Monday, June 9, 2014

Follow the Way of Love

"Follow the way of love
and eagerly desire 
gifts of the spirit, 
especially prophecy." 

I'm studying and journaling through 1 Corinthians now. This verse fascinated me as I started chapter 14. "Follow the way of love..." What is love? That's what chapter 13 is about: patience, kindness, humility, protection of the innocent... Chapter 14 is about life in the church: why we should prioritize mutual edification rather than individualistic displays of spirituality.

"But the one who prophesies 
speaks to people for their 
strengthening, encouraging
and comfort." vs 3

As I thought of how people lead and service in churches, Christian organizations, and families, I mused that the way of love is about serving authentically to bless others and draw them closer to the real Jesus. 

Being a loving leader is not about seeking to become a famous celebrity, founding your own movement, showing off your power, demanding compliance and conformity, or pulling rank. It is not about racking up attendance numbers or using ministry to make big money. It is not making a huge fuss about visitors ("love bombing") but then ignoring their real needs once they are regular attenders. It is not taking advantage of the time, money, reputation, or bodies of vulnerable people in the name of ministry.  It is not covering up evils that need to be properly exposed and routed out, just so that "the ministry" (or your own image) can continue untarnished by shame.  It's not rising through the ranks by pushing others aside or down. That's not love.  That's not leadership. That's all arrogance and selfishness. That's what drives people away from churches and Jesus.

So what is following the way of love?  It is looking for the needs of others, and finding healthy ways to meet them - not to feel special or look good, but to genuinely care for others no matter who reciprocates or even notices.

Of course, prophecy isn't the only way to strengthen, encourage, or comfort our fellow believers.  You don't have to wait for that special supernatural gift in order to be worthy of reaching out.  If you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit in you, and he has given you unique gifts to share.

How about these ideas?

  • a warm hug or a shoulder to cry on
  • an impromptu prayer and continuing prayer
  • an affirming comment on a Facebook status
  • a plate of cookies or a meal delivered
  • an understanding ear - without judgment? 
  • the gift of an inspiring book or CD
  • a pretty card with a Bible verse that isn't trite or inappropriate for the situation
  • celebrating an accomplishment of someone who is outside the core group and rarely gets noticed
  • a visit in the hospital or prison
  • a safe place to stay for a victim of domestic violence
  • a thank you note for even a small thing
  • a ride to church, just once or week after week
  • telling your pastor how much the sermon blessed you 
  • reading a Christian picture book with your child
  • taking photos to show forth the glory of God's creation
  • writing a testimony of God's faithfulness in a blog post 
  • designing a web site to facilitate ministry
  • singing for an elderly shut-in
  • volunteering to teach Sunday school 

When you do any of these actions from a heart of true compassion, you are following the way of love.  Do you want to lead?  Well and good, but you must first and always be a humble follower of Jesus.  Listen, and do just what he tells you.

While we're on the topic of authentic love, I have a few more thoughts about chapter 13 from my journal.  Again, thinking of ways that relationships can become twisted in the name of God, I realize there should be healthy boundaries.

  • "Patience" should never enable destructive behaviors or just plain laziness.
  • "Kindness" should not become coddling or favoritism.
  • "Is not self-seeking" does not mean you should neglect your own legitimate needs. You can't effectively serve when you are running on empty.
  • "Protection" should not over-shelter children in a way that prevents them from learning how to survive and thrive in the real world. It should also not cover for someone whose behavior is risky or sinful. In addition, protecting others does not mean you should neglect protecting yourself from others.
  • "Trust" does not mean attributing trustworthiness to those who have a pattern of breaking trust. It is also not too permissive for the situation.
  • "Keeps no record of wrong" does not mean letting crime (in the church or family) go unreported.
  • "Rejoicing in the truth" does not mean gloating over winning an argument at the expense of a relationship, or feeling morally superior to the heathen masses outside your church doors.

Those are all childish responses to the command to love. In the extreme, those are also all ways to abuse or be abused. Instead, we need to heed verse 13:11 which says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me."  

We shouldn't be naive in our relationships with others, and think that we are loving them or that they are loving us when it's an illusion. So I ask myself, "In what ways do I still act like a child and not a full grown woman? In which areas of my life do I need to grow out of my impulsiveness, immaturity, and insincerity?  In what ways do I need to prudently protect myself or others? In what ways do I need to prepare my children to love wisely and well?"

Let us all follow the way of love and grow together in Christ.

You might also like these closely related posts:

Virginia Knowles

P.S. I already wrote enough this evening, so I'm not going to take the time to look up related Scripture passages about love and leadership. If you can think of one, or want to research this a little more, please share in the comments!

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