Valentine’s Day is around the corner. The day celebrates love, but what is love? Exploring the answer to that simple question will compel action and help us understand how to see churches restore love of neighbor through justice.
Love is more than chocolate
Millions of dollars in chocolate is sold at Valentine’s Day. Is that because we love chocolate? Or is it because we love a person and choose a tangible way to demonstrate that love? Most people are not buying chocolate for themselves. But even as they buy for someone else, some are still buying for themselves. They give with the expectation of receiving something in return. The other person can actually be a means to an end: happiness, belonging, sex, or some other personal gratification. That is not love.
Love is more than a poster
When I was a teenager I remember a friend had a Farrah Fawcett poster. Wow, I was in love. Silly. But we often treat people like posters not seeing them as image bearers of God. Love requires relationship. I never met Farah, but was somehow upset when she married the six million dollar man, Lee Majors. Crazy. But we can make love about some perceived idea rather than a transcendent reality.
Love is a call to action
As Bob Goff writes, Love does. Love cannot stay at a distance looking at a poster. As love draws near it does not give to get. “Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Cor. 13:5. As I wrote in Gospel Justice, love is a choice instilled in us from our Creator. We choose to love.
We love because God loves us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jn. 3:16. Love is created in us. We long for the love of our Heavenly Father. And it starts with loving God. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I Jn. 4:10.
Love of God compels love of neighbor
Jesus was clear. People would know we were his followers not if we loved the church, not even if we loved God, but if we showed love one for another. Jn. 13:34-35.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 Jn. 3:16-18
The Narcissistic Church
Some churches today actually love chocolate. Like a depressed person on Valentine’s Day, they buy chocolate for themselves. They are afraid of race, immigration and justice issues. They focus on the persecution taking place against them instead of loving neighbors.
God recognized the persecution endured by the church at Ephesus but he was angered because they forgot love. Rev. 2:3-4. Ephesus was a very secular city with multiple challenges, but the church grew more in love with itself and suffering than in loving God by loving neighbors.
Some churches today give candy (programs, preaching) but expect something in return. This is still self-centered love. They want attendance, service to the church and care more about their numbers and growth than about equipping people to live on mission in their home, business or community through the loving service of others.
The 2 Dimensional Church
Some churches are more in love with the idea of loving their neighbors than in actually loving their neighbors. The neighborhood is like a poster they look at, talk about, study, but don’t actually seek relationship. Historically, churches have relocated to escape neighbors with needs in favor of more wealthy suburban neighborhoods. Repent and reengage.
How to restore love of neighbor through justice
Here are quick steps any church can take to return to their first love and live Jesus command to love neighbors.
1. Know your neighbors.
They aren’t a poster. Spend time walking and praying over the neighborhood. Meet them. Listen and learn from them. Understand that love requires entering into another person’s life, rescuing them from the brokenness of sin and its effects, and seeing them restored in community. That restoration seeks the flourishing of the whole person and requires active involvement in the circumstances and systems that break and oppress. Click on the image to watch this powerful video from The Bible Project.
2. Serve your neighbors.
This isn’t chocolate. Don’t give to get. Don’t be paternalistic handing out food, clothes or token help. Get proximate. Care more about the needs of your neighbor than the needs of your church. Do you really think God won’t take care of your church if you are caring for His people? Your neighbors have legal needs. Don’t ignore them. Dare to go deeper and break cycles of despair. I promise you that there are needs across the street which you can uniquely meet. Click on the image to watch our video.
3. Get involved in Gospel Justice Sunday.
Your neighbors need the gospel. They need to know God loves them and has a plan to rescue and restore them. Your neighbors need justice. They need to be rescued and restored from circumstances of injustice caused by sinful people and systems. Plan ways to engage your church this May. Allow it to be a month of May Justice Roll.
The first Sunday, May 6 is Gospel Justice Sunday. Visit our site and sign up for our newsletter to receive notices on extensive free resources for you and your church.
4. Get educated.
Come to Restore 117 which is our conference to excite and equip you for justice ministry as it intersects with law and legal systems. Save the date – Friday evening June 8 and Saturday June 9 at Judson University in Elgin. Watch our recap video from last year. Early registration opens soon.
5. Visit our church leader page.
Recognize more than 384,000 churches exist in America – but less than one tenth of one percent are involved in legal ministry for poor and vulnerable neighbors. The church was at the forefront of education and health care. The church led in those areas because they cared for the vulnerable. Sadly in law the church has mostly cared about itself as it is deeply engaged in first amendment rights, but has done little to serve vulnerable neighbors. Change that!
Download our guide on how to see gospel impact through justice in your community.
We can come alongside you at no cost to provide the insurance, tools, resources and expertise needed to transform individuals and whole communities with gospel justice. It’s time for the church to demonstrate God’s love by loving neighbors. Get out of the building and into the community. Be the church. Be God’s valentine to the world.