First and foremost, Love came and still resides.
Among my Christian friends and the various churches I’ve attended or visited in the past few years, I’ve heard a phrase – more specifically, a verse – used with an increasing frequency among believers. While I enjoy the passage, I think many of us are reading it unhealthily, to the point that what was written to teach us more about who we are, has caused many of us to believe in who we are not. As Inigo Montoya’s from The Princess Bride would say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,”
Here’s the verse,
“We love because God first loved us,” – 1 John 4:19
Where I believe we have identified ourselves wrongly concerning this verse, is in that we see these words as an excuse to not take initiative in showing compassion towards others because we tell ourselves that we haven’t experienced enough love for ourselves yet. While I would never downplay the significance or power of someone’s experience, I believe this verse is talking about something very different.
To expound, the passage above is highlighting our Divine-enablement, but to many of us, I’m afraid, it has painted the picture of a Divine-withholding because we think there needs to be a Paul-blinded-and-thrown-on-his-back sort of encounter with God before intentionality in expressing love can begin. We see ourselves on the wrong side of Love’s expression, and so we give ourselves the excuse of waiting for God’s love in our lives before we can begin showing it to others; while love, in like-manner, is waiting to simply be shown through us because its’ greatest manifestation has already been shown. The perfect example of love has been shown, as John points out only a few verses earlier,
“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. And God showed his love for us by sending his Son into the world, so that we might have life through Him,” 1 John 4:8-9
We have turned the mission of love into our waiting for love to still be shown to us. We have taken our commission and said that others should fulfill that commission towards us before we can take it on ourselves. The problem with this is that there will always be the need of an experience to determine how loving any of us will be. Our love has become dependent on how we perceive our social experiences. But the passage is not talking about personal feelings of love – it is talking about a belief in the gospel itself; a belief that we have been loved and cherished all along and that Christ came to forever stamp that Truth on the gears of our hearts.
Compassion’s greatest expression has been expressed, and the Gospel resonates and becomes relevant to us when we believe the existence and ramifications of that love.
As I’ve often heard it said: love looks like something. It is not a mystical word to describe the butterflies we receive when people treat us with care; love certainly can arouse those feelings, but much more than the feelings it can produce, love is an action. Compassion is tangible and visible; it is intentional and holds incredible endurance with that intention. And of course our love can and will grow by our experiences and understanding – that goes without saying – but the enabling that love provides is not a magical gift that we are still waiting to arrive like a knock at our front door. Love already kicked in the door at the cross!
“For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose.” Romans 5:6
And Paul emphasizes it again,
“God has shown us how much he loved us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!” – Romans 5:8
We have already been painted the picture of enduring and unconditional love. It is a love that pursues relentlessly, and would give anything – even to those who hate or show indifference to the expresser. Love came before anyone knew to ask for it, and it came loudly! Believing God’s love for us empowers and enables us to show true love to others. We do not need to wait for the stars to align, but are already free and invited to begin seeing and treating people different today; right here and right now.