I have GOT to get some new jeans. As I was throwing mine in the wash, I realized all but one pair are sagging in the knees or worse, coming apart at the seams in some highly critical regions.
We are not talking a level of trendy distressing here. We are talking potential wardrobe malfunction in the back-pocket area if I’m not careful.
Reminds me of the time my husband started to stand up in church, caught his pocket on a snag on the pew arm, and ripped open a sizable hole. We had to scurry out with me holding a bulletin over his backside. We’ve been anti-wooden-pew ever since.
Since I’m on the topic of clothes – and how to avoid clothing fails – I wanted to give you a quick devotional on the must-have garment for our spiritual wardrobe:
And over all these virtue put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)
I needed to hear that. I’ve been wrestling with how to engage people around me with compassion but also truthfulness in a climate that stirs up the worst kind of bickering, grandstanding, and frankly, backside-showing that I’ve ever seen.
There is not a bulletin big enough to cover some of that.
But the answer that Paul gave Colossian church is still the answer 2000 years later: put on love above all else.
Two phrases jump out at me. The first is over all. Regardless of how we’re outfitted with other attributes like compassion and kindness (see Col 3:12-13) or how we’re using our gifts and talents (see 1 Cor 13:1-4), we’re going to need one critical, over-all garment called love.
None of the other virtues and none of our other actions work all that well without being energized and activated by love. We are still going to need some “love-overalls” to pull the whole shebang together in unity.
The second phrase, perfect unity, is also important because the word perfect or perfection speaks of something that is complete and mature rather than simply flawless.
May I pause and reiterate that word MATURE?
Ouch, I might have needed to hear that. Especially since I just got back from the middle-school car line for morning drop off and I *might* have been a little immature in front of my daughter with my discussion of some other drivers.
I let my love overalls slip a bit. Thank God that maturity is a process of growing and changing over time, and thank God, too, that when love is empowering that process, we can have confidence that we will grow healthier, stronger, and more effective in our communities. With love at the controls, we have purpose in our actions and our relationships, and they become a reflection of the greater purpose God has outlined for us.
Jesus sums it up best. Look at His words in Matthew 22:37-40:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Now, I might be an English major, but even I can tell there is some kind of funny math going on in this equation. I’ve helped with enough word problems to think it looks an awful lot like this one:
If Freddy McMath puts all his apples into one basket, how many apples does he have to put into other baskets?
On a math worksheet the answer is always going to be a big, fat ZERO.
In what other realm of possibility would taking all of something—all your love expressed with everything you’ve got—and funneling it towards one target somehow leave behind more of that thing to direct toward more targets: other people and yourself?
I guarantee you that if you turn this equation around, it will not work that way. You’ll be back to Freddy McMath and his empty baskets. If with heart and soul, you love yourself, you’ll choke on your own arrogance and narcissism. If you give everything you’ve got to some other earthly person, you’ll wither away in disappointment and bondage. But if we put our whole selves into loving God, something amazing happens: we learn to receive His love and that love multiplies to ourselves and to everyone else.
Trying to be more loving when you’re not willing to throw yourself heart and soul into the arms of Jesus will not work.
But when you DO begin to fill up on God, you begin to have more than enough for others and yourself because the God Who IS love is operating on the inside of you. He IS the essence of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
In fact, next time you’re wondering what it looks like to lead with love or the next time you find yourself doubting God’s love for you, go back to these verses and replace the word “Love” with “God.”
That is the God we serve and that is the love He makes available to others through us. If it were just up to one of us paltry humans to exercise that kind of love, honestly, we’d be doomed. But our God makes it possible through His Spirit to begin loving the way He does and to allow His wise, hopeful, persevering, perfectly unifying love to cover others with dignity and honor.