November 17, 2014.
There is little debate that one of the central messages in the gospels is the love of Christ. This love is what brought Him down to earth, to teach to a world that was pretty hard of hearing and to eventually lay down His life as a ransom for all who would come to Him. This love is integral in our theology, but do we really know what it looks like? I believe that when we talk about the love of Christ, we don’t really relate it to His actions, but rather what our concept and idea of love is today. This teaching can be detrimental for two reasons. One, each of us probably has at least a slightly different take on what love is, what it does and what it looks like. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, if we are not teaching the love of Christ according to what is seen through the gospels, then we are teaching a false doctrine based on our own opinions and biases rather than the truth that has been recorded, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The love of Christ that is laid out in the gospels might actually look a lot different than what you would think it to be. Perhaps we have some grasp on it, but often we leave out key points because they might make us uncomfortable. However, if we are going to be true disciples of Christ, we must know what He taught and how He lived His life, even when His teachings make us a bit uncomfortable. It is for this reason that I would like to discuss five different characteristics of the love of Christ that we may or may not focus on enough today when we study and teach. Once we start to understand His life as a whole, we are much better equipped to lead a life that glorifies Him properly.
1. A love like Christ’s does not skirt around condemnation.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Do you know who said that? This is the ending of the well known wedding feast parable told by Jesus where a king tells his servants to go out and call his wedding guests to the feast. But the invites dealt harshly with the servants, even to the point of killing them. The king gets angry and sends troops to destroy those who killed his servants and then he calls any who would come to the feast to come in and dine. This is where the story stops for most people. It portrays the relationship of God with the Jews and their rejection of the promised Christ, and thus the promise to the Gentiles. It has a nice ending if you stop with the people who did come to the feast to dine with the King, getting an opportunity that they would not normally have gotten.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He continues to tell of a guest who came into the feast without a wedding garment. What happened to the guest? He was thrown into outer darkness, a reference to hell, though perhaps not exactly as we imagine it. Regardless, this seems like a rather harsh judgment, does it not? But these are the words of Christ.
The love of Christ was not always sunshine and rainbows, as we often depict love today. There was an aspect of righteousness in His love that did not skirt around the topic of condemnation. The fact of the matter was, He was the Messiah who had been promised from the fall, come to offer salvation to the people. But if the people did not accept that salvation, then they would be lost eternally. If Christ would not have taught on this subject for fear of offending people, then He would not have loved them. How can you love someone, yet not try to save them? Jesus had to lay it out clearly that there were two paths in this life, and one of those paths did not lead to salvation. He was not shy about teaching about eternal consequences for remaining in sin.
2. A love like Christ’s keeps company with sinners.
One the other side of the spectrum, the love of Christ did not shy away from being in the presence of sinners.
“And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Sometimes we get so caught up in the “I need to maintain my Christian image amongst those in the world so that they can see the light,” that we forget to go out into the world. We forget that Jesus didn’t just hang out with those of the same mind of him, but he went to eat with sinners and common people that the Jewish leaders wouldn’t dare be seen with in public. That is why they found it strange (and appalling) that Jesus ate with them. But what response did He give them? “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
We too have the same duty today. We cannot remove ourselves so far from the world that they cannot see the light. Now, I am not advocating participating in sinful deeds, but I am advocating building relationships with people outside of the church. Yes, it is very important to have relationships with your Christian family, vital even, but it is also important to build relationships with those in the world for the purpose of bringing them the good news. We must ask ourselves why we are hanging out with the people and if we are actually doing it to minister unto them. If not, we are probably there for the wrong reasons.
A love like Christ’s will keep company with sinners. Does that make you cringe?
3. A love like Christ’s flips tables.
“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
We often have a view of Christ as a weak man who advocated pacifism in all areas and only spoke and acted gently. But a complete reading of the gospels will render a character that does not fit this idea. This is a well known passage where Jesus exhibits, as some would call, “righteous indignation.” Jesus was a passionate man, but He controlled this passion much better (perfectly even) than other people (such as Peter). In times where it was necessary, Jesus flipped tables. We see this side of Jesus mostly when dealing with the religious leaders and devote Jews. They were the ones that were supposed to have gotten it right. They had the law, they had the prophets, they had studied them rigorously. But they still missed the point. And this made Jesus angry.
I often hear Jesus portrayed as a person who was very tolerant of different lifestyles and religious ideas. This simply isn’t the case. When it came to false teaching (which was mainly being done by the religious leaders of the day), Jesus would not stand for it at all. And this was not just some small group of people with some radical ideas, it was a leading sect in the Jewish religion. But they were wrong, and Jesus let them know that on several occasions. Just a couple of chapters over from this we find Jesus proclaiming seven woes to the Scribes and Pharisees.
What does that mean for us? A love like Christ’s will not stand for false teaching.
4. A love like Christ’s speaks to all people.
This point is very similar to point two, but I think we only see one side of this story. We only see Christ going to eat with publicans and sinners. We only see Him associating with the poor and lowly. We only focus on the love He showed to those who were considered unloveable. But what about the rest of the people? What about those in high places? What about the Pharisees themselves? Christ came to save all men. The gospel is for all. We sing a song that I think illustrates this point beautifully:
“Of one the Lord has made the race,
Thro’ one has come the fall;
Where sin has gone must go His grace;
The Gospel is for all.”
Christ came to this earth to lay down His life as a ransom for all men, any who would come to Him believing and follow Him. This included the Scribe that He talked with on a regular basis. This included the Pharisee man that He went to dine with. This included Paul, who was on a direct mission to destroy Christianity before his conversation. The good news of salvation is for all, and we need to remember that.
Don’t we do that? I think we do a very good job at reaching out to those who have had hard times in life, and that is a very good thing. But we forget to reach out to those who might not have had it so bad. How often do you see the rich get ministered to? How about the academic community? Atheists? Sure we might have arguments with each of these groups, but can you really call that spreading the gospel? I wouldn’t. But Christ died for those people just like us. We were all under the bondage of sin. Christ came to remove that. We are no better, save that we have been washed in the blood which cleanses us. They too can be washed in the blood.
There is room at the cross for all.
5. A love like Christ’s does not protect the self.
Finally, this last point might not set well with you. I’ve heard it said time and again that you have to protect yourself first. You can’t just be vulnerable, lest you get hurt. You can’t just trust anybody. You can’t just open up to anyone. All of these things are said for good reason, but I fear that they are simply a product of our society and culture, for they are not the concepts laid out by Christ.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
I think this is one of those passages that we all know, but we all tend to ignore in practicality. Christ then goes on to elaborate on loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you. We can all quote this concept, but how many times have you actually lived it? And what will matter in the end, how much scripture we can quote, or how much scripture we lived by?
It is almost frightening when you think about it, because it is human nature to protect the self. We have been hurt so many times in the past that we can’t imagine how it would be a good thing to be vulnerable again. But that’s what we are called to do. If we are going to exhibit a love like Christ, then people are going to push us around. We are going to be walked on. We cannot seek retaliation. That doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? I have said many times before, the Christian life was never said to be easy by Christ. But it will be worth it all. Salvation is a wonderful thing, but it does not have to be for us alone, nor should it be. It is the will of God that all men everywhere come to repentance, and it is our job to take this message to the world. Returning good for evil is just one of the ways we can show the love of Christ to our fellow man, even when it is hard to do. For more on this subject, read “Is it fair?”
I hope we all strive to find the love of Christ and to walk therein. We have a loving master and a duty to obey, spreading the good news to any who will hear. May everything be done for His glory.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 5-6, 21, 23.
Put on the love of Christ.