[Written by Garrett Greer]
11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:11, ESV
Recently I was on a bike path in rural Georgia, it was around 98 degrees, I was hot and thirsty, and I knew it might be a while before I made it to the next source of water. Half grumbling, half praying, I questioned why it had to be so hot, wondering when I’d get some water. As I rounded a corner, I saw a man with a large white cooler, sitting in the shade, waving to come on over. While I stopped he introduced himself, his name was Rick, and he was giving out free water and Gatorade. As I reached into the deep ice of the cooler to pull out a cold drink, I tried to express how glad I was that he was there and that he was a bit of an answered prayer. At this he laughed, but told me that he wasn’t there because he was a Christian—quite the contrary. He was there because he wanted to prove that you didn’t need to be a Christian to be nice and hand out drinks to people. Apparently, a church in the area had been handing out free drinks to folks on the trail, and my new friend Rick was frustrated. He wasn’t a believer and was annoyed that people might think this sort of kindness was limited to Christians, and so he decided to give out drinks as well. We had a great conversation about how he was frustrated by Christian kindness. “They’re only doing it because God said so, I’m doing it to show you can do it just to be nice, without needing a God to tell you to do it.” This unbeliever had latched onto the idea that Christians only did nice things because they have to—and he wanted to show he could be friendly all on his own.
My run in with Rick gave me a lot to think about. I was thankful that God used Rick to quench my thirst, even when Rick didn’t acknowledge God. But I’ve also been thinking about Rick’s idea that Christians only do nice things because they have to—that we live in love because it’s a command. It’s certainly a command in Scripture, but hopefully there’s more to love than duty. When I’m doing kind things, what’s my real motivation? As a Christian do I only do nice things because I know I’m supposed to and not because of any genuine love? I hope not.
As Christians we are supposed to be known by our love for one another (John 13:35). It sounds like Rick knew some Christians by their love, and wanted in on it, even without God. But we must remember that the reason we love one another isn’t really because we’re just nice, and it also isn’t just because “God said so.” We love one another because in Christ we’ve received so much love that there’s no other place for it to go but outwards—it simply pours forth! Christ’s sacrificial love for each of us on the cross is something that we receive and then also pour out onto those around us. Romans 12:9 asks us to “let love be genuine”—this doesn’t mean loving one another out of duty, or just pure good feelings, rather “genuine” Christian love overflows from the love we receive in Jesus. Genuine love is the only result when we truly receive Christ’s grace. We act in love and in kindness not because we have to, but because we are filled with love in Christ.
My encounter with Rick was a blessing—I got a cold drink on a hot day—but also because it challenged me to remember the reason for kindness. It’s not so that we look good to the world, it’s not so that we earn points by following God’s commands. Instead, we love one another as Christ loved us, because as his love overflows in our hearts, that manifests in kindness to the world. I pray that I might let that love pour forth in more tangible ways. Who knows, maybe soon I’ll be handing out free water and Gatorade on the side of the trail with Rick.
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Romans 12:9-13, ESV