My fellow follower of Christ,
I feel it is time for us to have a serious discussion. I have felt uneasy for quite some time about how things are going. I guess I was hoping things would turn around, that they would get better. I hoped that there would be some sort of unity or reconciliation. But everything is getting worse. It is spiraling out of control, truthfully. It kind of feels like one of those old Hollywood bar fights that start between a couple of dusty guys in dusty hats. Then it takes over the whole bar. Eventually it pours out into the street for everyone to see. That’s where we are right now. We are a bunch of drunk cowboys fighting in the street. Shooting and punching and yelling and destroying. It’s not a good look.
This goes beyond politics, beyond denominations, beyond worldviews, beyond resolutions. This is so much bigger than all of that. It is about the heart - literally - of who we are, who we claim to be, Who we follow. We have divided our attention and betrayed our affections and confused our direction. And we have lost the most important facet of all, the one thing that is supposed to define us. The one thing we were told time and time again that we should pursue. The one thing that was preached from the front of The Book to the end.
If a poll was taken about Christians, if a hundred or a thousand random people were asked what makes a Christian, it is doubtful that love would make the list. That is not our defining characteristic. That is not our calling card. It probably wouldn’t make the top ten. The top twenty. We would get lots of other words: judgmental, closed minded, hateful, intolerant, mean, out of touch, harsh, greedy, hypocritical. But we certainly wouldn’t get love.
This is so wrong. Even as you read this, chances are good that some of you are already getting angry. You’re wanting to scream at me, to write a vicious comment on the link. “Loving doesn’t mean accepting!” “God doesn’t tolerate sin!” “We are supposed to stand up for what is right.” It is amazing the arguments we will make to defend our lack of love. It is startling how far we will go to dismiss that commandment. How we will use legal and economic and political and logical treatises to justify our sinful behavior. We will point out all of the other people doing things wrong. We will quote the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Atlas Shrugged, Joel Osteen, Stephen Furtick, Donald Trump, Sarah Sanders, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, George Clinton. We will use anything we can to justify our NOT doing the thing that we were supposed to be doing.
From the very beginning, God had some simple instructions. They were woven through the Ten Commandments. They were peppered through the Old Testament. They were preached by Jesus Himself. They were echoed by His Disciples.
It doesn’t say to be the judge, jury, and executioner. It doesn’t say to be the moral compass. It doesn’t say to be the behavior police. It doesn’t say to wield the most political power. It doesn’t say to dictate financial policy. It doesn’t say to promote your country of citizenship. It doesn’t say to decide your race is better. It doesn’t say to oppress people.
We see it in Leviticus 19:18. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
We see it in Deuteronomy 6:5. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
The Ten Commandments can be divided between the ones telling us to Love God and those telling us to Love Others.
And lest those statements confuse anyone, God went so far as to clarify what neighbor meant. Leviticus 19:34 and Deuteronomy 10:18-19 explicitly tells God’s people to extend that love not only to those like them, but also to the sojourner, traveler, refugee. This was a hallmark from the very beginning. From the first set of laws laid down, God clearly commanded His people should be people of love.
Deuteronomy 11:1 You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. There is no wiggle room. God demands obedience to His statutes. His statutes include loving others.
This is echoed over and over again. God demonstrates His propensity for love and demands His people follow likewise.
Psalm 31:23, , Psalm 33:5, Psalm 100:5, Psalm 103:8, Lamentations 3:22. They all describe God’s loving and patient nature. How He is slow to anger and quick to love.
Proverbs 10:12, Isaiah 61:8, Amos 5:15. They all instruct us to pursue love and justice and put aside strife and wrongdoing and evil.
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? and abounding in steadfast love It is there in black and white. The characteristics desired are justice and kindness and humility and love. This is undebatable. It is the clearest set of marching orders anyone could require.
I know what’s coming. I know that the responses of “But that is the Old Testament. We aren’t under the Law. We are under grace. We are not the modern reincarnation of Israel.” First if all, those protests only come up when it suits our needs. The same person who will reject the Old Testament teachings on things like this will embrace them when teaching on homosexuality or tithing or God being a wrathful God. Second, dismissing the call to love would possibly, maybe make sense if the New Testament veered away from this calling. And that is not the case. If anything, Jesus’ life and teachings ups the ante on the need for love.
Jesus time and again calls on His followers to live lives defined by love for God and love for Others. His entire purpose for coming is presented in one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible. In John 3:16-17 Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Love, not condemnation. Love and salvation, not banishment and death. Jesus came and died out of love. And He consistently taught His disciples to live in the same manner.
Jesus didn’t get in trouble with the authorities due to His refusal to give up His rights, or pounding the moral drum, or seizing political power. He got in trouble with organized religion because he kept calling for people to Love God and Love Others. That was why they mocked Him, hated Him, and killed Him. They refused to Love God and Love Others.
Jesus said to ...
Love God even more than money
Love our neighbors
Love one another
Love our enemies
Love those who persecute is
Love those who hate us.
That just about covers every loophole. There is no one escaping those descriptions. It wasn’t, “Criticize each other.” It wasn’t, “Point out everyone’s sins.” It wasn’t, “Attack everyone who disagrees with you.” It wasn’t, “Push aside everyone who looks different than you.” In fact Jesus went so far as to tell us specifically to NOT do those things. He told stories that illustrated how we should love people, no matter their characteristics. He demonstrated how to love people of every background and weakness and sin style and belief. From whores to lepers to children to Romans to the establishment to criminals to average guys. Jesus loved them all.
People were drawn to this Jesus. They couldn’t get enough of Him. Children loved Him. You ever been around kids? They don’t flock to someone who is going to be dark and moody and judgmental. People don’t usually follow a miserable malcontent around all over tarnation. They had never seen anyone like Him. They had never been loved by anyone like Him. They weren’t used to having their petty concerns cared about, their little needs seen as important. They were used to people walking away and ignoring them. People didn’t care if they ran out of wine or if they were blind or if they didn’t have enough money or if their servant died or if their child died. Society kept rolling and everyone was caught up in their own problems and issues. And then Jesus came along and fed the masses when they were hungry. And He healed the meaningless beggars. And He brought the regular people back to life. And He listened and cared and celebrated and mourned and loved them.
Before Jesus left He took Peter aside and talked with him. This man was a coward. He swore he didn’t know Jesus and ran away when things got rough. He hid like a little kid. He was a screwup. He failed so badly, and all after he bragged so loudly. This was Jesus’ opportunity to really rub it in his face. Instead, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. He lowered the bar all the way down and asked Peter if he even liked Him. Peter kept saying he did. And each time, Jesus said that if Peter really loved Him, he should take care of people. The ragged lame poor stupid different oddball people. The terms Jesus used were so tender. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” You don’t go running up to feed a lamb with a whip, screaming. You don’t tend sheep by getting in their faces and yelling. “What’s your problem you stupid sheep? Why don’t you do this right?” The mantle of loving was passed on.
Jesus made it as clear as possible in John 13:35. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. People will know you are a Christ follower by your love. Not the fish on your car, not the party you vote for, not the church you attend, not the people you hate, not the things you do, not the things you DON’T do. By your love. Love for others in your family, your workplace, your church, your denomination, your neighborhood, your city, your state, your country, your planet.
Jesus’ followers got this. It wasn’t unclear to them. That is why Paul’s Epistles are flooded with verses telling us to love those around us. ALL of those around us. There are so many verses to pull up. However, the most famous passage about love comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Read this and see if it sounds like Christians today.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 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. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
That should make us fall to our knees, begging God and everyone around us for forgiveness. It should make us delete our Twitter account and start over. It should make us re-examine our Facebook and Instagram profile. It should make us take a long hard look at how we treat those people different from us. The ones with different colored skins. The ones with different beliefs, different lives, different incomes, different nationalities. How can a people that clearly called to love be so willing to hate? To discriminate? To marginalize and abuse and hurt and wound and kill?
Even Peter himself finally got it. He actually sums it up quite nicely. 1 Peter 2:17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. And in 1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins No one is omitted from this list. Not people who wrong you, not people who rule you, not people who betray you. No one.
The final word on love comes from John, Jesus’ closest Disciple. His book of 1 John is a dissertation on how much love should be a part of our lives. In chapter four, starting in verse seven, he goes through and again clearly explains that it is impossible - yes, IMPOSSIBLE - to follow Christ and not love people.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother
This is as plain as it can get. We should be people defined by love. But we are not people defined by love. This is wrong. It is sin. It doesn’t matter the situation. There is no scenario where we can escape this calling. And there is no way that we can argue with this. And there is no one out there who can just nod his or her head and say, “Yup. Good points. I’m nailing it.” Every single one of us should be heartbroken at how poorly we are representing our Lord. We should wail out in sorrow at the people we have led astray due to our hate and prejudice and callousness and selfishness. If we truly want to see this country, this world to change, we have to stop fighting and start loving each other. We have to stop striving for power and start loving. We have to stop attacking and start loving. We need to stop pushing agendas and start loving. Love is the only thing that will make a difference.
1 Corinthians 16:14. Let all that you do be done in love.