By Ward Shope
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 11:4-8a)
In preparation for the Session retreat in April, each elder was asked to fill out their “Leadership DNA” questionnaire. The results were intended to reveal what our strengths and struggles were as leaders. I scored extremely high on the “skeptical” scale – which happens to be the opposite of “trusting”. This didn’t really surprise me – though I’m not sure I wanted that revealed to the elders (much less the readers of this blog.) Some people just welcome anyone into their circle of friends from the very beginning. I wish I were that way. Instead, I tend to view people from a distance and somewhat negatively at the beginning. Yet as the Spirit works in my heart, I begin to cross the distance the way the gospel calls me to.
Our culture grows skeptics. Mandisa and TobyMac, contemporary Christian songwriters, (one African American and one white) recently penned a song with the lyrics, “We all bleed the same.” They grieve the polarity of our culture and call us to recognize our common humanity despite our differences. It’s a simple call to recognize that all people everywhere, no matter what we look like, what we believe in, or who we identify ourselves as, are God’s image bearers, and therefore carry infinite value. We have more in common than we think.
Absolutely. But we are very aware of the differences. Casting Crowns in “Friend of Sinners” lovingly confronts fellow believers “that the world only knows what we’re against”, and pleads for Jesus to “break our hearts for what breaks yours.” That is the real problem: our hearts – my heart! Because while I’m willing to put up with some other believers, I can wax eloquently (and usually with some spirit) about what’s wrong with those I disagree with. Believers have always struggled to close the gap between the church and the culture largely because our hearts don’t break like Jesus’ did. His heart broke and so he always moved toward his enemies. He knows no other direction.
It’s OK to see the distinctives. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. We used to worry that the word “love” was being reduced to mean sex. Now “love” and “hate” in our culture have been reduced to specific political positions that we support or eschew. But love has always been a heart matter to Jesus. He has always been willing to cross the distance between him and others even if it leads to loss of reputation, pain and/or sacrifice. Love always rejoices in the truth, but it is always patient and kind; it is not arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful, and always bears all things; it never ends. If it doesn’t look like that, it isn’t love. When the Spirit brings out God’s best in us, love looks like that in us – and in me. If we want the world to know Jesus, love is where it begins.