My wife and I took a Caribbean cruise over the Christmas holidays to get away from the mad rush of buying presents. We had spent weeks getting rid of stuff preparing for our move to Austin the following week after we returned, so we really didn't need anything else to move. Everyone should move every 10 years or so to keep from accumulating more stuff. It's amazing how much stuff you collect over the years that you never ever use. But back to the cruise.
The highlight of the cruise was meeting a couple from Dallas, Bruce and Anne. Bruce was a principal of a private elementary school, and was one of the kindest persons I think I've ever met. He greeted every waiter and worker on the ship with a smile and a complimentary statement. Everyone was his friend and he seemed genuinely interested in each person's life. He would often reach out and gently put his hand on someone's arm when encouraging them with words, "you did such a wonderful job". I could see how he must be a great principal, one who is loved by the students, parents and teachers.
I thought about Bruce this past week as I was studying through Galatians, reading Paul's exhortation to the members of the Galatian church in Galatians 5:6, where he writes, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love". Paul admonishes the Galatians not to fall back into keeping the law. And he makes this incredible proclamation that what matters most for any Christian is to live out your faith through love.
It is such simple charge, taken from Jesus' answer to the question, what is the greatest commandment, that we tend to brush it off. Yeah, I know we should love others. I learned that in Sunday School as a kid. But Paul reminds us here in Galatians and also in 1 Corinthians 13, that nothing else really matters if we don't have love. It is a powerful lesson for all of us in this complicated world full of all kinds of extra stuff.
Bruce was a great living example of one who exhibited his faith through love. His unique expression of love was through words of encouragement and through touch. He did it remarkably well and I took note. I consider myself an encourager but he put me to shame. He showed me that I can be better at encouraging others, if I'd just make an effort especially when I don't feel up to it.
Each of us has unique ways in which we express love to others, our "love language", but however we express it, what matters most in our life as a follower of Christ, is to love God and to love others. To "agape" others. This is a sacrificial love that demands nothing in return. We often get caught up in doing so much, trying to earn respect and standing from others and arguing about doctrine and methodology, that we forget what truly is important.
The principle of all obedience to God is love; therefore faith cannot work unless it is associated with love. Paul's simple principle is a great reminder for us how to live the life as a follower of Christ. Just as I simplified my life and got rid of a lot of material stuff, we would also benefit from ridding our lives of excess "doctrinal" stuff that can hinder us from living the simple life of faith in Christ expressed by our love for others.