Sitting in a hospital room with a man from the congregation gave the opportunity to hear him telling about all the other people from church who had visited him—one congregant brought two hymnals and sang with him, another brought his instrument and played some tunes, others just stopped by with a smile or an encouraging word on lunch breaks or after work. All those churchpeople, he mumbled to me, made it easier to believe in God. When they are with me, he said, I know God is with me. The life of a congregation reveals the life of God. “Christ is present to us,” writes Herbert McCabe, “insofar as we are present to each other.”
When we read or pray the words of Psalm 23 we quickly realize the “you” David addressed his poem to is God. I hope others will recognize that “you” and then see all of us as the hands and feet, the flesh and bones of that "you" - the Body of Christ. “I fear no evil; for you are with me.” This reflection is a prayer for companionship, for us to be drawn together, for our presence to be signs of God’s presence and our love an incarnation of God’s love.
The gospel can be summed up in the psalmist’s word with—that God is with us, that we are with one another, and that we are with God when we are with one another. "With" involves the companionship of solidarity, and solidarity is at the heart of the gospel. As Dorothee Sölle puts it, “The best translation of what the early Christians called agape is still ‘solidarity.’” God’s love means solidarity, the embodied solidarity of God becoming flesh to get as close to us as possible, to be with us. And we find ourselves within God’s life when we are drawn into the lives of others, friends and strangers, neighbors across the street or across an ocean.
That might have been what Pastor Jeff was demonstrating as he walked the congregation in the middle of his sermon yesterday. What do you think?
Answer: There are two issues involved in this question, the things that the Bible specifically mentions and declares to be sin and those the Bible does not directly address. Scriptural lists of various sins include Proverbs 6:16-19, Galatians 5:19-21, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. There can be no doubt that these passages present the activities as sinful, things God does not approve of. Murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc.—there is no doubt the Bible presents such things as sin. The more difficult issue is in determining what is sinful in areas that the Bible does not directly address. When the Bible does not cover a certain subject, we have some general principles in His Word to guide us.
First, when there is no specific scriptural reference, it is good to ask not whether a certain thing is wrong, but, rather, if it is definitely good. The Bible says, for example, that we are to “make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). Our few days here on earth are so short and precious in relation to eternity that we ought never to waste time on selfish things, but to use it only on “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29).
A good test is to determine whether we can honestly, in good conscience, ask God to bless and use the particular activity for His own good purposes. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If there is room for doubt as to whether it pleases God, then it is best to give it up. “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). We need to remember that our bodies, as well as our souls, have been redeemed and belong to God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This great truth should have a real bearing on what we do and where we go.
In addition, we must evaluate our actions not only in relation to God, but also in relation to their effect on our family, our friends, and other people in general. Even if a particular thing may not hurt us personally, if it harmfully influences or affects someone else, it is a sin. “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall...We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 14:21; 15:1).
Finally, remember that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and nothing else can be allowed to take priority over our conformity to His will. No habit or recreation or ambition can be allowed to have undue control over our lives; only Christ has that authority. “Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
Christians in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition have often focused on “purity and power” as the central experience of our full consecration to God. However, Joe Dongell, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, scoured the complete works of John Wesley and found himself “stunned” by what he read about love (Dongell, p. 9). Dongell concluded that love played the most prominent role in Wesley’s thinking about the transformative aspects of our life with God (“love rushed through all 14 volumes like a tsunami,” p. 10). "Here are five points about Dongell's understanding of God’s love taken based on his reading of Wesley and adapted from Dongell’s short work, Sola Sancta Caritas (Holy Love Alone):
Scriptural Love is to love as Jesus loved."We often think of love as something derived from our culture or intuition " (p.16). For Wesley, we look to Jesus to learn what love is: we are to love as Jesus loved (John 13 and 15). When you think of love, what comes to your mind?
Love is something prior to good actions. Love is not simply good actions that help others. Rather, love is a matter of the heart and is the motive for loving actions. I can act helpfully toward others, but it may spring from motives other than authentic love (See 1 Cor. 13). "Love is always a matter of the heart first" (p.17). Do you agree that good actions may not stem from a heart of love? Will you take a few moments and examine the state of your own heart in relation to your good deeds?
Love’s origin is God himself.The epistle of 1 John tells us clearly that “Love comes from God” (1 John 4:7, 8). Whatever true love we express is only the love we have first received from God. Whatever love we express to others “is always and only the love we have already received from God” (p. 18). How does the knowledge that God is love and cannot be known apart from love change the way you think about your experience with God?
Love is a gift from God. We should seek to receive love from God since love does not originate in us, but is a gift (p. 19). This is the very love we are then commanded to express to God and others. Just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean they have experienced “the deeper reception of God’s love” (p. 19). Is it possible to have “right beliefs” and not be transformed by God’s love?
Love poured out is a mighty force.“Love poured out by God through the Spirit is a mighty force set loose in the deepest chambers of the heart and community” (p.19). God’s love has both internal and external effects: “infused love expels sin from the heart” (there is no room for sin in a heart filled with love). It also produces outward holiness: expressing the same passion and mission toward others as God himself (p. 20).
Joseph Dongell. (2015). Sola Sancta Caritas. Franklin, TN: Seedbed.
To obtain a copy of Dongell’s work, Sola Sancta Caritas, visit Seedbed, a 21st century movement and media platform whose mission is to gather, connect and resource the people of God to sow for a great awakening.
Other works about Wesley's understanding of love in the Christian life:
Mildred Bangs Wynkoop.(1974,2015). A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyaism. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press. Nazarene Publishing House.
Kenneth Collins. (2007). The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Steven Maskar, Diana Hynson, and Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki. (2004). A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley's "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection." Discipleship Resources.