The Barrel by John H. Pavelko

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The Requirements of Love

John 15:12-17

A Catholic diocese decided to construct a new cathedral. They wanted it to capture the grander of the ancient citadels. Hours were spent brainstorming the design and conceptualizing plan. After months of research, discussion and drawings, they sent their plans to the Vatican for approval. The planning team was surprise by the prompt return of the proposal with only a brief comment scrawled in Latin that read,  "Are they all angels?" They were baffled. They did not understand what the Vatican meant, so they reviewed their plans. To their own surprise, they discovered that they had failed to include any restrooms in their plans.

That is the basic problem with the church. We are not all angels. We are human beings who have very real human weaknesses. Jesus knew that the night he said goodbye to his disciples. He knew that they would have to learn how to walk in faith trusting in the power of God to work through their lives. He also knew that they would need to learn how to live together, to put aside differences, to settle conflicts and resolve arguments. He would no longer be there to serve as a mediator when James's mother would try to force her sons into leadership roles, Thomas would make some outlandish statement or Peter would act before the thinking. Jesus knew that the disciples would need to learn how to become a community, so he gave them one guiding commandment. "Love one another as I have loved you."

Love is a nice word that is so commonly used in our everyday speech that we can easily forget or misunderstand the power of the word. I believe that if a group of people are to become community of believers that love one another as Christ loves they must discover the requirements of love.

By nature, we can easily justify our own decisions and actions while judging the behavior of others as annoying. For example, how often do we complain about another driver, yet fail to consider that other people may find our own particular driving habits equally aggravating. Thomas a Kempis offers convicting words when he writes "Quickly enough we feel and weigh how much we suffer at the hands of others, but we mind not how much others suffer from us."1 Thomas goes on to warn that "We would willing have others perfect, and yet we correct not our own fault. We will have others severely corrected, and will not be corrected ourselves."2 Jesus called it removing the log out of our own eye before extracting the speck from our sister or brother.

Even now, ask yourself, am I thinking of someone needs to hear these words or am I asking myself, how should I be hearing these words?

Love will not abound in a community of believers unless each person is willing to examine their own life and consider how their own actions may be upsetting someone. We must remember that whenever we point one figure towards someone in judgement or accusation, three fingers are pointing back at us. Until we learn to examine, our own actions by the unconditional love of Christ, we will never be able to love another person. Before we complain about the actions of someone we should first ask, what am I doing that others may find offensive.

Patience is a commodity in short supply in our country. We live in an instant society were computers, cellular phones and supersonic jets have created a sense of instancy. We have lost the meaning of patience. We simply do not want to wait. We not only want our own way but we want our own way today. We insist that the government lower taxes the schools pay higher wages and business stop polluting. We want each other to change their behavior, to mature immediately.

Patience is the willingness to generously give another person the time and space to change. It requires us to withdraw our expectations, our demands, our timetables, our agenda and allow God's to prevail. "Patience does not demand; it waits."3

Patience lubricates a relationship that is overheating due to the friction of grinding gears. It stops the "heat" from building up by calming the stress. Patience first seeks to understand. Francis of Assisi once said "Lord, grant that I might seek to understand more than to be understood." We must strive to understand how other people see the issue; to learn and appreciate why they choose to respond as they have do: to discover that source of their anger, hurt, resistance or stubbornness?4

Many Christians falsely believe that love demands us to absorb the abrasiveness of others and avoid confrontation that may lead to conflict. In the name of submission and forgiveness, a wife allows a husband to abuse her repeatedly5. In hopes of preserving peace in the office, employees may tolerate the offensive behavior of a fellow worker. However, unchecked, the offending person rarely changes and the stress generated by the inappropriate behavior can have a wearing effect on everyone.

In April of 1992, a commuter plane nose-dived into the wooden mountains of Georgia killing 22 people including former U.S. Senator John Tower. The government concluded that the cause of the crash was a stripped propeller gear. The pitch of the engine propeller is adjusted by two gears. On was made with a harder titanium coating. It acted like a file and over time, it wore down the teeth of the other gear that controlled the propeller.

Like, the titanium-coated gear that wore away the softer gear engaged to it, so can one abrasive, unkind spouse or friend wear away the spirit of another.6 The disciple who miss applies Jesus command "to love one another" may become hurt in such relationship. As a pastor, I would be deeply grieved to hear that a woman in my congregation who had heard me preach on these words returned to an abusive relationship and suffered serious injury. I am also upset every time a member tells me that they are leaving a congregation because they are tired of the divisive and hostile spirit of certain members. They can no longer deal with the complaining and conflict. There comes a time when the abusive behavior of another person must be confronted.

While a community of believers needs the special gifts and talents of every member, a church cannot allow one member to grind away on another. Each of us must abide by the requirements of love for the community to demonstrate the love of Christ. If one member repeatedly violates those requirements, they must be confronted with a spirit of gentleness, patience and kindness. If the behavior continues, they may have to be removed the fellowship of believers before they seriously damage the peace and unity of the church.. This is the most difficult and painful requirement of love.

It is easy to be nice to people, it is difficult to love people. When we are nice to people we do not place any demand on them or on us. We keep our distance from them. We smile, we talk to them over coffee. When we love someone, we care enough about them to become involved in their life. When we love someone, we get close enough to discover that they are no less and no more an angel than us. Like us, they have flaws. We have a choice, we can either, be a nice non-profit religious organization or we can be the Body of Christ. Will we choose the easy way and merely be nice to one another, or will we obey the words of our Lord and love one another?

1 Thomas a Kempis, Of The Imitation of Christ, p. 71.
2 Thomas a Kempis, Of The Imitation of Christ, p. 34.
3 Gordon and Gail MacDonald, If Those Who Reach Could Touch, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), p.92.
4 MacDonald, p. 92, 93.
5 John Nieder and Thomas M. Thompson, Forgive and Love Again, (Eugene: Harvest House, 1991),  150.
6 Leadership, "To Illustrate...", Volume XIV, No. 1, Winter 1993, p. 48.

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