Questions. God asks me questions. Questions like, What does it mean to ‘understand the times’? What is the ‘Kingdom of God’? Where is the power of the gospel? What is sin anyway? One question after another. Questions that get under my skin until they get hold of me and become part of me. It was the challenge of the last that gave rise to a new one.
Sin, I believe, is quite simple. It is the falling short of God’s standard for love. There is a lot that could be unpacked in that, and a lot of that unpacking lies in this thing called love. It makes me wonder how much I really understand love, which is odd given that it is such a central concept to my faith. At the back of my mind I have this vague notion that love is a sense of warm affection that I can’t do much about, being more of a fruit of the Spirit. Except this view does not stand up to much scrutiny and, to be honest, looks more like a cop out.
Heidi Baker says that love must look like something, and it is in the parable of the Good Samaritan that I have found a clue. We all know the story. Jesus said that the love of God and of our neighbour are the two most important commandments, but the questioner wanted to know more. What I had missed was that Jesus was not just describing our neighbour. I doubt very much if the Samaritan had much affection for the Jew by the side of the road. They were historic enemies, yet the Samaritan chose to show kindness, loving his enemy in fact. What Jesus not only defined our neighbour, he also showed us what love looks like.
So, love is kind. We’ve all heard that before. Yet, 1 Corinthians 13 always seemed to be something for weddings, an ideal that a young couple might achieve with each other, or maybe even how we might be when the Spirit has finished working on us. But in the gospels, this does not seem to be what Jesus is saying. He too seems to be saying that love looks like something, and not just in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and not just at weddings, but as a consistent message. Love looks like something, and it looks like something I can make choices over, and something that Paul captured rather well:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
These are choices that require my involvement. I need to ask myself: “What does love look like in this situation”? In fairness, a lot of the time it may not change anything. Sometimes, the difference is made just by asking the question, making me more inclined to patience and kindness. But it often makes a difference, even if only small. To be honest, I still don’t know what I would do if I saw a wounded Jew by the side of the road, let alone a homeless drunk. I am grateful that God knows my limits, but I look forward to growing into his, even if, right now, I find the thought of what it could mean rather scary.