Love Your Brother. Let God Love The World.

I love mankind comic

The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Real People Are Hard To Love

At least for a rascal like me. It’s so easy to say I love the world or a major subset of it. But when it gets down to it, I’ve got my hands full loving the people right in front of me.

I am right there with Brother D. Some of the same petty things that disturbed him, disturb me. The brother who picks at his food and the sister who sniffles, the brother who doesn’t clean up his dog’s doo and the sister who speaks in high-pitch- that these little things can annoy me reveals a sin-sick heart. Not to mention the deadlies, like my envy and pride.

If I- sometime difficult, irritating sister- cannot love my sometime difficult, irritating brother – then Houston, we have a problem.

Because how can I love the God I cannot see if I cannot love the realio, trulio people in right in front of me?

Or, to borrow the Beloved Apostle’s words, If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Why Now?

Why am I writing this now?

First, because I need to hear it. I want this chaos to breed clarity. And love. As always, I’m writing first to me.

Second, because I want you to be free from false guilt you might feel for not having a feeling of love for people you don’t know. We cannot love what we do not know.

Third, because our world is being shaken. And when things are shaken we must anchor on truth. Since the murder of George Floyd the world wants change. One thing I know about change- about good, gospel change- is that it happens one sinful heart at a time. Racism and all other forms of selfish, sinful, setting ourselves above others only ends when Christ comes to rule our hearts.

This is not to say we ought to be content with the state of our love. As if we could say, “I’ve loved enough. I’m done.” No way. Let no debt remain outstandingexcept the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Be zealous to love and do good (Titus 2:14, Romans 12:11).

But we can’t let our love for “humanity in general” or our zealous words on social media substitute for patient, kind love for the real people in our lives.

Talk Is Cheap

The course of thy life will speak more for thee than the discourse of thy lips. Puritan George Swinnock wrote those words 400 years ago.

But Apostle John said way before that, Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

We say we love God. We celebrate his love for us. But there is in us irritation and impatience and jealousy and greed and selfishness with respect to the people that God has placed nearest to us.

Brothers and sisters, should we say this gospel contradiction is okay? It’s easy to say, ‘I love God.’ Surely it’s much easier to claim allegiance to a God who I can’t see than to live in self-sacrificing love toward the people that we live the nearest to.

Paul Tripp, “Love’s War

Talk is cheap.

It is so easy to say we love people we don’t know. To hashtag my #love for the world is cheap. But to show patience with a sister who’s annoying me is much more costly. It costs my time and energy.

To forgive a neighbor who mows down my flowers, to rejoice with a sister who gets what I want or forbear a brother whose words wound- those can be harder than loving the world.

God Loves The World

The past two weeks have tapped me dry. In large part, because I have passionate and caring friends and family on “both sides” of these vital issues. I want to love them well.

I’ve searched my heart and sought peace as the Spirit leads. I’ve read uncomfortable words and wept for the heavy burden of sins. I’ve reached out to black brothers, albeit awkwardly, to to express my imperfect love.

But I haven’t loved the world. By grace, and for Christ’s sake, I am trying hard to love my neighbor. The one I met yesterday on the way to the mailbox, the friends I listened to last night, and the three who share this house with me.

It sounds glorious to say I love the world. But I cannot love the world. Only God is big enough and pure enough and loving enough to love the whole wide world.

Let Us Love Our Neighbors

Which is as He intended. Correct me if I’m wrong, but God never called me- called us- to “love the world.” That’s God’s job. Almighty God alone is equal to that task (John 3:16).

In point of fact, we are called not to love the world. (See 1 John 2:15.*) We are called to do something much harder than loving the whole world. We are called to love one another (John 13:34), to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:30-31) and to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). And loving those I see, who hurt or disagree with me, is far harder than loving the world.

So in these days when love-talk for humanity abounds, our challenge is first to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:34-40)

But there is another challenge.

Let us rest in the unfailing love of God who alone can and -Hallelujah!- does love the whole wide world.

We love because he first loved us.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:19-21

*In Scripture and in John’s writing, the word world has multiple meanings- from the created physical universe to the people who dwell on earth, to a particular subset of them. This article helps explain. For the purpose of this post, I’m using world in the sense of “all humanity.”

Firm Core, Soft Edges

Kathy is not usually confrontational. And I used to think she was nice. 

By nice, I mean sweet and agreeable. Maybe a tiny bit superficial. Sunny and seventies and no clouds in the sky. I like your shirt and Have a great weekend. Sugar cookies and sweet tea. That nice.

But one conversation with Kathy last week confirms it. Now I know better.

Kathy is not nice.

Not Necessarily Nice

Niceness isn’t bad, per se. But in an age when conviction’s sharp edges cut down bridges and at the same time truth mutes itself and neuters love, we really must get to know kindness. 
In his praise for Barry Corey’s new book, Love KindnessRandy Alcorn nails it. There shouldn’t be this dichotomy. Grace can coexist with truth. But, writes Alcorn, 

Too many Christians choose between standing for truth and demonstrating grace, and the result is self-righteous meanness disguised as truth or indifferent tolerance disguised as grace…The church today desperately needs the humility that rejects mean-spirited religion and exemplifies kindness while upholding biblical truth. 

Many of us equate kindness with niceness. I did. We think kind means spongy and soft and never upsetting. We see nice as milquetoast and mild-mannered and never hurt a fly.

But it’s not that.

It’s a firm core of truth and soft edges of grace. Kind of like a Koosh ball. Remember those?

My brother would dangle it by its stretchy rubber strings. Sometimes, I’d fumble around with the filaments until my fingers found where they connected.

Flexible met firm at the core. Kind of like kindness.

Firm Core, Soft Edges

Corey doesn’t mention Koosh balls. But they kept tossing around my mind as I raced through Love Kindness. I saw them first in the book’s introduction, where Corey explains,

In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme of the other, soft centers or hard edges…Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges. 

Kindness enables us to negotiate in a time when negotiating is dying and friendly discussions are yielding to rancor.  

Whereas aggression has a firm center and hard edges, niceness has soft edges and a spongy center. Niceness may be pleasant but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. 

Kindness is strong yet humble. Kindness is honesty and looks like truth with love. David believed this, writing, “Let a righteous man strike me-that is a kindness.”

In short, kindness is living life with a firm center and soft edges. It has real power to influence others for good, because it deals in that precious, divine currency-grace joined to truth. 

Useful And Profitable

Kindness in Greek is chrestotesIt means useful and profitable. It’s more than sentiment. It’s a quality of being helpful and beneficial, of seeking to improve and bless others. It’s much more “Let me carry that for you,” and “Need a shoulder rub?” than “What a tough load,” and “I’m sorry you’re stressed.” Kindness is more like Let me watch your kids than I’m thinking of you while John travels this week.

Not that tender-hearts and sympathy aren’t good and healing. They are. But they’re not kindness. They’re not chrestotes. When Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden,” he appealed with kindness. His yoke, he said, was easy- chrestos, kind- and his load was light.

Soft edges anchored to a firm core sounds a lot like Paul’s becoming all things to all men that [he] might save someAnd like conversations full of grace and seasoned with salt, and doing good to all men and a being quick to listen. It is an others-focused way of life that spills out of a Christ-centered, rock-solid core of biblical conviction.

It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And the promotion of his own kindness is the very grounds of our salvation. The very reason God made us alive with Christ, Paul wrote, was so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Who was overflowingly full of grace and truth.

This is kindness. 

Being Receivable

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. Matthew 10:40
Being receivable, for God’s sake, was front-burner for Hugh Corey. In Love Kindness, Corey recounts just how close this uncommon concept was to his dad’s heart.

“Barry,” he said, “if the lives God intersects with mine don’t have the opportunity to receive me, how will they ever know the love God has for them? I’ve got to live my life so strangers, friends, aching, lonely, family-they receive me,” he said. “And through me they see God’s inexhaustible love.” 

Clearly, Corey’s father was a very kind man. He is quick to clarify, though, that living to be receivable is not the same as living to be received. Being received is out of our control. But we can make ourselves receivable.

This is living kindly. This is aiming to remove, or at least reduce, the obstacles those around us have to faith. This is pre-eminent in my parenting prayers: Lord, help me live so that the boys see you for who you are. Help me not to be a stumbling block to their seeking you. The Apostle Paul lived to be receivable. We endure all things so we cause no obstacle to the gospel of Christ

The way of kindness, explains Corey is often self-effacing, Koosh-strand flexibility, receivable kindness, does not get hung up on looking perfect. People are far more receivable, Corey writes, when they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Even so, living a humble, receivable life is no guarantee we will be received.  In fact, Jesus promises that his own will be rejected and hated. “Whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). There’s union with Christ even then.

Conversing With Kindness 

When kindness walks into a room it isn’t thinking, Here I am. Instead it’s thinking, There you are. That is the way of kindness. Kindness listens to understand rather than waits to interject self. 
Kindness, writes Corey, calls us to enter conversations with those whose perspectives differ from ours. He details a candid conversation he shared with a lesbian friend, and adds,

Sometimes in our zeal for a firm center, we default to lectures from the sidelines rather than initiating gracious conversation with those whose standards are different from our own. When we respond this way, our edges calcify, and grace is lost in a fight for truth (p. 54).

This builds walls not bridges. Bony-hard edges don’t make for a good hug.

But soft centers with soft edges aren’t biblically kind either. In Jesus’ way of kindness, we can be confident in our beliefs and be comfortable listening to those with differing views.

The point isn’t to be respected or even to become friends. It’s also not to avoid awkwardness or to avoid making someone feel uncomfortable. Sometimes discomfort is just what the doctor ordered to set things right.

The point of kindness
, says Corey, is to represent Jesus. When we are genuine and winsome, we are able to point them to their greatest good, which is found only in the gospel (p. 54). Love is patient and kind and true love, John Piper asserts, is doing whatever you have to do to help people see and treasure the glory of God as their supreme joy. 

Which means that conversations borne of kindness are not simply for shooting the breeze. Instead, with patience and humility, we do aim to convince.

But that after listening and learning what we didn’t understand.

Why Kindness?

As President of Biola University, Barry Corey walks this talk. In 2012 some Biola alumni formed the Biola Queer Underground (BQU). Its goals were to raise awareness about same-sex attracted Biola grads and to pressure the university to change its sexual behavior policy. 
Talk about a prime-time for Corey’s receivable kindness to shine.
And shine it did. Barry Corey called some of the more vocal gay alumni a few weeks after the BQU rocked the Biola world, even placing it, and him, in the national news. Over lunch one day, thousands of miles from his home, they talked. And Barry Corey listened and learned. 
Corey was so moved by the conversation that he invited a same-sex group of alumni to share their stories with Biola’s faculty a few months later. They did. And there were tears and pleas, he writes, but no fists or raised voices. Biola did not change its stance on sexuality. It did express kindness. 
Corey explains, 

Kindness does not mean we assent to cultural norms or that we give people a pass to feed their own moral appetites under the guise of individual choice or because, “God loves us anyway.” God’s kind of kindness is far different from niceness or tolerance because it leads us to see his holiness and purity and from there, to see our own depravity (p. 66). 

In short, God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. As imitators of God, ours should too.

Humility, Not Dichotomy

Kindness is not anything goes. And it’s also not talk ‘atcha and fly. Kindness is way harder than both of those– way more supernatural. It is our job to keep a firm core, which strangely accentuates soft edges. External flexibility, writes Corey, does not have to equate to internal weakness. 

But kindness that bends to accept as valid everyone else’s viewpoint is not kindness. We can be kind and assured of truth. We can be kind and encourage one another toward righteousness.

Kindness pairs well with humility. Paul puts the two together in Colossians 2, Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility.

Like kindness, humility is often confused.

Jon Bloom explains how,

[H]umble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.

Which brings me back to Kathy. Kathy who was kind enough to me to hold out the truth in love to help me grow up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Hard Core Kindness

Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness. Let him rebuke me- it is oil on my head; let my head not refuse it. Psalm 141:5

Kathy is a gentlewoman through and through. In the decade I’ve known her, her words have never wounded. They only ever nurture. Kathy is ever calm, never loud, always and forever gracious. I only ever enjoyed brushing against her Kooshy soft edges when we walk and talk.

Kathy listened. She was, as she always is, soft on the edges and truly present when we walked and I talked last week.

Oh, was I angry! He knew that Friday is Gabe’s party. We wrote it on our calendars a month ago. Then last night he told me he’s got a golf outing with his friends all day. Which means he’ll miss most of the party. The whole family’s coming at four and he won’t get home until six or seven o’clock. It just burns me. 

When came up for air and sweet Kathy caught me by surprise.

Abbi, can I give you a challenge?  

Gulp. Oh, dear. Of course. Firm core incoming.

When you get home tonight, why don’t you tell Jim to go golfing as planned and to have fun with the guys? Tell him you’ll be just fine without him. And the days he goes to golf, give him a big kiss as he heads out and a warm hug when he gets home. 

These words were not nice. Implicit in Kathy’s challenge was the truth that I was in the wrong, that I was not acting in love. And her willingness to challenge me-that’s the firm core of kindness. 

Nice doesn’t speak truth so boldly. Nice doesn’t call out sinful, selfish attitudes so plainly. Nice doesn’t rebuke and dump much-needed, healing oil on my head.

Centuries ago, Matthew Henry wrote, of this precious oil,

This oil shall be as an excellent oil to a wound, to mollify it and close it up; it shall not break my head, as some reckon it to do, who could as well bear to have their heads broken as to be told of their faults; but, says David, “I am not of that mind; it is my sin that has broken my head, that has broken my bones,” The reproof is an excellent oil, to cure the bruises sin has given me. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart.

Now you know why. My friend Kathy is not merely nice. She is not just a great listener and a sweet friend. She is something way more courageous and influential, way more strong and loving.

Kathy is kind.

He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 
Micah 6:8