The Sine Qua Non of the Kingdom
In contrast to the habit of judgment which I challenged in the previous post, God calls his people to love the way that God loves. But what exactly does this mean? People have a lot of screwy ideas about “love” today. We use the word “love” to mean a lot of different things, from sexual intercourse (“making love”) to affection for objects (“I love my iPhone”) to friendship (“I love my friends at the bar”) to personal affirmations (“I love your new hair style”).
Thankfully, the Bible removes all ambiguity surrounding the word “love” by pointing us to the cross. “This is how we know what love is,” John says, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16). This is the kind of love that defines God’s eternal nature, and this is the kind of love we are empowered to express to all others when we become his children.
In fact, manifesting Calvary-like love is the defining mark of a child of God, which is why Jesus taught us to love even our enemies “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Our Father loves indiscriminately – like the rain falls and the sun shines – and we make it clear that we are “born from above” when we manifest this love (Matt 5:44-45).
Along the same lines, manifesting indiscriminating love is the most basic distinguishing mark of the kingdom of God. We enthrone Christ as King of our life when we agree with him that each and every person was worth him dying for and that each and every person therefore has unsurpassable worth, totally apart from any assessment of their moral character. This is precisely why a kingdom person must follow Jesus example to the point where they are willing to be killed at the hands of threatening enemies rather than judging them to be unworthy of life by killing them in self-defense.
This radical Calvary-like love seems foolish, if not immoral, to the world, which shouldn’t surprise us since this is how the message of the cross strikes the world (I Cor 1:18, 24). And yet, manifesting this kind of love is the sina qua non of the kingdom. According to Paul, it is impossible for any activity, however impressive, to have any kingdom value if it lacks this kind of love. You can speak in tongues, give prophecies, have incredible insights into God’s greatest mysteries, possess all knowledge, manifest miracle-working power, and even appear to make great sacrifices for others, but if these things are not motivated by Calvary-like love, Paul says they are altogether worthless. The only thing that matters, Paul adds, is “faith expressing itself through love” (I Cor 13:1-3).
To the degree that the cruciform God reigns in an individual or a church, they will look cruciform. They will be expressing the unsurpassable worth of all others by sacrificing on their behalf – even when these others are threatening enemies. They will, in short, love others in the same self-sacrificial way Jesus loved them.