7. Five Environments (Part 2)
Love is the language of the kingdom of God. Those who have entered the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ live their lives in love. It cannot be otherwise because God is love. That’s why the mission of a community of faith is to learn how to live in love. But love is not automatic. It can only be learned together in community. It’s not a solo sport. It must be pursued intentionally together with other people.
At this point, I would like to illustrate how this can be done.
First of all, let me talk about the vital behaviors that characterize love. Love is not an abstract noun. It’s a verb. It’s a decision. It’s not an emotion. It’s all about initiating relationships, developing them over time, maintaining them in the midst of trials and testings, and deepening them in the midst of failures and inconsistencies. One can only decide and do these things by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This cannot be the work of mere men. That’s why the first step is to repent and trust in Jesus Christ. He alone can empower us to fulfill these vital behaviors. He alone can enable us to really love.
These vital behaviors are actually the goals of all Christian training and learning. In other words, we get training and we learn not for the sake of getting information but in order to learn how to love. The object of these behaviors are four: God, other believers, family members, and those who do not yet know Christ. Or to put it in another way, we must learn to love God, love our fellow believers, love our families, and love those who do not yet know Christ or who are still outside His family. It’s still all about love relationships based on truth, which is what true fellowship is all about (1 John 1:1-4).
This is our journey and our challenge. This is also our vision from God, because God wants us to obey everything that He has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). All that He has commanded can be summarized into two: love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbor as ourselves. He said everything else falls under these two, which He considers as only one command, which is also considered the greatest commandment. Our neighbors include those who are already in the family of God, our family members, and those who are still outside the family of God. We are commanded to love all our neighbors both far or near (Galatians 6:9-10). The whole Bible commands us to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we cannot do these two things, all our learning comes to nothing. As Paul says in First Corinthians 13, without love we are nothing. All our diplomas and all our accomplishments or abilities are nothing if we don’t know how to love.
But how do we love? First, we must learn to initiate relationships. Relationships don’t just happen. They must be started by faith. To do that we must first of all learn to trust others. Trusting others means taking the risk of being hurt in order to allow another person into our lives. We can only do that if we are spiritually, emotionally and psychologically healthy. That’s why it’s important to be born again first, because only God can change and heal our hearts. People with difficult past experiences tend to surround themselves with walls in order to protect themselves. It’s sad but it’s often the case. It’s a good thing that with regard to God He is the one who initiates a relationship with us and not the other way around. This sets us free to love again.
But sometimes, even if we are already saved, we still need to deal with past issues and apply the power of God’s truth to shed light on the dark corners of our lives. These may include demonic strongholds of unforgiveness or bitterness, as well as involvement with cults or the occult. It may also include unfinished transitions, where we fail to say goodbye to things that are already gone to embrace the new. It may also involve forgiving ourselves for our past sins or mistakes because God has already forgiven us in and through Christ. Finally, it may also involve changing our previous wrong beliefs about God, ourselves or other people. All these may prevent us from trusting others, so we need to be delivered from them first.
Once we are free to trust again, we can then learn how to accept others. We can only do this once God accepts us (Rom 15:7). So again God is the One who initiates this process. Relationships cannot begin if we keep on passing judgments on one another. Grace and mercy levels the ground as far as each of us is concerned. Therefore, no one can boast anymore of himself or herself. We can accept each other wholeheartedly knowing that each one bears the image of God in varying degrees of authenticity. All of us are being healed and restored by the wounds of Jesus (1 Peter 2:24).
Once trust and acceptance is present, commitment will now be possible. Commitment is the bedrock of all true relationships. Without some kind of commitment, there is no relationship. Relationship involves promises and the corresponding reliability that one is committed to fulfill them. So in essence relationships are founded on the principle of covenant. Without a covenant or a commitment founded in trust and acceptance, a relationship is doomed to fail regardless of the feelings involved.
I will continue this discussion in my next blog.