True (biblical) Christians love their Lord and His people.
They know from Scripture that it is both/and, not either/or. Fundamental to a true Christian belief is the belief that love is not merely a “feeling” or a four letter word, but it is an action.
Jesus demonstrated the ultimate love (and provided us with a paradigm of Christian love) when He gave Himself for sinners while they were still sinners–while they were “a mess!” (Rm 5:8). Certainly we Christians have our issues. We can often be hard to love, but this is what makes agape (God’s love) so amazing. God’s kind of love flows from God’s kind of heart. It causes Him to lavish us with good things, and to not deal with us according to our bad things. Of course He can justly do this because of the cross, but He moves from being simply able to love sinners to actually loving sinners. It is because of a loving Christ that we have not only received love, but have also been given an amazing job. We are His priesthood, which means that we get to carry out His affairs, and we are the ones He set apart to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pt. 2:9). This is tip of the iceberg. God’s love for us is manifested in countless ways, and His love for His people is unquestionable. But not only has God Himself chosen to love us, He commands His people to do likewise and love one another. While the same thing stands true–we can be difficult to love–Ephesians 5 says we are to imitate the Lord in regard to this love for those whom Christ loves. Let’s chop for a few about the love of the saints for the saints.
Perhaps you’ve observed that rarely does a professing Christian admit to “not loving the saints.” Most (if not all) Christians I know, agree that it is wrong to not love the saints. Jesus even tells us that it is wrong to not love our enemies, so of course He demands we love our spiritual family. But equally true is the reality that obedience to these commands do not come easy, and we struggle to admit that we often do not love the saints. Some try to have it both ways–they want credit for their love claim, but justification for their lack of love deeds. They say “I love them, but I don’t have to like them.” I’ve heard many Christians relish in the fact that they love “the world” more than Christians. I’ve witnessed countless others who will not publicly say that, but their actions, alliances, and affiliations prove that they love “the world” more than the true church.
These contemplations recently struck me as I found myself surrounded by a spreading trend of Christians who seemed increasingly more unabashed in publicly expressing everything from mild distaste to varying degrees of hostility towards Christians or “church.” Of course I’m not referring to outright persecution or physical aggression. It usually takes more subtle forms like joining with “the world” in affirming a caricature of Christians or the church. Without differentiating good church from bad church, good Christianity from bad Christianity, or without any helpful nuances, everything related to God, except God Himself, is often dishonored by His own representatives. Tragically, all this takes place in the sight of a world that is watching. The world thinks that it sees, when it really, at best, only sees “men as trees” (Mk 8:24). Jesus gives sight to the blind, and shines light into the darkness. He was the one who said that His people are the light of the world (Mat 5:14), but I have a funny feeling the world does not see us in that light. Worse, we may not see ourselves in that light. My observation has been that often “the world” seems to think they are right in their assessments of God and His people, and they feel that they have found allies who share and affirm their misconceptions, or unbalanced judgments. The result is that they grow more hardened in their misunderstandings, and could get to the point where they neither see a need for the special grace found only in Christ, or for the special people who belong to Christ. In which case, they would much rather stick with their notions of “spirituality.” Worldly spirituality is usually some combination of individualistic piety and private faith, or an understanding of God that they come up with themselves. I believe sometimes we help them to feel justified in thinking this, and this troubles me, even though I know God will not be hindered ultimately.
Hip hop has never had a shortage of “spirituality.” They have never been without a respect for “respectable” aspects of people’s personal “faith” claims. However they also have often displayed an extra ignorance of Christ rightly revealed. As true of “the world” (from the biblical perspective), hip hop culture has always seen the Bible, God, and God’s people through skewed lenses. One of the blessings of having a Christ-centered, gospel-centered, gospel proclaiming, and theologically oriented Christian rap movement was that it was able to dispatch representatives who would shine light, and expose the broader hip hop listening context to a “right” understanding of God and His people. We could accomplish this in part through our rhymes, but only in conjunction with our robust oneness, and our aromatic Christ-likeness.
Back to it…
While some public critique of ourselves may be necessary at times, we can never let that rival or shroud our main commitment, which is to use our public platforms to honor Christ and show off one of the most potent marks of the true Christian–love for all the believers. This vertical and horizontal display of love is what makes us the city on the hill which cannot be hid. Platforms are perfect tools for showing off, we just have to remember what we should be showing off. Love for fellow believers is how Jesus said all people would know we are a part of Jesus’ squad of disciples (Jn. 13:35).There are many ways to love the saints, but one way is to cover her shame as Joseph set out to do when he thought Mary, the mother of our Lord, had been promiscuous (Mt 1:19). Another way to love the people of God is to show believers honor rather than either indifference or disdain (Rm 12:10).
In this era of public platform ministry, our love for our platforms is obvious, but our love for God’s church should be more obvious. Our claim to love the people of God is constantly being asserted, but we should be disturbed by how comfortable some seem to be dishonoring her before unbelievers. That’s a mark of “the world”- dislike and disdain for believers. Let’s not share that mark. Christians have a different mark–love for the brethren. Jesus prayed in John 17 that “the world” would see our love for each other, as well as our oneness. This, He said, would impact the world so that they would believe Jesus was sent by the Father, and the world would come to know about a unique love relation between God and His people.
Perhaps the church’s reputation for pharisaically being hostile toward the “world” has caused a sense of justified response. However, pendulums will swing to extremes in both directions. Today I sometimes see more love, tolerance, and honor for “the world” by Christians than I see by those same Christians for the saints. It hurts to see this because, whenever the world’s watching, we have a great opportunity to show them a correct (though not perfect) version of faith in Christ. We should avoid both extremes, and live out the biblical order of Gal 6:10–“…as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”. 1 Peter echoes this same sentiment, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood…” This is the will of the God that saved you and me (if you’ve been saved). Everyone gets treated with the dignity that is based on the “imago dei” (image of God ), but a unique love is to be shared and displayed among and toward the believers.
Lastly, the love of God extends, as they say, from the gutter-most to the utter-most. As imitators of God’s kind of love, we must be mindful to love the lowly, and not just “big shots.” I recall Jesus’ admonition in Luke 14:12-14,
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Here is another opportunity for our love to impact the watching world, especially in hip hop where being “hip”, “cool”, and socially accepted is a prerequisite for being embraced. We must be careful because there can be a temptation to only want “the world” to know about “the cool” acceptable believers (by their standards). Paul has already informed us of the fact that there are not many externally impressive, socially exalted Christians.
1Cor 1:26-29 – 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
God has rigged things this way, and still He says, “love your ‘not so noble’ and ‘not so wise’ and ‘not so powerful’ family. Show off that love in the public so “the world” will want to belong to God’s family.” If we communicate to “the world” that we don’t even like “us”, why should they want to be a part of “us.” Jesus has one body of Christ, and He loves her. Let’s get back to advocating, asserting, and affirming what Psalm 16:2-3 says,
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the saints…, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.