Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Loving Christians is Hard Work

But it is what we do if we love God

The message of Romans 12:9-21 is governed by the first two words of the passage: "genuine love." It carries the force of a command directive, and it sets the stage for all the other characteristics of:

  • the life that has been presented to God as a living sacrifice,
  • the mind that is being renewed by the word of God to love the will of God,
  • the realization that I am a part of the Body of Christ but not its Head,
  • and the understanding that my ability to do what God has designed me for is both guaranteed and dependent upon the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.

The following statements are descriptions of what that love will look like in the life of such a person. There are positive traits to seek, negative behaviors to avoid, and acts of love toward believers, strangers, and enemies. And there is the promise that we can actually overcome the the evil around us. 

It is a passage filled with aspiration and hope. And it is hard.

Hating evil and taking a stand for good is a risk, and one that doesn't always pay off in this life. A "hot pursuit" of Christ requires our time and concentration, and rebuilding our priority lists around serving Him and not ourselves. And it takes continual reminders to move my perspective away from the immediate to the eternal so that I can endure the days (and sometimes weeks and months) that can range from disappointing to brutal--no wonder I must be "constant in prayer." 

But the part that is as challenging as any is the part that says, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Reading that is sobering, and it's not as if it is the only place we find it. Just consider...

Jesus said it: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)"

And He said it again: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)"

The writer of Hebrews simply says, "Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)"

Peter writes, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)"

Of course, we can probably sing what John said, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)"

If brotherly love and family affection is truly genuine, and not an act, then this passage and the others I just cited speak of an environment where we are openly, regularly, and visibly demonstrating affection, commitment, and forgiveness. The idea of love covering a multitude of sins doesn't mean that I hide my sins, but that my love causes me to be willing to overlook offenses. Now I know that the legalist in all of us bristles at that--we much prefer the instructions to confront and point out faults (sometimes forgetting about that pesky verse about logs in our own eyes). But we are to be people who don't keep track of how many times that prickly brother or sister says something that rubs us the wrong way.

And it is at just this point that we find it so difficult to do. Because as we set out to be a beacon of love, we may discover that all the other people we are supposed to love are not necessarily just waiting for our love to make them break out into smiles and song. In fact, while there are a few times in our lives where the good that we seek to do for others is greeted with profound joy and gratitude due to the need of the moment, more often it is either politely acknowledged, not noticed, and every once in a while it is treated as the least we could do or even not enough. We'd like to think that this doesn't happen among believers, but it does.

But when we are tempted to get upset or give up, we must remember that we are living sacrifices to God, and we are living to do what He wants and not for our own expectations. Our renewed minds need to kick in and remind us that showing love is not for the purpose of receiving good back, but to show the presence and power of Jesus to others who need it. Just like Jesus, we will find it often isn't recognized or honored, but it still is God's will for us as it was for Him. And so, like Jesus we keep going. I love what it says in John 13:1 "...when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." We know what that end was in His earthly life, but praise His name, because Jesus lives He continues now to love us right into forever. 

That is our goal. Let us so love one another, that whatever else people may say about our fellowship, they will say that. Would they say it just looking at us on Sunday? Let's try something--let's see if we can be so kind, loving, affirming, and joyous in each other's presence this Sunday, that it would cause anyone visiting to wonder what's so exciting.