My friend Joseph said that he read, he thought in Mere Christianity, but anyway from one of the writings of Doctor Lewis that, “Christianity makes bad men good and good men better.” If true, this would mean in part at least that the measure of the goodness of a Christian depends on where he begins. If so, it can’t be an arbitrary level of goodness that strictly defines a believer. However all Christians have at their disposal, and oh that we might fully apprehend and appropriate this grace, the call and the capacity to climb the highest summit of all and claim the benediction of loving God and loving our neighbor who does not, will not, or cannot return it in kind. We are so commanded and it would seem to follow that the capacity is vouchsafed. This supernatural, sacrificial love is called in the Greek tongue, Agape.
Jesus said that the wearers of Agape would bear witness to two things. First, that they were His disciples and secondly and of great importance, that in their oneness with Christ, in the face of their own differences great or small, perhaps loving with cost or in the face of great tension, the world might believe the Father had sent the Son. [From John 13; 24 and 17:21] On the one hand because of Agape, men would know true discipleship and on the other hand because of Agape’s oneness, men would believe the Son was sent from the Father.
To love God, there must first be birthed the revelation that God loves us. 2000 years before Jesus declared and commanded Agape, Abraham obeyed the dreadful call to offer up in worship his loved son, Isaac. He was saved from the act itself because he believed in the goodness and resurrective power of Jehovah Jireh, not in the vindictive cruelty of Molech. He somehow was graced the knowledge that the very essence of God amidst all His splendor, holiness, and perfected good-nesses, was love, and privy to this, he brought forth faithful obedience at the terrific test. Abraham was man enough to realize that God is Love and the man did not become entangled in the folly and confusion of the heresy, “Love is God.”
God’s love is personalized and individualized. God sees us all as individuals and knows our names, as He knew Nathaniel’s name and called him from under the fig tree. But we are not individualists left to the four winds. We are members of a body, fingers, toes, ears; members with distinction, character, and talent; members tasked to serve Christ the Head, and each other.
One of Love’s necessities is chastisement. Chastisement is communicative, corrective, and restorative. Contrasted is punishment which is retributive, penalty, sometimes revengeful and vindictive. From our experience as parents or as children, we understand the distinction. Wrong attitudes can be corrected. Right living can be promoted. That is the power of able love, all the while maintaining communication and preserving bond. Children need the love, parents need the contribution. In time it is hoped the child grows to develop its own gift love.
Agape is a challenge, agape can be hard. But agape is possible. Jesus was grieved with sinners yet loved them, sharing their meals and respecting them. “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must abide at your house.” He taught the hopeless and fed the hungry. He healed the blind and touched the leprous. Jesus saw people, sick, scattered, hungry, demon possessed, adulterous people. He saw faces and personalities and called out names and loved them all.
This height of being can be an awful cramp. When confronted with opportunity to showcase agape, sometimes in the instant it comes not to memory. Willie Earl deems us failures at the mark. But it may be, verily it is, appropriated only through the birth of God’s Spirit in us and it defines the Christian. Loving God and loving one’s fellows, including the guy with the high sign that just cut you off in traffic. Pray to remember this gift. Watch…wait…and expect…occasions. It is your mark. Luke 19:5