The Measure of Maturity

By Francis Frangipane

It has been my experience that too many of us, as Christians, have been confused about love.  We have assumed that attaining the look of love was the same reality as actually being transformed into a loving person.  I"m not saying that we have consciously planned on being shallow or noncommittal, but that somehow we have settled on the cosmetic instead of the real. 

We have developed an "altar" ego, a look for church that lasts, at best, just a few minutes longer than the church service itself.  All we have really accomplished is to perfect the art of acting like Christians. 

I think we have yet to learn to consistently walk according to the standards of Christ's love.  I hear how quick some are to speak about the flaws of those they supposedly love, and I wonder, what kind of love demeans an individual behind their back?  When I witness unloving words from a Christian's mouth, I am reminded that we have much to learn about Jesus and what it means to follow Him.

David prayed, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer" (Ps 19:14).

Our words are the by-product of our meditations.  Whatever is brooding in our hearts will eventually ascend to our lips.  If we have unforgiveness prowling within, our conversations will be barbed with negative comments; even in moments of light-hearted banter, if we are harboring bitterness, it will slice through our speech.  Jesus taught that "the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart"  (Matt 12:34).  We cannot fix our words without first fixing our hearts.

When the Lord judges us for our words, it is because He is seeking to purify our hearts.  True, the heart is deceitful above all things and it is difficult to know our own iniquity.  Yet if we simply pause and listen to how many of our words are without love, we can track them back to the real problem: loveless hearts. 

A New Anointing
Christians are in the fire of God.  The Holy Spirit is purging the church from negative chatter.  A fresh anointing is at hand where God's people shall speak with the character necessary to represent Him.  What the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah He is speaking also to us:

'therefore, thus says the LORD, "If you return, then I will restore you -- before Me you will stand; and if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become My spokesman"" (Jer 15:19).

Let us pray that as God exposes our lack of love a time will soon come when we will pray with credibility: "You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me and You find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress" (Ps 17:3).

Do we see this? God judges the quality of our entire lives by the soundness and substance of our words.  Thus Jesus warned, "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matt 12:36). Let us consider Christ's warning soberly.  He continued, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt 12:37).  James adds, "Judgment will be merciless to him who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13).  I have a holy fear in my heart concerning these warnings.  I know that if I am merciless toward others, God will be merciless toward me.  

Character Counts
Sometimes I think we try to mask our critical attitude by calling it "discernment."  The fact is, most of what manifests in our discussions about others is simply judging after the flesh.  If we truly love an individual, we will be as loving in their absence as we are in their presence.

Jesus said His disciples would be known by their love.  Paul said that the love of Christ is supposed to control us, which means it is the nature and discipline of love that keeps us from joining in verbal attacks or even subtle criticisms. You see, it takes character to avoid being sucked into gossip and criticisms.  There is a high road we can take.  It starts with prayer, it extends to grace, it is slow to speak, it approaches an individual with a meek heart, it talks privately with the person;  it is forgiving when wronged and patient with the spiritually immature.

Of course, if someone is involved with criminal activity or seriously endangering others through their sin, we must love the greater community and take steps to protect the innocent. There is a time to discipline or even publicly expose sin (Matt 18:15-17), but it's after we exhaust other means of correction -- and even then, our motive should communicate our hope of redemption and not allow our disclosure to become a smokescreen for revenge.  In all things, love must guide our words.

Child's Eye-View of Love
Recently my youngest daughter, Eden, sent me a list of quotes that came from little children. Each child was asked to describe what love meant to them. Their answers were, at times, quite intriguing.  One in particular, from a four year old boy named Billy, has stuck with me. He said, "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."

That thought seems to say it all: "When someone loves you . . . your name is safe in their mouth."  Behold this clarity of vision as love is defined by a little child.  When we truly walk in Christ's love, those around us will be safe -- and others will see the love of Christ that controls us.

Beloved, to walk in covering love is to show ourselves truly acquainted with Christ.  Let us ask God, "Father, show me my heart.  Is Your love ruling, even in the unseen areas of my life? Are the names of others safe in my mouth?"