Relational Commitment

We live in an age that does not have a very good concept or grasp of Christian commitment when it comes to loving our neighbor as our self. We interpret these words to mean that we should treat each other well not that we should commit to each other whether the relationship is going well or not. We tolerate each other, we seldom repeatedly seek each others good or take the time to heal misunderstandings or divisions. Ours is a polite culture that values not inconveniencing others unnecessarily.

Jesus says that those that follow his teachings are his sister, brother, and mother. Those who are deeply committed to Christian life are family. The new testament writers often use language reserved for family to describe their heartache, prayers, and hopes for the communities the Lord has focused them on.

Even the word family can be problematic to describe commitment in our present cultural moment. Many people come from families where love and warmth were not readily or consistently available. When as people we are robbed of the experience of joy, love, and commitment we are left with ourselves. Thereby we let our own wants and interests rule why we stay in certain friendships or get to know certain people but not others. We are robbed of the understanding of Christian love and commitment without being left with any way to navigate or feel comfortable with those types of relationships.

In this way the sins of the parents or grandparents can easily be passed down for multiple generations. Cruelty and unkindness can disproportionately alter our understandings of the sort of life Jesus prays for us to have.

In the Gospel of John we hear the words that Jesus prays that we would be one as He and the Father are one. That same level of unity and commitment. It is a powerful prayer that ought to have some earthly connotations, especially when we think of loving specific neighbors and friends.

Obviously this type of commitment has to be mutual. While one person may consistently love and care for another and while Christians are called to be extraordinarily patient and persistent, in some ways without reciprocity a stable relationship cannot be built. There has to be a level of discretion when you are encouraging loving kindness and commitment while knowing that many may have very little interest on what you are saying or doing. Above all forgiveness and care has to be consistently practiced if any sense of Christian depth of community is to be realized.

Transformation has to occur persistently in oneself to more fully live into the command ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’

Is such a thing even possible in the present time? Yes, but it is rare. Trans-formative but rare. In an age where the bonds of fidelity, trust, and care are so easily broken and transgressed it is deeply counter-cultural and difficult to push things in a reverse direction. But with God, all things are possible, and it does not take huge numbers for God’s people to triumph and transform the moment at hand.

 

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On Loving My Neighbor Well

One of the persistent themes for millennials tends to be relational isolation or lack of relational connection. Yes we have Facebook, twitter, and countless youtubes, instagram, skype, texting, and more, yet the basic problem remains. Are we known and do we know others really?

When you look at depression rates, a bad economy (high unemployment for millennials), gaming addiction, and more you realize that at our core our generation is a bit relationally isolated. Obviously this is not true for everyone, but I find very few millennials even the ones with old friendships are relationally satisfied.

In any case if you are still reading, I assume you can identify with at least some of these dynamics. To be loved and to know you are loved are one of the most basic human desires.

So if this is true, why don’t we find a lot of this sort of thing within the church? It is there, but it is not a universal experience.

I want to give you at least one way to look at, and that’s around the language of family and its disuse within the church. Consider the words of Jesus:

 “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:15-17)

We know we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, where we have trouble is the application. Too often we love are neighbors in the abstract instead of loving our neighbors actually. Also we are not very intentional about the loving our neighbor aspect of faith. Loving God we think about a bit more fully (read the bible more, pray more, etc.), but loving our neighbor (umm…). Too often, we functionally love our neighbor by not confronting them with things that bug us about them.

So to open us up a bit more, let’s consider the language of family. Brothers, sisters, parents, and children. That’s the language the New Testament most often uses in relation to the church. Think about it this way, if you want to love your neighbor more fully think about loving them as a close relational brother or a close relational sister.

Something about the word family reorients our focus towards the family of God. Especially when we think of specific Christians not just an abstract concept. What would it mean to build the sorts of ties that put you in a more familial posture?

Obviously this is a bit of an imperfect analogy, but not by much or at least not as much as we might think. Our tendency when confronted with more concrete ideas is to explain them away. Instead of trying to wrestle with them on the terms presented.

So, here’s an exercise. Think about one or two people that you might want to build a more brotherly or sisterly relationship with. What might it look like to love them well?

This is not an easy process, it actually takes a long time and there is a fair amount of trial and error on how to do this, but unless there is some explicit intentionality it may very well not happen at all. You say but my neighbor is hard to love? They are too different?

Well put it this way. We don’t choose our biological family. We don’t choose our local community as much as we might think either. So try and work on your own heart first and trust God to make up the difference when it comes to trying to really love our neighbor well.

We are no longer simply friends or acquaintances but we are part of a family and a kingdom. It’s time we took that element of our life of faith a bit more seriously than we do.

Living Faithfully Today

John Armstrong has a series of very thought provoking posts on what it means to live faithfully in the culture today. You can view his first five posts here, here, here, here, and here.

I really appreciate these posts for how thoughtfully John engages the question of where do we go from here. If the culture and society increasingly rejects Christianity, in what was once a Christian majority culture, what should our response be? The two main thrusts seem to be either to disengage or to redouble our efforts at a politics centric approach to slow our moral decline.

What John offers is a decidedly third way. What if we were to take as our model, Israel in captivity. Out of the book of Jeremiah the surprising injunction would be:

“seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”

(Jeremiah 29:7, ESV)

It’s as surprising to us as it would have been for those who were in captivity. Judgments had come against the people of God, first to the kingdom of Israel and now to the kingdom of Judah. For their unfaithfulness God had caused them to be kicked out of the land of promise. But just at the moment where you would have expected instructions for isolation, instructions to withdraw and wait, you get part of Israel’s mandate (a people set apart for the good of the nations) told back to them. Seek the good. Seek the welfare of your neighbor. Seek their well being.

Can we hear that cry today? Seek the good of those who don’t know me. Seek the good of the culture. Don’t isolate, don’t condemn, but seek the good of. As John puts it so well, “We cannot see our neighbors as our enemies if we pray for their prosperity and well-being. They may be enemies to God, not because he despises them but because they reject him and his love. But they are not our enemies in any meaningful sense. Even if they were to become our enemies, as some in the state did in modern Germany and Russia we are still called to love them!”

Now that’s a radical third way for the church moving forward.