above all: love

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

Scripture, indeed Jesus tells us that there’s a good number of things we need to do, and not do. But both Scripture and Jesus in Scripture also tells us that love is to be paramount in it all. Love, love, and love some more.

This doesn’t mean we won’t have to take hard stands, and certainly doesn’t mean we’re called to make everyone happy. Love will do the difficult things, while hopefully being a kind of cushion for those who will be offended, if only they’re open to the truth inspired by such love.

Peter tells us to do this within the fellowship of believers, just as Jesus told his disciples to love one another, even as he had loved them, and that by such love the world would know that they are Jesus’s followers. We may not be very good at it. I don’t consider myself good at it. But we’re called to do it, just the same. We keep doing it, be it imperfect as it will be.

We’re to maintain such love as a constant. And that means we’ll have to look over quite a few things. Which of course includes people looking over things in ourselves as well. We should want to be held accountable, but it’s within a fellowship in which love is the measure, indeed the air we breathe. So we’ll be willing to look past many things we don’t like, and will pray about anything we might see as possibly more serious.

Love, love and more love. A love that never ends. That is what characterizes Christ, and what is to characterize the body of Christ, the church in this life. A love for all, and a family love for each other. In and through Jesus.

what does love look like?

…the fruit of the Spirit is love…

Galatians 5:22

Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:14

For the follower and followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit is love. The special love of God in and through Jesus is given to us by the Spirit. That’s all good, but it has to be worked out where we live. And there’s something else key to keep in mind here.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10

Maybe a good question we can ask ourselves is something like this: What does love look like in this situation? Really in anything at all. What does love look like?

It doesn’t matter what other good we’re doing. It’s actually not good if love doesn’t accompany it, yes, if it’s not motivated by love (1 Corinthians 13). Love has to be down to earth. Love in the heart will work it’s way out. But often we don’t feel that love. But the Spirit of God in us followers of Christ will help us begin to know what to do, and just as important, what not to do.

Of course we’ll stumble along the way. We’ll catch ourselves falling back into our old ways, but hopefully before we violate love.

It’s good to keep in mind what the Biblical vision of active love is: To help the poor and the stranger, to care for the widow and the orphan. And in Jesus’s teaching it includes loving even our enemies. And loving each other.

I have to ask myself, is what I’m about to do an act of love or not? If I have any doubts at all, I shouldn’t do it. And the difficult matters that we have to deal with maybe have to be dealt in entirely different ways than we’ve done it in the past right up to the present times. Maybe we’re going to have to lean on God to help us find creative ways to deal with such problems in a way that at least is a sincere attempt to do it in love.

The love we’re talking about here is not the idea of “anything goes.” It’s instead God’s love that is for the true and highest good of all. It is love through and through. Regardless, whatever else people may think, if they consider our actions or words something other than love, than for the most part we’re going to have to stop dead in our tracks, take it all back, apologize, and start over. It’s better to be still and pray.

Love is active. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Love must show up into the lives of others. Yes, in the hardest places where we don’t want to go, where our own thoughts and attitudes contradict this. Love must win there. The love that ultimately does win out for us all. In and through Jesus.

what honors God?

So… whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

This post is mainly for one reason, to get us to think about this question. The idea of bringing glory to God and honoring God, though not precisely the same in meaning are synonymous. Both are about revering and praising as well as bringing praise to God.

The context in the passage above (click above link) is quite different than a certain passage in the Pentateuch where it says certain ones brought glory to God by what they did. What honored God at one time may not do so anymore. There is what Christians call the old covenant along with the new covenant. You find difference and nuance elsewhere in human understanding of what humans ought to do, including in Jewish circles.

The point I want to remain on is just this: What honors God? Not what pleases me or makes everyone happy or makes me feel good or is entertaining or any number of other things that we often value. I’m not really thinking of how church conducts itself, though that should be thought about with this question as well. But I’m thinking primarily of how we should think and conduct ourselves. In the context of the passage above, it’s certainly about how believers live together when some are further along or more enlightened in their understanding of God’s will or when there are different understandings.

What honors God should be one of our primary questions. We factor in what loving God and loving others, even including our enemies looks like. We also factor in what is good and right. We hold ourselves accountable to that, and in certain contexts should hold others accountable as well, though our main focus must be on ourselves.

This is part of our walk in Christ Jesus. God will help us sort through what is in Scripture and elsewhere as we consider this in all of life. In and through Jesus.

pray and love, love and pray (the theme I keep returning to)

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:7-8; NRSVue

I keep coming back to the same theme again and again: Love and pray; pray and love. I have often thought I would enjoy or at least appreciate being a part of a monastic (married) order. The idea is not just here and there, now and then practice of this and that, but a regular communal practice of scripture readings, prayers, and partaking of Communion together. That is not likely, so I try to practice it faithfully when it’s offered with others, as well as in my own practice. I am thankful for the newish Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together, which has a helpful morning and evening office in the back which keeps me in scripture, and in regular prayer.

I see the world at a dangerous place, maybe a precarious tipping point. Climate change with catastrophic consequences ahead if it’s not addressed forthrightly, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, racial injustice in the United States and in many other places in the world, an attack on democracy by an authoritarian rule which is even cloaked with the name “Christian” and is often ardently supported by Christians in a deadly and idolatrous union of church and state, and I’m sure there are numerous other concerns that deserve attention. You may not agree with all I list here, or you might see things somewhat differently. What we will agree on is that these are difficult times.

First of all we have to make sure that we’re aspiring to be followers of Christ. Christian is not enough, and especially with ties to a Christendom which fails to see the radical nature and difference of Christ and Christ’s kingdom in this world. While we hope and pray for the best of each nation in which we live, our citizenship and allegiance is elsewhere. We are citizens of anything in this world in a loose, secondary sense. We pay taxes and give due honor and respect and want to contribute to what is good, but as aliens.

I think of those younger: children and grandchildren. What they will be left with. Yes, people like to remind us all the time that “God is in control,” but remember that God lets people have the consequences of their ways. What is important for us who name the name of Christ is to really be led by the Spirit as Christ followers. The fruit of the Spirit evident in our lives.

And what more can we do than love and pray? Good works must follow, or our prayer and love will be empty, hollow, or at least not as full as it needs to be.

As is pointed out in the passage above, this requires self-discipline on our part along with a maintaining of constant love in the community, an attitude with corresponding actions supporting both. What I want to be about, growing in that, whatever else I think. Not letting up and seeking to live that out with others. In and through Jesus.

just pray

pray without ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:17; NRSVue

We all breathe one breath after another without thinking about it. Prayer needs to become like that for us. We breathe so to speak one prayer after another without thinking about it. We are in an attitude of prayer even when we can’t pray. There will be plenty of times when it takes effort for us to summon ourselves to pray, when there seems somehow to be a resistance against us praying. Just pray.

Paul tells us to do that without ceasing. Prayer can be understood as two-way communication between us and God. We need to be in Scripture as well. Our desire is to hear from God, to receive God’s word as we continue to pray to God. Note that this is given to the church. This is where that starts, and maybe the main point. We pray together, we’re in that together. But from that it becomes a part of each of us as members of Christ’s body.

Prayer includes a good number of things in no particular order such as confession, praise, worship, thanksgiving, petition/supplication, lament, even silence before God as in waiting on God. The one thing that should more and more characterize us as people of God and followers of Christ is prayer, the practice of prayer, as we seek in love to God and to others to live in God’s will, to do good to all. In and through Jesus.

love: the perfect harmony

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14; NRSVue

The love spoken of here is of Christ in Christ’s body, the church. But as we see in this letter from Paul to this particular church, this is not a given, not automatic. When it’s all said and done it is the love of God in Christ given to us by the Spirit worked out in our relationships and relationship with each other, which makes the harmony, indeed perfect harmony that’s needed.

The church and us as individuals together are told to clothe ourselves with love. This is a word about relationships which makes sense when you consider the meaning of love and made clear in this short saying. It is something we have to commit ourselves to, be committed to, realizing the great love of God for us, for each other, and actually for everyone.

Love is what makes it all work together and well, yes “in perfect harmony.” Without it nothing else matters (1 Corinthians 13). And it can’t just be there in the background as it were, simply existent. It must be what makes everything work. God’s love given to us by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

the love that wins

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

1  John 4:7-11

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

The active love of God in Christ carried on by us to each other and to the world is ultimately the love that wins. It begins and ends in Christ. It is an “in Christ” existence, but thus our real selves are found. And yet it’s in a world like where Jesus lived so that we are called to love in the same way God loves and has loved in Christ: the way of the cross, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek.

This all begins with the realization that we are loved, deeply loved by the God who created us and wants to remake us in Christ. Christ is the human who fulfilled this, and we enter into this fulfillment ourselves, to begin to live out and grow into this love-filled life even in the hard places, doing so together in Christ.

In and through Jesus.

love and life (should we try to be an agent of change?)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Tim Gombis, a New Testament professor, scholar, and writer has a helpful podcast I would highly recommend, Faith Improvised. On this weeks podcast (August 17, 2021) he said something which helped me quite a bit. And what follows is not to be taken as quote from him, or exactly what he meant, but just as my understanding of it.

We have the culture wars especially rampant here in the United States. We have many, including loved ones who reject science and are prone to accept conspiracy theories and seem open to authoritarian, nondemocratic government. And many who do this as if it’s the Christian thing to do.

What are we to do? Should we try to persuade them? Or maybe try to plant seeds so that they might begin to ask questions and have doubt themselves? That is a topic in and of itself, and really beyond me to cover here, nor do I want to. I really don’t care to wade into the politics of the world and controversial subjects on this blog. The dangers I’m referring to really have to do essentially with one thing: The replacement of the good news in Jesus with something which is morphed into it. An easy shorthand of that: US flag and Christian flag at the front of a church “sanctuary.” And this consumes those who follow it, more telling for them arguably and I’m afraid often clearly so then Jesus’s own words and the fulfillment of Scripture in Jesus.

What helped me is just the thought from Tim that we simply just be Christian. Not try to change anyone. Just keep on seeking with other followers to follow Christ. As Paul put it, to “aspire to live quietly, mind [our] own affairs,…work with [our] hands,…so that [we] may behave properly toward outsiders.” And those who are acting like outsiders. And doing so with lives of growing love for the brothers and sisters in Christ and for all.

This is not to say that there’s no time to speak out, as John Lewis put it, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” But by and large, this is what we’re to do, to be about.

In and through Jesus.

the love which drives out fear

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:16b-21

There are all sorts of reasons we humans are sometimes afraid in this life. And some fears are actually helpful, like the fear of making bad decisions or even honest mistakes which can be consequential. How we navigate such makes all the difference, so that hopefully we’re not lost in the grip and paralysis of fear.

What is referred to in this passage of Scripture is the fear of God’s judgment and possibly connected to that, the fear of death itself (click link for Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message). These can go hand in hand, though we humans are usually occupied with one concern at a time.

The John writing this is bringing God’s great love, in essence God God’s Self into the picture. That love, the love God is, is made known to us by the Spirit through Christ, something we especially experience as God’s children together, but also in our individual lives as we go about our days. 

This love casts out fear no less, the fear which can dominate and actually displace this sense of love from God, the love of God in Christ Jesus. So it’s either this unhealthy, paralyzing fear which can grip us, or the love of God poured into our hearts, one or the other. Though often we can go in and out between. But make no mistake, God’s love wins out in the end even in all things, including death itself.

What John tells us here is that we who know God’s love in Christ and therefore love God, are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well. I’m not sure we’ll ever reach “perfection in love” in this life, though I’m sure we can experience something of that in its fullness at times. But even keeping that in our memory, say from an experience, or experiences along the way, we should proceed accordingly. Refusing to allow our thoughts, actions, and words be dictated by fear, but rather by this love of God for us and for the world. In and through Jesus.

 

 

leave no one behind

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God…

Hebrews 12:15b

Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity.

Hebrews 12:15b; MSG

I wonder if we as Christians where I live and have lived for some time now really think and act like the writer to the Hebrews wants believers and the church to do. To leave no one behind.

Of course we can’t make anyone do anything. We’re in such great need ourselves, that to suppose we can somehow control others even for their good, is not even a good thought. What self-control we experience for ourselves is only a fruit of the Spirit.

That we’re all in need of God’s grace is exactly the point made in this passage (click above links for context). Much is involved in that, but in essence it’s about being present in love with each other, the love of God by the Spirit in Jesus. It’s being present for each other both in giving and receiving.

It seems to me that Eugene Peterson’s rendering is so helpful here, given the pastoral wisdom he had.

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17; MSG

It’s all about being in this together. We can’t make it, or at least certainly cannot make it as well or well enough on our own.

And let this be especially true for those who are marginalized whom our Lord would welcome with open arms. Be it anyone of the LGBTQ+ community, the poor, those ethnicities and immigrants who struggle in a system which does not make room for them or even worse. We especially need to be attentive to all such, to have God’s help through the Spirit and with each other to be aware. Acknowledging that we too need the Lord’s help in this ministry of Christ’s body, ourselves.

This is the heart the Lord wants us to have for each other. The heart God has for each one of us, for everyone. In and through Jesus.