Growing up in a conservative Lutheran congregation, the importance of knowing proper biblical faith was drummed into me. This is not a complaint! I don’t remember such an emphasis upon love, although I hasten to add that family and church friends were very loving.
The relationship between faith and love was hidden in the epistle lesson read yesterday in church. “Beloved, let us love one another,” it began and went on, nothing jarring. Who’s against love? Yet I’ve heard church people, even ministers, say hurtful things when they think your intellectual understanding of faith is wrong. “I’m saying this out of love.” Really? “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:7-10). That line is hard, if you’ll pause on it. It shows that church people often love in ways that are not Christ-like.
Martin Luther: “The love of God, which dwells in human beings, loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows out and bestows good. For this reason, sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive” (Heidelberg Disputation, 28). But we “friend” those who are like us. Church cliques are like hanging with like. That’s not the love that God shows us unattractive sinners in Christ.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus commands (Mark 11:22). How does faith show? Here’s something from Professor Mark Seifrid that invites reflection upon relationships in today’s polarized culture of verbal attack and personal destruction. “In their paraenesis (exhortation) the New Testament writings assign priority above all else to agape (the noun ‘love’) and agapao (‘love’ as a verb), not to pistis (faith; “New Testament Studies,” Cambridge University Press). What counts, Paul says, “is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). “Beloved, let us love one another!”