…Between being a Christian and any other altruistic form of organized behaviour. Because let's openly admit that we are not the only ones who are more and more these days focusing our attention on how we can serve others. In fact if we are frank in our evaluation of our actions we might have to say that we do even pale on occasion to some of the more aggressive agencies (even religions) who are ardently seeking to meet 'the needs' of others. I have heard far too many murmurings about how Mormons 'put us to shame in the service department.' Yet in many of these same conversations we have elevated our own actions claiming that theirs are motivated by a sort of trickery that is intended to 'suck people in' to their religious community.
This morning one of the things conveyed 'from the front' was a well-worn encouragement to love. Love is after all the essence of discipleship. And love was according to him the difference that set Christians apart. The speaker went on to outline what love was. Essentially, to my disappointment, he described love as service. Serving others was love. It was a choice we had to make which resulted in an action which cost us something and benefited others. Seems good so far. And this really isn't about analyzing his speech.
What disappointed me is that love was defined as service. I think that this is common misconception. And the clarity of this concept is not insignificant. Service cannot be what differentiates 'us' (Christians) from 'them' because 'they' are doing the same thing that 'we' are doing. Handing out food at a community kitchen, clothing, shelter, addictions counselling, and the like, are all services and actions being successfully carried out by Christian and un-Christian agencies (organized or otherwise). And let me say that service is important but service is not love. Service is a part of love…
For love to be of any value it must be able to realign the realities of individuals who become in some way interdependent of each other. From the perspective of 'me' love must be sacrificial. From the perspective of the 'other' love must be integrated enough with the circumstances of life to offer actual help, comfort, and joy. We just cannot say that we are offering a street person love when we give them a meal. The relationship we have with them simply is not deep enough to benefit them actually. We may not fail in our sacrifice but our sacrifice might be as valueless as Cain's. And we don't do any favours to people when we suggest that service projects are actually expressions of love. We delude them into thinking that they are meeting the requirements that love demands.
Too often the parable of the Good Samaritan is misinterpreted I fear. Jesus intention was not to underscore the actions of the Samaritan as loving. It is plainly clear what the right action would have been for any of the passers-by to take. They should have helped the man. The Samaritan's actions did not really show love as much as they showed honourable duty. What make this story most poignant is that those people who should have has a natural connection/relationship with the injured man did not take the loving action that they should have. So the onus of love falls to those for whom the relationship is the strongest.
That is not to say that mission projects, service ventures and foreign aid programs are in valuable. Quite the opposite! But they should never be confused with love. Agencies can provide opportunities for us to exercise love but we should be careful that we not mistake participation in these activities and programs as fulfilling our mandate to love the world.