I watched something online today that stirred me. It shouldn’t have really. It shouldn’t feel like an epiphany. But it may be. It made me feel guilty. Then I wondered if it was conviction. What is this I speak of? It’s called activism. Justice. The Bible actually describes it as the definition of love. And it may be the key to truly releasing an awakening of the Holy Spirit in the church and maybe in your soul and mine. Intrigued to at least read on?
One of the misfortunes of the long history of the church is that we have mistakenly separated love of God from love of neighbor; and always they are held together in prophetic poetry. Dr. Walter Brueggemann
Is this true? I believe it is in my own life. What did Jesus say on this topic? Lots? A little? He did say clothe the naked, feed the hungry, take care of the sick, orphans and widows, yada yada. Yeah, we’ve heard this song and dance before. We’ve also heard John 3:16 quoted more than any other Scripture. For those of us who are long-term church folk, we may have stumbled onto 1 John 3:16-19. Jesus said:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possesions, sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth” 1 John 3:16-19
Watch the Video (it’s only 2:20, you can do it)
Follow my line of thinking here: The identification of Biblical love is found in sacrifice for those in need. Not in how long we spend in prayer, reading Scripture, church attendance, missions trips, building projects, fasting, and even how much we tithe or donate to worthy causes. At least from this Scripture, it seems to be connected to this one thing: Active justice for the needy. Security in our faith is defined by living out this kind of love. Call it eternal security, sanctification, whatever you want. John says we can “know we belong to the truth” if this kind of love is practiced in us. I’m not saying we don’t do those things or value them at all. I’m simply suggesting that we may be missing something to the Spirit-filled life.
I’m reminded of a story from Florida where some friends of mine are planting a church. As I recall the story, a family visited the church who appeared to be in need. Some of the ladies in the church decided to stop by their home to bring some food and encouragement. A good plan, eh? Living out Biblical love, yes? Here’s the kicker: They found the family’s residence – a small trailer. When they came in to drop off the food, they found a surprise. The family the church was bringing food to was sharing their trailer with another family who had been displaced from Haiti during the earthquakes. Two families. Around 8-10 people. One trailer. The host family had next to nothing. But they shared what they had with someone in need – someone as Dr. Brueggemann calls, “vulnerable”. Question: How many of us would share our home? Are you as uncomfortable as I am?
[Biblical Christians are to be] active advocates for the vulnerable and marginal and the people without resources and that becomes the way to act out and exhibit one’s love of God so love of God is translated into love of vulnerable neighbors.
I wonder if we have missed the boat on WHO we give up our lives to. I know we say we give up our lives for other people. But more often than not, we give them up to safe people who may not necessarily be in poverty or need. We “give” up our lives to those who can give something back to us. I wonder if sometimes lately I feel hollow because of this. It’s like the spiritual “redistribution of wealth”. Dr. Brueggemann provides a mathematical equation:
A Powerful Equation: Love of God = Love of Vulnerable Neighbors
We often use 1 Cor 13 as how to define love. Even Romans 12. And those Scriptures are true. But through the lens of 1 John 3:16, they become more complete. The key to unlocking this Scripture and maybe to our souls, is the focus on the “vulnerable” part. Jesus is very clear on who we are to love. It’s not necessarily the wealthy. It’s the needy. The poor. The sick. The weak. Those who have no voice. This is the real stuff. The stuff that actually stirs my soul as I write even now. Keep in mind as you read this the Kingdom parables. As I was reminded this week in church, Christianity is the only world religion where the use of force to rule is turned on its head. Where weak is strong. Poor are rich. Last are first. This is the Kingdom economy. It’s upside down. This all falls in line with the ideas that we share our excess with those who have less. It’s not communism or socialism. It’s Biblical.
The doing of justice is the prophetic invitation to do what needs to be done to enable the poor and disadvantaged and neglected to participate in the resources and wealth of the community. Injustice is the outcome of having skewed neighborly processes so some are put at an unbearable disadvantage and the Gospel invitation is that people intervene in that to correct those mistaken arrangements.
Confession time: I’ll make dinner for friends because I know that they can give me something when I need it. I’ll host people who make me feel comfortable, won’t break my stuff, who help me get ahead or who are easy. I’m too tired for extra grace required people. Aren’t you? I serve in the youth ministry because my daughter is in the youth group and I know it will benefit her and others too… I sacrifice for my family because we’re family. Question: Is this Biblical love? I may be getting myself into trouble here…
I’m a Free Methodist which means I’m a Wesleyan. And that means I’m not, by association, a Calvinist. The end of this verse in 1 John leaves open this “security issue” here which I’m not going to get into now. I’m just going to point out that John says we can know – have certainty – that we belong to Him if we love in this way. That’s comforting as a Methodist to know the measure of what it takes. It’s a straight forward conditional statement. If you do this, you can expect this. So is this eternal security? All I know is that I can know how to have security: love like Jesus did.
We have seen an ebb and flow of an emphasis on the external and internal lives to be key. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot on developing an internal life that is solid to make sure my external life is authentic. I’ve really enjoyed Mary Darling’s, The God of Intimacy and Action. [Amazon link] and others that hearken back to the disciplines of solitude, listening, and centering prayer. There’s also the balance in that book of action. Mary co-wrote the book with Tony Campolo, the dean of social justice. The two definitely go together. Internal must be matched with external. This balance seems to be one of the hardest things to do as an evangelical Christian in the United States and I’d place some of the blame for this on the church for focusing too much on gathering and not as much scattering. My local church is trying to move into a more healthy model which I applaud and encourage. But moving this way after being another way for nearly 100 years will take some time as people awaken to the truth of what real love looks like. And it’s not being a trustee. I wonder if I need less teaching and preaching, and more action. I’ve already learned more than most people in the World about what it means to follow Jesus. I wonder if I just need to do less studying about it, shut up, and go out and love Biblically. Easier said than done, right?
I think I may be too salty. What do you think? I think my salt is becoming ruined or rotten by lack of Biblical love. All I know is that my soul was stirred as I’ve watched Dr. Brueggemann’s 2-minute video about ten times. There’s gotta be something to that. As Christmas rolls around, I’m battling against the flow of traffic towards filling my own house with treasures. This year I have even more than last year. Is it Biblical for me to get more? Hard questions. Too hard to tackle in one post.
I just called our local food shelter in the middle of writing this and scheduled our family to serve dinner in three weeks. It was like scratching an itch. Hopefully one that gets the ball rolling for our family to move toward this Biblical love that is laid out in black and white. I think we all know what the right things to do are. We just haven’t stepped up to the plate to do it. I don’t know why these truths seem to hide themselves from me. Maybe they’re not hiding. Maybe I’ve just continued to ignore them. But I can’t any longer.
How about you? Are Dr. Brueggemann’s statements in line with Scripture? Is this the Biblical definition of love? Where are you in the story?