According to Gallup research, in the U.S., 77% of the adult population identify with a Christian religion… In my perspective, the diversity of beliefs, culture, practices, interpretation of doctrine, and lifestyle preferences within this group is so vast, it is difficult, even confusing, for people to distinguish who or what Christians are. Even common identifiers such as neighbors who celebrate Christmas or attend a Sunday service do not begin to settle the question of what makes someone a Christian.
Among individuals who use the Bible to cultivate their spiritual identity, some do not even relate to the moniker of being called “Christians.” Followers or Disciples of Christ may resonate more strongly with them. But whatever names appeal most to others is not my primary focus. I’m much more interested in encountering people who mirror the characteristics of Christ.
Many Christians are familiar with the love verses found in 1Corinthians 13:1-8, which are quoted in oceans of greeting cards and countless published locations. These scriptures describe love and challenge the reader to embody its divine substance, selfless character, practices, and restorative powers. The author is Jesus Christ and the lesson, to me, can only be realized by deep diving into His love — this can get very uncomfortable because His approach razors right through my safety barriers. And, unless I draw as close to Him as possible, there is no “safety” in my practicing His astonishing ways. One of them is referred to as agape love and its creator requires me to bring it into ALL my relationships — no exceptions. Also, it is here where any estimation of a so-called Christian, Follower, or Disciple begins to take on any meaning or value at all.
Do you practice agape love? Many do not because it’s not as easy as the two lovely words sound. The creator, Jesus Christ, is looking for daily consistency here, not a one shot deal or something offered once or twice a year. This is not about grace by convenience. When my feelings are hurt, I have to fight hard for this teaching to dominate my soul. William Barclay gave his best description of this noblest form of love: “This agape love is a mental love and it takes a conscious decision for us to show it. It is loving people who are hard to love and you don’t like. ‘It means unconquerable benevolence. It means that no matter what a man [or woman] may do to us by way of insult or injury or humiliation, we will never seek anything else but his [her] highest good. It is therefore a feeling of the mind as much as the heart; it concerns the will as much as the emotions. It describes the deliberate effort – which we can make only with the help of God – never to seek anything but the best even for those who seek the worst for us!'” You see what I mean by “razoring through my safety barriers?” Jesus lays it out in Matthew 5:44-48. There is no room for pride to secretly manage our hearts behind the scenes, only humility can pull this off. “The important thing to remember is that we need to be a reflection of Jesus’ love for us.” – Courtney Chowning, excerpts from Blogging Tips From the Fruit of the Spirit
I recently found Barclay’s quote and Courtney’s thoughts on this topic in her book for faith-based bloggers. I highly recommend it.
It appears I’m not alone in this “unsettling” revelation that unless we grasp this, agape love, and earnestly go after it every day, who cares what we call ourselves? Who would we be kidding or confusing at our workplace, school, community, etc. about claiming to be Christians, members of a church, or religious? I just want to learn from and live by God’s playbook so I can love Him and others the way His Son did and said was possible. I value hearing your thoughts on this as well. These Biblical teachings from Christ, reveal that love is not as private as the popular culture may contend; leaving many cocooned inside lonely, silky walls of veiled insecurities and well dressed smiles. Love is very public and considerate of others beyond our comfort levels.