Imagine what our homes, schools, workplaces, churches, communities would look like if those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ truly exemplified the “noblest and highest form of self-sacrificing love” described in this lesson! What if we each had this love that included every facet of our being and let if flow out to those with whom we come into contact, acting intentionally for the good of other? Indeed, reflecting the way God Himself would act toward His beloved creation…
While we know we cannot create a heaven here on earth, we are to called to be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), which indicates that we are to live as citizens and representatives of heaven within this sinful world. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” it is at once both a present and future reality. Indeed, as Walter Rauschenbusch notes in Christianity and the Social Crisis:
The kingdom of God [in Hebrew tradition] was a social and collective hope and it was for this earth. The eternal life [of the Greco-Roman world], was an individualistic hope, and it was not for this earth. The kingdom of God involved the social transformation of humanity. The hope of eternal life, as it was then held, was the desire to escape from this world and be done with it.
How, then, can we properly balance the future hope with the kingdom of God on this present earth?
By demonstrating His love to self. While I’d steer clear of the kind of self-esteem taught within today’s secular society, Christians should not swing so far to the other extreme that they neglect the part of the command to love our neighbor that indicates how, namely “as yourself.” If seen in its proper perspective, this is actually incredibly helpful in our understanding how to love others. As C.S. Lewis describes in his classic Mere Christianity:
Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive.’… Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either…. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not to hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.
For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction…. But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.
By demonstrating His love to our neighbor. [Luke 10] When questioned about what must be done to inherit eternal life, Jesus first turned the question back around to the inquirer, who rightly answered about loving one’s neighbor, but then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” It should be noted in Jesus’ response through the parable of the good Samaritan that He did not actually answer who “my neighbor” is, but “reframed the…question…to ‘To whom will I be a neighbor?’” (Frank Tupper, A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God)
By demonstrating His love to our enemies. There is no more limitation on this command than there is on “loving one’s neighbor” or being one’s “brother’s keeper.” The objection to this often comes from what seems unrealistic in this world — turning the other cheek and appearing “weak.” What must always be remembered, however, is that it’s about the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world, or the tyranny of the here and now.
Too often, we fall into the same pattern as the one who questioned Jesus — we ask questions we already know the answer to; questions God has clearly answered. So what does this love we’re called to look like? Look no further than 1 Corinthians 13. Is it easy? No. Can it change the world? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Jesus certainly thought so when He came while we were yet sinners that we might be saved.
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