Committing Amidst Shopping
We live in an age where to commit is to limit. This is an age where marriage is seen as nothing more than a certificate that puts constraints on a relationship. In our society, the highest expression of love is conditioned not on commitment, but consent. We are constantly, restlessly searching for new things to do, new classes to shop, new people to meet. To commit is to put yourself into a box, where you are defined by the body you belong to. Against that, the desire to be free from obligations and rules pulls us away from commitment.
I propose an alternative position: commitment is in fact the best way we can show love to one another.
Let’s break down what secular society is telling us. Society is telling us that love is defined by full, unconditional, and unlimited acceptance. If you stop right there, I will give a resounding amen to that. God does love us fully, unconditionally, and limitlessly. What I feel has gone wrong, however, is when we take that to the extreme and say that love means letting the loved one do whatever he or she wants. This is the exact mindset that pushes back on the concept of marriage because to the skeptics, all marriage does is restrict what one can and cannot do within its confines. In response to that, pastor and author Timothy Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage, writes,
… when someone says, “I don’t need a piece of paper to show love,” you might say, “Yes, you do. If you love the way the Bible describes the love of two people who want to share their lives together, you should have no problem making a legal, permanent, exclusive commitment.”
Keller goes on to argue that the very act of entering into holy matrimony with a loved one is one of the highest expressions of love that one can display. Yes, we will definitely fall short of the wedding vows we make, but the genuine commitment to strive for them is itself a beautiful display of love.
So what does all this have to do with (mostly) unmarried college students?
Let me be clear: how we view marriage speaks truth about how we view all other forms of love, because, short of God’s love for us, marriage is our best example of love given to us by God. It is greater than parental love (Gen 2:24), more important than military considerations (Deut 24:5) and was in fact the analogy that Paul used to describe Christ’s love for the church (Eph 5:25, 31-32). So if marriage is defined, at least in part, by commitment to one another, shouldn’t our other expressions of love be defined by it as well?
Let’s look at this on the level of friendships. Let’s say a few of your friends go for a party together and have a whole lot of fun. I would argue that the highest form of love that you can show to your friends is not helping them have more fun, dancing with them or even introducing them to that attractive person across the hall. The highest form of love is committing to keeping them safe, making sure they don’t get too hammered or even coerced into anything they would regret doing. This is true even if, under the influence of some chemicals, they seem to really want to do that very thing they will regret. Of course, this is conditioned on the assumption that you made that commitment to your friends earlier in the night, though I would personally say that it should be implicit in all friendships. Loving your friends doesn’t mean letting them do anything they want; it means committing to their well-being.
Shifting gears to the Christian community, you best show love to your leaders, your brothers and sisters in Christ, and even God by committing to a community. It is God’s design for humanity, and what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he called his audience to not forsake their own assembling together but to encourage one another (Heb 10:25). To be clear, when I say “commit” here I do not mean blindly choosing a community and never looking beyond that; God knows that I visited a few churches and campus ministries before settling into the one to which I felt called. Instead, take away the idea of shopping when visiting churches and campus fellowships. Of course, look out for things like health and right doctrine, but beyond that, do not ask what the church can do for you as an individual, but instead prayerfully consider which community God wants you to serve and yes, grow in. And once you have the conviction from the Holy Spirit, commit to the community, meaning attending regular meetings, getting to know people, building relationships, holding yourself accountable to others and so on. This does not mean that you close yourself off to the other communities by forbidding yourself from ever attending their meetings; by all means, go for it. What it does mean is that you sink your roots and invest in the community to which God has called you. And here I commend each and every campus fellowship on Brown’s and RISD’s campus for being faithful, Gospel-preaching and healthy communities that God is using to build up believers on the campuses.
However, let me not neglect the vital role of the local church. When Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, en route to massacring Christians, Jesus said to him,
Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? (ACTS 9:4, NASB)
Remarkably, Jesus does not ask why Saul persecuted His people, or His church; He asks Saul why he persecuted Him. Clearly, Jesus closely identifies with His people, and Paul (post-conversion Saul) describes the church as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27). Yes, both Jesus and Paul are referring to the universal (catholic) church and not the local church, but the local church is our most tangible part of this organic whole in which we can find our place. Meaning, part of what it means to belong to the universal body of Christ is to belong to a local church. The local church is where preaching of the Word ministers to you. It is where you build relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ. But most uniquely, it is where you partake of the sacraments that Jesus decreed for us, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Bible calls you to commit to a local church, and it is the best way that we can show love to others and thus, to God (Matt 25:34-36).
Admittedly, this is something hard to do as college students. We are transient residents of Providence, often with a church at home and it can be tempting to see campus ministries as checking that box off the list, especially if we attend a church on Sunday mornings. This, however, is the reality. When you walk out of those gates you walked in the day before classes started your freshman year, unless you become a staff member of a campus fellowship, this institution will cease to be a relevant one for you. What are waiting for you beyond it are local churches. And yes, there will come a day you outgrow being a leader in your youth group. They may not be the college students we are used to conversing with, but imagine what an incredible witness it would be for visitors to see an elderly couple having lunch with a couple of young college students. That is the result of committing to a local church.
Let us not be too hasty to accept society’s definition of love as being uninhibiting. We love others and allow others to love us best by committing to one another, as friends, members of a campus fellowship and as members of the church. Even if you do not identify as a believer of Jesus, consider this as you read through the other articles of this magazine and look out for this consistent theme of commitment: to spreading the Gospel, to loving others, to seeking God. Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it. (PSALM 37:5, NASB)
This piece was published as the letter from the editor for The Brown & RISD Cornerstone’s Fall 2015 issue.Brown University, community, friendship, love, marriage, RISD, timothy keller