“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By THIS all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 – emphasis added)
So I happened upon a scene from a TV sitcom about a bunch of housewives who, for some reason, are deemed ‘desperate.’ A career mom pulls up into her driveway and is engaging in some sort of negotiations on her cell phone. She hops out of the car, grabs a few parcels, and goes inside the house. Moments after she gets inside she turns to see the local handy-man standing in her living room. This is the kindly gentleman who has been doing various jobs around the neighborhood for years. Though his profession is about fixing ‘things’, his gentle manner and kindness has done much to help ‘fix lives’ over the years.
Well, there he stands, holding a bundle that this woman forgot to bring in… her infant daughter. By the look on her face you can tell that the realization of what she has just done hit her like a tsunami. I could almost hear the self-condemning accusations flying like fiery arrows towards her to pierce her mind and heart. But the handy-man smiles and reassures her that all is well. No rebukes. No accusations. No “you should know better!” or “what kind of mother are you!?” or any such thing.
My mind goes immediately to the account where some of the religious leaders of the day brought before Jesus a woman “caught in the very act of adultery” (John 8:1ff) (I will resist chasing the rabbit which begs to ask, “In the very act, eh? Where is the man who was caught in the very act with her!?) These leaders were bent on condemning the woman, but saw what they imagined to be their chance to discredit Jesus in a trap. “No matter how He responds and judges this, He cannot escape!” Jesus neither excuses nor condemns the woman, but succinctly pins the religious entourage to the wall.
“When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin*, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ ” (John 8:7).
(*According to some of my sources, it is implied that what Jesus is saying is “whoever is not guilty of this sin, in deed or thought, let them cast the first stone”).
“At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time… until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there…. ‘Woman, where are they: Has no one condemned you ?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ ” (John 8:9-11)
Love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
As I think about the handy-man, his response was more Christ-like than responses I may have had in the past. You see, he did not excuse the action of the wayward mother, nor did he condemn her. Neither she, nor the prostitute, needed to be lectured or informed of the evil of their deed; they were well aware of that! Though they may have been ‘worthy’ of condemnation, what they needed was grace… love expressed. But grace and love are messy. As a student of the Bible, I found it so much easier and neater to give a clear-cut, clinical, theological, academic text book answer, with chapter and verse, to any and every situation. But is that [necessarily] the loving response? I suppose that depends on how you ‘define’ love. And the measure that has been in front of me lately is Jesus Himself. Love put Him in the midst of the outcasts: the unlovely, the undesirable, the unclean, the unhealthy, and the genuinely sinful. It’s interesting, as I have observed as of late, that although Jesus rarely pulled punches with the righteous or the religious, He extended overwhelming grace to the lost as well as to the disobedient. He never made excuse for sin, but He ‘kept the door of His heart’ open towards ‘sinners’ at all times. He did not require anything of them but to come. In fact many of His miracles of mercy were given freely, without any condition whatsoever.
“My God, man! What are you saying!? That we can live as we please without thought of the moral and righteous standards of God!?” Not at all. Jesus makes it very clear how He desires His followers to… well, follow Him. There is no evidence in Scripture that I have found that promotes ‘easy believism.’ To believe is to trust, trust in the Lordship of Jesus Christ over one’s life. But that comes after and as we come to Him, and Jesus (unlike many who profess to know him) never makes it hard to come to Him.
Of all the people Jesus could have chosen to be His followers he selected a bunch of misfit sailors, an IRS thief, and a patriotic rebel or two (fishermen, a tax-collector, and Jewish insurgents against Roman domination), just to mention a portion of the ‘rabble.’ And of all the things that He could have said right before His sacrificial death, of all the commands He could have emphasized (and there were many of them), the most important and pressing thing on Jesus’ heart for His followers is that they understand and learn to love, love one another. And as a result of loving one another, the overflow of that love would be a witness to all others as well.
Why, why is this so important? Because the love of God is foundational to everything we know (and even don’t know) and believe as followers of God. It is the basis of all the acts and words of God (not necessarily all the acts we attribute to God). I’d be a fool to say that I had it all figured out, and that I could explain it to you in this simple post. But consider this: the Apostle John, who is believed to have been the most intimate companion of Jesus when He walked this planet, quoting Jesus in his gospel said that for one sole purpose was the Son of God sent by the Father into this world as a sacrifice and substitute for sinful men and women. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16). This same Apostle wrote later near the end of his life: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
Now, please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a proponent of what is some times referred to as ‘sloppy agape,’ where ‘love’ is watered down to a warm-fuzzy feeling with no regard to right living, the making of choices and their consequences and the like. It is my deep conviction that believers are to meditate on and live by the will of God as revealed in the inspired word of God, which we call the Bible. Of course, at this juncture I will deviate from some, because not all believe and hold to this conviction concerning the Bible, and I cannot convince them otherwise. This is my informed choice of faith, but it is of faith, not just a mental or intellectual assent. This is the basis of all my life, that out of which I think and live. But hear me out: it is the conviction I hold from the revelation I have embraced because of the intimate relationship of faith I am in with Christ Jesus. I believe in the Bible because of my love relationship with Jesus Christ, and I grow in my relationship with Jesus as I give myself to understanding the Bible.
“Ok, Lem; you’re ‘chasing rabbits’ and rambling on. What’s your point?” Please bear with me. This is all foundational for where I’m heading. You see, because of this conviction about the Bible, then I give myself to studying and meditating upon it’s contents. Among many other things, this gives me a measure of authority and responsibility concerning its contents and truth. But let me ask you something. If I were trained and instructed in the use of a certain type of fire arm, would that alone give me the right or authority to go about enforcing the law as I see it? But I’m afraid that this is what some of us have done with our ‘knowledge’ from the Scriptures. It is certainly what some of the Pharisees, religious leaders of Jesus day, were doing (an imperfect analogy, but it will serve my point).
Not long ago I overheard a conversation between two men. One was explaining about an injury and loss of limb he received from a tragic accident. The other began saying something like, “Well, maybe this was God’s way of…” (I already knew where this was going, and frankly I wanted to ‘throttle’ him!) “… God’s way of getting your attention”…”Well, you really need to be looking to God for…” Throughout this exchange the ‘religious’ man was interjecting things like this, never really giving heed to what the other man was saying, and for that matter, not really perceiving what he really needed. In short, he had a little truth, but no real authority to speak into this man’s life. Jesus once said to His followers, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). I do not believe Jesus was insulting unbelievers and calling them ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’, but within the context of that particular discourse (see Matthew 7:1-6) He was saying to His followers “disperse truth in a manner that can be, if possible, well received; don’t give reason for that word to be rejected and you discredited.”
So, what gives us authority, or better yet, what gives us permission to speak into another person’s life? How about a little compassion, true heart-felt concern, involvement, vulnerability, intimacy, relationship~~ in a word LOVE. How does that axiom go: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I dare say that the woman caught in adultery was more than willing to give heed to Jesus’ exhortation to “leave your life of sin” after that tremendous demonstration of love manifested as her defense against her would be judges/executioners. And I bet we could touch a whole lot more ‘desperate’ housewives, businessmen, drug addicts, prostitutes, runaways, prodigals, young and old and in between, if we would simply love them, whatever shape that might take in the given situation.
Now I am aware of admonitions that encourage us to talk about our faith… “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Ti.4:2), “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Matthew 10:27). But I have become increasingly aware that how we say something is as important as what we speak, if we should speak at all, in any given circumstance… “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11), “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19), “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:28), “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). I am more inclined to heed the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.“
Ultimately I find that I must turn to my Lord Himself for direction. Who He is and how He lived while He walked on this planet is my model.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us“ (accessible, attainable, touchable). We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John1:1,14)
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
“…Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples…” (John 13:34,35)
This is an inexhaustible topic; there’s no way I can address all the thoughts, questions, or arguments that this type of discussion raises. But I’m not really trying to adequately cover a topic. I’m just trying to work out how I should follow my Lord, and this is where I’ve been ‘living’ for the last several months. (who am I kidding–years!) So this is where I find myself today: if I am to be a follower of God in Christ Jesus, maybe it’s a good idea to ‘be the word’ (so to speak) as much as it is to speak the word. And the word I speak and live should be love. So I start by loving those of like faith and fellowship, and pray that the overflow of that love will been seen and embraced by others. Who knows… maybe we can help ‘fix’ some lives… maybe a prostitute will be delivered from judgment, and a ‘desperate housewife’ will find mercy and grace within the love of God.
(copyright March 2010, Lemuel C. Dees)