“The whole point of the life God has given us is to become human beings that love. That’s the goal: to love God and love others. Which means if we haven’t learned to love on God’s terms, then we have missed the point of our one life, no matter what else we’ve accomplished. If love is the greatest commandment, then that means the greatest failure in life is our failure to love.” Rankin Wilbourne & Brian Gregor, The Cross Before Me, p. 157.
How has 2020 been for you so far? Who among us envisoned the state our country would find itself in the first week of June! We began 2020 as a nation deeply divided. The impeachment of Donald Trump was just the tip of the iceberg. Then came COVID-19. The pandemic served as a pressure cooker–placing us in a high-stress environment for an extended period. For all the talk of being “all in this together” the old fissures remained and reemerged. Sure, we have witnessed some beautiful moments come out of the COVID crisis. Still we remain what we were before—a broken, divided nation. Last week the senseless death of George Floyd lit a fuse and the bomb went off. Racism is the face of the recent protests and violence, but if you look more deeply these protests have been joined by people with other agendas, few of which have anything to with our greatest failure as a people—a failure to love.
One True Measuring Stick
One of the men that most deeply shaped my view of life in Christ said this: “You can measure the progress of your life and ministry through the growth in your capacity to love God and others.” His measuring stick: 1 Corinthians 13. He encouraged me to read this text with this question: “Am I—and my church—growing in this kind of love?” 1 Corinthians 13 is commonly used to reinforce or shape our thoughts about love as a sentiment—a feeling for calmer, more joyous occasions such as weddings and anniversaries. In fact, the “love chapter” is much more radical than sentiment. The kind of love Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13 is penned to divided church in moral and relational chaos. His words—shaped no doubt by his own encounter with Jesus—are words for this moment in time.
The bookends of 1 Corinthians 13 make the point Wilbourne and Gregor share above: “If we haven’t learned to love on God’s terms, then we have missed the point of our one life, no matter what else we’ve accomplished.” Listen to Paul: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, 13).” Our highest and best causes are just noise if not marked by the cruciform love of Jesus. People are understandably frustrated with the lack of progress in overcoming racism. Could it be that this worthy cause has been pursued with more anger—even if justifiable—than love? How would Jesus react to the death of George Floyd? My guess is his response would be marked by the cruciform love that adorned his teaching and life.
What Cruciform Love Looks Like
What is cruciform love like? “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7).” Love is not outrage and anger. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feel it when we see or experience evil. It is counterproductive to stay there. James–the brother of Jesus–reminds us that “man’s anger does not accomplish the righteous purposes of God (Js. 1: 19-20).” Jesus attracted the oppressed and downtrodden. What did his advocacy look like? It looks more like the kind of love Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13. It was a sacrificial, enduring kind of love displayed by Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection—never asserting his own rights, but deferring to the will of his Father and giving his life as a ransom for many.
Loving the Unlovely and Undeserving
I have discovered what cruciform love looks like in my day to day life. Cruciform love looks like several Spirit led and powered “little deaths.” I choose death to my will and wishes to serve and love those around me. As we may recall, Jesus told us that the one that loses his life for his sake and the sake of the gospel will find it (Mark 8:35). We are all—regardless of race or class—marred image bearers of our spiritual father. We tend to focus on the flaws. They are more visible, louder. These flaws are the things that make it harder to love white cops abusing their power or people of color looting a Target. Yet the sin I so easily see in others is also my own. I tend to view my sin as less egregious than others. The good news is that Jesus lived a life of cruciform love that all sinners can live in newness of life—possessing the potential and power to live lives of cruciform love. Real change is possible today. The gospel makes it possible. The Spirit gives us the power to live a life of little deaths so others might experience the love of the Father. 1 Corinthians 13 will serve as the measure of our progress.
A Prayer for Days of Turmoil
Risen and reigning Lord Jesus, we are a broken nation in need of repentance and healing! Bring your justice and healing through the transforming power of the gospel. May we grow as a people and a church known for our cruciform love, dying little deaths to bring your love, light and life to others! Amen!