FOCUS – That “February” feeling
It is the time of year when window display palettes turn pink and red. Teddy bears holding pink satin hearts wink at passers by. Red roses practically spill from the florist shops. And oh, the chocolates! Their shiny boxes are so beautifully packaged, one might even forget about the delectables within. February could be remarkably dull as the sparkle of winter begins to lose its luster, but Valentine’s Day saves the month. Lovers dine out. Shy teenage hopefuls enlist bold messengers to deliver anonymous carnations. School children giggle as they pick through candy hearts embossed with silly words of affection. Be it friendship or romance, the air tingles with the chemistry of love.
Would I be going too far if I suggested that the Lord expects us to have that sort of “February feeling” year-round within the church? Certainly he expects the love between Christians to be utterly palpable, because in John 13:35 he said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Such a love would never need to be explained to an onlooker. The onlooker would be able to sense it, much the same way one can sense the attraction between a man and woman who are falling in love. This kind of love almost has its own perfume–so sweet, so heady. Love within the church ought to be this powerful.
There is one chief qualification for love: it must be sincere (Romans 12:1). Sometimes, it is disheartening to see what actually passes for “love” in the Christian church today. Corps members who engage in friendly chitchat sometimes never give each other another thought. They neglect to pray for each other, to shore one another up, to be involved with each other as brothers and sisters should be. I had a friend who attended a small church. She suffered a great personal loss, and everyone in her church knew it. Yet not one member contacted her to comfort or pray with her. But it was not important, she said, because the support system in her life was not at church, it was with her friends at work. (I’m not sure who was to blame: herself, the church, or both.) This was not how Jesus intended things to be. Romans 12:15 tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
There is, in fact, a great deal of instruction on the matter of Christian love in Romans 12. Verse ten, for example, commands: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Turning a blind eye to such teaching, we seem to feel it is sufficient to tolerate one another. Christians are even prone to make this strange, oxymoronic comment: “I love that brother in the Lord, but I don’t like him.” Is it enough to simply grin and bear the company of a brother in light of passages like Romans 12: 9-16? Is it sincere for one to claim to love a brother whom he really doesn’t like? What is the definition of love, then, if one can find a brother so disagreeable, yet still claim to “love” him?
I understand this view may not be well received. But let us consider the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. If he isn’t capable of teaching us to love others, then our God is not who we understand him to be. Brengle claimed that holiness is “perfect love.” That is the work the Holy Spirit longs to accomplish in each of us. We find that as he moves in our lives, we begin to love more easily than we had ever dreamed we could, because it is not done in our own strength. It is achieved, rather, through resignation of our own will.
The amazing thing about love is that it tends to be returned. Sometime the return is not immediate, and sometimes it never does come. But very often, our expressions of sincere love are readily received, and paid back in kind. And love becomes a joyous cycle–given, returned, given, returned. Within the church, this cycle is to be perpetual.
This month, take a moment to reflect upon the love shown within your corps. Is it unmistakable? So real you can almost taste it? If not, perhaps it is up to you to generate that “February feeling” within the ranks. Maybe John 13:35 needs to start with you. Could there be anyone in the corps who needs to receive a “valentine”–an expression of love and concern–from you?