“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)
The “love passage” is quoted by Christians and non-Christians alike. It is based on a simple premise that love with conditions doesn’t really gain me anything.
In marriage and family relationships, we acknowledge this profound truth as a core principle. However, the intent of this command to love isn’t reserved just for those close-knit relationships. It defines a Christian response to all of life and all relationships. If this is the case, it makes it one of the most difficult passages to live out.
The original meaning or context for love in the Greek of this text, is “agape.” We might be tempted to just call it “unconditional love” but I think we might be oversimplifying it. It’s a choice to love, not based on how I feel but based on my capacity to love. A love that will believe the best in a person or situation. It’s a love that will not manipulate or control you, but beckon you to something greater and bigger than yourself. It’s a love that has the capacity to heal a broken and dying world filled with despair, control, and fear. A love that commands things such as:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” Luke 6:27
“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you..” Luke 6:28
“If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also… Luke 6:29
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them…” Luke 6:32
It’s a love that stands for truth without condemnation, but allows for redemption. It’s able to forgive. It has no strings attached to it. In the words of Paul – “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. Love never fails…” (I Corinthians 13: 5-7)
It is this kind of love I struggle with, an unconditional love, as I return back from nine days in Haiti and return to a country that not only appears and sounds to be divided but has turned its soul over to fear.
My trip to Haiti
Karen and I recently spent nine days in Haiti visiting schools and orphanages with Jama Marvel, our Child Sponsorship Coordinator at Love in Motion. It was a great opportunity for me to see the sponsorship program as well for us to meet our sponsored child. One of the main goals was to profile new children coming into the programs. It was an eye-opening and life-changing experience for both Karen and I.
Franceli Joseph, who leads our “boots on the ground” efforts in Haiti, was once the 12-year-old child sponsored by our very program. Franceli, now in his early 40s with his wife, Julie, are not just giving back to the very program that gave him hope, but are training and discipling the future of Haiti.
Haiti is a very proud country, devastated by: natural disasters, corrupt leadership, and poverty. To be there during our own election cycle provided a unique and powerful experience for Karen and I, unplugged from our news and social media feeds.
You can imagine the shock to our system as we returned to the US with a new president-elect that according to most media outlets didn’t have a chance and our social media feeds that seem to continue to divide instead of unite.
As I look at our response in Haiti to the needs of those who have so little, and then compare our response as a nation the past few days, we should find ourselves humbled and shamed. I am struggling to make sense of this, especially when I hear people want to leave our country. (By the way…if you want to leave our great but imperfect country I have a great opportunity for you to go to a country and truly make a difference. Call me…it’s life changing!)
More Than Words
If love (agape) is our all of life response, it needs to provide a pathway to the hope we have found in the Gospel – not a stumbling block.
One of the things that shocked me was when we were taking photos of the children for our sponsorship cards. As the children were brought to our location, all we could see was absolute fear and it broke our hearts. When we chose a child to sponsor I remembered looking at the photos and did not see many children smiling. I now know why. They were scared to death as they were taken out of their class to be put in front of “blanc” (white) people they rarely see.
We have heard similar reports here in the US of the legitimate fear of what will happen once Trump becomes president. Now, I believe there is a lot of fear mongering, but working with at-risk youth over the years and working in inner New York City, I have seen racism firsthand. The fear can be real and genuine.
I remember as an assistant baseball coach hearing from the opposing dugout that my players were being called, “monkey” and other racist comments. We ultimately stopped the game and said if it didn’t stop I would go to the newspapers. This school was notorious for its racism.
What should be the Christian’s unconditional love response in these situations, regardless of our religious, political, theological leanings and beliefs? It is this: “…And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
As we got to know the orphans and students of Haiti, fear quickly turned into warm expressions of acceptance and love after we took their pictures and got to know them. As we held their hands, smiled and played with them, they no longer saw us as a threat but felt safe. Those scared faces turned warm.
I am more resolute than ever. I have always lived with a sense of urgency and this has only increased. As a dad and husband – I want to teach my own children the value of “love of the will.” That love is messy. I want my children to “act justly and to love mercy…”
My only relevancy is found in Christ as I share His hope, as I love imperfectly, but honestly pursue Him; and that others would see the hope of His redemption as He loves me unconditionally.
Unconditional love will be something that will always escape me if it is nothing more than words or actions that serve my needs. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back…” Luke 6:35
As I reflect and pray about the last nine days of my visit to Haiti I am struck with this thought – that without love I have nothing. I have nothing to offer that has any eternal value. My love just ends up serving myself and my own needs.
So, I am leaving you with this challenge. Where in your life can you show “agape” love to someone who is truly deserving or undeserving of your love? I would love to hear from you about how you are loving beyond words. Email me or post or hashtag @MonadnockBibleConference and #morethanwords on Facebook or Instagram in what way you are showing the love of Christ as you act justly and love mercy to all who cross your path…friend of foe.