But the Greatest of These Is Love

When I started my Ph.D. program, I overlapped briefly with a grad student named Sam, the only Christian in the department. He had overlapped with another Christian named Sean.

This department is in one of the most “anti-Christian” places in the US, but Sam assured me no one would give me trouble for being a Christian or my past association with Bible translation. He was confident about this.

Because of Sean.

Not because Sean spoke eloquently about his faith, but because “He had such a reputation for helping anyone and everyone.”

In my last year, I overlapped with a new Ph.D. student who was also a follower of Jesus. She expressed fear because she was hearing vitriolic expressions against Christianity from other junior graduate students. I assured her nothing like this would come from the faculty.

Because of Sean.

And I added that the same would be true for the senior graduate students.

Because of Sam.

Because of Sam’s reputation for encouragement.

I couldn’t help but wonder if my name would be added when my new friend overlaps with the next Christian whom I pray God sends to that department.

That night God reminded me of something I had heard, “Oh, everyone likes Sarah.”  At the time, the comment was nothing more than gratifying. I had found everybody there likable, or at any rate, interesting. But now it struck me how, even with a collegial environment overall, it was still notable for one person to have genial relationships with every other person in the department.

Living daily in God’s kingdom, I forget that love is both powerful and subtle, like yeast in bread. Jesus defines one characteristic of his sincere followers, that they “have love for each other.” (John 13:34-35) I think that means holding genuine interest in the people around me, day in and day out.

When my heart breaks for the gender-confused student who doesn’t seem to grasp their own worth. Or when I am hurt by my cynical colleague making thoughtless, disparaging comments about my background, I don’t always ask myself, “Should I invite them to church, or clarify what it means to be a Christian?” Instead, I try to ask, “God, how am I supposed to love right now like you would love?”

The answers I get are surprising. Sometimes the answer is “Affirm the good you hear them trying to accomplish in My world.” Sometimes it’s “Call them out, gently, but firmly, on the things they know are untrue.” More often, I hear, “Be quick to hear and slow to speak,” (James 1:19)  “I designed this person, so their thoughts and feelings are worthy to be heard by at least one fellow human being.”

My friends, colleagues, and students wear labels blatantly. Their identities are marked by flags, pronouns, bumper stickers, and ethnic dress. I want to be marked as a Christian by the one thing Jesus said could identify his followers accurately: the gift of God’s subtle, but all-encompassing love. (1 John 4:8)

What will your department remember you for after you are gone?

Sarah Moeller


University of Florida

unnamed (22)