Monday, October 20, 2008

Love Lines

Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

                        Ephesians 4.15

True Love Ways

In his expansive definition of love, Paul says, “It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13.5-7) These love lines are perhaps the most beautiful, enduring poetry ever written. Reading it leaves us starry-eyed. But we should take care to see it plainly for what it is: a pragmatic description of how real love behaves.

True love ways are built on honesty and integrity. They’re remarkably canny about human nature and always cautious against serving self-interests at others’ expense. When genuine love happens, no one gets hurt. This gives slip to the lie concealed in that tired, old preface, “I have to say this because I love you…” How often have we heard someone use that or other similar phrases to set up a statement that crushes our spirit or humiliates us? How often have we done the same thing to others? Love always protects, Paul says; it never preys on others’ vulnerabilities, inexperience, or ignorance. It always places others first and never masks our desire to criticize, get even, or correct their wrongs.

Growing Up

Paul tells the Ephesians that learning to speak the truth in love is a part of growing up into Christian maturity. The context for this is a larger discussion of religious controversy, in which he urges his readers to become established in Christ and impervious to “every wind of doctrine” that blows in their direction. Hearing anyone—including famous preachers and highly placed religious leaders—instruct against accepting or providing for any person under the guise of “true Christian love” exposes their immature, self-serving agendas. When do purposefully hurting, belittling, and/or denying equal rights and opportunities to other people ever protect them? Never—that’s when.

Does this mean those who flagrantly violate Christ’s laws should be coddled in tissues of well-intentioned lies? Absolutely not. What it tells us is that we must reach a level of maturity in our faith where we can speak the truth in love. We have to get to a place where what we say is completely free of any self-serving, distrustful, and impatient undertones. When those around us have no doubts about our love for them, the truth we speak will go unquestioned. We will already have proven it in deed before speaking it in word.

Gongs and Cymbals

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal,” Paul says at the start of his immortal love lines. Truth spoken without love is just a bunch of racket. It may sound exciting, sort of like those street musicians who bang on pots, pans, and overturned buckets. But there’s no melody in it—no substance that lingers in the listeners’ heads and, therefore, no lasting benefit to “telling the truth.” It’s kids’ play. Before we launch any truth campaigns of our own—and, most definitely, before we jump on anyone else’s truth-at-all-costs bandwagon—we should do a quick age check. Are we, or those leading us, mature enough to speak the truth in love? 

Those who attempt to speak truth without love are like noisy street percussionists; they may be fascinating, exciting, and impossible to ignore, but there's no melody in their music--no substance in their message. It's kids' play.

(Tomorrow: Perfect Peace)

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