(The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D.)
(10 July 2018)
A man came to me once and wanted to divorce his wife because he said that he just did not love her anymore. He fell in love with her and then fell out of love, and it was not his fault. We talk a lot about love in Christianity, and rightly so for the Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Let us consider love by discovering what God’s love is like.
We are called to be Christians in order to share God’s love with others, and though we shall never reach perfection in this life, nevertheless we must strive to demonstrate His love. God did not “fall” in love with us, for we were unlovely, sinful, rebellious creatures who hated Him, but God chose to love us. Then, He made a commitment to us by sending His Son to die for our sins. This commitment was unconditional, which is to say, we did not merit His grace and love. Moreover, He accepts us just as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. In other words, His love has holiness so that He accepts us as we are so He can make us into what we should be: morally holy like Christ. Let us briefly consider each of these aspects in our relationships with others.
First, love is a choice we make, not an emotion that is forced out of us. Like God, we are to do good to others regardless of how they treat us. God commands us even to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), which means we control our own love, not that someone else does.
Second, God has put us in various relationships such as marriage and church. In these relationships, we take vows of commitment to make the relationships work, which further means the commitment is more important than our personal rights or feelings. Thus, we will not pick others apart in the relationship to find something wrong that will strain the relationship, but we shall build them up. In a church, it is easy—and all too often done—to find something wrong with others. When we do this, we assume the moral high ground, we create an atmosphere of discontent, and we can even cause others to take up our “cause.”
Third, we are to accept people unconditionally, which means they do not have to perform to be accepted. We should, of course, expect people to change over time, but we must be patient with them, as God is with us. The next time you’re at church, look around. What do you see? You see misfits, sinful, imperfect people at every stage of growth in the Christian life, and you’ll see hypocrites—everyone one of them is this way, including you! You’ll see teens who are immature and worldly, and you’ll see teens who are walking with the Lord. You’ll see adults who are late in life and full of themselves, and you’ll see other adults mature in Christ. The church is not a place for perfect people, but God’s hospital for sin sick people who need God’s grace and who need one another. But we are called to be committed to them, to choose to love them, to accept them as they are, to make the relationships work. We are called to love people without requiring them to merit our love by being lovely.
Finally, we are to desire God’s holiness for each person, for our spouses and for those in the church. The goal of all love is holiness of life as defined in Holy Scripture. We should never be satisfied with the current state of each person, but diligently seek to help each along the path of growth in keeping God’s commandments, such as the Ten Commandments. But the way to do this is not by dissecting people, not by beating them up with gossip, not by demanding that they do things our way, not by rejecting them. If we reject those who are genuine Christians who hold to the faith, we are in effect saying that we are just too holy to be associated with those who are so far beneath us, which is an arrogant stance.
In all relationships there comes a time of testing the mettle, when we shall see what we are made of, whether we can love or not, or whether we will demand perfection, our own brand of perfection, as a condition to maintain the commitment. Our love—or lack thereof—for others reveals more about ourselves than it does about others. A new church, a new pastor at a church, or a new marriage, will be tested. Can they be like Christ and love His way, can they choose to make the commitment to love unconditionally, to pursue holiness, but in the midst of imperfection? Can they love unconditionally but without compromising God’s commandments? Can they make it work because they know they are sinners also, considering themselves first before they attack someone else? By the grace of God, we can! AMEN. Ω