To move beyond today’s nominal Christian culture into the deeper body of Christ, a few things must be in place.
One, God’s vision of wholeness for the greater body of mankind should be viewed in the long sweep of history. Transformation of an individual doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s a safe bet that the human race isn’t transformed into a loving body in a few thousand years.
Two, you should see that becoming whole yourself is your personal contribution to God’s grand adventure within that long sweep. It means you’re drawn into, or caught up in, His goodness and plan of action. It’s what He wants more than anything else.
Three, understand that, biblically, to love someone is to simply wish for that person’s good. You will it, invoke God into it. You promote and contribute to it. The good news is that this doesn’t require affection. You don’t have to try to force yourself to like people or even agree with them, though you certainly like and agree with some. The key to loving even enemies is that willing their good doesn’t mean you support their actions. You support God’s.
So, biblical love is simpler than we think. If more churches promoted it, love wouldn’t be such a dreadful burden that only Jesus can correctly pull off. Nominal Christians could actually be drawn into the deeper body of Christ with the joy and understanding we read about in Scripture.
More Good News
Because love doesn’t depend on people receiving it, the person giving it holds all the power and control. It’s one reason why Jesus says it’s better to give than to receive, and why misunderstanding this leads to all kinds of manipulation and abuses of power.
If you pray for someone who has just cursed you, what can they do? They can’t very well control your mind or make you take it back. And nothing says you must wish their good out loud, or even in their presence. In fact, Jesus cautions against making a show of righteousness.
You can bless and pray and contribute whether people know it or not. Jesus likened it to going into your “closet.” God is happily watching, and if others happen to see your deeds, great. But the point is that it’s part of your soul and deepest character. Your choices and will are independent of who notices, accepts, rejects, or tries to dictate the conditions for love.
With this view, we can understand how love for God promotes wholeness and unconditional love for everyone. First, if God loves you, it means that He promotes your good even if He doesn’t like what you do. He wills it, supports it, favors it. So the highest honor you can give Him is to honor His will and wish it for yourself. And there’s nothing difficult about that!
Second, loving God means that primary dependence (and accountability) shifts away from others and yourself to Him. You wish His blessing upon you and the people you deal with. You treasure and support His good action.
That by itself brings greater stability because you stop jumping through everyone else’s hoops. And you don’t need them to jump through yours. It is from this position of strength, rather than neediness, that the readiness to bless and love people in all relationships becomes possible.
The Well-Integrated Soul
Love is patient, kind, and doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It doesn’t need to rant, show off, put people in their places, or derive satisfaction from these kinds of evils. It celebrates with truth, and chooses to trust, protect, hope, and persevere in the goodness and wisdom of God. (1Cor. 13:4-8)
Integrating all aspects of personhood and organizing them around Him will result in a person able to love as Christ loves. All the mind, heart, strength, and soul are oriented to good will and wellness in him. When we’re not distracted by preparing for attack and counter-attack, we don’t need to cause harm or ask God to do it for us. We can fill and act from strength, patience, kindness, etc.
For the disciple transforming to Christ-likeness, this means fewer and fewer conditions that neighbors must meet before he/she is prepared to extend love. Such a person is in harmony with God, self, neighbor, and life itself. All is well with the soul. It’s how the deeper body of Christ works as a cohesive unit with God, caught up in ever-increasing grace and power.
“If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1Cor. 13:2) Consider that the first person you must practice on is yourself. If you find it hard to treat others well, take a serious look at how you treat yourself. If you berate yourself, you’ll berate neighbors. If you keep yourself in a pit, you’ll drag others into it, too. But if you practice God’s love on yourself, it’ll lift you up and you’ll be in a better position to offer it to others.
No tree can branch out and thrive without a well-established root system. The tree and root system is the love established first between you and God. The branches and fruit are the secondary love between you and neighbors. If you try it backwards, it will simply die.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-19)