Love with skin on

March 22nd, 2015

The schools of love established by the early Christians made the curriculum of love concrete. While they could engage in deep studies about love and participate in inspiring conversations about love, eventually they had to love a real person.

Love, like any other virtue, must sooner or later have skin on it. The word must become flesh, or the word remains word. And that is too often what occurs — even on blogs like this — where words are the media for something that only becomes real by incarnation.

Even though I believe God has called me to make writing part of my ministry, you would be surprised to learn how tired I get of doing it. I have lived long enough to know that we all talk (or write) a better game than we play. I believe in the power of words, but I also know how cheap they can be.

An old phrase captures what I am trying to say: “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” And so it is with the way of love.

When it comes to love, the thing to pay attention to is not what the sender says or writes about love, but rather whether the receivers say they feel loved or not. The question is whether the word became flesh, or not.

I saw this played out not long ago in a conversation between two Christians. The older person began by stating in words his love for the younger. Trouble was, that was all it was — words. The attitude of the older man was immersed in arrogance and condescension. His facial expressions and timed chuckles were obnoxious. Honestly, it was sickening — in and if itself — but all the more so because the older man had predecated the whole conversation on a love that was so clearly missing in his life!

Here is another reason why the early Christian communities were schools of love — they were laboratories, not lecture halls. Actual expressions of love were being tested day after day. In fact, where many monasteries were places of enforced silence, the only way to verify the presence of love was through deeds.

Love must have skin on it. People must feel loved by us. It is the receivers who verify the assertions of the senders. It is the target that determines the accuracy of the arrow. Otherwise, our words evaporate like dew on the morning grass — all fluff, no stuff.

Steve Harper is the author of “For the Sake of the Bride” and “Five Marks of a Methodist.” He blogs at Oboedire.

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