Though we have theology, organization and finance behind our missions if we have not love we have nothing.
For those of us that base our missionary endeavors upon the great commission it is important to realize that the driving force behind our execution of that commission should not be obedience but love. The very essence of God is love and if our mission is to accurately reflect the nature of the relationship that God wishes to have with man then it to must be characterized by love. This brief paper aims to highlight one or two aspects of the Biblical argument for basing mission upon love.
The one stark fact which is simple to understand but almost impossible to comprehend is that love is the defining characteristic of God. 1John 4:8 states: 'God is Love'. Within the New Testament no other attribute of God is used to define Him in this way. The great Gospel verse John 3:16 starts by giving the reason for the Gospel: 'For God so loved the world...' (emphasis mine). We are told that one of the effects of the cross was to demonstrate the love of God: 'God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us' and we are also told that our son-ship is again based upon love: 'See what love the Father has given us that we should be called the children of God.' We therefore see that if we are to portray God to the World, love must be pre-eminent.
Unfortunately the love which is to characterize us is neither simple to understand nor easy to achieve. In fact I believe that it really has to be split into four different aspects even to be accurately stated: the love of Christ for us, the love of us for God, the love of us for our brethren and the love of us for our neighbor. I shall attempt to tackle each of these in sequence.
When Paul was attempting to explain his almost fanatical devotion to mission he stated that it was because the love of Christ controlled him. It is vital to see that it was not his love for Christ but the love of Christ for him. The real meaning of this was first taught to me by my eldest son when he was about three months old and my youngest still reminds me of it occasionally. Matthew developed colic and he would cry, kick, punch and scream for hours; at first I would try to medicate, feed, change diapers or do something to help him. Then one night out of sheer exhaustion I just took him to bed, wrapped him tightly in my arms and hugged him; after about 3 minutes of infuriated attempted wriggling he just feel asleep. After a couple of weeks just coming into the 'hug grip' was enough to relax him completely and send him to sleep.
Today when my youngest has an accident I do a thirty second check that nothing is really wrong and then I just wrap him in my arms and hold him. It is the knowledge that he is engulfed by the one that loves him that allows him to endure the pain of the moment. Similarly it is the knowledge that we are surrounded by the everlasting arms of God that should allow us to endure the pain or situation in which we are placed.
The second item on my list of loves, although the greatest commandment, is that we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul and mind. At least in terms of illustration this is almost the antithesis of the previous example. If my youngest has come to me it is almost certainly because he has scrapped himself up playing with his friends. Whilst he has a need he will happily rest in my arms but once the immediate problem is gone I'm pushed away and he races of to play with his friends again. Our relationship to God is to be very different. Our response to the love of God should be that our thoughts, emotions and actions are besotted with the God of heaven; He should be our focus.
The third item which is so terribly lacking in many Christian circles is a love for our fellow believers. Christ used our love for the brethren as the hallmark of His disciples: 'by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples; if ye have love one to another.'
Just in case some felt this was an observation Christ also commanded this love to one another it at least three places. Paul picked up the theme in Rom 12:10 adding that this love was to be demonstrated by deferring to one another and even in longsuffering and forbearance if needs be. Peter also echoed the theme going so far as to state that brotherly love was the last stage in the entire Christian training program.
It may seem a little weird for a 'missions' essay that it is the love for the ungodly that I have relegated to last place; but this is no mistake. I firmly believe that mission is the out flowing of a healthy Christian life and a healthy Christian life is predicated upon the three loves that I have detailed to this point. We are told that we are to be transformed into the image of Christ and that our minds are to be renewed to approve and accept those things that God would. As we accept the toil of our situation through an understanding of the love of God, as we lay aside the distractions of the world through our love for God and as we cease to engage in internal battles through our love for the brethren we will all the more rapidly achieve that transformation. And as we achieve that transformation the very essence of God, His love for the world, will become a part of our nature too.
Many of the aspects of mission can be agreed upon, executed, measured and enforced: love cannot. It is the one vital requirement that really is a law unto itself. There is no 'how-to' book or set of guidelines that can reliably produce it although many can help it be faked. Therefore my hope for this essay is that it will simply remind us of the importance of love so that in our own walk with God we prayerfully seek to develop it.