Like so many believers around the world, we have an annual Christmas tradition of attending a candlelight service. You know the scene: singing lots of Christmas music, hesitantly lighting candles in the questionable hands of children, and trying not to wonder exactly how flammable this carpet is. As someone who grew up in a home that adhered more to reverence than to faith, I approach such rituals with sober respect, even if they don’t mean much to me personally.
At this year’s event, we collected our candles and took a seat near the back of a packed chapel. A group of five teenagers huddled together in the row in front of us. I’d estimate between 14 and 17 years — old enough to constantly say “I’m an adult” with words, but not old enough to say it with actions.
For the next hour, I tried my best to ignore (or at least endure) the irreverence of youth: they talked, giggled, whispered, played with each other’s hair, and even made innuendos with their candles. Typical teenager stuff. Knowing of the fart joke I made with my son on the way to church that evening, I leaned over to Clara and whispered, “Good thing we’re so mature.” She winked and we both suppressed a snicker.
But for all my recognition of my occasional immaturity, I still managed to judge these “youngsters” on a subconscious level. Perhaps they’re unsaved, or this is just a social event for casual, nominal Christians like them. Maybe they were Christian, but still so immature (which is not always the case with the young). There were a lot of possibilities, but they all amounted to the same thing for my immediate classification: they were inauthentic.
Authenticity: Truth in Love
I believe authenticity is one of the most important factors to the Christian faith. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul exhorts us to alētheuontes de en agapē, a phrase often translated to “speak the truth in love”. However, this translation is unnecessarily narrow. There’s nothing about alētheuontes limited to the spoken word.
The problem is that we don’t actually have a word in the English language that means the same thing. Instead, the root alētheúō would be more like if we could use “truth” as a verb. In a literal sense, alētheuontes means truthing. In context, “truthing in love”.
In this way, alētheuontes de en agapē means far more than speaking the truth in love. It means living in a truthful way — with integrity and authenticity — immersed in love. Love shouldn’t be faked or forced, but neither should truth. Paul is aiming the church of Ephesus at authentic love. This is the trick, he tells them, to becoming a mature body that is like Jesus.
So authenticity is important to me. And its absence is a hallmark of immaturity to my mind.
Immaturity on Display
As the candlelight ceremony came to a close, the teenager on the end whispered something to her friend and handed her candle over and headed to the end of her row. In a split second, my mind knew what was happening: she was bored, or wanted to go play on her phone, or something.
Imagine my surprise when she didn’t turn toward the exit, but instead turned away from it.
Then imagine my dread when I realized she was heading toward the table of candles.
As she grabbed one and made her way back, I briefly wondered what sort of ridiculous shenanigans she had in mind. Was she wanting to play with fire in church? Well, isn’t that symbolic? Or… No, don’t tell me she’s going to steal a 10¢ candle. How ridiculous.
Then she stopped short of her row and leaned in to whisper in the ear of the ten-year-old boy on the end of the row in front of her. He nudged his dad, who then interrupted his focus on the music to look at this young woman next to his little boy…
…this young woman who was extending an unlit candle to his empty hands.
He nodded his appreciation, and she smiled warmly and returned to her seat while he lit his new candle from his son’s.
Immediately, my world snapped into better focus.
This man had likely given his candle to his son out of love. And this girl, a stranger to him for all I know, retrieved a replacement for him when she noticed he was unable to take part. Out of love.
The only immaturity in that section of the audience that night was my own.
She was truthing in love. I was not.
The Ride Home
As we drove home, I told my wife (who had stepped out briefly and missed this exchange) about what had happened. Clara smiled and simply said, “Good. You needed that.”
“All too often,” she said, “we don’t look around and see the people around us.”
“I did,” I explained. “I saw those teenagers, and I full-on judged them.”
She shook her head. “You have to see them like God sees them.”
In the most recent years of my walk, I have prided myself in my ability to accept others, particularly unbelievers, as they are. To love them for who God made them to be. To try to see them through His eyes. Clara has helped me a great deal in that, but a lot of it has also been based on my reading Scripture and learning. Yet sometimes I clearly fall into the old behavior. Clara knows this.
To that unknown stranger who sat in front of me, thank you for demonstrating your maturity through authentic love. And to the Holy Spirit (and my wife), thank you for pointing out my own immature duplicity, and for again pointing me toward alētheuontes de en agapē.
Toward truthing in love.
It’s a wonderful goal for each one of us as we once again celebrate our Savior’s birth. Merry Christmas, readers.
Originally posted 2016-12-23 08:00:00.