Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time into a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and then try to make it happen.
In our previous blog we discussed how love, at core, is a motive. Yet we can be so self-deceived about our motives. We can think that our motive is to give so the other can flourish, yet really be giving in order to get something in return. In order to truly love well, we must first be ruthlessly honest about our own hearts so that our love is not hindered by self-centeredness. Will our love ever be completely free of impure motives? Quite likely not in this life, but let’s not let that hold us back from loving as purely as we can to the best of our knowledge and self-awareness.Once we have considered the state of our own heart and motives, the art of loving well requires considering the object of our love. What is most deeply needed from us that would really help them to grow, flourish and be the best that they can be? What from us would be a cup of cold water to their thirsty soul? What would most effectively counter the lies that draw them away from God and point them to the truth?
Indeed, these are not always easy questions to answer. However, we have found that Scripture gives us two categories that are always helpful in thinking about how to love well. Those categories are GRACE and TRUTH. We are told that these two elements were what Jesus was filled with and what came to us through him who was Love Incarnate. (John 1:14,17) Therefore, it makes sense that when they come to others through us we will be loving well.
So how well do these two elements characterize the way you love as you think about the needs of others? So often we struggle to blend these two things in a way that genuinely shows the love of Christ. Left to ourselves, we might be great truth tellers, being quick to correct or confront. However, we leave people feeling shamed, rejected and judged and their souls parched for the water of acceptance, grace and kindness. Others of us may be great grace givers. We easily affirm, accept and meet practical needs yet leave people to the bondage of lies and sin.
The reality is that true, biblical, artful loving will always call us our of our comfort zone. We must be willing to go where it is difficult, where it is a sacrifice, and where it is risky in order to love others well. For some of us that means finding the courage to speak truth, to confront or say “no” to someone in addition to being kind, gentle and compassionate. For others, it means learning to show tenderness and compassion; seeing life from the others’ perspective while at the same time bringing truth in with gentleness and patience.
It is only as we depend upon the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that we will be able to exhibit both GRACE and TRUTH as we seek to love others well. There will be moments when what others need most is grace, but there will always come a time for truth. There will be moments when what others need most is truth in order to displace lies, but that truth must always be seasoned with mercy and kindness.
In the end, it is only as we ourselves have experienced both GRACE and TRUTH in the love of God will we be able to pass that on to others. We cannot give what we have not received. But when we have received it, we have much to give that can bless and cause others to bloom and flourish in ourpresence.
Consider these questions as you seek to grow in the art of loving well:
What aspect of God’s character do you need to experience more of in order to grow in loving well?
Are you naturally more of a truth teller or a grace giver?
How do you need to grow in being more balanced?
Who in your life could flourish and grow more if you offered them more of what they needed with both truth and grace?
Take a moment and imagine Jesus is thinking about you. If you were gut-level honest, what do you think he feels when you come to his mind? What do you think he would want to say to you?
Many Christians are convinced that their sin and failure are what catch God’s attention. Therefore, they assume he feels angry, frustrated or disappointed with them. They imagine Jesus would give them some kind of advice, correction, or rebuke to help them get it right. That simply isn’t true (Dr. David Benner).
Since the fall of mankind (Genesis 3), we've all gone into some form of hiding. As God came seeking relationship with Adam and Eve, Adam replied, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself (verses 8-10)." Adam's hiding was driven by more than his physical nakedness. He knew he had sinned. He knew something was wrong with him. So he fled and hid from God. Like Adam and Eve, we too live with a core fear that our core "nakedness" will be seen.