I can’t imagine community without visualizing the all-out love of Jesus. Describing this love, Paul writes to the Ephesians in 3:17-19,
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
I can’t even begin to describe this verse in words. It’s something that must be experienced. To know the love of God to this extent… it’s unexplainable. The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) gives a good image of what this kind of love looks like in practice. To sum it up, there was a father who had two sons. The younger son asked his father for his inheritance at an early age. To do so was as if to say, “I wish you were dead.” The boy went on to spend all of his money, only to come back to his father broken, hungry, and unworthy. The story continues in verse 20
“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.”
The father didn’t even think before acting. He didn’t consider the shame his son brought on the family. He didn’t wait for his son to come to him and humble himself. He didn’t use his hand of power to smite his son. He ran to him before he could even think. He reacted first. He reacted out of love. The clothes, the rings, the calf, the feast – it was all a reaction of love. He didn’t have to make any conscious decisions until after he let love work its course. This is how God responds to us.
I can’t keep from wondering how our communities would prosper if we all let love respond first when we face difficult situations — if we became so submitted to the Holy Spirit that the love of Christ Himself permeated through our lives. What would it be like if we didn’t make our own decisions?; if we didn’t think about consequences before committing to loving someone?; if we let the love of Christ do its work through us first? I am convinced that we would grow to such a point of unity and discipleship that we would be able to accomplish the impossible.
Think back to tower of Babylon in Genesis 11:1-9. The people were so unified that even the Lord acknowledged they would be successful in their attempts to build a tower to the heavens. He had to scatter them by confusing their languages with one another. They would have been able to accomplish anything through unity. However, their intentions were not pure. It was selfish. They wanted to become famous. So, the Lord dispersed them.
Now, imagine that same type of conquering unity, but driven by love. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Love is the perfect unity. It achieves all of these virtues by itself. When we become unified in love…compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness fills our community. I find it suitable that in the absence of love, evil prevails. Paul forewarns Timothy about this in II Timothy 3:1-5,
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
When we don’t allow this love to encompass all areas of our lives, we become prone to evil in all forms. Consider each of those last two lines:
“Having a form of godliness but denying its power.” How many people in our communities are Christian yet fail to love? I believe that our demonstration of love to others is the ultimate expression of our acceptance of God’s love. 1 John 3:18-20 exemplifies this, “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.” Failure to exercise this love is just the same as faith without works – dead. When we stop loving, we stop acknowledging the forgiveness which God provided us in Christ’s sacrifice. When we stop loving, we’re saying, “I can do it without you God.” When we stop loving, we deny the power of God.
“Have nothing to do with them.” Call me a heretic, but I firmly believe that if we miss this concept of love, we miss the power of God, our relationship with him, our role as disciples, and the purpose of community…love. “Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:21).
And so, I leave you with this final verse as a reminder and encouragement to be a leader in your community through love: whether that is your family, friends, classmates, associates, church, neighborhood, or city. Your community needs an unwavering, inexhaustible, undeniable, compassionate, enduring, forgiving, unconditional, intense, radical, unexplainable, diehard, and unabashed love.
Hebrews 10:22-25 “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”