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Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Reclaiming Love" (Ajith Fernando)

TITLE: Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World
AUTHOR: Ajith Fernando
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (192 pages).

Love and holiness are two of the key traits of the Christian life. For more than 30 years, Ajith Fernando has been teaching from 1 Corinthians 13, sharing the truth of faith, hope, and love, to many thousands and thousands of students. Hailing from Sri Lanka, Fernando is a passionate Bible teacher as well as competent scholar. Reclaiming love essentially means reclaiming the pursuit of holiness and the passion for love. God provides it. We obey it. We live it. We love it. It is an obedience to God that is demonstrated in our love for people. This is what Fernando writes:

"So for the Christian, love is a priority; it is an act of obedience. Looking at the way Christian love is described in the Bible, we realize that it is not a case of loving the lovable. Rather, it includes loving our enemies, blessing those who persecute us, being patient with people who are difficult to tolerate, visiting prisoners, and the like. These are actions that do not automatically happen, like falling in love. Christian love is decisive; we must make it happen." (21)

Love and emotions need to accompany each other, even though one may occur first, and the other later. Christian love is more of a decisive action rather than a yet-to-be-received feeling. Using many examples of love, such as Corrie Ten Boom about love as forgiveness, Robertson McQuilkin's commitment to his wife, Mother Teresa's ministry to the poor, and many more, love is essentially about honouring others above self, giving comfort and help to others, over and above accumulating material possessions or earthly successes. What are the other ways in which love can be reclaimed? Fernando paves the way with the following.

First, love is more than spectacular gifts. We may have the most amazing gifts, but without love, we become unloving. None of these gifts are to replace the love of God. The greatest gift is actually the receiving of God's love, and the sharing of this love using our gifts.

Second, love is more than radical commitment. We can give sacrificially out of merit, of obligation and duty, of avoiding personal involvement, inappropriate giving, for avoiding responsibility, for recognition, or a competitive spirit. Sacrifice alone does not equate to love. True love enables others to keep the peace, the faith and love of Christ in their hearts. If our giving is aimed toward that, that is reclaiming love.

Third, patience is not necessarily weakness. It is patience in spite of weakness, for as we recognize our own weaknesses, we learn to empathize and be a bridge between the people we serve and the God from whom all blessings and strengths flow from. Such patience can also be practised with people in sin, where we learn about God's grace to us and we learn to extend that care and love to others as well. The two truths is that God's love is far greater than all the injustice in the world, and all of our pain, in the hands of God, can surely be turned into something good. God is able. Patience gives us the capacity to wait for the work of God to be fulfilled.

Four, reclaiming love is not about arguments but about actions. We can choose to act in kindness during conflict, non-retaliation during hurts, and learning to constructively put ourselves in a position of trust and self-control in the midst of much evil and injustice thrown at us. Key to it all is to be able to point people toward God.

Five, kindness can be practised even when it is not reciprocated. This is because Christians affirm the love of God is far greater and the culmination of the kingdom far more rewarding than anything the world has to offer.

Six, reclaiming love can be done through giving honour to others and avoiding envy. We are reminded of how envy can come across through comparison that breeds anger, and envy that leads to unholy actions. On the contrary, love is about cheering others to do the best that they can be, even when we ourselves are overlooked in the process. The antidote to envy is acceptance, that one day, our minds and hearts will be joined as one, when we see how God delights in us, without us earning our keeps. Five keys are presented to help us grow in this love and acceptance.

  1. Saturating ourselves with the Word of God
  2. The Holy Spirit is our witness of us being the children of God
  3. Linger in the presence of God through inspiration in the way the saints of old have traversed
  4. Rejoice in the work God has given us
  5. Be accepted into a community of believers.
The rest of the points go to address the problem of boastfulness, pride and arrogance. Reclaiming love also means radical living in a complex world. We are urged to be aware of carelessness that comes from the failure to consider consequences for our actions. We are reminded how tempting we can be to busyness and overwork, and preferring to depend on ourselves rather than sharing our burdens. Physical weakness can also impact the way we love people. 

My Thoughts

Ajith Fernando is able to expound on this great chapter on Christian love with many examples from literature as well as his own personal ministry experiences. One of the observations he makes is the plight of young people, who seem marginalized and hurt by an ultra competitive world. Hope in God remains a key promise for such people. Fernando gives us much encouragement as well that even when the world is complex and full of different challenges, the path for the Christian is simple and potent. Love is the greatest, and that is not simply rhetoric. The pages of this book flow with belief and conviction that God's love is far greater than all the problems of the world combined. The key problem among many people about love is that, while their heads think one way, their hearts perceive another. The lack of congruence is the biggest challenge in understanding what God's love is all about. All of us need this love. All of us can share this love. The gospel is about such love, and when God's people can catch a glimpse of this, they will also catch a glimmer of hope. Over time, as the Spirit of God fans the flame of love, the disciple of Christ will grow in love as according to 1 Corinthians 13. Before one can claim the world for Christ, one needs to reclaim love for the world, beginning with the self. 

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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