The Only Thing That Counts
Love is our mission, but what does love really look like?
Recently, I’ve been challenged to start thinking about my agenda. I don’t mean how I use my time, though that certainly comes into it, but how I set my priorities. I’ve been very busy lately, with a lot to do and little time in which to do it. As a very task-orientated person, that kind of busyness tends to lead me to start doing everything very fast, multi-tasking to the point of confusion, and generally ignoring everything that doesn’t directly relate to my current goal. I begin to act towards those around me much like a ship passing other ships on the way out to sea. I’ll acknowledge them on the way past, but I won’t stop to chat. At the back of my mind, I’m aware that this isn’t the ideal way to live, but then again, when you’re this busy you have to focus on what is most important.
But what is most important? I long ago decided that I wanted to follow Jesus, to give up my way of living life for his, and to walk His path with His plan. I understand that part of submitting to Jesus is giving up my own agenda and directing my time and energy towards what He considers vital. Now, I would say that the majority of what I am busying myself with at the moment is valuable to God. I’m definitely doing things he has called me to do that will have a positive impact on other people. But I can’t get this one verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians out of my head. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6 NIV)
Really? The only thing that counts is love? Surely we have a more pressing assignment than showing people love? If they don’t know Jesus, it won’t make a difference anyway. They need someone to witness to them, or best of all perform a miracle in front of them. How would loving them even help? And Christians presumably have enough love already. Perhaps this verse relates to loving God? That I could understand. Love for God is surely a much more reasonable expression of faith?
“Love isn’t just giving someone a hug; sometimes it’s giving them a talking to.“
But I can’t ignore arguably Jesus’ dying wish, repeated three times in the gospel of John: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV) So this is what Jesus considers to be the hallmark of an authentic disciple: not a successful healing ministry, a growing church or a got-it-together life, but a great heart. The patience and the passion to demonstrate Jesus to others. The willingness to love.
Now, let me make this clear. Showing love is very different to being mushy. Being mushy is all well and good in the proper context, but if Christians were judged on their mushiness-rating, Jesus at least would not be making the top grade. He had some distinctly un-mushy encounters with various Pharisees, temple salespeople and one very unfortunate fig tree. Love is a passionate, steadfast, acted-out desire for the good of another person at the expense of oneself. Love isn’t just giving someone a hug; sometimes it’s giving them a talking to. Sometimes it involves tough decisions and unpopularity. Sometimes it gets ugly. But above all, love displays the character and it signposts the presence of God. Jesus was Love personified, now He calls us to be love multiplied and replicated in many mini-Christs, many "Christians".
“Love is no side note to Christianity—it is our mission!”
Jesus said that our love for one another would draw people to Him. One of my good friends is testing this out among his fellow students at university. In the midst of a challenging degree and a demanding schedule, surrounded by highly intellectual students with a wide range of beliefs, he has taken on one mission: to show people love. It hasn’t been easy. In fact it’s been costly, confusing and sometimes lonely. His agenda has often conflicted with the Christian organizations around him. He has sometimes felt guilty for not taking a more traditionally evangelical approach. But after less than a year, the culture in his circle of friends is changing. People are copying him in planning inventive new ways to bless each other. Atheists want to join him for morning devotions. They have even come along to church. Like the most potent of secret weapons, Love has been deployed, and is working its magic.
I have to say I don’t find love to be particularly glamorous. I prefer to fill my time with tasks that can be accomplished, goals that can be achieved and boxes that can be ticked. I’m going somewhere fast, even if that means going round in circles. I would love to say that sometimes, in emergencies, we all have to put people’s needs aside and just get the job done. But I can’t quite picture Jesus running past saying, “I’m sorry, I have urgent Kingdom business to attend to, I don’t have time to love you right now!” The truth is, this is already an emergency. People all around us are dying every day because they cannot see Jesus. Because no-one has shown them Love.
“When we show love, we demonstrate the reality and nature of God to people stumbling around in terrible darkness.”
Love is no side note to Christianity—it is our mission! In a dark and devastated world filled with confusion and pain, there is still a light that refuses to go out. You can still see Jesus. You can see Him in us. When we show love, we demonstrate the reality and nature of God to people stumbling around in terrible darkness. Sometimes, they recognize Jesus and run to Him. Often they shrug their shoulders and ignore Him. But either way, right in the heart of enemy territory, the indomitable resistance goes on. There is nothing more powerful than Love. No bolder statement, no braver action; it is the only thing that counts.
So I’m about ready to reconsider my agenda. I want to become someone able to lay down what I’m doing, scratch my to-do list, switch off my phone, slip off my watch and focus on the person in front of me. When something is a priority in your life, you make time for it. In the midst of many compelling demands and distractions, we mustn’t let go of our ultimate goal. It’s going to take a lot to change my mindset, but it will be worth it. Why would I ever pass up the opportunity to show someone love?