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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Love–We Owe Only Love: a Reflection on Psalm 119:33-40, Ezekiel 33:7-11, Matthew 18:15-20, and

Love is the Christian’s identity marker. That is, how we love is how others see Jesus. As the classic hymn reminds us, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.” When you ponder the great world religions, love is at the core or near the core of each of the religion’s belief system. But, it is when love is practiced that the religion confirms its value. Take note of Canadian journalist Bronwyn Drainie as she describes the behavior of a woman, an orthodox Jew, at a Jerusalem street market. Drainie writes:

The most heroic single act I heard of during my two years in Jerusalem involved a Haredi woman. At the Mahane Yehuda one day, the Jewish street market just around the corner from my boys’ school, an Arab terrorist drew a knife among the throng of shoppers and managed to stab two young men before fleeing for his life. The crowd of Israelis, incensed, began running after him, a number of them drawing pistols as they ran. The Arab darted across the street, running straight towards a Haredi woman of 40 who was standing at a bus-stop. Her name was Bella Freund. In a [split second] she sized up what was happening. [Bella] stepped directly into the Arab’s path and tripped him so that he fell to the ground, and she threw herself on top of him to protect him. The crowd kicked her, spat on her, threatened her with their guns, but they could not loosen her hold on the Arab, and she lay there until the police arrived to take him into custody. Later, when the reporters got to her, Bella Freund said: “It was very simple. If you can save a life, you do it.” Her hatred of Arabs, her lifelong conditioning never to touch a man who wasn’t her husband, all of it was set aside in a split-second of truth. “I could not see a helpless man killed by a mob, whatever he had done,” she said. “That’s not the way I was brought up.”[1]

It is true that if we authentically embrace Jesus and his teachings, we will love. Yes, correct beliefs are important. But, correct beliefs as ends in themselves are quite destructive. To believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, but have our behavior not live the way, truth, and life in love, is most certainly counterproductive to the commitment of remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus.

The texts in Ezekiel, Psalms, and Matthew confirm the point made in Romans 13: love is the Christian’s identity marker. First, do we define ourselves by law/commandments or as a new person in Christ? Followers of God should offer life affirming words in troubled situations before resorting to words of judgment. Law/commandments is meant to turn our hearts to God, not fear and judgment. We are always to point the offender to Jesus not the consequence of her sin. What the law/commandments cannot accomplish, love can. Second, love is at the core of human, for we are created in the image of God (imago Dei). We should hope that those who linger among the dead would return to the land of the living. The broader understanding of law/commandments is a relationship to God rather than a set of rules. Love is most evident through the “care and responsibility to forgive” and “to seek out reconciliation with the offender.”[2] Yes, love is the Christian’s identity marker. But using law/commandments as an end is not behaving lovingly, no matter how correct one’s beliefs are in the matter. We are to live as new creations in Jesus Christ, for we are made in the image of God.

What does this mean for you today. Greed inhibits love. Selfishness hoards law/commandments for self-preservation. Our convictions must serve love of God and neighbor. Therefore, you must stay awake, that is focused on remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus. See yourself, or not, in this story:

An 82-year-old hiker was able to use a GPS-tracking device to lead rescue officials to a younger hiker who had been injured near Jones Peak in the hills above Sierra Madre [this past June (2017)]. Bruce Calkins activated his personal location device, used by hikers to alert certain contacts when they are in distress, summoning the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team to his location in Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park, according to a release from L.A. County Sheriff Department’s Temple Station. Officials did not specify what day or time the alert was issued. Ground crews were deployed and picked up by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s helicopter, which dropped them near the peak. Officials found Calkins with a 29-year-old man who had fallen 30 feet, officials said. The young man said he was in pain and had suffered visible injuries. Calkins, a Pasadena resident, hikes regularly and was aware he could use the GPS-device to lead searchers to the injured man’s exact location. He then stayed by the younger man’s side to provide support and comfort, even giving him his own socks when he realized the man lost a shoe during his tumble, according to the rescuers. The 29-year-old was taken by helicopter to a nearby hospital and was treated for his injuries, authorities said. “Although the injuries were not life-threatening, without the aid of another, it is unknown how long the injured male would have been alone on the trail,” officials said in the statement.[3]

Bruce Calkins is a retired Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and now a Bridges leader. Geneva has been a mission partner with Jim Milley and his ministry, Bridges, for four years. Bruce Calkins walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. for the cause of equality and justice for Black people. Bruce shared the love of Jesus Christ with seven gay men and discipled them in their relationship with Jesus Christ two years ago. Bruce rescued a 29-year-old gay African American man. And now the young man is being mentored by a Christian, gay, African American man in Pomona who is a friend of Bruce’s. Bruce’s convictions served him well. His beliefs served him well. Bruce’s life experience served him well. Bruce loves God and loves others. All he owes is love. That’s it.

All you owe is love. That’s all you can do in response to God’s love for you. We are not the correct doctrine police. We are not the ethical and moral behavior monitors. We are not the arbiters of a biblical holiness code. We are to love God and others. Period. Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins writes,

Several years ago, we had an art show at our church. I had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking, and we invited artists to display their paintings, poems, and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker. One woman included in her work a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling. But not everyone. Someone attached a piece of paper to it. On the piece of paper was written: “Reality check: He’s in hell.” Really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?[4]

The message of Jesus is that God offers the free gift of eternal life through him. The gift cannot be earned by our own efforts, works, or good deeds. It’s about grace. So, can we ever accept, confess, and believe on our own, taking credit for our actions? Just perhaps, the way we love is the way God communicates his choice of a person and all that person can do is say thank you. Hmmm? Thus, all we can do, if we need to use a verb, is love.

[1]Bronwyn Drainie, My Jerusalem: Secular Adventures in the Holy City (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1994), 220.

[2]Some ideas in this paragraph are gleaned from Angela Dienhart Hancock, Elizabeth P. Randall, and Dale P. Andrews in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 29, 35, and 49.

[3]Taken from the KTLA 5 News website, June 7, 2017.

[4]Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2011), 1-2.

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