The Christian life is a practical outworking of the basic principle of love. Love is a very simple concept that few fully understcand or practice, and yet it is the lifeline of Christianity. When we truly love someone, we are willing to give our all for that person and his or her well-being just as Christ did for us. This results in joy. Nothing brings parents more joy than to give to their children everything that is good for them. There is nothing that a sister will not share with her sister. And a brother goes to great extremes for those he loves. God gave us the desire to do great things for love. He created us in such a manner that giving is more blessed to the soul than receiving. Putting self aside and setting the needs of another above our own takes care of both the receiver and the spirit of the giver. Practical Christianity stems from the love of Christ exemplified in our lives.
God’s law is the epitome of infinite love. Love is the foundation of His commandments, which are drawn from the tender devotion of a Creator towards His creation. Our Father stops at nothing to ensure the best good for His children. Christians, by definition, are a people who live by Christ’s example. We are bound by the name and by the undeserved love God has shown to us, to also love and care for those around us. “Christ illustrates the nature of true religion. He shows that it consists not in systems, creeds, or rites, but in the performance of loving deeds, in bringing the greatest good to others, in genuine goodness.” The Desire of Ages, 497.
God wanted to ensure the safety and happiness of His people so He gave them ten commandments to obey. But when He was asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded, saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” He goes on to say, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37–40. Jesus said that all the commandments hung upon these two. This is the principle that Christianity is built upon. The heartbeat of Christianity is love—love for the Lord and for your fellow man; everything comes from this basic principle. The law is contingent upon love; our love for God, God’s love for us, and our love for one another. Jesus put our love for each other secondary only to us loving Him. Why? Because if we love God and one another, obedience to every other commandment is a given.
The life of the creator was the atonement for sin. Jesus, though, not only died for us, but He suffered over thirty years of ridicule and hatred here on earth because He wanted to teach us what true love really looks like. His life was service, sacrifice, and surrender; a life of true love. We have an overabundance of opportunity in our lives as Christians to show the endless devotion that God shows for us. Our thoughts, our speech, our actions, are all capable of reflecting Christ’s love. And in everything we do we are either bringing people close to God, or pushing them away from Him. Some may wonder at this; how can that be? When we see a beautiful sunset reflected in a still lake, do we continue to look into the waters? No, we look up to see the skies, to see the source in its true glory. When Christ is reflected in us, people will look up to see the source, knowing that it must be far more beautiful than the reflection. Our love for God and a life lived according to His Son’s perfect example—this is a true Christian’s “love life.” This is Christianity.
Some mistakenly define love as an emotion that is felt toward someone or something. Love involves commitment. When we commit ourselves to God we are committing to following His commands and His life. The reflection of Christ in a Christian entails not just the love that we show toward people that we hold dear. Unfortunately, we are merely sinful mortals, and it is not in us naturally to love everyone. In fact, we cannot love even those who are dear to our hearts nearly as much as God loves those who are far from Him. And since we are incapable of love in this manner, we love in a different way; through Christian duty. It is a choice. It is something that we show, even though we may not always feel it. Our sinful hearts tend to feel obligation only for those for whom we feel affection. We love those who love us, dislike those who are unkind to us, and are indifferent to those who ignore us. Martin Luther King once said, “Fire does not extinguish fire; only water can do that. Hate does not extinguish hate; only love can do that.”
If someone wrongs us in some way, there is a natural inward response to retaliate; a response that we are asked to suppress. When good is returned for evil, two things happen. Firstly, the individual who caused the pain is acknowledged as someone in need of tender care also, and thus is softened. Secondly, he is rebuked by the kindness. When kindness is returned for evil, the guilty is “burned” with the guilt of his actions. Paul said, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” Romans 12:20. When Christ was crucified, his loving kindness was a reproof to the human race.
In His personal ministry, Jesus focused on people in need. He came “to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” Luke 4:18. “But they that are whole need not a physician.” Luke 5:13. There is a saying that goes, “Keep your friends close; keep you enemies closer.” It is said as a caution to know what your enemies are up to in order to keep from getting hurt. However, the advice could really be quite applicable to Christianity. Our friends are friends for a reason. We typically share a common outlook, share like values, and have the same interests. It is our enemies that will tend to need us the most. Someone who is willing to make an enemy in one place is most likely to make them in other areas also. The anger and bitterness that would constantly accompany them calls for pity, not for anger in return, or even indifference. In our actions toward them, these people would have the opportunity to see true ministry and kindness—a picture that could well change the lives of many. It is the equivalent of a doctor living in a town where people know nothing of proper hygiene and lifestyle rather than moving to a place where proper habits are practiced and the people are healthy.
The people who are in our lives regularly are often dependent on how we interact with them. Our witness to others has a profound effect for good or for evil. This is frequently overlooked because the results are rarely immediately evident to us. God puts people in our paths who are complete strangers to whom He would like us to be of some good. The vast majority of the human race is in intense turmoil and suffering. Who better to comfort them than those who know the Ultimate Comforter? Who better to tend to them than those who know the Great Physician? We are trained in the school of Christ. For what? To congregate with those who have the same knowledge as we do? It was once said that knowledge is much like compost; it is no good unless it is spread. According to the National Geographic (November 2005), 95% of Adventists’ associates are other Seventh-day Adventists. This is a rather sad statistic, as others are neglected who direly need the truth. It is imperative that we take our knowledge to others. God gives us opportunities to do this by crossing our paths with those who need Him.
The story of the Good Samaritan is a perfect example of this. Many have treated the story as if it were just a parable that Jesus used to make a point, but it was an actual occurrence. The man who lay beaten on the side of the road was in desperate need of help. Beaten, bruised, and left to die, this man was at the mercy of anyone who would happen by. God’s divine providence sent three men to cross this poor man’s path. We are told this in inspiration: “God in His providence had brought the priest and the Levite along the road where the wounded sufferer lay, that they might see his need of mercy and help. All heaven watched to see if the hearts of these men would be touched with pity for human woe.” The Desire of Ages, 500. We are Christians; let us do something with our profession! A doctor is no good if he does not practice his art. A Christian, likewise, is no good unless practicing Christianity! God is entrusting His light to us. What are we going to do with it?
Too often we believe that our witness to others goes unnoticed because we are not witness to the effect. We do not see behind the scenes of another’s life and circumstances and emotions. Craig was a well-liked boy in the middle school he attended. He got good grades, he was involved in many extracurricular activities and was good at them, and he made friends easily. As he was walking home from school one afternoon, he bumped into another student at his school who lived on his block, knocking the stack of books out of his arms. Kyle was quite introverted and awkward. He could count his friends on one finger, and he was flunking the seventh grade. Not taking any heed of his appearance or lowliness in the middle school hierarchy, Craig picked up Kyle’s books and carried them back to their block chatting easily with him as they walked. The two boys struck up a friendship immediately. It was not until college graduation that Craig found out how much his friendship had done for Kyle. It was Kyle, not Craig, who had been elected Valedictorian of their graduating class, tall, robust, and confident. And during the course of his speech, which was delivered on the interdependence that we were created by God to have with one another, he revealed to the audience the power kindness has upon people as he told the story of his meeting with Craig and how Craig’s kindness had stayed his hand from suicide the day Craig walked him home from school. Although nothing was more natural for Craig to do, and he did not know the consequences of his benevolence, the effect on Kyle’s life was profound.
Unfortunately, these simple acts of concern and helpfulness toward each other are quite rare. Most of the time we are consumed by the daily grind and we miss the fact that the simplest and most human acts are the most profound and life altering. An individual is a witness by the love that is exhibited from one human to another. There is no need for extravagance. It is the simplest and mutest acts that are the most profound in attending to the heart and soul of our fellow man. “Many, many, have fainted and become discouraged in the great struggle of life, when one word of kindly cheer would have strengthened them to overcome. Never should we pass by one suffering soul without seeking to impart to him of the comfort wherewith we are comforted of God.” The Desire of Ages, 504.
The Bible says that we need to train our children in the way they should go so they will stay true to the path as they mature (See Proverbs 22:6.) Living our lives in accordance to God’s law is the most practical way in which we can be witnesses for Christ. And we are trained from the beginning for adherence to the Holy Spirit’s voice. “The greatest evidence of the power of Christianity that can be presented to the world is a well-ordered, well-disciplined family. This will recommend the truth as nothing else can, for it is a living witness of its practical power upon the heart.” The Adventist Home, 32. God’s law is love; His government is founded on it. How can we do any less than to show just a sliver of the love and dedication Christ showed for us? Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:40. This is such a commonly known text that it has taken up status as an adage in the minds of most Christians. Just in case this no longer tweaks the conscience into action, God elaborates on the point, driving it home. In verse 45, He says, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” If we saw Christ in need, what would we do? Most of us would jump quickly with a response that we would bend over backwards to overfill the need of our Savior. But with these texts in mind, what is the reality?
“Many who profess His name have lost sight of the fact that Christians are to represent Christ. Unless there is practical self-sacrifice for the good of others, in the family circle, in the neighborhood, in the church, and wherever we may be, then whatever our profession, we are not Christians. Christ has linked His interest with that of humanity, and He asks us to become one with Him for the saving of humanity. ‘Freely ye have received,’ He says, ‘freely give.’ Matthew 10:8” The Desire of Ages, 504. This is the rule of the Christian life.
Alicia Freedman works at Steps to Life on our LandMarks team. She can be contacted by email at: email@example.com.