You might not be familiar with the Plague of Cyprian which tore through Ethiopia in 250 AD and then spread to Rome, Greece and Syria. Rome blamed the Christians for the devastation that was killing thousands each day. They believed that the Roman gods were wreaking their vengeance on the ‘new religion’ of Christianity. Thousands packed up and left in fear, but the persecuted Christians stayed. They could have fled, hid, or hurled insults at their attackers, but they chose to respond with love.
The love of those early Christians was a brave, sacrificial and enduring, but it was far from an easy choice.
They risked their own lives to care for the sick and the dying in the region – saving lives and bringing peace to many. Their love drove out fear.
Conflict is Everywhere
These events may have taken place thousands of years ago, but the world of division that faced those early Christians is certainly one we can all relate to today. Conflict, it seems, is everywhere these days. And we’re not just talking about wars that are raging in Yemen and Syria. Closer to home there is disagreement within our own churches, communities, and in the nation as a whole.
As we struggle to make sense of the confusion around us, complex issues can become polarised. Are you in or out? Are you for us or against us? Do you agree or disagree? The reality is, it’s rarely that simple. But division can stoke the fire of resentment as we find ourselves encamped with like-minded people, throwing hate over the parapet at ‘the enemy.’
For those of us who are conflict averse, things aren’t always that much better either. In an attempt to avoid confrontation, we can hole ourselves in silos with people who simply agree with us.
We may avoid the awkward conversations, but we become entrenched in echo chambers where all we hear is our own opinions.
Don’t Open the Door to Fear
Whether we attack or merely hide from those with whom we disagree, we open up a wider trench between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and in doing so we let in fear. When we feel threatened by people who don’t share our opinions, ideals, beliefs or ways of life, fear can render us useless. While there’s no avoiding conflict, God doesn’t want us to be held hostage to fear. In the words of 1 John 4:18 we learn that, “Perfect love drives out all fear.”
It’s a verse that those early Christians clearly knew and understood. As they were attacked, they didn’t put up the barricades, they reached out with love. And when we say ‘reach out’ we mean they did something. Love, after all, is a verb, which means it’s not enough to speak and feel love. Love needs action.
Love is Action
Love is not an option for us as Christians – Jesus was pretty clear about that in Matthew 22:37-39 when he said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”
We can’t choose our neighbours or the way they treat us, but we can choose how we behave towards them. As Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
If you are looking out on a community that seems divided or torn apart, then take action and seek to love in response. The Cinnamon Recognised Projects may help you to get started and our Cinnamon Advisors have plenty of experience of working to help bridge gaps within community.
Love isn’t always easy but it’s always right.