Relationships are the key to exposing a fallen world to God’s love. And the only way I can reveal God’s love to a fallen world is if I’ve experienced God’s love deeply enough myself to change my heart. It is only when my heart desires to know God and make him known, that I can begin to live in wisdom in my relationships.
Wisdom is “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17).
Do my relationships reveal wisdom? Do I engage with God and others purely or with hidden motives and disguised emotion? Could my relationships be described as peaceable or are they riddled with rivalry or retreat? Am I open to reason or do I insist on my own way? Am I full of mercy and good works or do I manipulate, punish, and withhold affection? Am I impartial, pursuing grace with the fervor of Christ, or do I favor my own opinion or bow to fear of man as I evaluate matters of justice? Am I sincere, knowing my own heart and representing what I find there with accuracy and integrity, submitting it to the scrutiny of scripture rather than hiding my sinfulness in a white-washed tomb?
It occurs to me the beginning of a right relationship with God is to understand myself (the depravity of my sin, the abject poverty of my soul, my need for forgiveness, my only hope in his grace) and Him (his perfect holiness, his rightful wrath, his absolute justice, his supplied mercy, and his abundant grace).
In the same way, the beginning of right relationships with others is to understand myself (my emotions, my motives, my idols, my sinful attitudes, my position of forgiveness, my responsibility to offer grace) and others (their suffering, their emotions, the deep waters of their hearts, their circumstances, their need for forgiveness, their incredible value as an image-bearer of God).
I’m not sure we usually think of relationships in these kinds of terms.
As Christians we profess to believe God created us for relationship – with him and with others. We sing songs about being known by our love. Yet the greatest accusation against us – and sadly, the one that holds the greatest truth – is that we. are. not. known. for. our. love.
If we polled the population in the United States, Japan, Kenya, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, Israel… would non-believers describe Christians by our love?
Integrity? Yes, often.
But, love? I’m afraid not. At least, not universally.
We are commanded to love others as Christ has loved us, and to be known for 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 13:34-35
Scripture does not leave us wondering what it means to love others as Christ loved us. The Bible is full of wisdom about how to live in our relationships. Romans 12:9-20 says,
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
And Titus 2:8 carries it further, helping us to understand how important it is to live in love as much as we teach of love.
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
Do we do that?
You know, “Christian” is a recognized name of a group of people, but that name is defined by individuals experiencing individuals. And these individual experiences with us have significant repercussions. As individuals interact with us individually, they are establish their definition of the group.
They will either recognize us for our love, as in the case of Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, who returned to the tribe of people who had murdered their husband and brother, to offer not only their forgiveness, but also to love them into the the kingdom of God. (Read more about that here.) An entire tribe of people was reconciled to God as these women lived out of Jeremiah 31:3. As the Aucas experienced individuals (Elisabeth and Rachel), they understood the group (Christians) to be love.
The alternative is that others will reject our hypocrisy, as in the case of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was stopped from entering a Christian church in Calcutta, India, because of the color of his skin. As Gandhi experienced an individual (the usher) at the door that day, he understood the group (Christians) to be hypocrites. As a result of that church’s forbidden practice of favoritism (James 2:9-10), Gandhi assessed Christians as a whole. Ghandi declared, “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians!” and “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Ouch!
Individuals matter. Relationships matter.
How we, as individuals, love each other declares to a watching world who Christ is. For better or for worse, he has married His name to our actions. Do you get that? Christ is known by our actions.
Maybe it’s time we took relationships seriously. Maybe it’s time we learn to love others as Christ has loved us.