Column – Be known by your love

Published 6:37 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2022

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By Charles Qualls

Anytime a pastor moves, and starts up somewhere new, we tend to talk about where we’ve just been. It doesn’t take a Jungian therapist to figure out why. So, I’ve mentioned some of this before at least in my church. For those of you a little newer, let me bring you up to speed. The rest of you, please just tolerate me for a minute.

One day in our Atlanta church, the new head coach for Georgia Tech football began visiting along with his family of course. Soon they walked down the aisle and planted their lives in our membership.

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For some unknown reason, owing maybe to the fact that his wife’s cousin had been in our Sunday School class in the church back in our North Carolina days, Susan chose Elizabeth and me as her new buddies.

One day, she invited us to come with her to a football game. We were over-the-moon thrilled, of course. We had never sat in a box before at a major sporting event. Much less with the coach’s wife.

After a second game, she said, “Y’all are going to be with me for the long haul, aren’t you?” So, for nine seasons until we moved here, it was our privilege to be her guests for every game.

Right after “Tell me about the luxury suite at the games each Saturday,” the most frequent question I used to get about our friend Paul was “What’s he really like?” That’s because he’s a no-nonsense sort of guy. He was a tough, old-school coach. He does have a prickly personality at times. And he knows.

The Atlanta media of course did what the media does. They ran with that. To anyone who didn’t know him, he was portrayed in a convincing way as basically the second-coming of Darth Vader.

So, my answer was always surprising when I told them, “Well, we’re not going to probably run him for Deacon chair anytime soon. But, you’d be surprised.” Then, I would always add, “The stuff that actually counts, he usually gets pretty right. He just lacks the style-points along the way.”

Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16 tells us to be known by our love. It doesn’t use those words specifically, but it very obviously makes that point among others. I guess my whole reason for mentioning my friend, the coach, is that if you only watched him in a shallow way, you could miss it.

But if you watched him openly, with some emotional intelligence, you would notice that in reality he was quite capable of loving his players, coaches, family and friends. Hebrews 13, as well as Jesus himself often, both talk about getting the stuff that matters right most of the time. Even if you or I don’t always get the style points.

If you think that the biblical understanding of love is all bunnies, kittens and puppies – with some small children sitting on Jesus’ lap thrown in for good measure – then let me pry the door open a little wider.

Our incomplete understanding of what love means keeps us from getting as much out of this as we could.

Yes, of course it does matter whether we are pleasant and healthy to be around. It does matter that we try to be as gentle and as conventionally loving with each other as we can be. It does matter that we do not damage each other relationally or emotionally. Being nice is always more attractive than not being nice.

But sometimes the New Testament concept of the “love” that we should be known by can’t be confined to simply the gentlest and most pleasant understandings. When push comes to shove, and doesn’t life sometimes shove, this is not really just an emotion we’re talking about here in Hebrews 13.

So what are we going to do with this in a contentious world where we don’t even like everyone? Sometimes, love is about making gritty choices and getting things right when it matters most.

Biblical love will mean being people of strong grounding in Jesus who shapes and guides our ethics. It will cause us to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we do the right things, and invest in things that matter.

Love also means that we sometimes stay away from, or out of, things that aren’t reflective of Christ. Love can even mean doing something we don’t want to do. Love will sometimes mean doing things that are hard or costly. Occasionally, maybe even without a smile on our face.