I'm a pastor, and so I often am asked by people "How can I love God more?" or "How can I even think to love ________ with all they they do or have done?" Recently I've seen the question posed if eating chicken at Chick-Fil-A implies a lack of love to homosexuals.
If you're unfamiliar with what's happening there or think you understand it, the bottom line is that all started with a company higher-up who said, "This is what we're about." Apparently you're not supposed to do that.
By the way - which company said that? It depends on if you like the Muppets or chicken sandwiches. Then again, maybe they both said that... and you just ran with your favorite.
Suddenly everyone is a critic and stereotyping one another. Those outside the church and those inside it are tense over it; even Christians are labeling other Christians and unknowingly dividing the Church in doing so. Everyone is blind/ignorant, except "you."
People use the word love to talk about the way they will regard another, such as a groom who tells his bride during the wedding, “I love you and will love you the rest of our lives.” Later that same groom when eating the meal at his reception says, “I LOVE this Prime Rib!” He does this not because he feels the same way about prime rib as he does his wife (insert joke about her being a "piece of meat" here), but because his culture has told him that's an acceptable way to use the word "love."
Perhaps we're not as clear on what love means as we think we are... we're taking our cues from the wrong place.
That's a big point, by the way, with more implications in your life than you may even consciously realize. Think about the last several times you used the word "love" - if a linguist were following you around to try to discover what that word meant, might there not be massive confusion?
A popular Bible verse quoted by believers and accusers alike in this type of tension is that "God is love." It's often sliced out of its context, which is something humanity seems a big fan of doing with the Bible. It's from John 4, so here's that verse including the verses before it and after it:
- 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.
- This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
What you're inherently acknowledging in those moments is that a relationship should be interactive. We tend to think selfishly by nature, and so most people are working an angle for things to be interactive in their favor. We may pacify that by "fighting for the rights of others," but somewhere along the way we neglect what God is actually fight for - our inner/eternal health. His version of love (which is the only real version) is more than a "can't we all get along?" philosophy.
Take note of the verse before the famous one "God is love" one - it calls to attention that we are to receive and live this out. The third verse complements it, reminding us that God's love is not "zero tolerance" but transformational. God is Love and not mere love (note the capitalization) - He's the true Love that should inform the rest. Often we attempt to understand His love from our vantage point, demanding that He be okay with things we are: i.e. “Can’t you just accept everything and everyone without causing any trouble?"
I could bust out a Greek work study on what the "agape" word for love means here, but my sense is you already get it. The love of God is more than human love that's more concerned with passive tolerance than growing interaction and spurring on. By dwelling in Him, we are led to transformation - much like how on a human level one person’s affection for another can help transform that person.
I am by all means a better man because I experience the love of my wife and kids daily versus if I was without their love in my life. They accept me for who I am, but at the same time expect greater things out of me. It's why I inherently know that the best response to their love is to be the man they need me to be versus saying, "Quit trying to get me to change. I was born lazy and in need of others to care for me, so I have no need to grow up and change."
Here's the other side of it, though. Imagine I was in a horrible accident and suddenly paralyzed or born with special needs I could never change in my own power. The love of my family would still extend itself to me in its purest form. They would care for me where I couldn't, bathe me if necessary and make sure their love became practical in every way possible.
Don't miss this, though - they wouldn't do it without sweat... they wouldn't even on the best day with the cleanest of motives still not wish I couldn't be more than I was in that moment... but they wouldn't stop loving me. If they found out I could have gotten up but just refused to there would be a tension we'd have to work through, though.
It feels like our version of love is missing this acknowledgement.
Maybe that's why it's easier for even Christians to attack each other with snarky comments that make one person's faith look more legit than another. Imagine what would happen if we instead all lived out legit Love that is full of grace and transformation simultaneously.... simultaneously... simultaneously.
God loves you. Let Him change your life and all that comes along with it. You'll end up growing in His direction, which does imply change. Don't be afraid of it or Him or changing on things "you'll never change on," but embrace what it means with all of His intended Life-giving nurturing. Perhaps along the way, learn to love others like He does... and not merely how they demand.
And if you want to take a stand for Jesus... wash the feet of someone who "doesn't get it."
"Love God, your God, walk in all his ways, do what He's commanded, embrace Him, serve Him with everything you are and have." (Joshua 22:5, The Message)P.S. I'm planning on being at my local CFA for most of the day Friday to love on some random people protesting for the same reason I loved on the CFA manager I'm friends with by supporting him yesterday. It's possible to be for something without being against everybody. Hope to support what Jesus is doing in trying to do in a critic's life as much as I support what He's trying to do in a proponent's life. Otherwise my faith is one-sided and misses the point. Feel free to join me in trying to join Jesus.