Monday, 5 September 2016

Love That Spills Over

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Romans 12:14-16

Is it too much to imagine that loving each other inside the church prepares us for living in harmony with others outside the church? Paul seems to set that possibility before us. ‘Love must be sincere’, he wrote back in verse 9, and he’s still unpacking what that looks like. But his instruction here – ‘bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse’ – sounds like he now has in mind our relationship with non-Christians.

In first-century Rome, cursing was less about being rude and more about getting one over on people, a way of taking revenge. Those who had come to believe that Jesus was Lord of all might be tempted to ask him to use his power against their enemies. But that’s not the way of a crucified messiah. Love blesses even those who despise us.

Hostility or ostracism might cause us to withdraw from society, to be snooty or unfriendly ourselves. But that’s not the way of Jesus either. The love which flows from him doesn’t isolate us but involves us with people, enough to be alongside them in the highs and lows of life – to celebrate when there’s good news in the office, to grieve with the widower two doors down the road from us.

Once again, for new converts in first-century Rome, this would have involved going against the norms of society. A slave would be expected to weep for their master’s misfortune, but it wouldn’t be a two-way street. Even today, laughing and weeping with others may require crossing social boundaries, a willingness to extend love beyond our own comfortable circle.

It makes sense, then, that Paul goes on to write about living in harmony with others, not thinking we’re superior to everyone else. As members of the body of Christ, we learn to honour all people equally. Our ability to do so on our daily frontlines stands out as a powerful testimony to what God has done through his Son.

And there’s a key. We live this way not only because we are empowered by God to do so, but because we are nurtured in a community which practises these virtues. Paul’s vision in Romans 12 is that the gathered life of the congregation shapes us to be a counter-cultural people when scattered across our towns and cities, extending the love of Christ beyond the body of Christ.

No comments: