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Bold as Love: The Challenge and Beauty of Genuine Relationships

Bold as Love: The Challenge and Beauty of Genuine Relationships

There probably is no word more ubiquitous in Christianese than the word “love”.  The beautiful, longsuffering, and natural love of God.  The love of brothers and sisters in Jesus toward one another.  The love known between a husband and a wife.  The love earmarked by devotion and longing.  Regardless of etymology, “love” evokes a sense of necessary intimacy.  It is that thing to which we are called that seems impossible to experience or grasp.

Much to the chagrin of the rich Presbyterian tradition, it is commonplace in PCA churches to have a cognitive grasp of a subject like “love” without having much in the way of experience.  Husbands and wives marry mistaking the conflation of lust and sexual intimacy with the calling to love and relational intimacy.  Friends become business partners and quickly revert to the practice of business over “love” at the expense of one another.  We jump into small groups seeking relationship, but really only desiring to have people get to know us at a certain level.  The practice of any sort of biblical “love” is painfully elusive.

The Inception of Pain

There is little more heart-wrenching than hearing a child recount a story of his peers collectively discounting and renouncing him for little or no reason.  There is something about bullying that has launched it to the fore in popular culture as something not to be tolerated.  We can argue about political and social motives some other time.  I am going to operate under a different hypothesis for the sake of this article.  We will not stand for bullying because there is nothing worse than a person being disregarded.  It is a beautiful common grace that we would stand against any person, made in the image of God, being discounted, disregarded, or even worse, misunderstood.

Nothing is more painful in life, for any of us, than to be genuinely misunderstood.  At our deepest levels of personhood, we naturally experience a great fear of being known and then being rejected.  For most of us, we know that we could never be “loved,” and so we spend our lives creating a persona with which people can interact without severely damaging us.  This can come from tangential experience like watching a sibling or close friend experience rejection.  For others of us, we made the mistake of putting our true selves on the line, only to find out that who we are does not meet the standards of others.  In either case, and the myriad between, the masks through which we display ourselves for the world, shield a frightened person, unable to accept “love” or experience intimacy.

We believe the lie that we are unlovable and preach it to ourselves daily.  Not only do we fear this rejection, but also we know our capability to reject others.  This leads to people who desperately wish to have relationship and community, but who stiff-arm its realities at every turn.  We throw around terms like “authentic” and “transparent” without even realizing that we have no idea how to attain these invaluable ideals.

Candy Shell Relationship
A church like Southwood is often described as being relational.  We purpose to create a welcoming environment for visitors.  We utilize Sunday School time to equip the congregation to engage their neighborhoods and communities.  We emphasize plugging into small groups and serving in the church to develop more connections.  We genuinely engage with others in a warm and inviting manner.  God used this reality, in part, to draw Emily and me to raise our children in this church.  As part observation and part introspection, I have noticed that this warmth and this invitation often go only so far.  Once some person or some family seems assimilated, they can be left alone — perhaps very alone.
What I am describing is not so much a criticism of Southwood as it is an indictment of humans as being unable to support themselves.  We are vulnerable at our inmost parts, at the very seat of our emotions, to the fear of not being good enough.  We experience this when we cannot get someone whom we thought we were getting to know to call, text, or email us back.  We experience this when we are going through a serious life issue, but we think that we might ruin relationships by discussing it with the people with whom we are in contact.  We experience this when we try to press in, only to find that the “love” and intimacy that we are seeking is actually only a thin candy shell, covering a melting blob of someone who is just like us, who is just as scared and unprepared as we are.

The Gospel Intersection
Jesus meets us in these places.  The person and work of Jesus Christ is proof positive of the fact that we are not enough.  No amount of “handshake and hello” can substitute for our being brought to our knees at the foot of the cross.  All of human history reaches its crescendo in the God-man, the perfect One who felt everything we feel, who suffered just as we have suffered, and who gave himself up for the sake of his Father’s will.

It is in this identity that we can truly find “love” and intimacy.  Each of us is equal at the foot of the cross.  Each of us is hopeful in the truth of the resurrection.  Each of us knows that we ought to be accepted as an image bearer of the only true God.  Every believer, however imperfectly, has experienced “love” and intimacy with our Heavenly Father.  A “love” so pure and true that we cannot resist running to it.

This “love” that we have experienced from our Father is the same “love” that we ought to extend toward each other.  Fear has no place in the body of Christ.  It is the truth to which we must adhere.  “You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7).  The experience of who we are in Jesus allows us both to rise above the fear of being discounted by others, and humble ourselves to “love” those who are different from us.  This is “love.”  This is intimacy.  “You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.  I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:20-21).

Let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, our Father wishes nothing more than for us to know “love.”  Let us not harden ourselves toward the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, let us embrace this grace, the very person of God, active in us and amongst us, who comforts, overcomes fear, and gives us the “love” that we all seek.  May we all preach this Gospel to ourselves daily.