Let Faith and Love Guide Us
The further we get from 1st century life and culture, the more the sense of mystery pervades our reading of the New Testament. But wait, you might be thinking, the Bible is God’s Word. Doesn’t that mean it’s true for all ages? Of course. And it’s also true that the Bible was written by human authors, for human cultures and time periods. In poetic rhythm to the book’s protagonist, the Bible is both divine and human. This means that our reading must include work—the hard work of understanding the context in which each author wrote. As always throughout the Bible’s history, those who seek best shall find most.
So what really was at the heart of the New Testament? Beyond the petty surface issues we often tussle over, what did the biblical writers most wish to communicate? What did they think was the whole point of the grand news they delivered?
In the first verses of Paul’s magnificent letter to the Ephesians, he gives them a glimpse of his prayers for them: “Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (1:15-16). A quick look at Paul’s other writings shows that this was not coincidental, as almost every letter from Paul includes those two thoughts as the prominent reasons why Paul thanks God for them, or what he prays for them to understand.
Jesus, too, emphasizes faith and love constantly. He tells the rich young ruler that love for God and man is what the entire Law points toward. He constantly rebukes his disciples, and commends others, for reasons pertaining to faith. Think of the disciples after the calming of the sea, feeding the 5,000, and before healing the demon-possessed boy. Think of the many people Jesus healed or forgave because of their faith. And of the centurion who had more faith than the surrounding Jewish people.
Faith and love. What is so central about these concepts? Perhaps it is because both of them center around not abstract principles, but a Person. Jesus asks his disciples to have faith in him, and tells them to love others because he loved them. If the center of Christianity is found in a very personal faith and love, how should this shape our mission? Let me offer some ideas that might help us start living from this platform in 2022 in greater ways:
- Remember that the goal of gospel conversations is to reveal the beauty of Jesus, not to win debate points. Trying to convince people to become Christians by winning arguments is about as effective as trying to make friends by getting in a fistfight. On the other hand, loving, honest, and open conversations where you willingly express your own questions and mental roadblocks is a wonderful starting place to meaningful relationships and gospel-sharing opportunities.
- Don’t let a theological debate turn personal. Always be ready to share your opinion if it’s helpful, but keep in mind that the whole point of the theology we fight for is faith toward God and love toward each other.
- Don’t allow political or social news to define what is most exciting or important, whether it’s coming from the Epoch Times or from the Washington Post. We as Christians are about faith and love, and that is going to be deceptively benign from a secular perspective. It won’t seem newsworthy, but it will change us like yeast in dough, and we will be change-makers in society wherever we go.
- Convincing someone to be a Christian is not so much getting them to think that Christianity is intellectually believable, but offering them a lifestyle of faith and love that is so attractive that one would be foolish to reject it.
In 2022, we must learn, perhaps more than before, to live a Christianity of faith and love. There are a thousand distractions from our lifestyle goal, a million other social and theological and economic and political things that can drag us away from Christ. But there is only one really worthwhile pursuit: a family, imperfectly but significantly living out faith toward God and love toward one another.