By Peter Sanlon
One of the best known Bible verses tells us ‘God is love.’ (1 Jn. 4:8) Being loving is vital because of what the first half of that verse teaches – ‘Whoever does not love does not know God.’
So on our pilgrimage we must be people who love. If we do not love people then we cannot be in a genuine relationship with the God who is love. The problem is that our world struggles to say anything that makes people feel negative, or anything that goes against the grain of what people want – is loving. We enthusiastically cheer at the idea that God is love — but we do not know what love is.
Hendrickson wrote, ‘Not everything that is called love, really is.’ He was commenting on 1 Tim. 1:5, which reads, ‘The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.’
So our world imagines that anything the heart desires or wants is loving. To challenge or rebuke what somebody deeply wants for themselves appears unloving — even bullying or discriminatory. But things that we want for ourselves that do not come from a pure heart — which has been washed and renewed in the image of Jesus — are not truly loving.
In order to know what really is loving, we need to know what is pure and holy. And we need to have our desires reordered and renewed by the Spirit (Rom. 5:5, Gal. 5:16-17).
This means that those who help us on our pilgrimage will not always affirm our desires — sometimes we need to be challenged, corrected or rebuked (2 Tim. 3:16). A church is a place where we should expect to be prepared for our pilgrimage by being helped to love one another and love God. That is not always a comfortable or easy experience! The Bible talks about ‘putting to death’ sinful desires (Rom. 8:13) and ‘crucifying’ the flesh (Gal. 5:24).
We can be better prepared for our pilgrimage to see God if we ponder what the desires and attitudes are in our hearts, which may need to painfully be set aside in order to truly love God and others. Prayerfully reflecting can lead us a few more steps forward.
Revd Dr Peter Sanlon is Rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk