God is Love, Part II

... God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:16-18,20-21 NIV

“You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45 NIV

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 NIV

If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. John 12:47 NIV

These bible passages are important to my understanding of the gospel, and my attitude to others. There is an undercurrent of what I might call 'judgementalism' endemic within much of the evangelical church - typified by the feeling that "You can't be a Christian if you..." and a reluctance to engage with, or extend a welcome to, those different from ourselves in whatever way. But how are we, as Christians, going to 'go into all the world and make disciples' if there are people we, for want of a better word, shun?

As it says in the first passage, God is love. That means, to my way of thinking, that He loves everyone, whoever they are, whatever they think, however they act. And, if we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we are left with no choice but to do the same - treating everyone the same, without prejudice. It doesn't matter whether they're a militant homosexual, our grannie, a Manchester United supporter or an Islamic terrorist - we are still called to love them. Those are hard words; it's an even harder thing to do...

It's easy to like people who are similar to us; and it's easy to love those we like. It's far harder to love those we don't have anything in common with; those who make us feel uneasy for one reason or another; or those with whom disagree. But there's nothing I can find in scripture which excuses us from doing so.

We are not to judge.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38 NIV

There's a lot in those few verses, about how we treat others and how we can, then, expect to be treated. It's worth reading a few times, and then thinking about our own attitude to those around us; those we see walking around our towns and cities, even those who come into our churches as 'strangers'. Do we love those people? If not, why not? If we do, how do we show it? Do we help them; welcome them? Is there anything we can do, even by changing our behaviour in some small way, which might make a difference, and might help reduce the chasm between 'us' and 'them’?

Deciding not to judge suddenly places everyone on the same level as ourselves.Please note that I am not saying that we should condone the actions of, say, Islamic terrorists - just that we should bear in mind that, whatever heinous crimes they may have committed, God still loves them - though I’m sure He has a problem with what they havedone. He loves them as much as he loves you, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, your granny, or the person at work who probably nicked your coffee mug.

The thoughts behind this post are still a ‘work in progress’ - I’m still not sure how to reconcile God’s love and God’s judgement - all I know is that it isn’t my job to judge, and so I ’simply' have to concentrate on the love bit of it. Just don’t ask me how I’m going to love the terrorist - I haven’t achieved that level of sainthood just yet - okay?

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020