Our title today comes from a line in a song by U2 featured in the new movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Nelson Mandela’s passing last week made me think of him especially in light of the last section of the New Covenant teaching that we have been posting as a 12-part series: “Our New Relationship with God.” That section is based on the following verses that chronicled Paul’s life as the founder of the Christian church among the Gentiles in a time of great persecution, and could as easily have been taken from the life of Nelson Mandela, who sought, all his life, for a different reaction to hate than to simply hate back.
We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3–10)
These indeed are fitting words for Paul, and Mr. Mandela, in light of how, where, and when they lived their lives, but what do they mean to us? They mean that love is rarely easy. Love is the strongest when it is tested, and it is tested when it is wronged. We may not have yet had our love tested by beatings and imprisonments, but we have been hurt or abused, and we all have been called to love when love is not the first arrow we reach for in our quiver.
First there is the call to purity, understanding, patience and kindness when these are the last things the situation calls for, at least in natural, human terms. These are a much higher form of interaction than what is usually exhibited when love is tested by hate, false accusations and misunderstanding. Yet this is the way of the Lord. This is where Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give the thief our coat, too, when all he wanted was our shirt. This is returning good for evil. It is a godly thing, only, not possible through mere human effort. That’s why it requires the Holy Spirit and it is manifested by a divine source of sincere love.
And then it stays tough in the face of being judged by human courts and the wrong opinions of others. It stays it’s course and does not need to defend itself, because love is self-evident. It stands on its own two feet. It thrives in adversity and pain and it becomes the clearest evidence that God is in our lives, because we are not capable of this and we know it as much as anyone else.
And right now, this morning, I am most aware of this kind of love as exhibited toward me by my wife when I least deserve it. I will strive to not take this lightly.