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Christian love is all about action



Save the sentimentality for Christmas cards

By Cecelia D. Armstrong | Presbyterians Today

Billboard that reads, "That love thy neighbor thing. I meant that" signed God.During the holidays, we find ourselves wrapping the babe born in Bethlehem in a thick blanket woven with the threads of sentimental love. We sing hymns about how love came down from heaven. We light the fourth candle around the Advent wreath — referred to as the “love” candle in most wreath-lighting liturgies — and bask in its warm glow. It’s all very comforting. Yet the love God gave to the world in the way of Jesus is not about feelings. It’s about action. It was seen in Mary’s “yes” to be the Christotokos, the “Christ-bearer.” It was illustrated by Joseph taking Mary as his wife, even though she was carrying a child that was not his. It rang through the night skies as angels sang of salvation to the shepherds.

For Presbyterians, love in action is an important theme. Martin Luther defined good works done by our hands as ones that were acts of love and service. In 1918, the Rev. Francis J. Grimké, an African American pastor of Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., preached Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors” as a call to further the work of racial justice, noting that “race prejudice, colorphobia, runs directly counter” to Jesus’ command.

Almost five decades later, the United Presbyterian Church adopted the Confession of 1967, which states: “… new life takes shape in a community in which [men] know that God loves and accepts them … therefore accept themselves and love others.”

Love did come down from heaven as a gift from God, but for Presbyterians, it is a gift to be used. Presbyterians Today talked with the Rev. Cecelia D. Armstrong on what Presbyterians believe when it comes to love. — Donna Frischknecht Jackson

As a Presbyterian, how do you define love?

Christian love is an active response to the needs of others without compromising the integrity of one’s relationship with God.

Why is the love Jesus displayed so important?

Jesus showed us how love can break the barriers of stereotypes. Jesus was known for loving others without any preconditions. Encounters with Jesus always led to the transformation of one’s heart and mind. What Jesus taught holds us accountable when we neglect to lay aside our various privileges to assist others.

What does our polity tell us about love?

Our polity reminds us that “the Church is to be a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down” (Book of Order, F-1.0301).

What are some Presbyterian examples of love?

Presbyterian Lucy Craft Laney was an educator who was encouraged to establish a school for Black children in Augusta, Georgia, during the early 1880s. There were no funds for the school until another Presbyterian, Francine E.H. Haines, responded to Laney’s needs. These kinds of acts took place several times throughout history, creating schools like Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. These institutions are examples of acts of love that resonate with me because of my love for education.

Who inspired you to love as Christ loved?

Todd Davis, my maternal grandfather, was a man of few words, and yet, his words were always powerful. He would offer sage advice such as, “If a task is once begun, never leave it until it’s done” and “Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”

For my work ethic, I try really hard to finish any task I begin. I try hard to make sure it is done well. For my ethic of Christian love, I try really hard to bypass my biases to love unconditionally. If I can see myself in another person, I cannot bring harm to them. Jesus’ command is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This opens the pathway for me to constantly be reforming, believing that whatever the task, great or small — especially in showing love — do it well or not at all.

Cecelia D. Armstrong is the associate pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

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