Last week, as I was preparing to talk about love as our core value at GracePointe, I was reminded of something Paul wrote in Romans 13. In this section Paul says that the only debt we owe one another is love, and love sums up the Law. Then he adds:
Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Since I read that text last week it has been bouncing around in my brain non-stop. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Love does no harm. I don’t think he’s saying that love always creates a “warm fuzzy feeling,” after all Paul, like Jesus and the Prophets before him, was known to speak uncomfortable truths. One could argue that love will often demand such things, because love and justice aren’t opposites. They are two sides of the same coin. It’s not loving to ignore the oppression of the oppressed, nor is it loving to allow an oppressor to go unchallenged. I think, perhaps, what Paul is saying to the Romans, and now us, is that love is about healing and wholeness, and when we choose to live in ways that cause harm and damage to other human beings, in ways that devalue and dehumanize, we are doing the opposite of loving them (regardless of how many times we use the word).
I remember being in a tense and contentious leadership meeting several years ago at a church I pastored. Tempers flared and one leader stood up and literally yelled in the face of another leader. The truth is, the one who yelled actually had a right to be angry. The person on which he lost his cool had been a source of division and pain within the group. After the outburst the meeting continued and wrapped up shortly thereafter. As we got up to leave the yelling leader went over to the one on the receiving end of his tirade and hugged him. He said something along the lines of , “I love you brother.” It was seriously awkward. I wish Inigo Montoya was there to say, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” The issue isn’t that the leader causing division shouldn’t have been called out; he should have. Yet, the method was counter-productive.
Love not doing harm means love is about bringing healing.
Love not doing harm means love is about restorative justice.
Love not doing harm means that we are conscious of how our lives and choices impact those around us.
Here are a few examples:
How we do or do not respond to the very real and worsening challenge of climate change is a love issue. Love does no harm, so love should impel and empower us to make the hard choices to ensure there’s a hospitable planet for future generations.
How we vote is a love issue. Love does no harm, so I can’t support certain candidates and policies that I know will further marginalize the already marginalized, and exacerbate already vast and growing inequities.
How we spend is a love issue. Love does no harm, yet how can I be sure I am not harming others when I buy certain foods, clothing, etc? Am I continually sending money to corporations that under pay their employees and degrade the environment?
How we engage the world around us is a love issue. Am I perpetuating an eye for eye? In my anger towards dehumanization, am I in turn dehumanizing? Am I simply believing doctrines and dogmas, but not participating in the work of bringing justice, on earth as it is in heaven?
If love does no harm, then I have to be aware of how I am living and moving in the world. I’ve certainly not arrived. This is a work in progress in my life, but I really want to be that kind of human. I hope to embody the love that does no harm.
What are some other love issues that come up for you when you read the ones I shared above?
Please comment and share!