Over the last week, I’ve read a lot about Rob Bell’s new book. This post isn’t about that. This post, ultimately, isn’t about people’s responses to what they’ve read or seen about about the book, or even about my response to them. Reading comments on an article about the book, however, is the thing that got me thinking. One of the comments I read said the following:
With all due respect, what is the most loving thing one can do for another? The most loving thing we can do is tell another about the most loving thing anyone has ever done… Christ’s death on our behalf (plethora of Scriptural references follow.)
Now as I read that, I wasn’t really surprised. It’s something I’ve basically heard my entire life. I’ve probably said something very similar at different points in my life. But as I read it in that context, it made me stop dead in my tracks. Perhaps it was the writer’s use of the descriptor “most”. Is the act of telling another person the story of Jesus the most loving thing we can do. That is, is the act of sharing certain information with other people actually what constitutes love?
I’ve been wrestling with this idea the last few days. I genuinely do think that the act of telling, sharing is implicit in how the Gospel spreads. Humans are verbal creatures, and every human culture has storytellers. It’s in our DNA to share stories with each other. My question is, though, does the Gospel go beyond the act of simply transmitting information?
The conclusion I’ve come to is that, yes, it must. If we are simply telling people they are sinners in need of a savior, but refuse to engage in actual, tangible things that demonstrate love to people, do we love them? A number of years ago, the book The Five Love Languages was all the rage (I believe it still sells quite well). In the book, Gary Chapman lays out the simple proposition that there are five ways in which people give and receive love – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Now the book itself is geared more towards marriage relationships, but as I think of the relationships I have with friends in my life, and I realize that the same principles can apply in just about any relationship.
The thing that I notice about all of them is that they truly cost something for the one attempting to show love to the other person. It takes effort to encourage someone. It is difficult to spend quality time with someone when I have a busy schedule to worry about. The list goes on. Love isn’t the easy thing. A lot of the time it’s the thing I’d rather not do. I would rather stay at home and watch the game on Saturday rather than help a single mom move into a new apartment. I’d rather go to the pub with my friends rather than volunteer to tutor the kids for the single father.
So as far as what is the “most loving” thing to do, I guess I come down to the answer that there simply isn’t a simply answer. What is most loving to my neighbor depends on my neighbor’s needs, and it depends on me being open to pour myself out. I tend to think that simply sharing information about Jesus, as important as that is, is often seen by those we are trying to share with as the easy way out – drive-by evangelism in a drive-thru world. The Gospel becomes simply another sales pitch, and we become little more than the salesman at Best Buy trying to sell an extended warranty.
This, of course, isn’t a new problem. Saying one thing and doing another is part of the human condition. The truth that Christ brought when He came is that He didn’t simply say He loved humanity. He demonstrated through His miraculous works, His tender compassion, and ultimately through His death on the cross. The question is will we truly follow Christ. Are we willing to take up our crosses for the sake of those who need to be loved? Or will we be content to simply think that sharing information with people is enough.
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.