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.

faith and hope along with love

And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

When it’s all said and done, at least if I’m understanding 1 Corinthians 13 correctly along with certain other parts of Scripture, faith and hope and love seem to be the staples which hold our lives together through God’s grace in Christ. Another passage with something of that thought:

…since we belong to the day, let us be sober and put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

Yes, we must ask ourselves what love looks like in any and every given situation in our lives. But we’re going to have to continue to be engaged in our faith and through that have the hope which helps keep us going, yes, helps us continue to make love the priority.

This is challenging any day, and all the more so during the present time when there are unusual challenges to go along with the ongoing normal minor and major issues we all face. We might want to love and be committed to that. But that’s going to be all the more challenging if we are not applying faith to all of life, and therefore lacking in the perspective of hope which God wants for us. Faith means accepting God’s message to us in Christ, and hope is the result of embracing that message.

Faith, hope and love. We won’t have the real thing of any of them without the others. Faith doesn’t end there, but hope and love come from that. Something we need to keep in mind, in front of us. As we’re in Scripture, that will help. 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.

be human

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14

I sometimes wonder if people’s ideology including their religion gets in the way of them being human. I should include myself in that, my ideology and religion too. Of course, there will be those who immediately counter with the point that it’s not about religion which they’ll say is wrong, but about a relationship. To which I might say that any practice of faith can be understood as religion, either empty or good (see end of James 1).

Paul is getting at what it means to be free in the redemption and life that follows in Christ. It’s about love, not about measuring up to some standard imposed by others or ourselves. Are we loving others face to face, just as they are? And are we doing that in spite of all our differences? Or are we judging them as somehow unworthy as if we are somehow worthy? I know people will say that they are made worthy by Christ and that others without faith have no such worth. But isn’t that sweeping by what is plainly taught in Scripture, that love of neighbor is not dependent on religious status (consider Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan).

I think oftentimes atheists or agnostics might love better than religious folks who identify as Christians. It seems to me that our religion or ideology too easily becomes more important than what actually ought to be the point of it: love for all. I believe I know this firsthand. When you might point that out and try to help another see that their practice of religion may not really be helping them to love all and be loved, then they’ll see you perhaps as divisive, or questioning faith.

But isn’t the point of faith, love? And what does it mean to be human except to love? That sums up everything. To love through all of life in every situation. Just what that looks like can be challenging, and that’s where Scripture and faith can help. But to make love the priority is at the heart of what it means to be human, what we might say God’s intention for humanity is.

And Jesus is called the human one (instead of son of man) in one translation of Scripture (CEB). Humanity is restored in Jesus, and in true humanity nothing else matters at all if it is not animated by love. How that works out is sometimes most challenging in this life, and Scripture in major part is given to us to help us work through that. But make no mistake: God simply wants us to be human as human is meant to be. Which means we’re to love and be loved. Including loving our enemies, those who hate us.

As we seek to do this, we’ll begin to find our true humanity, atheists and the nonreligious included. And for us as followers of Christ, through the human one who loved as no one ever has though misunderstood and maligned by others, we will be in the process of recovering our true humanity, face to face with others, face to face with Christ. Our humanity and the humanity of the other will ultimately become the thing that matters and bonds us together in love. In and through Jesus.

against reacting, but instead always acting in love

the fruit of the Spirit is love…and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23; NRSVue

The fruit of the Spirit in our lives as those who are believers in and followers of Christ starts with love and is summed up in love. The actual list ends with “self-control.” I personally find that helpful. Too easily we can react when love is not ruling over us at the time in ways that are not helpful or edifying. We react out of frustration or whatever else it might be. I speak from firsthand experience.

Instead, God wants us to act out of love, which often means not doing anything at all, but if we have to do something, always doing so in and out of love. Self-control may just be a natural response at times because we are being led by the Spirit. And the list here is after all the fruit of the Spirit, not something we do, but is done in us to make us that way. I would prefer mistakenly myself to think that this is something I have to work at. But that’s not the point here. At the same time, we need to seek to walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit. The more that’s the case, the better our response will be.

That said, we need to act according to how we know we should, regardless. We might not feel the Spirit’s influence on us at the time, at some critical juncture when we might easily react in a way that is less than helpful. In this work of the Spirit, the Spirit never just makes us automatons as if controlling us. Rather we are made agents graciously by God, alongside with God, entirely dependent on God to make all of this work. It is rather amazing to say the least.

I personally often don’t feel all that well. But that doesn’t mean that the Spirit is not at work in my life, or that I’m not, albeit in some faint way being led or walking in the Spirit. That must be my goal in all of life, whether feeling up or down. Feelings in a sense are beside the point, but we easily react in bad ways, when we feel rather bad. We need to do this regardless of whether we feel well or not.

God will help us in all of this as we commit ourselves to live in the grace God provides for us in Christ, in the freedom to live well that comes to us through the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

yes, be strong, but always in love

Keep alert; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14; NRSVue

If we could just get the Sermon on the Mount into our bones from our heart by the Spirit, I’m especially thinking of the Beatitudes along with the teaching about loving our enemies, working through differences with friends, etc., etc., etc., (Matthew 5-7), our Lord’s teaching along with example, we would be better off and those around us. Yes, we’re to be strong, but always in love.

Love is to mark everything about us, all we do. Sometimes that’s not so hard. But other times it is, because we are hurt or are struggling for one reason or another. But in answer to our prayer, God can and will help us. We need to see past the weaknesses, even sins of others, to see someone God loves and to see that they too like us are vulnerable and need God’s help.

The whole package here, as Paul put it in the quote above is so important for us. Love must mark all we do. We will slip from that at times, but then we have to get up, confess our sin, and get back in, doing all in humble love. Out of all the love God continues to pour out on us by the Spirit. 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.

not backing down

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;

Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10, 12b; NRSVue

We can’t back down when trouble hits us. Especially if it involves others’ well being. In the words of the proverb above, we must not faint on the day of adversity. We show our strength to be small when we do.

God holds us accountable to hang in there, remain steady, and do all that is necessary to meet the difficulty. God wants us to do good by others. Always in the way of wisdom. For the true good of others, which means holding them responsible as well, but also helping those who cannot help themselves.

We do so, pulling out all the stops as best we know. Figuring out what is best for them, and even how it works best for us in trying to help them. Which might well involve finding a help for them which goes beyond what we can do.

Adversity will strike. What are we prone to do when it does? God wants us to not back down, to be present. Not to take matters in our own hands, but to prayerfully be present, in love being willing to do our part.

In and through Jesus.

what we are here for

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might
to all the generations to come.
Your power and your righteousness, O God,
reach the high heavens.

Psalm 71:17-19; NRSVue

St. Patrick’s Day and his story reminds us who we are in Christ and what we’re here for. We’re here to bear witness to Christ, as well as to live in and out of the faithfulness of Christ. Nothing more and nothing less. Much to do out of that, often seemingly mundane, but every part important in the whole. We bear witness by our lives, the difference being not us but Christ working and living in us by the Spirit. With much prayer and love, love and prayer always. 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.