Strength in Love

Strength in Love

We’re reading through the Bible this year with our Bible Study, which means that we started the year off by reading some amazing passages of scripture – including Jesus’s Sermon on The Mount. Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, one passage from this sermon in particular is on my heart:

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:38-48

I recently read an account from a journalist who visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He wrote that one of the most poignant exhibits there was one that includes the travel bag that Dr. King had taken with him on his last trip to Memphis – the one that would end in his assassination. The journalist mentions that among the items he brought with him was a book entitled Strength in Love. This stuck out with him that day and sticks out to me today.

I can’t even begin to imagine just how much strength it truly took to stand up against generations of socially-acceptable hatred… and to do so in LOVE.

You see, love – true, deep, unconditional love – requires an enormous amount of strength. Jesus’s words written above sound like absolute insanity to us because every single fiber of our beings tells us to do the exact opposite. If someone hits us, there’s no way we can turn the other cheek, right? BUT LOVE. When a reckless, all-consuming love for others enters the picture, the strength required to act on it isn’t so hard to come by. Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount aren’t empty – He actually lived by them because He loved so deeply.

It’s beyond comprehension that a human can do the same. Jesus was both man and God, so that had to have been easier for Him than for us, right? I mean, that’s what I tell myself when I need an excuse to get out of loving others that deeply…

But then Dr. King pops into my mind… He was 100% human… and he did it.

I can’t wrap my mind around the moment when he was so convicted to make a stand – to hold an entire country accountable – to rebuke the sin that so deeply entangled a nation – to be a leader for change in a dangerous environment – and to do it all in love… The courage that required… the consistent practice of bravery in his day-to-day… the constant decision to step over fear… Dr. King answered a call of obedience – no matter what the outcome would be. The strength that required day in and day out is enormous… it was, in fact, Strength in Love.

My friend Jenn Jett coined the term ‘Obedience Over Outcome’ and, to me, no one better illustrated that in practice than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did.

He was called to respond to hatred with love. He was called to react to hostility with kindness. He was called to receive anger and return it with peace. He was obedient to the call to be mighty in conviction and steadfast in gentleness. I don’t find it ironic at all that the book in his bag was entitled ‘Strength in Love‘, because that is exactly how he lived his life and ended up changing the world.

Here’s the kicker… that was not his job to do alone, you know. Jesus was talking to us all.

And I find myself cowering in the face of small, personal convictions. I find myself giving God excuses when the call to obedience seems a bit too scary. What would happen if we chose obedience over outcome? What would happen if we all decided to demonstrate Strength in Love? Today, I encourage you to consider Jesus’ words and Dr. King’s obedience as you walk through your day… week… month…

When your flesh wants revenge, love.
When your tongue wants to gossip, love.
When your body wants to react in anger, love.
When your mind starts to worry, love.
When your heart feels weary, love.

Thank you, Dr. King for your obedience and for your strength in love!

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