Posted by: mikebackup | July 27, 2012

Love is all you need

Galatians 5:13-25 – New International Version – UK

Life by the Spirit
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Here we see Paul reminding the Galatians to love and serve one another. It was however quite a tall order for them and remains so for us today.

Let me illustrate with a few challenging observations[1]:

  • Many people claim to support a Premier football team without ever having been to watch them play. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit and the freedom we have in Christ, but unless we actively seek to live our lives showing the fruit of the Spirit we are no better witnesses than a football supporter who never goes to a match.
  • Many perceive that the Church is a place full of rules and regulations. How do we set this perception alongside the law of love? How can we help people to discover the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, so lifting their burdens and setting them free?
  • Sometimes Christians have a reputation of being ‘holier than thou’. In the 1990s Max Clifford was commissioned to produce a public relations study for the Church of England. Interviewed in the Church Times about his findings, he concurred with public belief that Christians were amongst the most dishonest and untrustworthy of people. It is strange that Christians, who know the pure, generous love of God, are sometimes the least likely to act with generosity of love. Jack Deere speaks of ‘schizophrenic Christians’ — who love the grace but can’t give it away. Is this because it is easier to live by rules? Living by love is open ended: it requires the effort of making relationships and being committed to them. Love never ends — it is infinite and we keep growing into it; we may never achieve it perfectly but we can always improve.
  • If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Does the way you live show that fruit of the Spirit? Do others see the face of Jesus in you?

Love is easy to say but very challenging to do.

A Christian friend was told, ‘You’re different!’ She was bemused. She was no better or worse at her work than her colleagues. But people noticed that she was different. Not worn on a badge, nor spoken by her lips, how she lived her life reflected the fruit of the Spirit. And people noticed.

Paul teaches that love is the essential ingredient in our behaviour. If we make bread but omit the flour it will not be bread. Similarly ‘all our righteous acts are as filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64.6) unless love is the motivation. Everything we do can be coloured by a filter of love. Are we really aware of the difference it makes? How do we measure the love in our behaviour? Is there a scale we can use? Look at Jesus’ teaching: to love those who hate us (Matthew 5.43-44); to love our neighbour as ourselves (how well do you love yourself?) (Matthew 22.39); to love the Lord our God (Matthew 22.37).

Love has a cost. It takes courage to love because it is always risky. Love can be rejected and that hurts. Jesus’ love was rejected. We have rejected God’s love. But rejection does not invalidate love and, because love never ends, it can be received later. Think of your own life and those who have given you love. It may have taken years to receive that love but it was not wasted. Can love ever be wasted? Love is the currency of eternity.

When Paul speaks of ending childish ways he is not speaking about age but of how we think. As we mature in Christ our thinking develops from simple superficial Christian logic to using love to interpret situations. Part of the risk is that we only know in part, but when we trust Christ, we believe that when we meet God face to face we will understand. It was that thought that came to me when I was deeply moved by one famous song in my reflections for today. That song led me to another famous song which then led me to reflect on how they both comment deeply on the love we are called to share and the source of that love. The first song I listened to was ‘Let it be’ by the Beatles which I will talk about shortly. The other song was John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and I will start there.

You could interpret ‘Imagine’ as being anti-Christian with no heaven, hell or religion mentioned in the lyrics but I reflect on it differently. As a Christian I use it as a profound call to share the love of God and grow the Kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God was on earth then there would be no heaven, hell or religion. Heaven wouldn’t need to be understood as something separated from us, we would always be in it. There would be no notion of any sort of hell. And when we all lived together in the perfect love exemplified by what we read of at the start of Genesis there would be no need for religiosity. For me it stands as a musical and spiritual masterpiece through which God challenges my faith into action.

‘Let it be’ is also a song where I find God touching my heart. It’s a song that helps make up the gap between the fallen reality of where we are and God’s Kingdom. The pain, suffering and loss we all experience is enough to make us doubt and question it all. This song reminds me that I know not all of God’s deep love and that sometimes I just need to rest in it – to let it be. There will be an answer.  It also reminds me that one of the greatest acts of love is to accept the love of others when we are in a dark place. I recently reflected on that when I watched the Oscar winning silent film ‘The Artist’. It is a story about love at many levels and one of those is the length of time it takes for the main character to accept love when he was in a very difficult place. For Paul McCartney when he wrote it in 1969[2] and was in a dark place he thought of what his Mum Mary would say to him. She died when he was a boy but was a person whose love lasted on and helped him through.

In the song Mary comes like an angel whispering to him the words– let it be. These are words of comfort, reminding us not to think about sad things too much, to accept the bad things that have happened that we cannot change.

Later in the song Paul lifts us up and out of his own life, singing about all the broken hearted people in the world, people who hate each other or are at war. “Although they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see. There will be an answer– Let it be.”

This time the words “Let it be” have a different meaning.  “Let it be” here does not mean to just relax about our problems and accept bad things.  It means “let it happen”– let some new world, a happier and more peaceful world, become a reality. And with that we are full circle and back with the sentiment we find in John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.

To reflect on these thoughts I’ve created a prayerful visual meditation. It uses both songs along with deep reflections by famous people and home videos of mine that show my children and family. Somehow, just by watching happy children you somehow glimpse the exuberant reality of God’s love.

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