Later today I’m heading to Jonesboro, Arkansas where I’m spending some time with some Arkansas State students and leaders. In my teaching time, I’m going to try and focus on the relationship between our vertical and horizontal relationships. That is, the fact that in the Bible, our relationship with God and our relationship with other people seem to be essentially linked.
I’m not sure we entirely get that strong association. We know that we’re supposed to love each other, but most of the time, we hear someone say, “You’re supposed to love others,” and we try and will ourselves to do it. It’s a funny mental picture of me gritting my teeth and slamming my fist on my desk saying over and over again, “So help me, I will love others if it’s the last thing I do!”
I think just focusing on our will entirely misses the connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with others. That seems to be what John is saying in the very simple but enormously profound verse found in 1 John 4:19:
We love because He first loved us.
Or here in Ephesians 5:1-2:
Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as Jesus also loved us and gave Himself for us…
We love others not because we decide to do so, but because we are truly in touch with the measure God has loved us. But if that’s true, the opposite must also be true – we fail to love others many times because we fail to believe or to understand the fullness or completeness with which we have been loved by God.
We judge because we perceive we are being judged. We criticize because we perceive we are being criticized. We hate because we perceive we have been hated. It’s not to say that our personal decision to love or not to love others doesn’t play a role in it, but it does indicate that many times the extent to which we are able to love is measured by the extent we have embraced how we have been loved.
And we have been loved extensively.
All that to say, maybe the reason we judge, criticize, and backbite has a good deal to do with the fact that we still, with all our Christian training and churches, have trouble believing God has fully loved us.