What is Love? Working Our Way through the Challenges of Loving the Church, Part 4

Love is Love?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.  And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.  1 John 2:15–17

As a teenager, I spent many Wednesday evenings—following my time in youth group—at a local fast-food restaurant. Too young to drive, I was on the timeline of the older teenagers who offered to take me home. One night, as I threw away my trash, I stumbled upon a conversation between two older teens and a stranger who looked to be their age. With bleary eyes, yellowed teeth, and a faint scent of tobacco, he stared at his shoes. “I know I’m not living right,” he whispered. 

Fast forward thirty years and to “get my life right” no longer translates. Right living or righteousness seems to possess an ambivalent definition. Sin is no longer black and white. And statements prevail like, “That may be wrong for you, but I’ve got my own truth.” And though these statements are prevalent in the world at large, many church denominations seem to be embracing a similar narrative. 

In the movie, The Lorax, real, authentic trees are remembered only by Granny Norm who “remembers when trees were everywhere.” Plastic trees and manufactured air replace the historic gifts of nature. Is it possible that we have manufactured our own love which mimics the qualities of love but has one critical missing component? 

John writes, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” (1 John 4:7–9).

Love is not simply love. God is love. And the way he loves us and calls us to love others is drastically different from the way the world loves. The plastic love of the world is not inspired by the sacrificial love of Christ who emptied himself for our sake (Philippians 2:5–8). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul urges his readers to have the same mindset as Christ. Christ didn’t use his status to do as he chose. He didn’t use his position to demand service but to serve others. Instead of preserving his life, he was obedient unto death. 

It would be wise to inventory the way we love today. John writes to believers insisting they not love the world or the things in the world. Affirming sinful lifestyles, glossing over moral failures, or ignoring the needs of others all reek of plastic love.  

In his blog post, The Ministry of Telling the Truth, Wade Berry writes, “Christ calls those who follow him to be agents of truth. He calls us to see the world—and ourselves—as we really are, and he calls us to share what we see with others so they, too, may be set free.”

The church is not being hateful when it looks different than the world. When we speak the truth of Christ, we are exuding the greatest love imaginable to a world which desperately needs to know a better way, the best way, the only way. 

Thou are the Bread of Life, O Lord, to me,

Thy holy Word, the Truth that saveth me;

Give me to eat and live, with Thee above;

Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art Love

—Mary A. Lathbury 

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