Years ago we used to sing a song in church with the title and refrain, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Christians indeed ought to be recognized by their love. We were created in God’s image, and God is love. Redemption transforms sinners back into the image of Christ, and Christ is love. The greatest commandments require us to love God and to love our neighbors. Love should be characteristic of every Christian.
This month several Christian bloggers have commented on other people who call themselves Christian and yet are deficient in love for their neighbors. Such observations generally are tempered by the understanding that not one of us is without sin; and that even the most annoying and aggravating Christian would likely be an even worse person without the redemption of Christ and the guiding of the Holy Spirit. One saying tells us that we cannot understand another person until we have walked a mile in his or her shoes. (Taken literally, that’s a silly picture. What would we do—expect them to walk that mile barefoot? Or leave them barefoot while we take their shoes a mile away from them?) We cannot know what kind of aches and pains, digestive problems, fears, and anxieties might cause another person to act unloving towards his or her neighbors. If they that they are Christians, we owe it to them to assume that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. At the same time, Scripture encourages Christians to exhort one another toward a higher standard of behavior. If the love of Christ has changed our lives, we want to bear witness to his love by example and not by words alone.
Johannes Tauler would have blogged if he had the technology. Born around 1300, he never had that opportunity. Instead, he preached and he taught. Tauler noticed the people of his century who called themselves Christians, yet whose lives made that label questionable. He observed, “Then there are the others, who are devoted to religious life and enjoy great esteem and reputation. They are pretty sure that they have left the darkness far behind; and yet they are fundamentally Pharisees, filled with self-love and self-will. All their striving is centered on themselves. Outwardly one can barely tell them from God’s friends, for they often spend more time on pious exercises than God’s friends. One can always see them reciting prayers, keeping fasts, and strict rules. If judged by externals, they are hard to recognize. But those in whom God’s Spirit dwells know them for what they are. In fact, even outwardly there is a way of distinguishing them. They are always sitting in judgment upon others, also on those who love God: but you never see them judging themselves, whereas the true lovers of God judge no one but themselves. In everything, in God and in his creatures, such people seek nothing but their own gratification. So deeply embedded is this pharisaical tendency in their nature that every corner of the world is invaded by it. It is impossible to overcome this habit by natural means: one might as well try to break down mountains of iron. There is only one way, and that is for God to take over and inhabit man. And this is what he does only for those who love him.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. J.