When you interact with Christians and church culture, you hear a lot of talk. Some of it is what I call “walky-talk” – talk that sounds like faith-walking, but it’s really not.
Years ago I worked as a field director for a global ministry, serving local churches. To get a handle on the heartbeat of these churches, I tasked my assistant to gather data from a cross-section of church websites. Of particular interest to me from these sites were the church mission and vision statements.
As we extracted dozens of expressions and placed them together in a single document, we made a telling discovery. By far the single most common expression or idea was something like this – “love God, love people.” For some churches, those were the exact words.
Love God, love people… blah blah blah.
(Those last three words are mine).
So what’s wrong with these four words?
Nothing. Jesus said the entirety of the law could be summed up in these words. They so succinctly embody the greatest commandment, and the runner-up, too: love God, and to love your neighbor.
But as I’ve listened to this chant, often it seems these words means something different than what Jesus had in mind. More and more, the command to “love God” simply means to believe that God exists.
And to “love people” simply means to accept everyone.
In its cheapened form, “love God, love people” means to accept God, and to accept everyone else that does, too.
I do believe church leaders who craft these purpose statements are thinking of something more pure. I don’t fault them for how the expression has been watered down. As is with most things, messages become diluted as they travel down the vine.
Loving God and loving people is a much higher standard than simple acknowledgement and acceptance.
If I acknowledge my wife’s existence (yep, she’s in my wedding pics) and accept her quirks (kind man, aren’t I?), would that be a satisfying love to her? I doubt it.
God describes himself as a jealous God. Loving God means to walk in faithful obedience to him, to keep his commands (all of them), to worship him with your full heart, mind, soul and strength. To love God in this way is an all-consuming kind of devotion.
It’s much more than simply believing God exists, singing worship songs, or downloading a bible app on your phone.
Loving people is a high standard too. Jesus told Peter that in order to love him, Peter must feed his sheep. From the gospels we learn this means something different than being comfortable with tattoos, claiming rights for various people groups, or blasting a brother or sister for not accepting another group’s view of scripture.
Some churches use “love God, love people” to explain how they are “different” (what they mean is “better”) than other churches. “We don’t judge. We accept everyone. We’re a house for sinners. We’re just here to love God and love people.”
I admit, it sounds inviting. But after a while, “love God, love people” turns to “blah blah blah”.
You can come to belief in Christ instantly. But walking with God in love develops over time.
When I first saw my wife, my heart was quickly smitten. I quickly believed I wanted to spend my life with her. But only through a season of walking with her did my belief evolve to deep devotion.
If we truly desire to walk with God, we’ll learn that to love him, and to love his children, is more than an expression.
How about you – how does the phrase strike your ears? Do you think we’re really striving for the full expression of this?