It is springtime, indeed almost summer, the traditional time for love and weddings, although I do remember many spring brides in horse and carriages where spring showers rather dampened the romantic celebration.
Certainly the idea of romantic love has been dominant in how the media has portrayed the same-sex marriage issue, with picturesque wedding scenes and much talk of love and equality. Yet both of these terms need to be considered more deeply.
Can I ask you to ponder three examples?
- Is it loving to continually agree to your child’s or grandchild’s requests for lollies and ice-creams?
- Would it be loving to give money repeatedly to someone that you know will use it on drugs or gambling?
- Is it equitable and loving to give exactly the same financial support or social welfare benefit to two unemployed people, one of whom has a caring, safe home while the other is couch surfing, having run from an abusive family?
The very fact that readers may argue about the right responses to such questions, indicates that love is a complicated idea and it is not always straightforward to decide on loving action.
Of course, love is central to Christianity. The Bible teaches us that God is love and that love is required of Jesus’ followers. But acting in love needs to be informed by the teaching of Jesus, not the definitions of secular journalists and commentators.
Jesus not only talked about love, telling his disciples to give sacrificially to the needy, to forgive beyond the limits, to be merciful, to submit to each other and to show
love to him by obedience, but Jesus also lived love. Jesus said, no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13) but He did more than that by giving his life for his enemies, for those who did not respect him or obey him. As Paul put it in Romans 5:8: God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us. In other words Jesus loves and saves people who act wrongly.
Moreover Jesus made a very significant distinction between the person and their actions. He has shown us that we can love people while not condoning their sinful actions. This runs counter to contemporary thinking in which disagreement is invariably interpreted as hating the person. Today Christians need to clearly and frequently talk about the difference between the person and their actions. We can dislike the actions while still treating the person with care and respect.
The example of Jesus calls Christians to act lovingly and caringly towards those whom we feel act wrongly. Can we do that in the aftermath of same sex marriage debate? Can we do it with family members who let us down? Can we do it with those in our congregations with whom we disagree? Remember we are all sinners dependent on God’s undeserved love to belong to his people and his church.
Recently, as part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning the Protestant Reformation, I preached on the well-known text by grace we have been saved through faith and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8). If we have experienced the saving grace and love of God in Christ, we really should show love, mercy and kindness to those around us.
by Bishop Trevor Edwards