There’s a lot to be angry about these days, and plenty of people to be angry at. Over the past year, our cultural climate has shifted to one that disciples us to define and then demonize those who think, believe, vote, and live differently than we do. Social media and cable news stoke the fires of our polarization.
As a generation, we’ve been taught we can change the world if we put our mind to it. Naive or not, we are an activist generation that is as vocal and passionate about change, and when others seem to stand in the way of that change, we become filled with righteous anger. And anger, as we’ve seen, is a powerful motivator.
But the well of anger and outrage eventually run dry. And since we’ve grown accustomed to our steady diet of outrage fed to us daily online and on TV, we keep having to go back for more and more and more. It’s the trade-out we make – they feed us anger, we feed them ratings and website clicks and social media shares.
All the while, our souls are wasting away, malnourished from the broken cisterns of hateful, vitriolic anger. We are drifting further from our love for God and our love for our neighbor. And yet because we’ve found a twisted sense of righteous indignation and motivation for change, we keep coming back for more.
As Christians, we see the need for change in this world, and often times this need for transformation can rightly lead us to righteous anger. The difference, however, is that this anger never serves as the primary motivation for our witness in our world.
In 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, we see Paul lay out God’s grand vision of reconciling the whole world to Himself in Jesus Christ. Through what Jesus has accomplished on the cross, we are now reconciled to God and to one another. As a result, we’ve now been given the message and ministry of reconciliation. In other words, the Christian vision is both a vertical and horizontal reconciliation – with God and our neighbor.
A powerful vision, right? But the motivation behind the mission is just as powerful. We see it at the beginning in verse 14:
“For Christ’s love compels us…” 2 Corinthians 5:14 NIV
It is not anger, outrage, or indignation that motivates our message of reconciliation. It is the love of God, in and through us. The love of God is the only inexhaustible source of power in our pursuit of transformation in our world. Unlike the constant cycle of outrage, love renews our soul instead of tearing it down.
There are 4 primary objects of love Jesus calls us to in the gospels. These are the loves that not only drive reconciliation, but draw the world to the love that reconciled us.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. Matthew 22:37-38 NIV
How do we love God? The same way we love anyone – we get to know Him. When I met my wife, the more I got to know her the more I loved her. The same is true with God. Spend time with Him! Don’t just know about Him, know Him. The beautiful thing about God is that the more you know Him, the more about Him there is to know. You don’t run out of God to love. There’s always more to love about him.
Love Our Neighbor.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:39-40 NIV
And who is your neighbor? Anyone who is not you. More specifically, we see in the Good Samaritan story right after these verses that your neighbor is anyone in need that you have the ability to help – across the street or across the world.
Jesus puts these two together because they are inseparable. The more we love God, the more we love our neighbor. In fact, there is no loving God that does not naturally produce a love for our neighbor. Jesus calls it the Greatest Commandment. Everything – and I do mean EVERYTHING – hinges on it.
Love One Another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35 NIV
I believe in context, Jesus is talking about fellow believers – the Church. That’s a pretty big statement by Jesus; we are defined to the world around us by the quality of love we have for our fellow believers. Why? Because if we can’t love people who believe what we believe, how on earth will we love anyone else? Sacrificial, extravagant love should be the norm for Christian community. When we don’t love those in the Church who are different from us, our disunity tears down the witness of God in our world.
Love Our Enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45a NIV
Love God, love your neighbor, love one another…but love your enemy? That’s where the power of reconciliation really takes root. I don’t know who your enemy is – maybe it’s a political party or a politician or a president or someone who has hurt you in your past, but nothing else in this world right now will make you stand out more than loving your enemies.
We are taught to single out and ridicule our enemies. To demoralize them. To belittle and dehumanize them. But we can’t reconcile and antagonize at the same time. It’s usually when we try and love our enemies that our hearts are exposed – we don’t want reconciliation, we want to win. We want to be right more than we want to love, and that is a tragic distortion of the Christian faith.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this all to well. He had every reason to be driven by the hatred of his enemy, but he taught and lived the opposite. One of his sermons said this:
There is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
There has never been a greater need for this love in such a polarized world. While the world continues to return the never-satisfied stream of outrage and dehumanizing their enemy, Christians go into the world motivated by the love of Christ in and through us.
When we were enemies of God, Christ died for us, motivated not by anger, but by love. As opportunities for mission begin to take shape at Restoration, we are going to continue returning the love of God to drive us, shape us, and restore us.