We’ve recently had the privilege to participate in some scintillating conversations that covered topics from parental discipline to adoption of singles to consumption of alcohol to gay rights to the definition of communion to the authority of the institutional church to define its visible members. I, of course for those of you who know me well, responded with more heart than thought and have therefore spent the following time rehashing and reexamining the various topics. My reflection revealed that the unequivocal undercurrent that flowed through the entire controversial gamut was the question, What is love? It personified itself in various forms like: What is the best discipline of a loving parent to their disobedient child? How do we represent Christ to the non-Christian and homosexual communities? Is it more loving to leave a child in poverty and destitution or place them in a house of plenty and sin? How do we stand for the gospel and its necessary truths while being in the world?
While these conversations were almost exclusively held in an American context, I see them with different faces, but the same soul in our ministry here. How do we hold people accountable to monogamy and soberness in a loving, godly way? As employers, how do we give grace and justice as Christ would? As missionaries, how are we representing Christ in a bold, obvious, gentle manner?
In my reflections the one foundation I have returned to again and again is that God is love (1 John 4:7). Therefore, whenever we talk about the definition of love, we are required to return to what we know of God’s character and actions in order to inform us on its intended personification in ourselves.
Let us look to the person of Christ. We have many examples of his gentle care for his children, his grace toward society’s rejects, and his unprecedented self-sacrifice. There is the Samaritan woman at the well with whom he not only speaks, but also draws back from the abyss of loose conduct. There are the children he welcomes to himself in spite of his disciples. The very group of men he chooses to surround himself with are society’s scoundrels and peasants. Again and again he eats with sinners and tax collectors. He calls Zaccheus down from the tree and feeds his flock with the bread of miracles. Even in his penultimate act, he grants paradise to the criminal crucified by his side. Then of course, his crucifixion for the sins of the world.
These were not his only acts. Conversely, Christ was not afraid to call society’s leadership to task or reprimand his own disciples for their sinful conduct. When he entered the temple in Jerusalem and saw the rampant avarice, he did not think to himself “I better be fetchingly nice and then they will stop this sin.” No, he turned the tables casting out the defilers in a very public shaming fashion. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to hear and question him, Christ did not hope to become close friends to them so that when they asked he could acknowledge their sinful lifestyle. No, he denounced them openly as hypocrites, vipers, white washed tombs and prophesied that the kingdom had been taken from them because of their rebellion. He even turned away a follower who professed to have kept the entire law, but was unwilling to let go of his wealth. Then we look to his closest friends, the disciples, Christ rebuked them telling Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” when his advice was not in line with God’s eternal plan. These examples are not the typical passive and gentle Jesus that we have become accustomed to imagining, yet they are Jesus nonetheless.
In all this, we must remember that our foundation is that Christ is love. Therefore, whether it be blessing children or hailing the Pharisees as hypocrites he is acting in love. He cannot act against his character. In both the gentle and the rough, this is the Christ to whom we cling. This is the love by which we are called to live. A love that seeks the best for the beloved, in times of comfort and accountability. A love that forgives and welcomes every repentant heart. A love that does not shy from the heinous truth of sin. May we be so blessed as to understand it more intimately everyday.