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Discernment Exercise: Loving People

On relationships, and all that
The Bible makes it clear that God’s covenant people are to be characterized by love. He loves us and is our God, and in gratitude for that unimaginable grace we love him and others. In The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer insisted that love was to be the essential, primary characteristic of Christians, actually setting us apart from the rest of humanity. He had good biblical reasons for making that argument, as these texts (out of many more I could have chosen) reveal:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” [Romans 12:14-20]

A new commandment I [Jesus] give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:34-35]

My [Jesus’] prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me [John 17:20-21].

Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [Hebrews 12:14-15]

The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers. Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. [1 Peter 4:7-11]

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:16-18]

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us. [1 John 3:23-24]

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. [1 John 4:7-12]

Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child. [1 John 5:1]

Even a cursory reading of these texts raises questions for the discerning Christian.

Questions

1. What impresses you most about these texts? Is there anything in the contexts of these Scriptures that would change your impression of them, or your sense of their meaning?

2. Would your non-Christian friends think we Christians are living up to these standards? How do you know? Do you think we are living up to these standards? Why or why not?

3. Francis Schaeffer points out that according to the statements of Jesus in John 13 and 17 that our failure to be characterized by love gives the world reason to disbelieve in Jesus. More specifically, it gives them reason to doubt the reality of our faith and the fact that Jesus comes from God. How can we understand this without being eaten up with guilt?

4. What makes people so very hard to love?

5. What hindrances to love reside in us?

6. What reasons are given in these texts for the importance of love? How is love defined?

7. St Augustine said: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” Do you agree? Why or why not? By this standard, are you a loving person?

8. Note the sentence in the Romans 12 text: If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. How do we determine whether we have fulfilled this very realistic and thus reassuring provision without using it as an excuse to bail out of difficult relationships?

9. We cannot possibly have equally close relationships with everyone, because we are finite creatures. Even Christ had circles of closeness during his life on earth. How should we construct circles of closeness? How are the circles similar? How are they different? How do we deal with people who believe they should be in a closer circle than we have placed them?

10. Does this discussion suggest you need to take some action… perhaps to apologize to someone? …perhaps to reconsider priorities and use of time? …perhaps to intentionally develop circles of closeness based on your calling, vocation, health, etc.? … perhaps to make the practical necessity of love a matter of prayer?

11. How can we take this discussion and these texts seriously without being motivated by guilt? Since the love of God should be the motivation of our love of him and others, how might we grow in love of him?