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.

yes, this is directed to “Christians,” followers of Christ (“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”)

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks to no purpose? Does the spirit that God caused to dwell in us desire envy? But God gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:1-10

When you read this relatively short book or letter of James, at least I get the sense that this is from one, a James who is a pastor at heart, but at the same time minces no words. And you also get it plainly that he’s writing to believers in Christ. 

What James is getting at is about real life. And what people do and fail to do, including true believers of Christ. We might believe, but do we always follow Christ in our attitudes and actions, our behavior and words? We all know the answer to that. We know it firsthand, and by what we witness. And James saw through what was happening in his time, with a pastoral concern coming from both the wisdom and prophetic tradition of Israel, along with the fulfillment present in Christ. 

James makes no two ways about it. When we’re caught up in sin, specifically here sins of division due to sinful attitudes on our part, he gets right after them (and by extension, us), calling them sinners, and telling us and them among other important things that we’re to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. It’s up to us, period. We’re to get it together, humbling ourselves in submission to God, resisting the devil and drawing near to God. And then in no uncertain terms, the ultimatum to take care of what’s wrong in ourselves.

Yes, we can only do this because of God’s unmerited grace to us in Christ. But we must do it. Or else what James says here means nothing. Or at least means nothing to us. It’s a poor theology that can’t figure out how to include and somehow apply all for us, especially that which is written in Christian Scripture (“the New Testament”). Position in Christ is one thing, practice is something entirely different. Because of our position or place “in Christ” we have the responsibility to deal with what’s wrong in our own lives. And within community, as James is getting at, to live well together in the harmony of Christ in the unity of the Spirit. In and through Jesus.

we’re family!! in Christ

Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

Then his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; NRSVue

When it comes to our faith, there is nothing more essential or basic than family. God is our Father (and Mother), Jesus our Brother and we’re all siblings by faith in and through Christ. We’re to call no man on earth our father, and given the patriarchal error today and back in Jesus’s time along with the hierarchy that accompanies it, that’s more than understandable (see Mark, by Geddert).

Yes, Christ makes himself known to us directly but much more significantly than we realize and we might say in some respects more strongly through our relationships with each other. Didn’t Jesus say that where two or three gather in his name, he is present with them (Matthew 18:20)? Using our distinct personalities, and ourselves being total agencies in this, not just passively used, in the total life-giving and difference making presence of Christ.

Nothing more basic in our faith, and largely missed in all my decades as a Christian. God wanting to include all in God’s family of creation in this wonderful family of new creation, and God will do that, all eventually coming to repentance and faith (but that’s another subject). In and through Jesus.

reconciling broken relationships

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 5:21-26; NRSVue

One must pay careful attention to Jesus’s words here to not fall into serious, even dangerous error. For example a wife might be told that she must reconcile with an abusive husband, who has shown over and over again that he needs help. This passage gives no space whatsoever for that, nor anything else in the Bible. As can be seen in the passage, it was spoken in a different time, yet the ramifications come across pretty straight forward to our present time.

What I want to dwell on a bit is the importance of Jesus followers making their relationships a priority. But add to that, when you consider all Jesus said here, doing our best in every relationship.

First of all contempt has no place. Yes, we might be shaking our heads to ourselves, but we must never do that in public and if we do, make sure we make it right. We should express all our concerns to God, this after all is a good even important occasion for praying. Everyone deserves a certain basic respect as a human being made in God’s image. That said, we do need to proceed carefully because while many people fully intend good, others certainly don’t.

When some occurrence has made a rift in a relationship with a sister or brother in Christ, then we need to do all we can on our side to mend that rift. And I would add to that any other person, whether or not they profess to follow Christ. We can’t force any kind of reconciliation, and only God can heal. Often either words or actions or some combination of both has broken the relationship and what fellowship there was before is gone. We’ll have to express our regret and seek forgiveness where we’ve been wrong.

Let’s be careful not to think we had no wrong in a given situation. That is strictly the case only with Jesus. But let’s not force some equal responsibility when clearly that is not the case.

If we take Jesus’s words seriously, this is something we need to take with the utmost seriousness. Do all we can, pray, and keep doing that along the way as needed. God can bring the needed change both in us and the other person. That we might live out the unity that is ours in and through Jesus.

living at peace in an unpeaceful world

When the ways of people please the LORD,
he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them.

Proverbs 16:7; NRSVue

This is a post at risk of getting stuck in the weeds. We have terrible conflicts going on in Yemen, Ethiopia, Syria and elsewhere, and now Ukraine. And the victims are just that, victims. So the proverb quoted above really does not apply in every case, yes not in many cases on earth. Didn’t Jesus warn his disciples and by extension us, that in this world we will experience persecution and even possibly death?

Proverbs are maxims. They definitely have important, serious value. And some one can claim with absolute certainty, one famous one an example, Proverbs 3:5-6. But most of them are generally or often the case, with exceptions. And sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line between what one might take as a promise, and what is generally true. But often the proverbs in the book of Proverbs are maxims in the sense of tending to be the case in life, with exceptions.

If our ways please God, then we’ll be peacemakers, we’ll want to make peace. And radically speaking, in the way of Jesus, we won’t engage in tit for tat. We will not return violence for violence. Instead we’ll try to find a way out of conflict, not just escape, but resolution.

The maxim of Proverbs 16:7 quoted above is interestingly fulfilled in a good number of ways, but all related to peacemaking. Naturally the perpetrator, the enemy won’t want to make peace with you unless they have good reason for doing so. Those whose ways are pleasing to God will want to make peace and will refuse to fight back. That is if we’re talking about the way of Jesus.

This was part of the weeds I wanted to avoid. We have to respect those who stand up against great odds and are willing to risk life and limb in defense of their families, their city, their nation. So we don’t want to back down for a moment from giving them due respect and honor. Along with many prayers. But God wants something different from God’s people, if I read scripture and especially Jesus in scripture correctly.

We have to be quick to make right anything we’ve done which might possibly be wrong, or even possibly misunderstood. We have to go out of our way to befriend those who are our enemies since God in Christ has reconciled all people that were God’s enemies to God’s self. We may never end up being friends in the here and now, but we still can be friendly.

We do need to tell the truth at times, but we must do so gently, keeping our emotions, specifically our anger and passion in check. And again, with much prayer. By and large though if we just love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for them, we’ll need to do nothing more.

We won’t be perfect in this of course, but we have to do the best we can, saying we’re sorry, working on ourselves and our attitudes, trying to make all the necessary changes in ourselves as first priority along the way. And also caring about the good of others, including those who either want to harm us, or actually are. In all the wisdom needed for every different situation, different actions required depending.

God wants us to be peacemakers, to not quit even when the peace God wants seems impossible, and to some extent is, in this present existence. God is present in Jesus to help us lambs even in the midst of wolves. In and through Jesus.

the nonsense of the end justifying the means

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12; NRSVue

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:31; NRSVue

The contexts are different for this essentially same saying of Jesus. In Luke as part of the Sermon on the Plain it’s in the context of difficult relationships or lack thereof. Whereas in Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount (two similar sermons) it’s almost a separate saying from what surrounds it (it seems to me that it is). And therefore we can say, connected to all of life.

We’re never going to be perfect in anything we do in this life. That’s an impossibility given a number of factors, although of course God’s work in and out from us itself is perfect, all pure love. But our intent must be perfect. And for that to be so, the end never justifies the means.

In the name of Christ, “Christians” have gone to war over the centuries, and so-called Christian causes, steeped in some form of Christendom are engaged in using a lot of un-Christ-like, essentially antichrist ways of supposedly achieving it. Of course what you accomplish won’t be good if the way you accomplished it was bad.

Jesus showed us the better way. We should pay no attention to that done in his name which doesn’t line up all the way with that way, with the Way himself, Jesus. It’s the way of the cross, of self-sacrificial love. Done in the Spirit; we can do it by the Spirit. In and through Christ, that is what is laid out before us, indeed given to us to live and walk in. Love for all in all we do. That certainly will involve confession of sin and repentance along the way as we inevitably fall short. But as individuals and the church, that is the only way in the Way, Jesus. Doing to others as we would have them do to us. Tough love a small minority of the time, yes, we all need that. But by and large, gentle. But always love, through and through. In and through Jesus.

hardness of heart is not beyond us

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10; NRSVue

It’s easy to think that our hearts are always alright before God. Maybe not altogether because of “small” deviations during a day, but generally speaking, okay, because of God’s grace given to us in Jesus. And while we’ve been given a new heart in Jesus, that never automatically means that we’re in the clear and no longer have to consider what’s in our heart.

We can get carried away into something which is not helpful, we can set our hearts on many things other than on what we’re directed to in scripture, such as God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, things above, on the Lord himself. And shockingly enough, hardness of heart is not only all too common, but surely by and large endemic in us. I’m not saying an entirely hard heart, though that might happen along the way. But a hardness in the heart, so that it’s not altogether soft before God.

Interestingly those who have experienced hardness of heart to a most significant extent, can well end up among those who have the softest most sensitive heart (Psalm 51). We might try to paint on a nice smile, do the right things, and yet our heart betrays us, not only giving us away, but affecting all we do. What we need is not just a change of conduct, but a change of heart.

James tells us that we’re responsible for this; God isn’t just going to do it for us. Of course, it’s only through God and God’s grace given to us in Christ that we can do this. And it’s not a snap of the finger, one time act, either. It surely is a process of repentance and doing like what James tells us in the above scripture. To lament, grieve, yes, even purify our hearts, getting rid of that which is wrong, whatever it might be, and seeking to put on love. The Spirit is present to help us in this, but this must become a part of who we are, that we’re a person given to having a heart as God intended it to be. In and through Jesus.

are we a disappointment to God?

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
    as on a day of festival.

Zephaniah 3:17-18a; NRSVue

Often we carry a burden of feeling and thinking that we are a disappointment not only to certain ones, but to God. That God looks on us and is not only disappointed with some of what we’ve done, maybe even much of that, but is disappointed in us. And there’s theology that in my mind is beneath the name Christian which supports and even promotes the idea that God basically just puts up with us, only able to stand to look at us and accept us because God sees us through and in Christ. Whatever grain of truth might be in that, the thought actually does not comport well at all with the whole of scripture, and especially in the light of Christ’s coming. In fact, any truth in it makes it more dangerous since people are more apt to swallow it. And so, we go around thinking and feeling that we’re nothing more than worms, really not liked by God, but somehow loved in the sense of God putting up with us. There is so much to say about all of this. Someone could write a book on this, not to say there haven’t been books written at least around this subject. There is much to say and sort out.

The above passage in Zephaniah is in the context of God’s judgment and work of salvation. With all the evil doing of the nations and of God’s own chosen people in Jerusalem, there’s a people who had been victims, and the rest evidently respond to God’s judgment with humility. At any rate, we can think of Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, who certainly didn’t do right by his father, himself, or anyone else for that matter. Yet the father longed for him, and when at long last seeing him return, ran toward his son and embraced him, and had an all-out celebration, holding nothing back.

Yes, just as we’re disappointed at times in things we’ve done in our lives, so God also. But we’re not a disappointment to God. God sees the one God made, and delights in that. And God delights in all God wants to bring to pass and enjoy about us in God’s love. God sees that in everyone. One of our problems is that we project our poor way of seeing others onto God, as if God is limited in some similar way. But that indeed is not the case. God sees through the ugliness of our lives at the beauty that is present in God’s creation of us. And God loves us through and through just as we are. Yes, just as we are. God will help us in God’s love to become all that we really are, all God made us to be through creation and new creation. In and through Jesus.

getting rid of “if only’s”

I like to put up a scriptural text since I find grounding in that, leading me to Christ and the good news in him along with specific directions for life. For this one I couldn’t come up with anything, except to think of Judas Iscariot hanging himself over his betrayal of Jesus, and Peter weeping bitterly when he denied the Lord three times. They both handled it drastically differently, but although Peter came out in the clear, it certainly wasn’t easy for him.

We probably have some pile of regrets, things we wished we would have done differently, or not done at all. When you think about it, there’s probably some small regrets each day, maybe a few bigger ones along the way, but we get caught up in this or that, and wish we would have done better, that something of the edge might be taken off of us. We can immediately repent, and count such times as learning opportunities, so that we might be aware of our deficiencies and work in God’s grace to do better and keep growing in goodness in Christ.

But to the topic. “If only’s” easily plague us. Yes, most certainly we can learn from them, and we should count that as a plus. After all, at the time we somehow thought or felt what we were doing was alright or good enough. We can at least take away from having failed, all the way from a miscue to a sin, that we can learn from that, and do better. Hopefully not just because of the pain experienced, though that’s entirely legitimate. But most importantly along with that, over concern out of the love of God to love God and others.

“What if’s?” or “If only’s!” are simply a waste not only of time, but even worse, a waste of our minds and hearts. We’re led down a track and put into a pit in which it isn’t easy to escape or get out of. Much easier to fall into it, then get out of it.

None of this will help us in the least. We certainly can’t time travel and reverse this or that, though I’m sure most all of us would be happy to do that if we could. It is not only wasted thinking, but harmful. It can lead us to a dark space devoid of grace. With God’s help and commitment to do better, we can find God’s grace and light to bring a peace that surpasses all our own understanding, lack of understanding, along with misunderstanding, but add to that, even what we think we understand all too well. And giving us even a cheer and joy that seems inexplicable, but right from the heart of God to our hearts.

We have to look at this as part of the spiritual warfare we’re engaged in. We have to commit ourselves to not going there, but with the realization that we can do this only by God’s help. Yet at the same time knowing too that it is we that have to do it. God isn’t going to do it for us. Although there are those strange occasions, and rare, when it does seem like God is doing it for us, so that what we do is nearly effortless.

God will help us to get past this, but let’s not expect it in a flash, or think we can just leave all of this behind in a day. It will be a part of our spiritual growing process, and ongoing spiritual warfare along the way. God will help us and see us through, as we trust and keep going in the right direction, sometimes confessing our failure to do so along the way, then getting up to move in the direction that God will give us. In and through Jesus.

just don’t do it (and do what is good)

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is blind, suffering from eye disease, forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11; NRSVue

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence but much more now in my absence, work on your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13; NRSVue

Grace in Christ enables us to do better. And when I say do better, I’m referring to breaking longstanding patterns of behavior in ourselves, especially in thoughts, attitudes, actions and words. This may sound very much dependent on ourselves, self-help, works of the flesh including our own self-effort. But strictly speaking, it’s not that at all. Grace in Christ by the Spirit from God underlies it all. We can do nothing apart from that grace extended to us in Christ. But within and through that grace, we can indeed make necessary and radical change. Some things might take hold overnight, but other habits we have may take days, weeks and more to be resolved. The important thing is that we’re heading in the right direction.

We need to stop ourselves in our tracks and say, “Enough is enough.” And not tolerate what we know is wrong or unhelpful, even when we’ve justified it and had good reasons for it in our own minds. God’s call in Christ is radically different, calling us to something much better, putting love for God and others at the forefront, with all humility and gentleness. What is being referred to here certainly includes everything. And it involves even something like a strategic mindset on our part, planning and catching ourselves when we either do the old thing or are about to do it. Being upfront about it. Yes, working on what God is working in us both in terms of willing and doing what is right and good.

In and through Jesus.