I’ve taken a few weeks to write about the two “theological virtues” of faith and hope, but now I want to take some time to focus on love. If you were ask Jesus or the New Testament authors what the most important characteristic of a disciple is, I’m pretty confident that love would be the answer:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:43-44
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
“…whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” Romans 13:9-10
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8
I could keep going. There are numerous examples of how important love is to Jesus and the authors of the New Testament (and the Old Testament too, that’s the first use of love your neighbor after all). I’m writing this and using these examples because I believe that of the three virtues, this has been neglected the most by Christians in America. Christians should be recognized by the way that we love. Instead, the picture that our country has of us is vastly different. We are seen as people who hate and condemn.
Most recently, this is being played out on the public stage over many Christians condemnation of same-sex couples and has exploded to the forefront with the controversy surrounding Kim Davis. As I watch all of these things happened, I’m deeply saddened by the reaction of Christians. If our ultimate goal as followers of Jesus Christ is to be like Jesus Christ, I think that we are greatly missing the mark.
Christians say things like, “We love them, but not what they do.” Meanwhile the signs in the background say, “God hates…” and “You will be condemned for…”, but I don’t believe that this is what Jesus would do.
I’m not here to get into a debate about who Jesus would bake a cake for, but I wholeheartedly believe that Jesus would never protest any government decision. He would continue on living faithfully and loving deeply. Time and time again Jesus meets notorious “sinners” and offers love. He reserves his harsh words for the religious who think that they are better than everyone else.
So what does a life marked by love look like? First of all, I believe we need to stop the protests, forgo the demonstrations, and put down our signs. Next, we need to treat everyone as a person made in the image of God. Finally, we need to do others as we would have them do to us, regardless of what they believe or how they act. Jesus treated all people like they were worthy of his attention. He did have some hard words to say to the religious and to his followers, but to everyone else he was kind and gentle. He met everyone where they were and attempted to bring them closer to himself. Unfortunately, what most of us do is force people to meet us where we are and create a barrier between them and Jesus if they refuse to do so. This sounds more like the Pharisees than Jesus.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Matthew 23:13
I’m not saying we have to agree with everyone or compromise our beliefs. What I’m saying is we are all in need of Jesus and we should never stand in the way of anyone getting to know Jesus more. If God really is love, then the loving thing to do is to make a way for people to come to him.