This month my pastor is doing a series of sermons on love. It's been SO good, and it's only the second week! I have to admit love is a characteristic I struggle with. I mean true, genuine, Christian love. I really rebelled against the idea of "Christian" love for a long time. Mostly because so many Christians use it as a lame excuse for all kinds of excessive sin. Honestly, that just revolted me to the point of believing Christian love was so messed up I wanted no part of it. If love means I have to be okay with the youth group going to the arcade then no thanks. If love means it's okay to listen to CCM (aka: rock-and-roll), dress in short skirts and skimpy shirts, and drink socially then I'm out. Please don't think I'm being legalistic or judgemental. Those are the other things I really don't like about this "love" stuff being thrown around in Christianity. Anyone with a standard is seen as "unloving"!!! Sorry, that's not my type of Christianity either. I like standards. They're biblical. I like love too. Real love. Genuine love. Christian love. Not a gushy, mushy, feel-good, never-tell-someone-they're-wrong love.
I have very strong opinions, and I'm very passionate about many things. I'm passionate about the Bible, my faith, and truth. Often my passion leads to frustration. Especially when people don't see things my way, and I try really hard to make sure my way is God's way (I am human and sometimes I do fail, but I try). That frustration usually leads me to say and do things that aren't loving. If someone is looking for an encouraging word I'm not generally the first person in the church they will go to. Probably because they'd start telling me their problems, and I'd say something like "Well, it's pretty much your own fault you're in that mess. Maybe you should try living more for Christ. Get rid of the sin in your life. Surrender to God. It's not rocket science. God promised that if we live for Him, He'll take care of us." There's nothing wrong about that statement. In fact it's most likely complete truth! I like truth. I like speaking truth. I like standing for truth. I even like contending for the truth!
But speaking the truth in love, [that we] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. Ephesians 4:15.
WHAM!!! Yeah, that verse has hit me like a ton of bricks on more than one occasion. Here's what I LOVE about this verse though. It comes in the middle of a passage where Paul is dealing with false doctrines, holy living, and the difference in how we acted when we were unsaved and how we are supposed to act when we are saved. It's all the stuff I'm passionate about. Live for God. Do right. Don't be like the world! But in the middle of that he says to "speak the truth in love." Why? Why would he say that? Because of pride. Because God knew there would be people like me who would speak the truth, but in an unkind way! God wants us to speak truth, stand for truth, proclaim truth, and live truth, BUT He wants us to do it in love. Living a holy, separated life unto God, and love are inseparable. That's the point this verse is making. Love without holiness is empty. Holiness without love is full of pride. Love without holiness, and holiness without love are both hypocritical. We can't cherry-pick the Bible. God says we are to be holy, AND we are to love!
Love is sacrifice. Love is submission. Love is giving your life. Love is being willing to give up what YOU want because someone else asked you to. Love is obedience. Love is putting God's will ahead of your will. Love is telling others they are sinners. Love is telling people that Christ paid the price for sin. Love is an outpouring of grace and humility. Love is being willing to take a stand on what is right even if it makes you unpopular. That's the part of love a lot of Christians don't like. Somehow we have this idea that if we "love" everyone will like us. If they don't like us it must mean we're not loving enough. Jesus said that the world loves those who love the world, but it hates those who follow Christ (John 15:19).
Love is also a desire to see your fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord grow in their Christian walk. Many times we are not closer to God because there is sin in our lives. The truth is that sometimes that sin has been a part of us for so long that we are blind to it. Perhaps a fellow Christian recognizes our error. Others can often see our faults better than we can. Oh, but we have so much pride. When that kind, loving Christian points out the sin in our lives we get angry and offended. How DARE they pick at my mote when they have a beam sticking out of their eye! I have reacted this way... more than once! The Bible is literally full of admonition for us to exhort, rebuke, reprove, and encourage each other as believers. Instead of assuming that the person pointing out your sin is vindictive, how about thinking that they're just trying to show love?
God wants His children to be compassionate. Compassion and love are inseparable. I remember when I was in college and one of the pastors said if you've never cried (like actually shed tears) over a lost soul then you really don't care about bringing people to Jesus. I wanted so badly to care, but I knew I didn't. I'd never shed a single tear over a lost family member or friend. I even remember praying and asking God to help me cry. I thought maybe if I could cry, it would help me to get compassion. I was sincere, and I was honest about asking God to give me a burden, but I was also afraid. I knew what it meant to have REAL compassion. It meant I would feel emotions that are uncomfortable. It meant I would have to tell people about Christ. Like actually speak to them... out loud... with words. Compassion would bring responsibility to share the gospel. Responsibility would require action. That meant I couldn't just stay in my nice, comfy, padded pew (aka. "comfort zone"). I would have to DO something for Christ!
I can say today that I have shed tears over lost people. It hasn't happened often, and it doesn't happen as often as it should, but it has happened! I realize now just how much work, time, and spiritual growth it takes to get that head knowledge into the heart. God has had to work for YEARS on my heart to make me more compassionate. Compassion comes through surrender to Christ. Too often I wanted to rule my life instead of letting Christ rule it.
When my pastor started his sermons on love last Sunday, he said something that really resonated with me. He said he often doesn't preach on love because he finds it so convicting in his own personal life. I think that's why a lot of Christians have re-defined "Christian love" into something more comfortable. Personally, I rebelled against love for this reason too. I knew if I was going to demonstrate true Christian love I'd have to change some things about my attitude. Things I didn't want to change. Real, genuine Christian love searches the deepest corners of our heart and reveals us for who we truly are!
I Peter 1:22
Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.