As I was sitting down on a very regular Wednesday morning, I suddenly realized something I had never thought of. I was working on a project to create a Bible reading plan for my church. The overall theme was “With God’s Love to the World.” I turned to the online Bible search function in my native language and typed in “love.” As I scrolled to see the results in the book of Acts, there were no hits. It took a few moments before it sunk in, and the very next thought came like someone was speaking to me: “Wow Anton. You have studied theology in university for five years and read the Bible your whole life and never seen this?”
I literally had to google whether it’s true that the word “love” is not mentioned in the book of Acts. A whole new train of thought came to my mind. The book of Acts is packed with themes such as the gospel, mission, evangelism, preaching, and so on. Therefore, I guess I took for granted that it would also be filled with love. At least the word should have to be there. After all, I believe most Christians agree that the gospel is God’s love for the world. But “love,” as a word, is not in Acts.
I can already hear people coming up with all sorts of explanations and answers to this if I were to mention it in a sermon. But allow me to think a bit bigger. For many reasons, and I believe rightly so, Christians have made the gospel synonymous with love—specifically, God’s love for the world and its people. We have also emphasized that the gospel must be proclaimed and spread. This is exactly what we read about in the book of Acts: how the gospel is spread and preached throughout the world. That is all fine. But why is it then an issue that I don’t find any mention of “love”? Or am I creating a problem that isn’t there? Maybe it is enough to say that Acts is full of the gospel and, therefore, also full of love.
I am not trying to do exegesis right here. I am simply reflecting on how I could have read the Bible for so many years without seeing this until now. I always encourage people to read the Bible for themselves and to do their own research. If it wasn’t for working on the project of creating the Bible reading plan, I am not sure when I would have made this discovery. It seems so obvious, and I should have noticed it, at least during my theological education.
Let me do a disclaimer and clarify that I am not blaming my professors for not showing me that a specific word is not found in Acts. Rather, this is the beauty of theological education or simple Bible reading at home: to have a fresh wind of discovering something new when you have read the Bible many times and you believe you know it all.
What I discovered was more than the absence of the word “love” in the book of Acts. I had previously read Acts with an emphasis on, for example, Paul and Peter as individuals, and therefore I got the impression that it is all about them. And yes, they get a lot of attention for their speeches and travels. But this has overshadowed other aspects and kept me from discovering that God’s love in action was right in front of me. The point I missed was exactly that Paul and Peter, through the Holy Spirit, are vessels of God’s love to the world, even if the word “love” itself is not spelled out.
Because if you think further, love is a verb. Love is seen in behaviors and actions. Love is not simply a word on paper. Love is not something you touch with your hands but something you see with your eyes. Love is not as much what you say with your mouth as it is what you do with your hands and feet. God’s love is not limited to a word on paper. But the words on the pages of Scripture tell the story of that love. I was looking for a word on paper, four letters in a specific order, and I couldn’t find it. But in the process, I realized that I was missing the point. I was missing that the whole book of Acts is an expression of God´s love for the world channeled through human vessels. I mean, we must realize how much love God showed Paul to get him as his follower and how much he was transformed by that love. Just read Paul’s own testimonies in several places in Acts.
We also shouldn’t forget Peter and how he was transformed by the vision in Acts 10 to love people as God does. The more I think about that, the more I understand what a difference in attitude must have happened in Peter. There is a lot we can learn from how God can transform our attitude toward people we might not like. Many other people are also mentioned throughout Acts, and I believe in one way or another they are also recipients, as well as distributors, of God´s love in action. Because actions speak louder than words—most certainly God’s actions in the book of Acts.
Anton Torstensson has an MA in theology from Newbold College and is a pastor in the Swedish Union of Churches Conference.
Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.
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