At Morning Prayer a couple of days ago I was struck by words from the Letter to the Galatians that formed part of the New Testament reading for the day.
“…in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6
Protestants have a great thing about faith (as do other Christians, of course). Luther regarded it as the whole key to salvation, sola fide, and was very sceptical about anuthing that might serve to qualify it. So, famously, he regarded the letter of James, with its insistence that faith must be accompanied by works (James 2:17ff.), as an epistle of straw.
Yet in Galatians, which to me stands alongside Romans as the epistle in which faith seems so obviously placed against “works”, Paul insists that what counts is “faith working through love.” Love is very clearly more than simply warm feelings; it is something very active, shown in concrete action towards another person. In the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13 we many aspects of love – both what it is and what it isn’t. Paul warns that we can lots of things which are worthy in themselves, but it is only through active love that they acquire ture and lasting worth.
Which brings me to an old theme. Love can only be shown in relationship. I see and hear a lot of “speaking the truth in love” both in parish life but also in discussion on the internet and elsewhere from people who insist on their Christian faith. But the readiness to prounce judgement on others who differ seems to rise to the surface very quickly. How loving is it to speak judgementally to someone whose circumstance you barely know? How loving is it to focus on (what you consider to be) someone else’s shortcomings to the exclusion of everything else? We are quick to condemn, yet it is not ours to do so.
A few verses later on, in the same chapter of Galatians, Paul issues a warning to those who do not take this to heart:
“If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” (5.17)
I pray that this Lent, I may take this warning seriously, that I will be able to look past another’s faults and get to see as much of the full picture as I can, that I will take care to cultivate relationships with others, regardless of whether we agree.
How is your faith working through love today?