There’s something about the memory of new love that stays with you your whole life. Whether it was a person, place or an event, first encounters, and the early days of this or that, form powerful memories. Memories that help anchor our faith when the days of trouble come.
Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me… when the friendship of God was upon my tent… (Job 29:2, 4)
Job, living in dark days, longed to recapture those joyful days when God first came into his life and set up house with him.
Do you remember those first few years after you found Christ? What were those years like? For many, they were days of joy. Days thinking about Jesus and sharing Him with others – without a script and without a care. They were days when you sensed God was there, watching over you, guiding you, and changing you.
You knew you loved God and were assured that He loved you.
They were days when you didn’t need to be told to cook a meal for a friend or pray for the sick. You treasured the new community you had found and simply enjoyed the fellowship of other believers.
In those days, your faith, working through love (Galatians 5:6), seemed like the most natural, liberating and joyful thing in the world.
Something similar was true of the early years of the church.
At perhaps no other time in the history of Christianity did love so characterise the entire church community as it did in the first three centuries. And Roman society took note.
Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!”
That’s love. It’s not some mystical goo, or a warm, runny feeling. You can see it. But what was it that the Romans saw that made them say this? Perhaps it was something similar to what onlookers saw in Jobs’ younger days.
….When the ear heard, it called me blessed, and when the eye saw, it approved, because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him… I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.” (Job 29:11-17)
Roman Emperor, Julian, recognised that the pagan community were being increasingly drawn to Christianity on account of its community life. “No Jew ever has to beg, and those impious Galileans support not only their own but ours as well!”
Clement, describing the life of a new believer in a Roman world wrote, “He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”
When a devastating plague swept across the ancient world in the third century, Christians were the ones who cared for the sick – at the risk of contracting the plague themselves – and it was not uncommon in the house of Pope Gregory to see strangers entertained and the sick nursed and fed.
Meanwhile, pagans were throwing infected members of their own families into the streets even before they died, in order to protect themselves from the disease.
The world looked on and saw, and admitted, that this was a community that had been blessed. It was a community within a community that was marked by a love that you could hear and see.
It was this love in action that authenticated the churches evangelism and caused the church to grow and flourish amidst incredible hardship. And it will be a return to walking in this simple, joyful love that will enable us to flourish and testify of Christ once more in the days ahead.
The Apostle John described it as, ‘abiding’ – setting up house, as Job had done – with God.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as He is so also are we in this world. (1 John 4:16-17)
This last statement by John, the apostle of love, is stunning. “because as He is so also are we in this world.”
You become like the people you hang around. A Christian is a living likeness of Christ in the world because God has come and He has made His home with us and we are becoming like Him in His love.
And so, when love waivers, when the joy seems all but gone, it may be a sign that you have wandered and that you need to turn and come home.