Is God’ relational design for our lives more than a nice theoretical guideline – or are loving relationships with God and others something we need to take seriously?
Many of us long to live for God more deeply. We want to see God move more powerfully in us and through us to accomplish His purposes. We’d like to have the kind of joyful, loving fellowship described in the Book of Acts. Some of us would even like to see the miraculous in our day. Why does it seem that despite our deepest longings, our desires for “more of God and His works” often seem unfulfilled?
Perhaps the heart of the matter is this: it’s hard to experience or express the life of Jesus when we live outside of His relational design for our lives. According to His design specs for our lives, God created us to function best only when we are connected with Him and others in love. Love, experienced and expressed in relationship with God and others (and not more power, authority, influence, ministry opportunities, miracles, church attendance, memorized Bible verses, miracles, signs and wonders) is the “Gold Standard” in Christianity.
The failure to take seriously Jesus’ commands to love God and each other with His love keeps us weak, frustrated and unfulfilled in our lives as Christians. Furthermore, it blinds us from recognizing our overwhelming need for healing.
On the night before He died, Jesus shared a last meal with His disciples. Knowing that His arrest was only a few hours away, Jesus poured out His heart to His dear friends one last time. This was not a moment for empty words; Jesus used the short time he had to tell his disciples what was most important.
Here Jesus established a new and more demanding vision for love than they’d ever heard before. He said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love [Greek tense: love and continue to keep loving] one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35, NIV, parenthesis mine). Here, there is little room for negotiation or debate; Jesus is quite clear. He commands His disciples to love each other with the same love that He has for them.
Fifty years later, John the beloved disciple had not forgotten Jesus' commands. Addressing the influences of Hellenism, early Gnosticism, Eastern Mysticism and Roman pagan religion on the early church, John takes us back to the Last Supper as he writes,
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if we claim to follow Jesus, then we are commanded to love God and each other – just like Jesus.
Love isn’t a one-time event – Jesus intends it to be our lifestyle.
The idea of Christianity marked by signs, wonders, power, authority, spiritual gifts and ministry opportunities without love is a myth – and a poor substitute for the life of Jesus. As much as I would like to at times, I just can’t find any wiggle room to avoid the commands to love God and others like Jesus!
Healing is the restorative work of returning me to my original relational design so that I can mature in love and overcome my own internal resistance to love.
When I take God’s design for loving relationships seriously, I am confronted by my own lack of love – and secret wish that I could exclude really annoying people from the list of those I am supposed to love. I come face to face with my own internal resistance to both receiving and allowing God’s love to flow through me to others. Jesus’ command to love as He does is hard – and makes me realize how much I need to mature in love and deal with my own internal resistance to love. I desperately need to be restored to God’s relational design for a life of love. We’ll continue discussing our need for restoration in our next blog.
Love challenges me to leave my comfort zone and enter the hard work of engaging with the love of God in Jesus so that I can learn to love and live like Jesus with those around me.