The agape love of the New Testament is not a feeling; it is a disposition of the will, I think. I came to 1 Corinthians 13 in my Bible reading … Continue reading Love is . . .
Love was critical in the thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., and it relates directly to the importance of community.
In King’s treatment of love in Stride Toward Freedom, he connects love to community. He repeats “community” 13 times in one paragraph, thus pointing to the importance of community in his thinking. To cite most of the uses of the word and reveal how King viewed community, here is a portion of the paragraph:
Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. . . .Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. It doesn’t stop at the first mile, but it goes the second mile to restore community. It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community. The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is a symbol of God’s triumph over all the forces that seek to block community. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history. He who works against community is working against the whole of creation. Therefore, if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community.
King adds later, “Love, agape, is the only cement that can hold this broken community together.”
A key phrase surfaces often in King and writings about him—”beloved community.” He did not coin the phrase; it surfaced earlier in the 20th century through philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. King, a member of the fellowship, “popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning which has captured the imagination of people of goodwill all over the world,” according to The King Center.
In his book about the Montgomery bus boycott, King wrote, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.” He contrasted beloved community with broken community. “But something must happen so to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right.” In beloved community, there will be “genuine intergroup and interpersonal living.”
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)
The Apostle John stated that God is love (1 John 4:8), but many years later H. Richard Niebuhr made a great distinction in regard to the thinking of Jesus. “Though God is love, love is not God” for Jesus.
Niebuhr’s words were published in 1951 in what has become a classic, Christ and Culture. And, as with any true classic, there is a timelessness to the insights.
An interesting thing has happened in America since 1951; it seems that love has indeed become a god in our culture. Almost everyone exalts love; fewer exalt the God who is love and who, in Christ, showed us what love really looks like.
Jesus had his thoughts and worship fixed firmly on the God of love, faith, hope, and humility — not on those attributes themselves. “The greatness and the strangeness of Jesus’ love of God does not appear in his love of cosmic love, but in his loyalty to the transcendent power” of God the Father, Niebuhr wrote.
Jesus had a single-minded devotion to God, and his ethic was centered in God the Father and the value of the human soul, Niebuhr said. He was referring to Jesus’ “Great Commandments” to love God and others. These loves, however, are not on equal footing. “It is only God who is to be loved with heart, soul, mind and strength; the neighbor is put on the same level of value that the self occupies.”
Love and worship of God were at the center of Jesus’ theology and ethic. We err when we place love and worship at the center. The object of our love and worship is the key. When we put God at the center, then love and worship flow from our lives, and then other people want to know more about the source. And thus we are reminded of how worship, Christian living and evangelism are connected. When we worship God and live for Christ, evangelism becomes more genuine, more authentic because we have become more like Christ.
Growing up, I heard one basic message in church — get saved, get others saved and live right. Most of the emphasis in my Southern Baptist churches was on the first two, and when it turned to the living right part it was generally about personal morality — don’t smoke, don’t drink and don’t have sex until marriage.
I’m thankful to those churches for leading me to a faith walk with God through Christ. I’m thankful to those churches for leading me to care enough for others that I would share my faith. And I’m thankful to those churches for giving me those solid moral moorings that helped me stay out of trouble, not that I did it perfectly.
While affirming all of that, I must say with equal honesty that I didn’t latch onto a deep concern for the marginalized of this world. It may have been taught, but the primary bent was toward the three emphases noted above. We heard less about compassion for the world than passion for reaching the world — helping those other people who were not good church folk like us to become church folk like us.
As I read the Bible now, I get a growing sense of just how much I missed earlier. God cares deeply, very deeply for the people who are not like me — the hurting. It’s all over the book.
The big picture of Scripture is about God and humanity reconnecting. You can say that sin is what has created the disconnect. But what sin? The sin that really seems to have gotten God’s attention is in relation to the injustices toward the marginalized of this world — the people who do not have power, wealth or other entrees to privilege.
That is the sin we should be battling most, but in my tradition that often has not been the case. Looking beyond my roots, however, I am encouraged that Baptists have been concerned for justice and compassion — Martin Luther King Jr. and T. B. Maston come quickly to mind.
So it was with interest today that I encountered an article titled “God Commands Compassion, Not Evangelism,” by Greg Garrett. I wish he had not pitted compassion against evangelism because I believe evangelism done right is motivated by compassion, but Garrett has some great points to make. Here’s one:
“The larger message of the Bible is about participating in the reality that God wants to bring into being to replace the sinful mess we have made, and a large part of that participation is about reaching out to those who are in need. God’s advocacy for the downtrodden against the powerful is clear throughout the Hebrew Testament. A wonderful way to read the Old Testament’s sections on the patriarchs, the subjection of their ancestors in Egypt, and their deliverance in Palestine is through the lens of God’s choice of the poor, the outcast, and the unexpected to be the recipients of His love and grace. Youngest children (not the oldest sons, expected to inherit everything), women (of no social value), and exiles (not even part of a society) are chosen by God for special roles.”
If we can just get this thing about compassion for the hurting, then we can get a lot right about following the God revealed in Scripture. I’m reminded that there is faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
(Originally posted on Facebook.)
Two couples walking to their cars. One: straw hats on heads, canes in hand, walking about five feet apart. Two: thick, luxurious hair, a smart gait, walking close together. What’s different in the two couples? About 60 years and the ability to be “together” at different distances.
I’ve recently been going through magazines that have stacked up the past few years in a desire to get them to the recycle bin. One of those mags is the March-April 2005 edition of Utne.
In an article titled, “God Alert: Karen Armstrong Wants to Warn the World of a Looming Religious Storm,” author Michael Valpy reflects an interview he had with Armstrong regarding religious fundamentalism.
One quote from Armstrong especially caught my attention. “Compassion is the key to religion, the key to spirituality. … It is the litmus test of religiosity in all the major world religions. It is the key to the experience of what we call God–that when you dethrone yourself from the center of your world and put another there, you achieve extasis, you go beyond yourself.”
I did not grow up being taught that compassion is the key to my religion, but I do think this may be right if you genuinely seek to follow Christ. Love for God and for others provokes a compassion that is not natural. We could, therefore, call it supernatural, which again connects to Christ.