God is love!
But is he really? Is this something we really believe or is it something we just like to rattle off because well, everyone says it? And what is this love anyway?
To understand love and God, we usually rely on 2 things: the bible, which is God’s word and on the men/women of God, tasked with interpreting and sharing their understanding of that word. Both have a lot to say about love and, they don’t always align. This is mostly because interpretation of the word can be quite subjective, influenced by things like culture, education or even selfish motives. It follows therefore that the bible itself is the more reliable sources of guidance in matters of faith, when studied in depth and in context.
So, what is love?
The bible does not exactly define love, not as you’d find in your dictionary anyway. It does however say, in several places, what love is or isn’t. In John 3:16, we are told that because God loved the world so much, he gave his son so we’d not perish. Later on in John 15:13, Jesus says that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. These two passages speak to the self-giving nature of love; to sacrifice, to putting the needs of others before yours. Love is giving yourself for the sake of and to the service of others.
1st Corinthians 13 says that love is kind and patient, that love doesn’t envy nor boast, is not proud and does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking and does not anger easily, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. Love always protects. If these are our enduring attitudes towards others, then we’ll know that we love them. And since we are imperfect in our humanity and therefore do not always do these things, it is about consciously choosing, every day, to treat others like we’d like to be treated or better.
Now that we know a little of what love is, let’s see what love isn’t. In Matthew 5: 44, Jesus says something strange: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It is strange because this not a normal response for human beings. We naturally love our friends and struggle to love those opposing and oppressing us. In the 46th verse, Jesus concludes that love is not when we only love our friends and do good things for them, it when can also love our enemies and wish them well.
Finally, the bible tells us that love is not conditional. In Romans 5:8, the bible says that while we were still sinners, God demonstrated his love when Jesus died for us. The 10th verse even refers to us as enemies of God. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that our righteousness is like filthy rags meaning that, it’s not because of who we are or what we can do, that God loves us. He just does. His love is not conditional.
This is something the religious leaders of Jesus’s time seemed to miss. They were so concerned with keeping of the law at all costs, that they were willing to watch people suffer. They fought Jesus every day as he tried to challenge their hypocrisy. When he healed on a Sabbath in Mark 3, they plotted to destroy him. In Luke 5, when he healed the man lowered through the roof they had problems and when he healed a blind man in John 9, they threw that man out of the synagogue. In Matthew 23:13 Jesus admonishes them about how they shut up the kingdom of heaven to others with their hypocrisy while not even going in themselves.
Churches today have fallen back into that lull. They are now more like museums for the righteous and perfect, instead of hospitals for the oppressed and sick. They refuse to welcome people who are different, even to the point of ‘hating’ them. They have forsaken the gospel of love in exchange for one of performance and religiosity. The people in the most need of experiencing God do not even get a chance because they do not meet the threshold, they are not good enough for church. They feel judged and condemned, which is exactly opposite of what Jesus intended as seen in John 3:17, in John 8:7, in Luke 5:31 and Matthew 18: 13-14.
It is time for the church to open its doors to everyone if indeed we are the disciples of Jesus in the world (John 13:35). There is no one that deserves salvation and there is also no one that doesn’t deserve it because God is love, he loves us all and his love is unconditional!
Here is a song by Casting Crowns challenging the church of today: