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Love and the City: The Greatest Text for Urban Witness…

March 12, 2012

Cities are truly miraculous places.  Tense with progress and teeming with energy and vibrancy.  Harvard economist Edward Glaeser in his great book, The Triumph of the City states that, “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies.  They are proximity and closeness.”  While this is true, we as Christians must look beyond the physical existence of cities and recognize the hand of God in forming them and drawing people into them.  As I have said in previous posts, God creates proximity so that those searching for Him might find Him.  Acts 17:26-27 reads: “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him, Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” 

While the world is content to use the metrics of absence to describe the city, we must do more.  Cities are not mere accidents of economics, nor are they defined by the absence of space between people.  Cities and their character are defined by the presence of God and the proximity to His witnesses.  Witness is key.  God has drawn these people together so that His glory might be seen by the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.  There is a reason that Pentecost and Peter’s sermon did not occur in the desert, or in some far-flung cave.

This brings us to the manner of our witness and how to engage with those in the city.  Cities breed adventurous apathy.  The opportunity to succeed in the city is great, but so too is the presence of failure.  People come to cities with a sense of adventure, but soon become apathetic to the prevalence of failure around them.  People cold and unconvinced by pleas for attention and messages of truth.  With this in mind,we must ask ourselves, how can we break through?

Though there are many texts in Scripture that speak to the means of and the need for evangelism.  One text reigns supreme in my mind for engaging the city.  I have seen it on display, used by church planters throughout NYC over the years of engaging that city.  I am not talking about Matthew 28 or Acts 1:8, or Acts 17.  The text that speaks to our task  is this:

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away…  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
  
(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

It is not enough that we have the intellectual capacity to engage the minds of the city, or the media savvy to captivate the eyes of the city.  We must have love.  Pure, sacrificial love that wants nothing in return.  It does not matter if we desire to serve the needs of the city, or are willing to move into it and sacrifice blood and treasure to reach it.  We must love the people in the city, and display that love through service.

This passage informs both the task at hand and the promise of how to fulfill it.  It is not easy to love the those who question your motives, or those who are openly hostile to your efforts.  The only remedy for the apathy of the city is continual, persistent, abiding love witnessed in deeds of selfless followers of Christ.  A love that bears all and endures all.  We must create churches of faith, we must preach the hope that is in Christ alone, but above all we must be willing to love when we are not loved in return.  We must be willing to serve others, be patient with others, and be kind to others.  I am not speaking of a social gospel, that tends only to physical needs.  Rather a gospel that uses the meeting of physical needs through service to proclaim through deed and word the lavish love of God.

Surely this was modeled by God who stayed faithful to the faithless Israel.  Surely this was heard from Christ as He forgave those nailing Him to the cross.  What remains to be seen and remains to be heard, is whether or not our proximity to others will bear witness to God’s love in us.  May our growing presence in these cities be marked not by the mere absence of space; but by the abundance of God’s love lived out in service.

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One comment

  1. Great word, Drew. These are the very texts that inform and shape what mnyba is doing. Appreciate you, too!



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