The news today is overflowing with stories describing the growing conflicts between different people groups in our nation. The situations are admittedly complicated and difficult to figure out, but while politicians and prominent leaders try to decipher how we got here and what we can do to rectify these situations, believers in Christ need to stop waiting for political or social solutions and instead, begin to consider our individual, personal roles given by God to become instruments of healing. Scripture never instructs us to look to ruling authorities to bring about change, but rather challenges us to live lives that are so impacting that our behavior draws others Christ who is the only source of real, lasting and unifying transformation. (John 17:21-23)
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous… Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; neither is anyone who does not love his brother. ~ 1 John 3:7; 10
As I was mulling over this strongly worded section of First John, I began to think about the essence of righteous behavior. While considering how I would answer if someone asked me to define it, Luke 10:27 came to my mind. “So (Jesus) answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’”
Of course, anyone who has been a believer in Christ very long has no doubt read that verse many times and heard it expounded in more sermons then can be remembered, so it’s not like a bolt of lightning. But when I read it this time, it occurred to me how the two scriptures from First John and Luke are linked….
Righteous behavior is (obviously) living life in a ‘right’ way… that is, right according to God and His Word. But consider… what is at the center, the core motivating force behind God’s behavior?
The obvious answer is … Love. (1 John 4:8)
The most well-known verse in scripture begins by saying “God so loved the world…” and goes onto to explicitly tell us that His love played out most tangibly in the form of Christ giving of Himself so that we could have life. (John 3:16-17)
Once we have entered into a right relationship with Jesus, the charge to us as His disciples is to follow His lead and begin practicing the discipline of “loving our neighbor as ourselves.” These days the concept of love has such a touchy-feely-don’t-ever-offend-me definition that we often forget that the expression of genuine love is far more involved than only having warm emotions toward people. While God’s definition of love doesn’t mean standing by in passive approval of self-destructive behavior, it does call all believers of all races to set aside the tendency to finger point and blame shift and instead invest in the lives of those around us. Or as Paul said, “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2:3)
I know this may seem overly obvious, but most of us love ourselves too much and invest in our own interest far more than we care to admit. Loving our neighbors requires that we shift focus off ourselves, and not simply love others in a passive, feelings-oriented way, but with Christ as our example, love them in overt and tangible forms.
And we need to always remember to avoid the temptation to define “neighbor” only as some ambiguous person down the street or across the city that you don’t really know. “Neighbors” are also very specific people… Husband. Wife. Children. Brothers and sisters in Christ, Co-workers. And yes, even the lady behind the counter at the store, the guy who fixes your car, and the person you meet who outwardly appears to be very unlike you. All are Neighbors. The command is to love them like Christ loves you… sacrificially.
My prayer is for us all to look to God, and invite Him to work in our lives so that we can begin to love others the way that He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.