Sunday, 9 July 2017

Priority of love

Recently I started reading Hugh Binning’s book Christian Love. Binning was a Scottish minister in the seventeenth century and although he was only twenty-six when he died he had made a big impression on religious and political leaders. His short book highlights the importance of believers living lives of love with one another, as indicated by the command of Jesus that they should do so, and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

I was impressed by this statement by Binning: ‘Unity in judgment is very needful for the well-being of Christians; but Christ’s last words persuade this, that unity in affection is more essential and fundamental; this is the badge he left to his disciples; if we cast away this upon every different apprehension of mind, we disown our Master, and disclaim his token and badge.’

Regarding Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians that they should ‘put on charity [love], which is the bond of perfection,’ Binning observes the contrast between Paul’s estimation and what was taking place in Binning’s time – ‘an agreement in the conception of any, poor, petty controversial matter of the times is made the badge of Christianity’ and is elevated above the various items Paul connects to love in his verses in Colossians. I don’t know what agreement Binning was referring to, but clearly he thought it was not a real expression of Christian love.

Instead, for Binning, love ‘is the sweet result of the united force of all graces; it is the very head and heart of the new man, which we are invited to put on: “Above all, put on charity.”’ Such love is compassionate, affected by the troubles faced by others, concerned about those who are ignorant and out of the way, and marked by humility. In contrast to pride, this love has a meek heart which shows itself in gentleness and kindness. Because such love is humble and meek, it ‘is the most durable, enduring, long-suffering thing in the world’. And the outcome is peace.

Binning lived in very difficult times politically and ecclesiastically. Inevitably the uncertainty affected Christians in Scotland. But their circumstances were not very different from that faced by first-century Christians. Paul’s concern for his readers was that they increase in love, which would ensure Christian maturity. We too live in difficult times politically and ecclesiastically. Our response must be that of Paul and of Binning – keep growing in Christian love.

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