A Community of Character
By: Stanley Hauerwas
Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community
By: Philip D. Kenneson
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Other Articles By Steve Pearson:
Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin? Definitely!
... if we are to show the world that God is truly in love with
us, I think we must take the difficult step of loving
our enemies -- delighting in them, letting them see
just how crazy God really is about them. And fighting
to ensure that nothing separates them from God.
And that means saying NO to their sin.
Explore More Whosoever:
The Call of the Beloved Community:
To Love the World
or Just One Another?
"By this all men will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another."
-- John 13:35
"So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to
all people, and especially to those who are of the
household of the faith."
-- Galatians 6:10
You may not be aware of this, but in some churches,
there is serious debate over the parameters of
Christian love. The question is phrased thus: Are we,
as disciples of Jesus, called to love everyone, or
only other believers? At root seems to be the specific
command to love "one another," which is interpreted as
being the full command of Christ regarding love. Even
John 3:16 is taken not to mean that God actually loves
the whole world, but only his believers, who, since
they can be found in every nation, people and tongue,
are therefore metaphorically "the world."
I used to believe this, but over the past few years
I've changed my mind. After all, does not Jesus
himself command us to love our enemies? How can we
love only other believers if we are also loving our
enemies? No, the way I see it now is this: We are
called BOTH to love the entire world and to love one
another. They are two separate but interrelated
Despite its appearance, it is not the case that the
second command, to love other believers, is redundant
in the face of the first, to love everyone. For the
second command is truly the test case, the sign to the
world, that our love is not human love but instead
springs from the divine source. Our love for each
other is crucial because, unlike our love for the
world, it must be mutual. Love between Christians
transcends all forms of purely human love most
dramatically because it is reciprocal. And this is
what will signify us as possessors of God's Spirit.
What do I mean? Well, first let me explain why I think it's important that our love be different -- noticeably
different. For this is exactly what God has always
called his church to be. God has called us to be
witnesses -- not in words alone but in our very lives -- of
the presence of the supernatural, that is, the
superhuman, that is, the divine. Consider Moses, words
to the Lord in Exodus 33.15-16:
"If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us
up from here. For how then can it be known that I have
found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it
not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your
people, may be distinguished from all the other people
who are upon the face of the earth?"
Notice the hinge in Moses, argument? It is this
question: How will we be distinguished from everyone
else? There are lots of nations on the earth, all of
whom think that their ways are correct. How will they
realize that their ways are not right, that they are
separated from God, unless God himself is present with
this one group of people? By going with the Hebrews as
they move from Egypt to Canaan, God becomes himself
the proof to the other nations that they are not yet
This has always been God's plan for Israel. Throughout
the Hebrew scriptures, God tells his people that his
plan is for them to be a nation of justice, of peace,
and of prosperity. Why? For the benefit of the
Israelites? No. For the benefit of the whole world, so
that all nations may see the benefit of God's ways and
learn to walk in them. God's plan all along is to
reconcile all nations to himself. If the Israelites
would obey God's voice, not only would they find life,
but they would be so attractive in the eyes of the
world that all the nations would want to come and take
part in God's loving-kindness. We can see already that
God does not love Israel alone. No, he truly loves all
humanity -- the whole world.
Note that this has nothing to do with any merit the
Hebrews had in themselves. God tells them repeatedly
that he did not choose them because they were
righteous, or strong, or worthy of note in any way.
Exactly the opposite. God chose them because they were
small and weak. God set them up to be the most
unlikely success story the world has seen. That is,
God chose them because it would be clear to the world
that this nation could not do what it did without
divine help. God chose them in order to manifest his
might power, that he might draw all peoples unto
So how does this apply to the command to love one
another? I said earlier that what distinguishes our
love from purely human love is its reciprocity. Let's
spell this out more explicitly. The problem is that
even if we learn to love our enemies, it remains a
one-way street: they will not love us back. Nor can we
expect that of them; they are, after all, our enemies.
We may obey Jesus, command to love them, but that will
not adequately distinguish the church as the living
temple of the Lord of Love. God's presence is
discerned not through the action of one person, but
through the reconciliation of two antagonistic hearts.
Let's think first about who our enemies are. They're
the people who seek our harm, who oppress us, mistreat
us, cheat us, kill us. They may be people trying to
get rich off of us, or to gain power over us -- people
who would use us to further their own goals for
themselves. But they may also be people who hate us
because we are different: we belong to the wrong
ethnic group, come from the wrong country, speak the
wrong language, love the wrong gender. They may not be
against us for material gain, but out of a sense of
superiority over us, a superiority they feel gives
them the right to keep us underfoot. We can love them
all we want, but they have no reason to love us back.
Our love often simply appears to them as weakness. It
will take a miracle for them to change their ways.
But we are not always the victims. Far too often (and
this is clear as early as the Book of Acts), we are
the haters. There are groups we want to keep out of
the church. Or that we can use to make the church more
powerful. We are the ones committing the wrong. And as
we know all too well, hatred only inspires hatred in
return. Victims learn to hate those who abuse them;
the oppressed learn to hate their oppressors. We know
how hard it is to love those who hurt us. So we can
see how hard it will be for those we have hurt to love
us in turn. And again, why should they? They have
every right to demand that we repay them in full for
all the harm we have done. We have made them our
enemies, and so they shall remain.
Think about it this way: Suppose we realize that our
business practices are unfair to our employees and/or
to our customers. Or that we do not treat other races,
genders, nationalities as equals. That in some way, we
have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. And so we
repent. We change. We strive to be honest in all our
dealings with others, to make fair deals and not to
make a profit off of other people's weakness. Or we
stop behaving as though we are superior to other
groups, and take up the role of their servant instead.
So far, so good, right? No. Because these other
groups, the ones we have victimized and treated
unfairly, have good reason to remain angry with us.
They deserve reparation. Our change of attitude cannot
make up for the wrongs we have done them; it cannot
bring back what has been lost. And so our love is
still, despite our best efforts, a one-way-street. It
will take a miracle for them to forgive us.
Which is why mutual love among Christians is so
important: in the church, our one-way street gives way
to God's two-way street. For even when we choose to
repent and to forgive, our human strength cannot bring
our enemies to our table (hence Peter has to ask what
to do when someone continues to need forgiveness).
Only through God's work can enemies be reconciled. It
is therefore the presence of groups who (outside of
the church) hate each other that signifies the true
presence of God. Imagine Rush Limbaugh hanging out
with Gloria Steinem (or the Jets with the Sharks) and
you get an idea of what the church should be: a place
where all cultural barriers are demolished. No
divisions. Only the work of God's love joining people
together. You also get an idea of how impossible it is
to bring about by human strength alone. Our mutual
love is truly a miracle of the highest order.
In the church, all the dichotomies set up by the
outside culture are broken down: man/woman;
free/slave; citizen/foreigner; rich/poor;
straight/gay; guilty/innocent; abuser/victim. The
people we are supposed to look down on, we choose
instead to serve. The people who have mistreated us
beyond all reparation, we choose to forgive. And the
rest of the world looks at us in astonishment: Why are
we doing this? And how? We are going against every
value the world has; we threaten its pride and its
security. The presence of God's love in our lives has
shown the world the falsity of its ways and of its
We should not abandon our one-way street: We should
love the world. We should love our enemies. We should
choose to look past the barriers our society has set
up, and to love those whom the world despises. And we
should choose to forgive those who have mistreated us.
But until God intervenes on our behalf, it will remain
a one-way street. What will distinguish the community
of believers from every other community in society,
what will show the world that God is truly with us, is
the presence of mutual enemies seated together in
fellowship and binding themselves together in
repentance and forgiveness. This kind of love is
reciprocal, and the world cannot understand how it
could possibly come to be, unless the presence of God
truly dwells therein.
Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved
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