SHOW, DON'T TELL
If you ever take a course in creative writing, one of the themes you will hear over and over is the instruction, "Show, don't tell." By that they mean instead of saying, "Albert was angry at his brother" you should say something like "Albert's face began to grow red. Suddenly, he let out a yell, brought his hand back as far as he could behind him, and slapped his brother across the face with all the force his 6-year-old body could muster." Both statements let the reader know that Albert is angry at his brother, but while the first statement is fairly flat and uninteresting, the second almost lets the reader feel the force of the blow. As a general rule, our writing is much more effective when we can portray actions that show us what a character is feeling rather than just telling a reader that a character is angry, sad, delighted or whatever. Show, don't tell.
Most creative writing instructors don't realize that this basic rule of the trade has Biblical roots. But right here in John is basically the same instruction given by Jesus to the disciples. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." The first thing that struck me about this passage when I began to think about it was...why does Jesus say it is a new commandment? The command to love has been given before...not just by Jesus but also in the Old Testament. Love your neighbor as yourself is from the book of Leviticus. And Jesus has already commanded that we love our enemies. Love one another hardly seems like a new idea. And it isn't. The part that makes it new isn't the part that says love one another, but the part that says, "Just as I have loved you."
When Jesus says "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another," there is a new and objective standard established. What does it mean to love one another? It means to act toward others as Jesus did. It means show, don't just tell. It means to give, to understand, to forgive, to sacrifice, to heal, to teach, to feed, to overturn tables, to pray, to help, to guide. It means that love is not a fuzzy feeling but an action verb.
Peter is still in the realm of telling and feeling. "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." And Peter means it. He is filled with incredible feeling for Jesus, but Jesus does not want the words. "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times." And that's exactly what happened. Peter's words were only that, and Jesus knew it.
Real love is not proven by the feelings and it is not proven by the words. Love is proved by our action. "Faith without works is dead." The thing that we have to understand from this passage above all else is that the mark of a follower of Jesus is love. That love is not measured by what we say we believe or how often we are in church or how loudly we sing "How Great Thou Art." Our love for God is measured by the degree to which our lives resemble the life of Jesus. It doesn't matter that we know the creeds. It doesn't matter that we know what the Bible says. It doesn't even matter that we're preachers telling others about God every week. If we fail in our active and sacrificial love for one another, we have failed altogether. It is not wrong to declare our love and tell of our faith, but it is not enough. We must show as well as tell of God's love, and I think the showing should come first.
Many if not most religions demand that belief be evidenced in life. But the commandments of Jesus add something that the others do not. Most faiths operate on what is called "negative morality." In other words, the holy life is achieved by refraining from doing certain things that are considered evil.
The goal in Hinduism, for instance, is not love but blamelessness. If you can manage to keep yourself from doing evil, you are blameless and achieve the goal. Most of the Ten Commandments start with "Thou shalt not." For the Christian, the blameless life is useless if you haven't actually done any good. What Jesus commands is "positive morality." You have to go out and do good in addition to abstaining from evil. You don't get any brownie points for not walking next door and shooting your neighbor. Helping your enemy when he or she is hurting is what earns the gold star.
Remember the rich young ruler who came to Jesus wanting to be saved? He was blameless according to the law--he had kept all of the commandments from his youth. And that's tough. He never profaned the Sabbath or dishonored his parents, he never wanted what others had, never lied, never put anything else before God. There aren't many of us who could claim such a blameless life. But it wasn't enough. Refraining from evil was a good start, but it didn't go far enough. What he needed was not a blameless life, but a life of positive action...a life of love. What he needed was to sell all he owned and give it to the poor. He had never directly hurt the poor, but he had never helped them either. Not hurting others is a step in the right direction, but it won't take you to the other end of the road. Jesus teaches us that we must do for others, we must actively help, we must love as Jesus loved.
Lots of people have written lots of words trying to distinguish all the different kinds of love. Getting support from different Greek words, scholars and psychologists write about the differences between romantic love, love for family, love for friends, and Christian love. I don't believe that the Bible supports the notion of different kinds of love. 1 John tells us that God is love, and God is one, not many. There is one God and one love expressed through self-giving and service to the world.
God gave first of God's creative genius in making the earth and all that is in it. It is the most beautiful and perfect work of art, the most brilliant scientific marvel, ever to be produced. The greatest human minds have just barely scratched the surface of how it operates. We can't even really understand what is in front of us, let alone create it from scratch. The Creation is God's self-expression and it is handed to us to tend and use to spread the news of God's love.
God next gave life...God's own breath breathed into the nostrils of Adam and Eve and every human being since. The life of God, the love of God breathed into us. When we forgot God, when we forgot who we were and why we were here and what the earth was for, God gave the ultimate gift and became one of us...took on human flesh to show us how we were intended to live. God's telling of that message in Scripture was good, but we distorted what was there. The telling in words was not enough, and God came in Jesus to show us what the Word meant. It meant to love. It meant to serve. It meant to return hatred with forgiveness and to meet sin with grace.
The Word that became the Bible is the telling of love. The Word that became flesh is the showing of love. The telling is good, but words can be taken many ways, and we spent so long arguing about the interpretation that we had no time to actually put what it says into practice. So God set the words to one side...not because they were wrong, but because we were stumbling. God stopped telling and started showing. God showed up and said..."Come to me. I will teach you. I will show you. I will heal you. I will love you. I will give you rest."
That is the Christian message. John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England who founded the Methodist Church. When he sent the first three evangelists to the colonies in America, his parting words to them were "Offer them Christ." That is our job and our message. We are not sent to arm-twist people into believing a set of doctrines. We are not sent to frighten people with the fires of hell. We are not sent to ferret out sin from the dark corners of people's lives.
We are called and sent to offer them Christ...to offer people a relationship with Jesus. That's all. We are matchmakers of a sort. We introduce people to Jesus...God in the flesh...and we make the introduction best through our actions, not our words. We offer them Christ by showing them Christ. By the way we live our lives, we proclaim to the world who Jesus is.
Jesus told the disciples to love others as he had loved them, but not because that was the smoothest way to live. It got Jesus and most of the disciples killed. Jesus was not telling them how to live for their own sakes, Jesus was telling them how to spread the good news that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Jesus was telling them how to offer a relationship with God to those who didn't have one. Love them. Let the love that Jesus showed to them flow right through them, like water through a pipe, out to the thirsty souls around them.
You see, once we get hooked up in a relationship with Jesus, God will work with us to get the kinks out of our lives. God has a plan tailored to each individual personality and circumstance, and it is God alone who knows the heart. It is God alone who can grow a person in love. Our job is not to teach the class, but simply to introduce people to the Teacher...and the way to do that is to love others the way the Teacher loved. It is that loving presence that speaks to the world the nature of God and makes others want to accept the offer of a relationship.
The trick is that we cannot offer what we do not have. To offer a relationship with Christ, we must have one ourselves...and when we do have one ourselves, we are compelled to offer it. Not because God stirs us against our will, but because it is such a wonderful thing, we have to tell others about it. Remember a time that you met someone truly wonderful. Maybe a spouse or a teacher or a friend. Were you ashamed to introduce that person to others? Didn't you find yourself always saying to people... "Hey, you have just got to come and meet so and so." Maybe it wasn't a person but a piece of music..."Hey, you've got to listen to this!" or a movie or a book you told people they just had to read or see.
That is what we are offering...a relationship so incredible to us that we have to share it with everybody. A lot of the times we don't share our faith like we share excitement about a great person or a great piece of music. Some of us share our faith like we share a chain letter...either hoping to get our wish if we send it to at least ten people or fearful of the curse that will come down on our heads if we don't. That's not it.
When I was in high school, I got a pile of my friends to take German...all because I thought my German teacher was the best thing since sliced bread. I am now in ministry because I can't imagine going through life without Jesus by my side. My relationship with Jesus doesn't shelter me from suffering, but it does give my suffering a purpose and provides me with extra strength, comfort and rest when I need it most. In Jesus I have a teacher, a companion, and a love beyond all others. What I have in that relationship is available to all, and the love that has been given to me compels me to share the news with everyone I can. You can have a personal relationship with God...one on one...no matter what you've done or who you are. If you ask, Jesus will come, and life will never be the same.
The offer stands open for any to take. If you have never actually asked Jesus to come into your life and to lead you to God, then I invite you to do it today. If you have been telling a lot about God but have never been really showing God's love in your life, I invite you to commit to changing that today. As Barb plays during the meditation time the invitation to accept Jesus and to show His love to others is open. You can accept it and let others know you have accepted it by coming to the front or by raising your hand where you are. You can accept it without anyone knowing beyond you and God. You can either come forward or stay where you are to pray for those who are accepting the invitation.
Jesus said, "Go into the world and make disciples." Wesley said, "Offer them Christ." The offer stands. It is up to you to respond. Come if you will.
© 2003, Anne Robertson
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