It is a cruel twist. Love is supposed to be the core value of what Christians believe and how they act, and yet love seems to be the one thing missing from many “Christian” hearts.
Don’t believe me? Just read the comment section on any blog or article. It doesn’t even matter if the article is on faith, politics, social justice, racism, or how to make a batch of cookies…someone, somewhere, will use the name of Jesus to spout hate and venom.
Sometimes, the person making a comment will use church-y phrases or justify their cruel words with Scripture passages they don’t understand or take out of context. But more often, they use shame, name-calling, and hate-speech, all while claiming to be Christian.
How is this speaking in love? How is this showing the world the grace and mercy found in Christ Jesus?
In the upside down nature of the kingdom of Jesus, we believers are to be humble, embodying love, forgiveness, and grace. In Christ’s kingdom, we are to lessen ourselves in order to raise up others. There is no greater place to be than in the servant role, laying aside our own selfish desires in order to serve another. It doesn’t matter another’s religion, their race, nationality, gender, or even the state of their hearts. They do not even need to appreciate us in our servant role. Rather, we are to pour out ourselves, willingly, lovingly, for the sake of the other.
This is what it means to be a follower of Christ, what it means to be Christian. It means to stifle our (sinful) inclinations to be right, to be dominant, to be louder than other voices. It is putting aside our wants, our desires, our selfishness and instead giving our time, our energy, our love in service for another, with no ulterior motive other than to serve out of a holy love of God and our neighbor. This is not watering down the Gospel message, but rather embracing it wholeheartedly and living it to the fullest measure.
It is being counter-cultural in a culture that worships the ascent up the success ladder, seeks fame-for-any-reason, idolizes money and “stuff”. It is being counter-cultural in that we move downward, rather than upward. It is putting aside the Americanized version of Christianity, where prosperity equals blessings, and wealth equals worth, and instead, clinging to the truth that the meek will inherit the earth and the merciful will be shown mercy.
Have we missed the point? Are we that blind to the truth of who Christ calls us to be?
No convert has been made through insults. No honest dialogue has happened through name calling and denigration. No transformation has happened through hate.
Christ tells us the greatest commandment is to love God and love neighbor. He doesn’t put parameters on it, telling us only to love if they are the same as us, if they look the same, think the same, if they know God, if they worship the same way, if they are in the same economic class. No, Christ just commands us to love. And that love is our witness. Love is building relationships, having conversations, being authentic, serving and caring for the physical, emotional, and yes, spiritual needs of our neighbor. And who is our neighbor?
There are no exclusions, no exceptions. We each are made with the fingerprints of God upon us, the imago Dei (the image of God) inside of us. Every human being has sacred worth because they are a creation of God, and His breath has breathed life into them.
Your neighbor is the Muslim family down the street, the gay couple next door, the atheist in the cubicle next to you at work. Your neighbors are those you know, and those you will never know, across the span of this beautiful green and blue sphere. Your neighbor is those who hate you, those who mock you. Your neighbor is the drug dealer in “that” part of town, your neighbor is the alcoholic sitting in a booth at the local bar, your neighbor is the meth addict locked up in the county jail. Your neighbor is the homeless woman, pushing her tattered belongings in a shopping cart across the park. Your neighbor is the person sitting across the aisle from you at church, the one that you carry bitterness towards. Your neighbor is all these, and more. And if you claim Christ, you must cling to the love He had for every one of these, for the least of these.
And we will all mess it us, at some point or another. And we will need to forgive, and seek forgiveness. That is part of living in a world broken by sin, scarred by hatred, tainted by evil. We will never be perfect, or always get it right on this side of eternity. Even with the best of intentions, we might get it wrong, we may injure another. But when are hearts are open, when our souls are filled with the love of the Creator, when we long to love in the way we have been shown by Jesus, then we are moving forward in building His kingdom here on this earth.
That is the beauty of mercy and grace. If we embrace this, we will begin to see transformation of the world, beginning with the transformation of our hearts. Perhaps then we will see another song ring true….
“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”