"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love another, for whoever loves has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8
One of the frequent questions we get here in our time in the US is "What's it like to walk into this moment of America's political culture?" It's a complicated question to answer, but I do feel like there is one Christian exhortation I can unequivocally add to the discussion.
Love one another. If you cannot love your brother that you see, how can you say that you love God, whom you haven't seen? And loving God and loving one another are the two greatest commandments. All the law and the prophets hang on these commandments. Without love, I have nothing. (These are all direct citations from the New Testament.)
How does this normally play out in life? Mostly, we are concerned with being right. If I'm right, but I'm not necessarily loving towards others, then that's not ideal, but at least I'm right. The Bible stands in stark contrast to this, saying effectively, "That's impossible, because love is the fulfillment of the law." If I am not loving, then I am wrong, in the deepest sense. I haven't just missed it a bit. I haven't lost style points. I have utterly missed the mark.
But, I say, making right and wise choices is a means of love. For example, as a parent, my love for my child insists sometimes on difficult, right choices sometimes. That's true. But I can use it as an excuse to prize my rightness over love. Just as in the parenting example, though a right decision can be a manifestation of love, I can still be right without loving. In which case, Jesus says I have utterly failed to be right. Love is not secondary. When love is subordinated, we have run off the tracks.
Read James 3:13ff about wisdom. Read 1 Peter 2:19ff about unjust suffering. One cannot divorce justice and righteousness from these ideas, but the unexpected feature of them both is how selfless love is the foundation. There is no starting place besides Love.
Every aspect of our lives needs this exhortation every bit as much as America in the wake of Election Day. My marriage needs it, as does my relationship with my children. My church needs it as they interact with each other. Our team in Burundi needs it. For, as an old friend of mine says, "the only people without issues are dead people".
I may often be loving. But I am also quite focused on being right. Both of these things have to do with why I am in Burundi. However, as I interact with others, my strongly held opinions can make me unloving as well. Thus the danger is always there. So the persistent drum beat of love is always there in the Bible, to remind us of what we all too easily forget.
The Romans quote above says that love is the debt we always owe to each other. Why? Why are we indebted to one another? Because we are indebted to Jesus for his great, underserved love for us, and he calls us to pay it forward. He sacrificed for us. Then he calls to sacrifice for one another. This Sacrifice is the key, I think. Love will call us to sacrifice. It will call us to bear one another's burdens.
We cannot subordinate love, neither towards each other, nor towards the world around us. We cannot build good systems, administer good medicine, teach correct practice, and not love each other. Correction: we can probably do this, but we cannot do it and fulfill God's mission. We cannot come close. For this is the core of the mission. This is our continuing debt. This is life in abundance.
So, for all of us who struggle to love, here are a couple questions for self-examination that I hope are helpful. I hope that they will be helpful for me as I write them:
- Is my first thought as I read this "Yeah, people aren't loving towards me! They're too concerned about being right!"? May God show us our hearts and lead us to repentance.
- Am I curious what God is doing in the life of the person (or people) that I see as obstacles to what I think is right? Can I imagine that my love for them for them might be more important in God's eyes than me getting it right?
- Am I hoping for genuinely good things in the life of the person that I see as an obstacle? Can I pray that God will truly bless their lives with good things? Can I thank God for making them and for loving them?