Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the greatest of these

I heard the best phrase earlier this year.  A guest speaker at my sister's church was talking about that famous evangelical phrase, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."  The speaker went on to congratulate Christians everywhere, himself included, because we are so good at that phrase.  Especially the second part.  We're so good at the second part, in fact, that we really don't get around to the first.

His suggestion was to give up the hate.  Just try it.  For like a month or something.  "Love irresponsibly," he said.

How much do I love that phrase?  Very.  I keep trying to think of ways to apply it.  It's a tough one for Christians, because - well - besides the fact that it sounds like a slogan for teen pregnancy - it also flies right in the face of our fear that we could actually love someone right into hell.  Do you know this about us, Person we judge?  We're afraid that if we don't condemn you now, we condemn you forever.  And as for our own self-righteousness - and, Lordy, do we have some - it's not only that we think we can earn our way to heaven (although, I'm afraid that's in there), it's also that we have believed our own purity is the best way to reflect Him.  First Corinthians 13, aside.  ("If I speak God's word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.")

I like the phrase love irresponsibly because it made me question that fear I used to have.  It made me wonder, if I believe I could love someone into hell, did I really understand what Love is?

I don't have this problem, for instance, with my children.  They can lie right to my face, the little devils, and moments later I want to wrap them in my arms and hold them 'til they smell like my shampoo.  I adore them.  I actually have total responsibility for their health, their understanding of right and wrong, and their happiness.  Actual responsibility.  It's in the contract you sign right next to their birth certificate.  I solemnly swear to feed them broccoli, hold their hand to cross the street, and apologize profusely if they point out obesity in the grocery store.  And yet I love them first and foremost without any thought for that other stuff.  It's why I give them cookies at bedtime and let them play football in the yard just five more minutes before they start their homework and strap 'em into mud boots and swimming trunks so they can treat the puddles like they were meant to be treated.

You know, Mom and Dad always used to teach people that disciplining your children is a greater love than spoiling them because it requires a greater denial of self (not to mention the fact that it shows a much greater love for the whole of society upon whom you'll eventually inflict your children).  That is certainly true.  But it's not the willing-to-discipline love that will motivate me when they make decisions I would not have made for them.  It's the cookies-at-bedtime love.  

I don't know, I just think this is the kind of love that would be worth considering with other humans on the planet as well.  I don't know for sure what it looks like.  But I'm pretty sure I've decided it's the way to be.  

And now I've put it out there.  I've taken another guy's words, packed it with my own emotions and agendas and put it out there for the world.  So go ahead, lay it on me.  What do you think about it?


justme said...

Hipocricy. It is unfortunatly a word that is too often accuratly applied to Christians. We are quick to throw stones at those around us who stumble, and yet tend to miss the inacuracies in our own life. We are under the misconception that people should earn our love. To love as Christ has loved, well, that is one tall order. To love those who have done nothing to deserve our love deffinalty goes against what the world would tell us, and yet that is exactly how we are loved by Christ. I am as guilty as the next person about making a judgement, casting a frown, or holding a grudge when I have been wronged, and yet Christ loved me so much he gave up his very life when I too was nothing but a sinner. Love irresponsibly... I love it too. To live in a world where everyone could live by that creed... what a place it would be!
Great post... thanks for sharing.

Haley Ballast said...

love irresponsibly: what a great phrase. i love how you tied it into how we love our children too... Jesus says that the entire law can be summed up as 'love the Lord your God' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' i know i won't be able to completely love my neighbor the same way i love my children, but i do think that is part of what Jesus is asking us to do. it is most certainly what He himself does.

Matt Bowman said...

Yeah--why is it we think god would be less loving than us? Jesus told us the opposite: if we, being human (or evil), know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more our father in heaven! We are supposed to forgive 70 times 7, but with god we think its 1 strike and you're out?????

I have become convinced that this kind of weird thinking in my own life, being careful not to be "too loving," is nothing less than me trying to look better. Jesus, on the other hand, didn't seem to worry about how he looked at all.

Besides, do we really believe that disapproval is more transforming than unconditional love? Really?

Anonymous said...

To add a thought did Jesus articulate and model love?

Caroline said...

Along the lines of Matt's comment:
Culture has equated who a person is with what a person does to such a degree that the two are indistinguishable. When one lives in a society that answers the question "Who are you?" with "I'm a (insert profession here)", separating sinner from sin becomes something extremely difficult.

- more later........

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this post Seren. I know that loving irresponsibly can be extremely difficult for some, and I can embrace the inadequacy that some feel when trying to do it. Love the phrase! What a concept, loving as Jesus does. I can do it, I know I can, I do now.
I only hope that I can continue teaching Derek to do the same, he does really well with this too. Very aware that the kid thats acting out or mean to others in school may just be a product of their own environment. Thats pretty cool for a 14 year old.
Once again you've captured something beautifully, your posts always leave me with excitement for the next one. (What will NY152 say today I wonder?) Movie please.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Seren. Jesus was never irresponsible. I'm all for love, don't get me wrong - but be careful here.

Tracy Pingel

Felicity said...

I remember studying this passage for a message a couple of years ago. For me it totally explains what you are describing.

Romans 5:8 -

"But God demonstrates His own LOVE toward us, in that while we were YET sinners, Christ died for us."

He didn't wait for us to be righteous - He provided righteousness for us. I would do better to remember that He offers the same gift to everyone.

Den said...

I'll not claim to be an expert on Jesus, but it strikes me that it would be hard to defend many of his actions as "responsible". Encouraging people to not worry about what they'll eat and drink and wear is not responsible. Employing rhetoric about hating your family is not responsible. Turning over tables in a crowded place is not responsible. Thumbing your nose at authority is not responsible. Turning over your legacy to the people who have routinely failed you is not responsible.

I'm happy to ascribe many virtues to Jesus, but responsibility (at least as we typically understand it) does not strike me as one of his defining characteristics. Beyond this, I think the phrase "love irresponsibly" is effective because it highlights the nature of love as something very irresponsible, at least love that does not leave room for self-preservation.

I'm also not saying that you won't get hurt by loving irresponsibly or that everything will work out fine. I don't think that was one of Jesus' messages either.

Anonymous said...

Good passage, Felic; but it does not describe 'irresponsible' love. Rather, quite the antithesis.

Websters defines irresponsible as a)not liable to be called to account for actions b) lacking a sense of responsibility; unreliable, shiftless, etc. c) said or done as by an irresponsible person.

If I understand your post, Seren, I would say you are describing our heart attitudes...maybe?


Kathy said...

Hey Tiffany - "You've Got Mail." What do I win?

On a more serious note: I think the term "love irresponsibly" does a good job of jolting us out of our rut. In my own life, I hope to apply it this way: I'm going to love that person with everything of God inside me (and hope He will make up the difference.) And I'm really not responsible for how they respond :)

serenity said...

Well, I'm glad someone who disagreed with me felt free to respond. I expected more actually. My understanding of Jesus is what Den has described here. It doesn't seem responsible to turn the other cheek either or walk the extra mile. And he did love so many of us doomed to fail him. Shiftless is a nasty word. And I know I'll certainly be called to account for my actions. Perhaps I'll be told, "Well, you loved. But you did it so irresponsibly. . ."

I guess I would rather hear that than that I didn't love at all.

Caroline said...

I said "more later" so for what its worth here it is -

Another way to define irresponsible is "not answerable to a higher authority". The Trinity speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All one in the same. Yes, Christ came to Earth to be a flesh and blood example, to be hands and feet if you will, but while he was the Son He was still God, and that makes him not answerable to a higher authority because he was, and is the "higher authority".
So yes, Jesus does love irresonsibly.

Anonymous said...

Looks like I am that lone dissenter!:) Seren, I understand your message of being quick to forgive and loving widely, without reservation or hesitation, greatly, without prejudice, etc...for now,though,I'm remain wary of applying the word irresponsibly here.

Love ya!

Anonymous said...

Well Kathy in the very least I would think you've at least won a cup of hot cocoa! So now I'm hoping Seren can pour you one :) See how that works? I've given you both a planned afternoon of warm chocolate to drink together. Hurray!

Anonymous said...

We know Jesus said, "he who is without sin cast the first stone" but he also told the woman to "go and sin no more." He didn't call us not to be judgemental he also called sinners to stop sinning. I would assert that the God of the universe who sent his son to die on the cross to bring sinners to Him, would not simply look the other way when humans choose to disregard his Truth for what the world calls tolerance. Just a few thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Oops, should have done some proofreading. He didn't JUST call us not to be judgemental he also called sinners to stop sinning.

Tracy said...

I've got to say I love it, too. I've seen enough judgmentalism in my lifetime that by now I'm pretty weary of it. (Not just Christians to non-Christians, but even Christians to other Christians)
I have come to the same conclusion as Matt in that many of us have let ourselves believe that our condemnation will be more effective in changing people than His love. That's the issue "Love Irresponsibly" speaks to for me. Don't be careful about who you love. Don't worry that your love is a condoning of sin. Don't be afraid to believe that the power of His love is enough to set people free, and our self-righteous assessments of their lives aren't really needed.
I for one do not think I come close to understanding how powerful love, expecially HIS love, really is. But I definitely want to.

justme said...

Hey Serenity... totally off subject... there is a paper needing a weekly columnist. I'm actually going to fill in as a temporary until they find that perfect person. Thought you might be interested in applying. If so, let me know, I'll be glad to get you a number.
Tabitha (Valerie's friend)

Lucinda said...

I have an easier time loving an honest sinner over someone who wears their righteousness on their sleeve. As far as 'love like Jesus loves' I think is the mark we walk towards knowing only he has the ability to love perfectly. Whatever goodness, faith, righteousness or love we have he gave us as a gift. We don't have to 'try' to work up anything. We can choose to selfishly keep the gift for ourselves or spread it around knowing more will come our way. Spreading it around would seem irresponsible to the world but knowing what we know - we have nothing to fear.

As far as being judgmental we need to remember that we don't 'hate the sin' because it offends our righteousness, but we hate sin because it hurts the sinner -more like 'love the patient hate the cancer' than 'love the criminal hate the crime'. With this in mind a whole lot of people suddenly become enjoyable to be around - that is also loving irresponsibility because now you're putting your reputation at risk.

Dave Pingel said...

Hmmm, several interesting responses here – from several different points of view, I’m sure. Part of the problem of an online community is that many of us don’t walk together daily – and thus we’re unable to fully appreciate the context in which many of the responses are set.

For example, those of us who weren’t there, don’t really have the whole context of the speaker who gave the message Serenity used in her original post. It also sounds as if most of the responses have been written by people who have known Jesus for awhile – and thus are assumed to have some measure of maturity to sift through basic right and wrong. Telling the wrong people, however, to “love irresponsibly” could be a dangerous thing for them. And, I think, Serenity acknowledged that when she initially said it sounded like a slogan for teen pregnancy.

Den, if you don’t mind – I’d take issue with you a bit on your comments. While an argument can be made from a surface point of view that Jesus acted irresponsibly – I believe, set in context, he was VERY responsible. I would ask: What is the lesson that his actions point to in each of the circumstances you cited? Could it be that the severity of his actions/comments are meant to underscore the issues and lessons at hand? Jesus could have given any one of several reactions/comments; why did he choose these particular ones? In my opinion, Jesus IS the example. But again, what is the underlying lesson/message?

And – I would disagree with you that responsibility isn’t one of Jesus’ defining characteristics. If Jesus isn’t responsible, who is? In my opinion, Jesus WAS responsible to his Father and to his mission and purpose. I know it’s hard for us humans to do, but I think we have to try to look at responsibility from a heaven-down viewpoint rather than an earth-up one.

Serenity – you said it doesn’t seem responsible to turn the other cheek or walk the extra mile. Again, I disagree. I think Jesus uses these examples to show us exactly how to be responsible.

Caroline – you said Jesus was not answerable to a higher authority because he IS the higher authority. Then why did Jesus say he can only do that which he sees his Father doing?

Serenity – I don’t understand your “fear that we could actually love someone right into hell.” Can you elaborate?

Lucinda – you said “only he has the ability to love perfectly.” Hmmmm. How would you define to love perfectly? Why can’t WE love perfectly?

Thanks, guys – for letting me throw in my two cents.

And the greatest of these . . . is love.

serenity said...

What I meant by a fear that we could love someone right into hell is the fear that if we love someone, care for their needs, feed them when they are hungry, listen to them when they want to talk, etc., but never condemn/judge/point out their sin, then they will go to hell and it will be our fault for loving them irresponsibly.

Tracy said...

I think "irresponsibly" was just a word to get everyone's attention. I don't think anyone is saying that everyone should go out and be irresponsible or that Jesus was irresponsible. I think the message here is to love freely without fear that our lack of correction/judgement on people's lives will keep them from being better people, or will keep them from ever recognizing the sin in their lives. This is about the power of God's love. His power to change people because of love. You can easily find this theme throughout the Bible.
(And even Paul knew this message of love/grace might make people worry that, if in the wrong hands, Christianity may just become a free-for-all.) It's not easy to put all your faith in something like love when we are so prone to being performance-oriented. ("Please just give me something I can measure!" I struggle with it all the time.)

zanne said...

YES! i say YES! love irresponsibly!

and may i just refer you to the story of the Prodigal Son? if that's not loving "irresponsibly" i don't know what is.

i want to be strong enough, open enough, generous enough and risky enough to love irresponsibly.

Lucinda said...

Dave - I think we are talking about whether or not Jesus appeared responsible to the people around him at that time - we certainly know in a cosmic sense just how responsible he is.

However, if you look at the appearance and possible consequences of His actions - going into the temple and tossing the tables or convincing people not to obey the law of stoning a adulteress, wandering with no home or apparent money. His followers were beaten and thrown into jails. If you put yourself in the mindset of average Joe His actions must have appeared not just irresponsible, but downright reckless.

Knowing and believing what we do, we can follow Him in a similar manner and love people in a way that others around us may judge as irresponsible. Is it actually irresponsible? No. Neither was Jesus. Could others around you look at you like a crazy person for it? Sure.

Why can't we love perfectly? We have sin in us. We aren't perfect. Our motives are selfish. If we have moments of perfect love, He gave us that love. We can strive towards staying in that perfect love like we can strive towards perfect living. I know my love, like my righteousness, is filthy rags in comparison to His.