Advent Series (Part 2): Love

Two weeks in a row!  Wooooooo!

There were a couple of different directions I pondered taking with this entry.  I thought about the four Biblical words for love (which I did for our youth lesson this morning).  I thought about talking about God’s gift of love to the world (reason for the season and all!).

In the end, however, I decided to pass those up in favor of this… because it’s something we are failing at pretty dramatically in the American church.

Let’s talk about how we love each other.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
John 13:34-35

That’s Jesus talking, by the by.  Good information to have.  This was during the Last Supper and part of the last lesson Jesus gave to His disciples before His death. I think that makes it pretty important, wouldn’t you say?

Love is a word not easily defined in our society.  This morning when I asked the youth kiddos what “love” means, they answered with a lot of this number: “Love means… that you love someone!”

I tried briefly to explain that you can’t define a word with that same word, but it was middle school, and my window of opportunity had evaporated into discussions on the difficulties of solving Rubix cubes (shout out to all the fellow youth workers out there… you know exactly what I’m talking about.)

But seriously… in our society we say we love God, we love pizza, we love our pets, we love a sportsball team, we love our spouses, we love our kids, and we love the weather (J/K no one actually ever loves the weather). So naturally the definition tends to feel a bit fluid.

So for our purposes, let’s define love as this: acting for someone’s best good, regardless of the cost to ourselves. This moves love out of the loosey-goosey feelings territory and into a solid choice.  We can choose to love people, regardless of who they are and what they’ve done.

It’s also a choice that hard to make.  Acting for someone’s best good is not a cut and dry thing.  It varies from one situation to the next. Sometimes it means telling someone the hard truth about a path they’re on, and sometimes it means extending grace. Sometimes it means helping someone through a situation, and (hear me) sometimes it means letting them struggle a little through their own consequences. It requires wisdom and discernment, and neither of those things come easily.

And this kind of love so often comes with a high price to the person giving it. We make people angry when we tell them we love them, but we don’t agree with them. A loved one may stop talking to us or others think we’re harsh if we don’t enable someone and instead let them bear their consequences. When we swallow our pride and decide to forego judging someone in favor of reaching out to them in compassion and understanding… it’s hard. Real love carries a price.

Look at Jesus: best example of love we will ever see… and He sacrificed a lot for us. First, He came here. Second, He lived the life we all should have lived. Third, He died the death we all should have died. Makes people talking about us or angry friends or swallowing pride seem a bit small.

So… Jesus said that our love for one another would prove to the world that we belonged to Him.

So after everything was said and done, how did the disciples go about fulfilling this commandment from Jesus?

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47

This is one of those passages that tends to become a “Oh, isn’t that nice?” parts of the Bible.  You know the ones…. Where we read it and smile and say, “Oh, isn’t that nice?” And then if anyone dare suggest we maybe, you know, try to do it… we have a laundry list of reasons why we just simply can’t.

That was just how things were in that day.
It’s just not practical.
We’re too busy in today’s modern society.
People might take advantage.

Maybe… but I think it’s also fair to say that the Lord isn’t adding to our fellowship each day those who are being saved.

Am I saying we should just go sell everything and run off to live in a commune together?  Negative.  That isn’t practical, nor does it seem to be what the disciples were doing. They were still a part of the larger communities (they went and worshiped at the Temple each day). But they were living in a way that was so radically different and attractive that people were drawn to it. It was plain to the world that they belonged to Jesus by how they loved each other.

So let’s cut right to it. The two main hangups I believe most of American society has with this kind of community are greed and accountability.

Let’s start with the ol’ dirty word: greed.

No one thinks they’re greedy. We like words like “responsible” or “thrifty” or “wise”. We help friends in need when we see it, if we can. We may even donate to charities or give the homeless guy on the corner some cash or a sandwich. But our society celebrates greed, and it’s really sneaky.

Some barometers to consider:
Can you help someone in need and not tell anyone?
Can you donate money to an organization or help a person and then take your hands off of what happens after that? Even if you think they waste it?
Do you consider your money yours?
Do you consider your success to be purely because of your hard work and not at all because of things outside your control?
Do you say to yourself or others that poor people wouldn’t be poor if they just worked harder (interpretation: if they worked as hard as I do)?

Greed is sneaky.

We balk at the idea of “sharing everything we have” and “selling property and possessions and sharing the money with those in need” because so often we value comfort over all else. We say we can’t do something, when what we mean is it will make us uncomfortable.

We have to start viewing our things as not ours. We have to start holding onto our stuff with a loose grip, ready to let go any time God even hints that maybe we should.

Also, if God says help someone, it’s not up to you to decide if they deserve it or not. I’m sorry.  It’s just not. Besides, do you really want to start drawing a line with God about people getting what they deserve? (I’m just sayin’…)

“But people might take advantage of us!”

Maybe so. But my Dad has a great saying: You can’t be used by God unless you’re willing to be used by people.

I’m not saying to just throw money at everyone who comes your way, but you have to let go of the idea of controlling the results and leave that in God’s hands. That means that when you give something, you go ahead and cut the strings so many of us leave attached.

Now for the other hangup: accountability.

Ah, accountability. The thing we all want other people to have but don’t want ourselves.

I mean seriously, we’re all about holding other people accountable, but as soon as that gets turned around we suddenly feel attacked. “Don’t judge me!” gets thrown around. Feelings get hurt. Mass hysteria.

This is a thing we’re becoming known for, guys. We are very, very quick to shout down someone over the speck in their eye, and then go to war if anyone dares mention our plank. (Matthew 7:3 for the reference).  If anyone makes a mistake, we jump all over it, claiming we’re holding them accountable.  But that’s not how any of this works.

True accountability requires a deep relationship with the other people involved. I’ve told kids before, “I can only speak truth into someone’s life to the degree that I’m a part of it.”  That means that all those unknown people on Facebook you’re ranting at? Yeah. Not doing any good. (Totally talking to myself at times on that one. I’ve gotten better…)

True accountability means that you continue loving and being a part of someone’s life, even if you don’t agree with them. If your immediate means of accountability is “get right or get out” or “get right or I’ll get out”… yikes. I wouldn’t trust you either. It’s hard to trust someone if you think they’re going to bail the second you do something they don’t like.

True accountability means coming to someone you love and kindly expressing concern over their actions or attitudes, knowing that it might not be heard or received right in that moment. You don’t let your own pride get so tied up into it that if they get angry or don’t listen, you see it as an affront to you somehow. Hold that pride as loosely in your hand as you do all your stuff. Besides, there may be aspects that you misunderstood or didn’t know.

True accountability means listening when someone else tells you they’re concerned about your behaviors or actions or attitudes and not immediately jumping to your own defense, but instead considering it. That takes a lot of humility and self-control. It’s okay to say, “I need to think about that for a while.” But then actually do it. Actually consider it and go to God and ask “am I doing this?” and be willing to accept it if the answer is “yes”. Then be willing to do something about it, even if it means (gasp) asking someone else to help you.

True accountability means taking your concerns to the person involved and keeping away from gossip. Let’s be honest… that’s a thing none of us get right all the time. It’s so easy to slip from “prayer request” to “gossip”.  Like… effortless. You have to be aware and sensitive at every moment to keep a handle on it. Nothing stirs up division like gossip, especially if someone is trying to be transparent about their failings.

True accountability requires patience, love, a refusal to bail, humility, restraint, and a releasing of pride in all directions.  It’s hard. We Christians are a bunch of flawed human beings trying to let God make us more like Jesus. We’re going to screw it up from time to time. That’s where the grace and forgiveness aspects of loving each other come into play.

A lot of the nuances of accountability can be summed up in this:

You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
James 1:19

Imagine a group of people sacrificially giving to help support each other and those in need… giving up comfort and maybe even taking a few risks to do it.

Imagine a group of people sharing their lives with each other… confessing their sins to each other… lovingly confronting each other’s sins… humbling accepting correction… and not receiving condemnation or gossip, but grace and forgiveness and acceptance.

Imagine a group of people supporting each other emotionally and financially, praising God the whole time.

Imagine if that image of radical love was what we were showing the world instead of looking just like everyone else with a few more rules and a few inspirational sayings posted to our Facebook walls.

I don’t know… but I bet the Lord might just start adding to our numbers each day those being saved.

 

 

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