As a leader of Grace Communion International, I hear about many inspiring outreach projects that our congregations are engaged in around the world. Some are simple acts of kindness and service to those in need.
Others are quite extensive, with several congregations, sometimes across two or three countries, working together in such projects as providing education for disadvantaged children, vocational training for young adults, or employment support for poor but hardworking families. This is one of the great blessings of our being a relatively small, yet very interconnected worldwide denomination.
All of our service and outreach in Christ’s name is motivated by God’s love, which fills us, and which the Holy Spirit prompts us to share with others. But have you ever wondered about the many examples of genuine and generous love by people who are not Christian, some of whom might not even believe in God? Where does such love come from?
“Let us love one another, for love comes from God,” 1 John 4:7 says. In the very next verse, we’re told, “God is love.” “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them,” verse 16 continues.
Do you see the implication? Because the Creator is love, love is “hardwired” into the creation, and into every human. That means that wherever and whenever we see love expressed in the world, regardless of the source, we are seeing God’s love, because there is no other kind of love but God’s love. “We love because he first loved us,” verse 19 says.
So what is so special about what we call “Christian love”?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, ”Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” Parents who love their children would never do that. Human beings, in spite of our many inadequacies and imperfections, want the best for our children. Jesus continued, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-10).
Jesus was pointing to a love that goes deeper than just loving those who love us, those who are good to us, those we naturally care about. He was talking about a love that extends even to those whom we don’t like, even to those who despise or hate us, who mistreat us, who might be our enemies. That’s how God loves us—Christ died for us while we were still God’s enemies, Paul tells us in Romans 5:8.
During Jesus’ ministry, he often upset the religious establishment of the day by extending love to people considered “unlovable.” He forgave a women caught in the act of adultery. He treated a prostitute with dignity and respect. He made friends with the much-despised tax collectors and others considered beyond the pale of polite society. He touched and healed lepers—the ultimate outcasts of the day. His closest friends were common working people.
Jesus showed that our human capacity to love others needed to go beyond just those we know and like. He told his followers to pay special attention to those whom society has rejected. In his parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), he identified with the suffering of the sick, the loneliness of the prisoner and the plight of the poor. He told us to help them, saying in verse 40, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
That kind of love is contagious. It often brings out the best in anyone who either receives it or witnesses it. Those who followed Jesus after his resurrection were soon called “Christians,” and it was not long before their unusual way of life began to be noticed. In hard economic times, Christians were generous. When plagues struck, Christians nursed the sick. When widows and orphans were left to fend for themselves, Christians cared for them.
Even though Christians were often despised and persecuted, their lives of love also tended to prick the consciences of those who knew about them, causing many to join them in their labors of love.
When Christians help the poor and the outcasts, we let them know that they do matter and that they are included in God’s love, no matter who they are or what they have done. There is no in crowd and out crowd. Everyone matters, and everyone has been included in God’s love. There is redemption for every person; all they have to do is believe it and embrace it.
Our example of love and service in Christ is a key part of the way God leads people to do that. As we all work together, our collective work in Christ can reach even further and have an even greater impact than we have daily as individuals.
Thank you for your faithfulness! As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58)!
Author: Joseph Tkach