I’ve been chewing on this quote from John Wesley this week:
“Love cannot be hid any more than light; and least of all when it shines forth in action, when ye exercise yourselves in the labour of love, in beneficence of every kind. As well may men think to hide a city as to hide a Christian.”
Wesley was commenting on a familiar passage – Matthew 5:14-16, part of Jesus’ most famous sermon. Right off the bat, what stands out most to me in Wesley’s comment is the notion that real love cannot be hidden. It naturally shows itself in attitudes and actions.
If you flip the idea around, it implies that if you aren’t reaching out to others with loving actions, then there isn’t really any love there. Or, at the very least, it calls into question the level of love that’s there. People who have the love of Jesus don’t withdraw and fixate on themselves and their feelings and comforts – unless their only love is for themselves!
Because as Wesley points out, love doesn’t stay still. It flows. It radiates like light. It manifests itself in beneficence toward others. That’s probably why the apostle Paul describes God’s love in fluid terms – God wants to pour it into our hearts and channel it through us to those around us (see Romans 5:5).
Such love is visible. It isn’t hidden, and it doesn’t stay still.
Of course, I think Wesley would agree with me that this doesn’t mean love will always be recognized by others or received well by them. You can certainly try to share God’s love with someone and it not be acknowledged by that person. But just because a person may close their eyes doesn’t mean light isn’t shining.
I say all this to say that Wesley’s quote is really giving me pause. I have to look at my life and ask if any love is visible. I can tell myself I love others all day long, but the real question is, would they say they’ve received love from me?
I think I’d probably give myself a pretty low grade on this lately. I tend to stay wrapped-up in my own thoughts and studies (occupational hazard!). And I worry that sometimes I come across as being a bit aloof. By God’s grace I’m trying to be better about reaching out in kindness to others and really communicating to them that I love them – and, far more, that God loves them.
We should also take this beyond the level of individuals. How are our local churches doing? Is your church shining forth in action, exercising yourselves “in the labour of love, in beneficence of every kind”?
Wesley says that it ought to be easier for people to try to hide a whole city than to hide a Christian. It’s an exaggeration for emphasis, of course, but it hammers home an important truth: God’s love should be visible in us. It’s true of individual believers and it’s true of the church.
I’d put it this way – if your church community were to somehow disappear overnight, would your town/city miss it?
Love shines forth in action. The community of Jesus’ followers – the church – should be radiating such labors of love that the broader community would feel its absence tremendously were it not there.
More than having a nice building or glitzy production values on Sunday mornings, our loving and active engagement with the community around us should be of stellar quality and beauty and appeal. I think (and I’m pretty confident Wesley would agree) that we should give just as much thought to the church’s activities Monday-through-Saturday as we do to those on Sunday. We should make ourselves indispensable by providing loving services that truly impact others in our community.
Real love – God’s love – cannot be hid. It does not stand still. It shines forth. It gets to work.
How are you doing at this? Will your love shine forth today?
See you down the path.
 John Wesley, “Sermon on the Mount, IV,” in The Works of John Wesley, 1:539; quoted in Stephen W. Rankin, Aiming at Maturity: The Goal of the Christian Life (Cascade Books, 2011): 125.
Photo Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images firstname.lastname@example.org http://wellcomeimages.org John Wesley. Stipple engraving by F. Bartolozzi after J. Zoffany, 1760.