Growing up in the south, I generally attended all-black churches. Despite my love for my people and being a proud African American, many black churches, especially in the South, lack true biblical teaching. Because of this, I was mostly exposed to false teachings and man-made doctrines as a child. Looking back, my guess is that some of these pastors had never even read the Bible.
It’s common for some of these churches to be hyper spiritual. They’re likely to have you believing all kinds of unbiblical junk, which may even seem like witchcraft at times. When the Holy Spirit awakens your understanding and leads you away from it, you’ll be greatly disappointed and perhaps even feel like you’re experiencing a crisis of belief.
Trust me, I know. These congregations mean well, but their teachings are detrimental to one’s spiritual health. They tend to focus more on the supernatural than the practical side of things. I’m not sure why. I presume it has to do with our African heritage.
Whatever the reason, they tend to leave out or overlook practical biblical teaching, leading to a lot of false doctrine based on taking a little of this, a little of that, and trashing what you don’t want, consuming the Word like a buffet. The result is a huge mess left for someone else to clean up.
But, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not just talking about southern black churches but about churches with believers of various nationalities across the country. It’s just that, based on my personal experience, many southern black churches are notorious for showing up in their finest attire, dancing around, shouting, and demanding the Lord to fulfill their every wish as if he was a genie in a bottle or a spiritual sugar daddy who will grant them whatever they desire whenever they call him up and “tell him what they want.”
If I sound a bit agitated it’s because I am. It’s righteous anger I suppose. It’s maddening because not only do these teachings mislead people, but they also misrepresent the God of Abraham and place more demands on people to enter and maintain a relationship with him.
I thank God, however, that He’s leading many of us away from this foolishness and opening our eyes to the truth. Because the ignorance is real.
But back to my story. As I moved up north and encountered more multicultural churches, with real biblical teaching, I realized there was more to this life than I had been taught. I only knew the “usual” teachings. You know: For women to be holy, they can’t wear pants, short hair, jewelry, or makeup. And don’t even think about wearing that skirt even an inch above the knee.
For some reason, the men can’t wear shorts, and are often seen in Walmart wearing dress slacks, t-shirts, and church shoes on a regular casual day, and in addition, they can’t wear long hair or participate in organized sports.
Further, as it pertains to all, cursing, consuming alcohol, smoking, or attending prom or the movies are all evidence that you aren’t really “saved” and it means you still need to “get right with God.”
Sadly, I believed this was what it meant to be saved. So, imagine my shock when I began studying the Bible for myself and discovered the true meaning and goal of this life, which many others have discovered after being misled by well-meaning but uninformed Christians.
What is that goal? To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the Torah, “Jesus replied: “‘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 neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:36-40 NIV).Therefore, obeying these two principles fulfills the teachings of the Torah first given to the Israelites.
This instruction wasn’t new or unique to Jesus or the New Testament but it appears throughout the Hebrew Bible (Lev. 19:18). Also, the Apostle Paul reiterated this teaching in his letters (Rom. 13:8; Gal. 5:14). The Torah, the teachings of Jesus, and the writings of the Apostles teach us how to fulfill these commands.
So, knowing what the Lord expects of us, the next question is how do we demonstrate this love? I remember asking the Lord, “God, how exactly am I supposed to love my neighbor? At times, people really get on my nerves! Furthermore, how am I supposed to love someone I don’t even know?”
In my mind, I was thinking about love according to the way of the world. So, as a starting point, we need to acknowledge that biblical love is different from our society’s love: a warm fuzzy feeling we feel for someone that has a tendency to come and go. In contrast, the Bible teaches that love produces action.
In the book of James, (which is actually called “Jacob”) the author teaches that faith without works is dead (Jms. 2). To put it another way, trust in God without obedience to him is futile. Saying “I love and trust the Lord” with your mouth is pointless if you don’t follow up with action because those who love the Lord obey his teachings. It’s not biblical trust if there’s no demonstration of that trust. It’s just all talk. Lights and cameras with no action.
The truth is that no matter how much lip service we give, if we don’t perform, our faith or religion is dead. That means it’s useless as it helps absolutely no one. It’s a dead faith, or trust, because we’ve missed the whole point, which is to love God and others not just in word but in deed. If it doesn’t fulfill that purpose, then whatever faith we have is worthless.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Lord emphasizes the importance of caring for the poor, widows, foreigners and fatherless among the people. These things are important to our heavenly Father.
Having demonstrated his own love for us by sending Jesus to the cross while we were still sinners, he gave us the greatest example of how to love. In return, a life of obedience is expected of those who put their faith in him and in Jesus Christ. We show our love back in this way.
But, while it’s clear how we should love God – by obeying his teachings (Jn. 14:21), some may be uncertain how to love their neighbor. Thank goodness, we don’t love based on our feelings or by being nice, putting on fake smiles, shaking people’s hand, or hugging them during service then never talking to them again.
True biblical love requires action, which usually benefits the recipient. I’ve found that this action is usually driven by compassion, which is manifested by the Holy Spirit. Nothing is done grudgingly or is being forced by me.
But, loving others truly creates a wonderful feeling as we operate in the will of God.
In the next several posts, we’ll discuss more concerning loving our neighbor, including answering the question :Who is my neighbor?, examining biblical examples of loving one’s neighbor, and finally discussing some practical ways in which we are to love others today. Until then, I ask that you be in prayer concerning this topic. See you then!
**Unless otherwise noted, the thoughts expressed in this post are my own, and are intended to guide, not replace one’s own conviction and study of Scripture.