Our world is changing. And it seems so at a rapid pace, demanding we take notice. Even the most isolated among us cannot help noticing. Some of the change we are seeing is due to the advances of technology. We used to get news when the paper came out or when the news came on TV. Now we get news of events a world away through social media with a rapidity we could not have imagined even a generation ago. And we are inundated with stories and ideas.
Another way our culture has changed is the values it holds dear. There was a time when what Christians held dear was the norm in our culture. The institution of the church was held dear and the very behaviors the church labeled as shameful were at least done in a way that honored such an opinion. But things have changed.
More and more of our culture is now hostile to Christianity and Christians themselves. We are marked as intolerant, homophobic, and a downright ignorant, superstitious people. There was a time when a celebrity could espouse his faith in God and be celebrated while the homosexual celebrity would have to keep his sexual preference under wraps. Now it is the reverse. Now a celebrity who comes out of the closet is celebrated for his or her courage and any celebrity who held anything close to an evangelical faith in Jesus would have to think twice before going public.
You might insist say these sins have always been there. True. But now they are far more accepted and far more mainstream. I live in Birmingham, Alabama – the buckle of the Bible Belt, where there are evangelical churches on every corner. And new ones springing up, it seems, every week. But even here, faith is more marginalized than it was even 10 years ago.
In my own workplace, gambling is a more acceptable topic than faith and church-talk. There is fervor and passion when my fellow employees talk about the evils of not having a casino nearby and reckless joy when discussing their winnings, losses and hopes of fortune. But when belief or participation in church-related activities comes up in conversation, it is done in hushed tones and the conversational equivalent of tumbleweed blows across the space between us all. It’s all been reversed since I was in the “secular” workplace over a decade ago.
And there is a lot of fear in our culture about this reversal. The fears are varied. But for the most part, the fear can be boiled down to one of being forced to change. The fear of not being able to have certain convictions without social, political, financial, or even criminal penalty is real. The church has been an accepted institution in our country since even before its birth. But is no more.
Why am I even pointing all this out? Because even though I hate to see sin applauded and accepted more and more and the church marginalized more and more, there is some good that can result from these changes. I think we will also be forced to do at least one thing we have not done all that well before now and it will result in much good.
We will be forced to really love. We, Christians will have to love each other. And we will have to love those who are hostile to us.
Nothing else will really be all that compelling. All the things we talk about and worry about will not impress the unbelieving world around us. They will not be impressed with our intelligence, theological acumen and worship music. Our views on sexuality, manhood & womanhood will draw yawns from all corners. And they do not, have not and will not care about what we think about leadership. All these subjects and many more we spend our efforts on will be of no consequence. Our evangelistic strategies will be seen as just another marketing strategy.
Yes, we will have to hold our convictions dear. But the only thing we will have to offer, that will impress upon the world that Jesus may be worth their attention, is our love. Everything else will fall flat.
And this is a really, really good. For this is the way it’s supposed to be.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:34,35
We use a lot of things to define us as followers of Jesus – evangelism, missions, quiet times, church attendance, sexual purity, abstention from alcohol and tobacco. But none of these are distinguished as having “love for one another” is.
“By having quiet times all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have quiet times.”
It sounds silly because there is nothing like it in the New Testament. But for some reason we have constructed a spirituality that is made of this. Some of these things may or may not be good ideas. But love stands apart as the one defining mark of those who are disciples of Jesus. Love is the only thing that has a chance of impressing upon the unbelieving world around us the grace to be had in Jesus.
What about our steadfast faith in the gospel and the hope of heaven in the face of suffering?
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13
We should be talking about these things – where our faith lies and what our hope is in. They are very important. But Paul makes it clear love is the greatest of the three.
For years I wondered why love was distinguished this way. Faith seems so important. And hope? Its the one thing that keeps us going in the face of troubles. The answer may be before us now. Everything else is neither here nor there for everyone else. But love…love is something the world will respond to. All else they will be hostile towards. But if they can see us loving each other…
The hostility we are beginning to see towards our faith will force us to ask the question of ourselves, “Are we going to be a church of love for each other within and even to those hostile to us on the outside? Or are we going to be a church of warring against the changes only?
Christians are always looking for something really spiritual to do. So we make lists and before long these lists are laws we try to keep and try and get others to keep. But Paul said something that simplifies it all for us.
When Paul wrote to a group of Christians who were had a terrible theology of trying to buying God’s favor with their works, he also told them how to do all they needed to do. He said, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 ESV)
So, maybe one result of this seemingly seismic cultural shift is that we, who follow Jesus, would be people of love and not merely people of spiritual exercises.