Love matters more than proper theology.
That’s a really hard concept for me to understand, but it is true.
Love matters more than proper theology. It matters even more than a proper theology of love. Paul said in First Corinthians 13 that love matters more than speaking in tongues, more than knowing EVERYTHING, and more than suffering for the Gospel. In fact, those things are worthless without love.
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I wrote this poem the other day:
My heart pulsates, alight in the wind,
beats in my chest, pumping life to limb,
floating on tendrils of air, it skims
the surface of waters, ancient and dim.
Grasping at truths, forever contained
in boxes forgotten, in pictures framed,
seeking out passions forever chained
to a life of good works; empty, drained.
Grabbing my heart from dank musty air—
the tendrils were lies, the waters despair—
you unboxed Truth, the passions repaired;
rekindled love, breathed in me care
for neighbors ’round me—all people to love
for family near me—lives from above
for foes against me—the cross is enough
May I be chained to the cross and filled with the Spirit.
It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me.
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Love isn’t some silly emotion. It isn’t some sentimental feeling of goodwill. Love is rigorous and demanding.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” -Paul
You see, our model for love isn’t. . .
. . .the love of a boyfriend for his girlfriend
. . .or the love of a fat American for hot dogs
. . .or the way I love Lord of the Rings
. . .or even the way that I love Shiner Black Lager
Our model for love is. . .
. . .Jesus Christ, on the cross, absorbing the pain and suffering dished out to him by the rulers, powers, and principalities of this world.
. . .Jesus Christ, nails in his hands and feet and a crown of thorns on his head, offering forgiveness to those who were killing him, spitting on him, and urinating on him.
. . .Jesus Christ, healing those who arrested him, washing Judas’ feet knowing that Judas would betray him, and dying so that he could be reconciled to those who were killing him.
This way of life has been called the cruciform life. Bonhoeffer said it best, “When Christ calla a man, he bids him come and die.”
The cross reaches in both vertical directions forever, thereby uniting Heaven with earth. The cross also stretches forever in both horizontal directions, thereby uniting “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth” with “Behold, I am making all things new”. As Matt Chandler has said, “From the moment the godhead said ‘let us make man in our own image’ the shadow of the cross has stretched across eternity.” The cross takes all of our sins, both personal sins like lust or greed and corporate sins like racism and sexism, and kills them. We are personally reconciled to God and reconciled to each other. The breaking of Shalom that occurred in the Fall is reversed in Christ.
The cross does not offer a behavior modification plan, a system of belief, a program, an event, or a mission statement. The cross offers a way of life, and that way of life is lived out through real gritty relationships with other people.
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I’ve been thinking about my life lately. I’ve been thinking about places in my life where the cross needs to have a bigger say—where I can die to myself in real and tangible ways.
I’ve come up with two places, though there are probably thousands more.
First, since I spend so much of my time interacting with thinkers—writers, philosophers, and scholars—and because I will spend the rest of my life in Academia—reading, writing, and researching—it seems that now, in this moment, I should begin imposing a loving way of reading on my studies. Here is what I mean. I tend to interact with the stuff I read with preconceived notions. I evaluate the merits of what I read based on my previously arrived at conclusions. To a certain extent, we all do this, and that is necessary. However, I am not letting the texts speak for themselves. I am not letting them approach me on their terms. I am not allowing myself to be shaped and changed by them and am, instead, imposing myself on them. I should have a hermeneutic of love rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion. It is true enough that this is how we should interact with people. This, too, is how I should interact with the products of people’s minds.
Second, and more importantly, I should grant the same surrender—the same vulnerability—that I grant to friends and texts, as mentioned above, to a wider church body, including the leadership. Paul urges people to obey their leaders. So does the writer of Hebrews. It is high time that I recognize that the buck should not stop with me, that I am not my own best counselor. A community of faith and true relationships matter more than theology. So long as the cross is taught and love is practiced, who am I to impose my way of thinking, my understandings, on people? I am to come to this community open and willing to learn, because that is the way of love. It is the way of the cross. It lacks the pride that asserts itself and claims to be better than others. It assumes the confidence that comes with the gift of God’s Spirit—that God is in control and that love will win.
I hear His voice strongly now:
“Turn aside from your critical spirit and worship with my people.
No one is asking you to adopt everything taught and done for yourself, but you must live at peace with your brothers and sisters and live confident in me.
Trust me as you once did. I guide my Church.
Worship with my people. Sing salvation songs.”
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