The desert Christians were earthy folk, perhaps in large measure because of the environment in which they worshipped and worked. While some of the Church’s best theology comes from the early-Christian era, it is almost always expressed through a tangible practice of some kind.
When it came to love, the desert Christians moved from earth to heaven, reminding themselves that the confirmation of their profession to love God was confirmed by their practice of loving others. In this they were living out St. John’s reminder that we prove our love for the unseen God by the ways we love the seen people around us (1John 2:9-11; 4:7-12).
John Colobos, for example, defined the term ‘commandment’ in terms of behavior, not in terms of belief. For him, a commandment was not a concept, it was a contact. It was not an abstract principle, it was a specific enactment. In other words, our professed love of God was only confirmed by our expressed love of others.
In my Wesleyan tradition, I see this picked up by the early Methodists’ commitment to practical divinity–a commitment expressed in the phrase “faith working by love.” For them, the two great commandments were always in a dynamic relation with each other–with the love of God kindling the flame of our love for others, and our love of others verifying our love of God.
As Christians, we are heirs of the incarnational principle, where Word always has to become flesh, otherwise we reduce faith to dangling doctrine and alleged affirmations. Eternal seeds of truth germinate, grow, and bear fruit in the soil of tangible practices. Love is confirmed by loving.