Wednesday, March 16, 2011

on walking in love

As I've been seeking to grow in my walk with God, I've learnt that an important part of it is paying closer attention to the way I treat others. Love, I think, is a very central theme of Christianity; in Mark ch 12, we read:

28Then one of the scribes came up and listened to them disputing with one another, and, noticing that Jesus answered them fitly and admirably, he asked Him, Which commandment is first and most important of all [in its nature]?

29Jesus answered, The first and principal one of all commands is: Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord;

30And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment.

31The second is like it and is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

Well, much as we'd like to do this, we all know how easy it is not to, and yet at the same time, I'm sure we'd all agree that the world would be such a wonderful, wonderful place if everyone loved their neighbour as themselves. Wars, crimes, all the terrible things of the world -- if only we all truly knew how to love one another. But with our carnal natures, it is something we must consciously aim to do, constantly, with everyone, under every circumstance. We need to pray perseveringly for God's help with this.

When I about 11, I was part of the choir in a school pageant. The choir was physically divided into two parts on the left and right hand sides of the stage. This was done because at one part of the performance, the actor playing the little girl asks her actor parents, "How do wars begin?"

The parents then start propounding their own views on the subject, but being unable to come to an agreement, or to even agree to disagree, their debate descends into a full-scale fight. The chorus aids this chaos by shouting on the one hand, "No it isn't!", and on the other, "Yes it is!" -- back and forth -- until the girl's voice pipes up, with the choir singing in parentheses, "Now I know [said the little girl, with a great big grin] -- you have shown me clearly how all our wars begin".

For some reason, though this pageant was at least 3 hours long, and we were practising for it for months, this is the only part of the whole thing I remember. Perhaps it was because we actually enjoyed shouting back and forth like that. I wonder if it somehow reflects that human relish for discord and disunity. For we are such great believers in being right, in having our way, in not being taken advantage of -- we do not know what it means to walk in love, to be adaptable to others, to have the attitude of a servant.

You may have heard the phrase "love covers a multitude of sins"; it is one of numerous phrases from the Bible that the secular world has picked up and likes to use sentimentally. It is from 1 Peter 4:8, and in its entirety reads, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins". In the Amplified Bible it reads, "Above all things have intense and unfailing love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins [forgives and disregards the offenses of others]".

I believe it's so very, very important for everyone, and especially Christians, to walk in this love. Yet how often do we find ourselves being rude, unhelpful and intolerant, saying harsh, cruel things, even thinking unkind, sarcastic, mean thoughts. No -- let us aim, and keep aiming, to walk in love, to be of service to others, to put others before ourselves.

We don't have to criticise and belittle others because of our own hang-ups; we don't have to have the last word just to feel important or good; we don't have to hold back from being generous and helpful with our time, energies or resources, fearful of somehow losing out; we don't have to be grudging with our praise or forgiveness. Believe the best of everyone -- don't be one of those who wallow in feeling victimised, martyred or hurt, and then go around with a continual air of reproach (and you know we can do this in some of the subtlest, cruellest ways). As C.S. Lewis writes in The Business of Heaven: "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbour; act as if you did".

Just the other day a certain aunt of mine called to remind me that I hadn't told someone that they needn't do something. Well yes, I'd quite forgotten to tell them because of... a bunch of reasons I won't bother to numerate out of self-pity. However, as I started to ask that she please tell that person on my behalf -- because she was right next to the person -- she said, "No, I'm not going to tell her -- you tell her, it's your responsibility".

Now honestly, I just did not understand this. I mean, she knew that the person needed to be told, she was right there, yet she deliberately chose not to help me because she obviously felt I had to be made to do it -- like a sort of punishment I suppose, so that I'd learn my lesson as it were.

BUT, I remembered then that I must walk in love -- it doesn't matter whether the other person does or not -- and that I must do so in even the little, everyday things, so that it truly becomes instinctive, a way of life.
And so -- while in the past I may have reacted to my aunt with a string of frustrated explanations, or some cutting remark which would almost certainly have descended into a regrettable personal exchange -- I just laughed to myself. True, I was also doing a great deal of mental head-shaking, but at least I was keeping my mouth shut. For just as much as I could have reminded my aunt that love covers a multitude of sins, I too could do the same. Again, as Lewis writes in The Business of Heaven, "In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people's we do not accept them easily enough".

Inasmuch as my aunt can be demanding or difficult, so can I. It may be a question of which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg, but it doesn't really matter now -- I am no longer a child; I want to walk with God, and be mature in that walk, and that means I must walk in love. Increasingly, the Holy Spirit makes me conscious of the way I am with others -- including my own children -- and helps me to be patient and tolerant, slow to anger and quick to forgive or apologise, always believing the best. Ask God for the grace to do this; He wants us to walk in love for our good -- that we may have wonderful, uplifting relationships, and positively transform the world in which we live. If we can't even do it at home...

1IF I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God's love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

2And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God's love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody).

3Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God's love in me), I gain nothing.

4Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.

5It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God's love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].

6It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.

7Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].

8Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth].

9For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect).

10But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded).

11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.

12For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God].

13And so faith, hope, love abide [faith--conviction and belief respecting man's relation to God and divine things; hope--joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love--true affection for God and man, growing out of God's love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13, Amplified).

PS: In keeping with walking in love -- please pray for Japan and consider contributing practically toward relief efforts. These are some agencies you might consider:
Save the Children
Japan Society
World Vision International
The Salvation Army

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