holy” religious men, a priest and a Levite. The epitome of Jewish religion and piety. The Pharisees and the Sadducees. And they did nothing. He was then passed by a Samaritan, by a person a good Jew would have called a dog or trash. And the Samaritan is the one who showed compassion.
I love how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. summarized this parable. The Priest and the Levite looked at the man and asked “If I help this man what will happen to me?” They wanted to keep up appearances. They were about their busy religious business. “It weighed more with them that he might be dead and defiling to the touch of those whose business was with holy things than that he might be alive and in need of care." Their concern was for their own defilement of touching a dead body, which would have required a ritual cleaning before entering the temple.
The Samaritan on the other hand looked at the man and asked “If I do not help this man, what will happen to him?” Selfless, compassionate. “The one who showed him mercy.” He cared not for racial differences, he cared not for religious differences, he cared not for the harm that might come to himself. He saw someone in need and helped meet it.
We should go and do likewise.