Learn to Love by Doing No Harm
Author: Rev. Russell Smith, Madeira-Silverwood
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
“[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”
Jesus teaches that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. So far in this series, we’ve been focusing our reflections on loving our neighbor. However if we really want to love our neighbors well, we need to learn to cultivate a love of God.
This is harder than it sounds. It is far too easy to hold God at an arm’s distance. Because our minds are so easily dominated by what’s in front of us, it’s very hard for us to spend time, energy, and mental bandwidth on seeking to love God. It’s much easier to simply do the things that we think God wants us to do. The temptation is to just do our religious stuff, and then get on with the lives that we want to live.
Cultivating a love for God feels less practical because it requires us to think about things that we can’t see or feel our touch. For centuries, Christian thinkers have talked about how God is the source of all that is true, all that is good, and all that is beautiful. Not only is God the source, but God is also the perfection of all truth, goodness, and beauty. One way of grounding these abstractions in practicality is remembering that wherever we find truth and goodness and beauty in our world, we are actually seeing the thumbprints of God.
As I’ve pondered Paul’s statement that “[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth,” I see it as an invitation to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth is right there in the sentence. Evil attempts to undo or corrupt goodness; Paul calls us to not delight in wrongdoing (other translations read “evil”), and therefore to protect the good. Finally, rejoicing is an action of the heart which is usually in response to that which is beautiful.
Let’s dig further into this idea of pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty by taking a closer look at Jesus’ teaching on the two greatest commandments:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
In this teaching, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 to be precise). Scholars can take us on deep dives into the nuances about “heart” “soul” “mind” and “strength.” But after all the scholarly work is done, the core idea behind Jesus’ teaching is that we are to love God from the center of our very being, the heart of ourselves. Jesus invites us to be fascinated by God’s character, hungry for encounter with God, and earnest in our pursuit of God. He asks us to love God in our thoughts (truth), with our emotions (beauty), and through acts of our will (goodness).
Cultivating this kind of love is a lifelong pursuit that encompasses every area of life. Here are a few foundational practices:
Commit to a daily time of conversation with God and Bible reading. This practice should come as no surprise. In one form or another, it has been a running theme through this whole series. Just as our body needs regular exercise, so does our soul. Find a time that works for you. I find that either early mornings or late evenings are best for me. The main thing is to commit to this daily time with God.
During this time of God, ask yourself “What is God saying to me?” Listen, not for audible words, but for the movement of God within you. The Bible talks about hearing God’s “still, small voice” or His “gentle whisper” (I Kings 19:11-12). One way to grow in your ability to sense that gentle whisper is to pay attention to your own internal responses to the Bible. What captures your attention, draws your curiosity, or catches you off guard? What parts of the Bible reading arouse your emotions? What makes your brain light up? Any of these things might be God’s gentle (or not so gentle) nudge to pay attention to this particular sentence of the Bible.
Then, the next question to ask yourself is “How am I going to respond to what God is saying”? When we meet with God, we are shaped by the encounter. How will we be different? It might be something internal like “I’m going to challenge my cynical thoughts whenever they come to mind.” Or something external like “I’m going to commit to volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.”
If you’re having a hard time getting started with this practice, I recommend using a daily reading resource, such as the Our Daily Bread magazine. Each day, they offer you a selection to read from the Bible, a thoughtful reflection about that selection, a question to prompt your personal reflection, and a brief prayer.
Find a community of Christians who can help you grow. There comes a point in our Christian lives where we need the insights and challenge of other people to help us listen to God. Join a study, small group, book club, or other kind of gathering where you can hear how other people are growing in love of God and you can share what you are learning. If you are having a hard time finding such a group, reach out to me. I will be glad to help you find the right group or to form a new one that will help you.
Learn to look for God wherever you see truth, goodness, and beauty. Paul tells the church of ancient Philippi: “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
All truth is God’s truth. All goodness finds its origin in God’s hands. All beauty flows from God. With this understanding, you will start to see evidence of God’s work everywhere you go. For truth and goodness and beauty surround us every day, if we but open our eyes and ears and pay attention. When we start to look at the world this way, our ways of thinking, feeling, and acting transform us into living expressions of love.