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Life’s greatest gift

Photo by Margaret Young
I’M READING one of those books that is an oldie, but a goodie – The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

Aimed primarily at those in long term relationships, it takes the reader through the diff erent ways that love can be expressed by people.

What struck me particularly was the no-nonsense way the author dismissed the concept of idealised, romantic love, and
asked his readers to hone and practise that love that requires effort and discipline; through words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.

This, he argues, is the way to ensure love has staying power.

Now, I reckon I spend a lot of time trying to preach and teach on the love as expressed in the New Testament, which I believe has staying power, and I also think Mr Chapman’s theories could be converted to a corporate expression of love that the church might have for the world in which it lives (maybe they already have and I just haven’t read that book!).

But even as I do this I am haunted by a text that I read during my theological studies, The Moral Vision of the New
Testament by Richard B Hays.

I was confronted by his premise that the key images to be found within the New Testament, which are pertinent to making
ethical decisions as a Christian, are Community, Cross and New Creation.

These, he argues, are the sufficient ethical themes to guide a church.

But shockingly he argues that the concepts of love and liberation are not sufficient.

He writes, “It is widely supposed that love is the basic message of the New Testament … however for a number of New
Testament writers, love is not a central thematic emphasis.”

For example, he argues that in Mark’s gospel the central directive to disciples is to take up the cross and follow Jesus, in Hebrews discipleship is characterised by patient perseverance and Revelation focuses on the testimony and endurance of the Saints.

Strikingly, in Acts, nowhere does the word love appear!

His final argument is that what the New Testament means generally when it talks about love is embodied in the cross.

What Mr Hays is doing is moving away from the “vapid, self-indulgent” concept of love and associating it with the love with staying power that is found in 1 John 3:16, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay our lives down for each other.”

This is where Mr Hays leaves the text, but I will continue with v.17.

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”

For the pragmatist in me it is v.17 that holds the practical staying power sense of love that Mr Hays is trying to capture in
his ethical images for the church.

It’s hard work, and it needs to be honed and practised in a multitude of ways.

But in doing this the church might actually begin to reflect the love that God has for God’s creation.

The love that has expressed itself in so many more than five ways, the love that has real staying power, the love for us to be
found in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Emmanuel.

Photo : Photo by Margaret Young