Principal in Action
We have established that being a Christian is not at all the same as being religious. How does that work out in practice, or at least how should it work?
One of the major problems is that over the centuries we have made Christianity much like a religion, perhaps it was Constantine’s fault as much as anyone’s. However, we cannot lay all the blame at his door, it’s time for us to think for ourselves, and if necessary, to change. And if possible, influence others to change. It is vital that we do not accept the ‘norm’, that we don’t maintain the status quo, rather let us be alternative.
Jesus said, ‘This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other..’ (John 13:35 TM)
The word love has some strange connotations in western culture, especially its use in the English language; we love each other, we love our children, we love our boyfriend, and we love tomato ketchup. We use the same word for all of it. When marriage breaks down, we say we have fallen out of love, whatever that means.
The bible talks about the fact that Jesus loved us enough to die for us ‘while we were still sinners’. In other words, while we did not like him, know him or love him, in fact we might very well have been actively rebellious against him. Yet while we were like that, he loved us enough to die for us. That is amazing and real love!
Love, of course, has its emotional element, but ultimately, real love is an act of the will. The love that God has for us, and the way that he wants us to love each other is a love that is consistent and unwavering, a love that keeps on loving even when that love is not returned. For that is how God loves us. That’s hard, I hear you cry! Yes, I agree, that’s why we need that kind of love to be put into us by God. We are not very good at that type of love are we? But we are very good at the namby pamby sort of love that falls away when the emotions fade, the type of love that when tough times come, pops like a soap bubble.
The love that God has for us keeps on flowing even when it is not returned. Let me be clear, that does not mean that in our loving relationships nothing is questioned or challenged, that’s the namby pamby type of love. Real love challenges and does not accept wrong. It does not say in a friendship, ‘because you are my friend, and I love you, I will bless you whatever you do or say, always going along with anything and everything you say and do’. The Bible says that ‘you are blessed when you receive wounds in the house of your friends.’ A strange saying that means friends who truly love you will tell you the truth, and will let you know when they see you going off track, they love you enough to help you get back on the right path.
That’s the theology, the theory, but how does that work out in practice? People often say to me, ‘I have real problems at work or college or school (you fill in the blank) because I am a Christian’. But I think to myself, ‘actually, that is not the case at all, the truth is you are an awkward person, someone who is very difficult to get along with’. I rarely voice that, but nonetheless I think it. From experience I know that voicing it can often make matters much works. I do try to be a little more tactful.
These same people will also say, in the presence of others they perceive to be Christians, ‘God has accepted me as I am so you must too!’ In these instances I usually do have something to say, which is this, ‘Sure, God loved you while you were rebellious and not even liking him, but because he love you so much he does not want to leave you like he found you. His plan is to change you, actually his ultimate plan is to make you like his unique son Jesus, and to do that he uses your friends as well as his Holy Spirit. These change elements, over time, will rub off your rough edges, and I will not let you cop our by trying to stay as difficult as you are at the moment.’
If we are going to have real love in our relationships, then we will carefully correct each other, giving and receiving advice and guidance in love. But this correction tactic is to be use gently and wisely and not as a weapon. Sometimes, when a so-called friend says, ‘I love you but…..’ You know it’s time to swiftly don that tin hat! We must earn the right to speak, before we can speak we need to know that person, understand the path they are walking, recognise their struggles and avoid a judgmental heart at all costs. Our example is Jesus; he showed us he loved us long before he brought about any change. That showing must come before the telling!
We need that 70 x 7 approach to forgiveness that Jesus speaks about.
I also think we need faith. It’s odd how much easier it is to have faith for stuff like money, cars, jobs and events but so very hard to have faith that people can change and be different. But we need to have that expectant faith, that God can and will do new things in our friends, as much as we need to have faith that God can change us.
That’s all it takes, let’s start having God’s love in our relationship. Let our love for others be so clear that no-one will be in any doubt that we are his followers.
14th February 2010
For Ourlab blog
Editor A. Brookes