[DISCLAIMER: These blog posts do not necessarily reflect The Salvation Army. Opinions and thoughts do not reflect all Salvationists.]
This love is how they’ll know—some of Jesus’ final, resounding words to his twelve disciples the night before he was to be crucified. This is what poured out of Jesus’ heart to those who would go on to preach the gospel, be the foundation of the church, begin the wave of radical Jesus followers (Christians). To them he said, this is how they’ll know you are mine, how they’ll know you follow my commandments, how they’ll know that you are in step with me: that you have LOVE for one another. This message of love was one that was continuous in both word and action throughout his ministry and, it is the essence of God and the gospel. So, it makes sense that he would reiterate this theme hours before embodying it himself on the cross.
This all-encompassing love is not only proof of Christ himself living within us, but the greatest command. “Teacher which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40, ESV). Love God and love people. Simple as that. Both commands inform each other. Are we Christians? Do we profess to know Jesus? Then we obey his commands: we love God, we love people. That’s what it comes down to. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
Last week we learned of a new policy regarding separation of families at the border, highlighted by chilling audio of sweet children’s cries of longing for their missing parents. As Christians, we must ask ourselves… is THIS love? Are THESE acts reflections of the full-of-grace, selfless love that we must emulate as followers of Christ? Is THIS the type of put-my-neighbor-before-myself kind of love that Christ demonstrated on the cross?
As followers of Christ we are commanded to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit but to look to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). We are told to visit orphans and widows in their affliction (James 1:27) and we are commanded to not mistreat or oppress foreigners (Exodus 22:21). This message of taking care of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized is clear. Jesus himself consistently dined and spent precious time with the disenfranchised, the humble, the undeserving. The message of love is clear.
Yet we seem to fail time and time again in this area—we all do, me too. We look to, for, and at ourselves first before we even consider glancing at our neighbor, before we even glance at God. We look to self first because it’s easier, because it’s human nature to do so. But love, God’s love, is anything but selfish, rather it is kind… not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking… (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, NIV). This love, God’s love, is the selfless, all-in, full of underserved grace kind of love that:
-Selflessly gave his only begotten son so that we may have life! (John 3:16)
-Left the 99 sheep to find the lost 1. (Matthew 18:12)
-Lavished grace upon a woman who was seconds away from being stoned to death, guilty of adultery, and forgave her when she didn’t deserve it. (John 8:1-11)
And it is this same kind of deep love, proved over and over on each page of Scripture, that:
-Gives justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintains the right of the afflicted and the destitute. (Psalm 82:3)
-Raises up the poor from the dust; lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. (1 Samuel 2:8)
So, if the evidence of God within the body of Christ is one who bears fruit, and the first fruit of the Spirit is love, then a “too bad” response to the humanitarian crisis at the border is not good enough. If we do not have compassion, that deep, deep kind of love that made Jesus stay on the cross even while looking into the eyes of those crucifying him, then what do we have? Do we wish to follow Christ? Then we must follow his command of love. Do we wish to be first? Then we must be last. We must love our neighbor before ourselves, we must take up our crosses and lay our lives down. This is the message of love, this is the message of grace, this is the radical message of the gospel.
All this hits a personal note with me since from a young age, as a missionary kid living in Latin America, I was given the gift of being able to live in some of the most beautiful countries with the most beautiful lives. To see Jesus in the faces of the hungry children at the local Army lunch spot where they would be fed for the week, to see Jesus in the hearts of the teenagers coming to youth meetings on Saturday evenings trying to run away from gangs that might suck them up, to see Jesus in the calloused hands of the hardworking parents dropping their kids off at the Army daycare… it was a gift to me because those memories will forever remind me that they are just like me, and I am just like them. We just happened to have different nationalities, happened to be born a few thousand miles away from each other. But we were the same… children, people, all made in the image of God. We are the same.
In all honesty, I don’t pretend to know the exact answer or have a step by step solution to remedy the hurt and damage caused, but I know that we cannot sweep this issue under the rug, but rather must start now, today, with love—the crux of Jesus’ message—in order to get anywhere real. And if that means having uncomfortable conversations, then okay, that’s a start. If that means really listening to someone with a different point of view, great… keep going! But go out and actively practice the qualities of love (1 Corinthians 13) and specifically so regarding this border crisis scenario. All of this and much, much more.
May we tremble when we ignore the cry of the broken. May we tremble when we realize we are standing on Holy ground while in the presence of the needy. May we tremble when we remember that we are the image-bearers of Christ, the hands and feet of our Savior, those who represent Jesus himself and show the world who he is. May we tremble when Jesus is knocking on the door of our hearts and we do not recognize him.
For God’s love is anything but selfish. And caring about ourselves more than the cry of these children, more than the cry of the world who is desperate for Jesus, is in fact that, selfish. It is not love, nor is it Christ. And if God has shown us this extravagant love first should we not extend this same type of love to our neighbor?
So followers of Christ—come to the light, come out of your hiding places, awake and arise!! Bones, come to life! Heart, become flesh! Come now to the cry of the needy, run fast to the sound of the broken. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me (Matthew 25:35-36, ESV).
Let’s ask ourselves hard questions. Let’s have these difficult conversations. Let’s go back to the beginning and start with love.
Hannah Danielson Doria
Hannah is a third-culture/missionary kid who grew up in the beautiful countries of Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico. She loves Jesus, people, music, and pasta.