I have spent much of this morning thinking about 1 year of my life as an 18 year old. I had just joined a US based theatre company and I was in Stuttgart, Germany at the training school and something happened which is hard to explain. For those who have been in this organisation or something similar they understand ‘love-bombing’. As new recruits we were placed in the centre of the room and suddenly in came running a whole crowd of people singing a song:
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord/ We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored/ And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
As they circled us I knew I had never experienced anything like it in any church I had been in my entire life. This was life-changing.
One year later on a brief visit back home I decided to break the 2 year commitment I made and leave. I received a letter which titled me as ‘persona non grata’ and that the friends still in the organisation would never be in contact with me again. Those who left after the 2 years or had made the next level commitment of 5 years and even a ‘life-time’ commitment, if they broke it, they too would receive the same letter.
I have found myself caught up in reading pages of threads on the internet from people who had left that organisation and the trauma they faced.
An organisation which created an incredible culture of love but left scars that people are still trying to find solace from. I got out early.
What happened to me isn’t unique in that someone always has a similar story from some ministry or church. Love is powerful because it can be very manipulative and abusive.
I have never written about my experiences and I find the above quite cathartic.
It has come because of this amazing letter to the Philippians. Paul has incredible love for them and praises them for their love. In the last couple of hours I have been praying and thinking about Christian love. The people I have loved and love. Those who have died and have loved me and those still alive who tell me in many ways that they love me. Paul writes, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1: 9-11)
And I understand something new. This is not love-bombing. This is not some gushy, sentimental, feel-good love. It is this and this is his prayer:
Love that grows in a personal experience and the ability to apply that into practical living.
Paul doesn’t say where that love should be directed or who the personal experience should be of. But it is obvious that he is thinking of Jesus Christ and God.
Our love for God flows into our love for others. Not the other way round.
Jesus is always first.
Love that has a sense of what is vital
I use the Moffatt translation for that heading.
In a plethora of opinions, views, campaigns, theories, attitudes and behaviours, love tests them all and then knows not what is good from the bad but also the best from the better.
Love is intelligent.
Love is real
The Message translates Paul saying he prays that their love will be sincere.
The word sincere means without wax. When merchants were wanting to hide the defects and cracks in their pottery they would use wax to sell at a better price. The buyer could only see the wax if they held it against the light. Reputable merchants would advertise their products as ‘without wax’, sincere, real.
Paul also says our love should be blameless. The word is skandalon. It is used for a snare that causes others to fall.
Real love is only seen if it is held against the light of Jesus Christ.
That’s our prayer for the Church.
A love that does not manipulate, that does not use guilt or fear, mind-controlling techniques and spiritual abuse. A love that puts Jesus first, that gets to the best for that moment and which is real and can stand the test of the light of Christ.