If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“God is teaching us how to love as Jesus loved.” A friend and I were in conversation about the concept of the family of God, and evidence of a deepening sense of community among us in Rochester. It comes at a cost: humility, vulnerability, facing conflict, trusting that God is at work.
If you have lived in a family, then you know that love and relationships can be messy. A pastor friend was recently preaching, “There will always be people in your life who are difficult, who you don’t like, or don’t like you--and those are just the people in your families!” If you are part of a church, why assume it will be any different?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
A frequent prayer when my children were growing up sounded like this: “Lord, I need to love these kids as you do! Help me!” It felt like failure--a sharp tongue, sarcasm, impatience, exasperation, fear--was present far more often than success (see the scripture above for a description of successful loving).
But as my friend said, we are learning. Present tense. We agreed that it is a journey, sometimes a scary, exciting one, that will not fully be reached until we reach the shores of eternity.
Love never fails... When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality says, “You can’t have the true peace of Christ’s kingdom with lies and pretense. They must be exposed to the light and replaced with the truth. This is the mature, loving thing to do” (p. 185). We are lying to ourselves if we think we or our churches have “arrived” or “have got this” when it comes to the Gospel, when it comes to loving others. We must be able to look at ourselves, our families, our communities with clear-eyed honesty if we are ever to experience the hope of change.
This is not easy! Who wants to admit to selfishness, hypocrisy, racist thoughts, hatred, vengeful thoughts, fear, jealousy? Yet, if we know and believe that God loves us--and others--deeply, unconditionally, then we can face the truth about our sins, our weaknesses (1 John 4:19), and repent and trust Him to change our hearts.
If your response to this is a cynical, "Yeah, right. Hearts can't change," consider the story of former Westboro Baptist member Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of "church" founder Fred Phelps. She is facing the truth of who she was, and who her family still is, clear-eyed. To leave a life-long, learned mindset of hate, can be only a work of the Love of God, who desires to set us free (Romans 8:15).
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Image from Blackberry Cottage.