“If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who ever lived (think about that for a moment) — all the goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength and love — and united all those virtues in one person, that person would only be a faint shadow of the love and mercy in the heart of God for you and me.” – Brennan Manning
Through the centuries people have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. They have worn marks in the lapels of their coats, hung chains about their necks, even had special haircuts. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this, if one feels it is his calling. But there is a much better sign — a mark that has not been thought up just as a matter of expediency or identity. It is a universal mark that is to last through all the ages of the church till Jesus comes back.
What is this mark? The cross? The fish symbol?
At the close of his ministry, Jesus looks forward to his death on the cross, the open tomb and the ascension. Knowing that he is about to leave, Jesus prepares his disciples for what is to come. It is here that he makes clear what will be the distinguishing mark of the Christian: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Christians have not always been a picture of love to the world. Too often they have failed to show the beauty of love or the holiness of God. And the world has turned away. For far too long, far too many Christians have thought that if we display a cross or build a nice building, or perhaps have catchy songs or a great preacher, the world will notice us and be interested. That has never worked, nor will it ever. The only mark of the Christian is love.
Is there then no way to make the world look again — this time at true Christianity as exhibited in true love? Or will we continue on in our loveless, human-powered ways, presenting to the world a weak, inaccurate, tarnished image of God? A shattered body of Christ?
I wonder, are we are so inept in our love for God, for the world of people, and for each other at least in part because we do not grasp the enormity of our God’s love for us?
Years ago, I sat with a pastor and another man, a father of a rebellious and disruptive high school boy. Our conversation was one of heart-broken and painful mourning over the son’s wayward behaviors and the impact these were having on many people.
As we talked about what little we seemed to be able to do to help this kid, the pastor said something I have never forgotten. He stated, “I think that this young man’s problem is that he has never come to understand the love of God for him.”
I have often thought of that conversation. How much of our loveless and wayward living is because, whether as individuals or as the body of Christ, we have not begun to comprehend the enormity of the love of our God for us? Are we like that young man, living as if oblivious to His love? After all, His love for us is such that should overwhelm and overpower us to the point of our total surrender to Him.
The root term used more than any other in the Old Testament for the love of our God is the Hebrew word, “hesed.” In many English translations, the term is rendered steadfast love, lovingkindness, or love and mercy. This is a complex term – it requires a sentence to adequately translate it for us. This “hesed” love is the always gracious, always kind, always merciful, always pursuing, unfailing and relentless love of our God. This is our God’s covenant love, not based upon anything we have done or can do to earn it. It flows to us out of His commitment with Himself to love us in this way.
This “hesed” love is the clearest understanding love of our God for us, and it is the basis of His work in and among us. This understanding carries over into the NT as well. The apostle Paul, a Hebrew scholar, draws on this highest Hebrew expression of love as his model in 1 Corinthians 13, the go-to New Testament description of divine love. “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails….”
This is a head-turning, life-changing, paradigm-busting kind of love. A love that has the power to change everything about our relationship with our God and everyone else on earth. The power to drive us into His presence and into conformity with His will.
And change us it could, if we were paying attention. I read Face Book posts and news reports of strife over religiosity and church policy. I see the rancor over politics and political correctness that exists between those who claim to know our God. I see people being divided from each other over how to express love to others. Why even have these conversations if we cannot have them while loving each other?
I wonder, is the world laughing while our God is weeping? Is our problem that we have never come to understand the love of God for us?