Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious, does not brag, is not arrogant, is not rude, and does not seek its own way. Love is not bitter or resentful.
These are the characteristics Jesus exemplified toward us. And these are characteristics we utterly depend on God continually displaying toward us in Jesus.
We all know that we must love one another and love everyone.
And in our best intentions we do seek to love one another and love everyone. At our best, we do love one another and love everyone.
But we’re not always at our best.
Anxiety, fear, and insecurity often grab ahold of us. We’re flummoxed and flustered and aren’t the people we want to be.
The binary between love and hate (and we can add in indifference as well) is a helpful contrast for our instruction, but insufficient to bridge the gap between our intentions and our practice. No one is all love, all hate, or all indifference. The most wicked of sinners still loves those who love him. The most righteous saint has moments where they’re not very loving.
As Christians we must strive to better manifest love at all times. We’re not going to always succeed at it, but the goal is to be more often more like Jesus than not.
Thus, there’s a reason why the essence of Christianity can be distilled into “love one another” (John 13:31-35). John makes much of it in 1 John 3:11-17, 4:7-21.
We often wax rhapsodic regarding John’s discourses on love. It’s easy to get lost and seduced in its prose.
But John’s exhortation comes with a sharp, pointed edge…because John is convinced that we don’t really love one another.
He goes so far as to say that we really hate one another.
We might think that’s too harsh; we mean well, after all.
But he’s not wrong. We don’t really love one another. We kinda like each other, sure. We mildly tolerate one another.
But love one another?
We know what love looks like. God is love; God has displayed love toward us through what He accomplished in Jesus. Agape love is humiliation and a cross.
Thus, to say “I love you” means:
- I am dedicating myself to your best interest;
- I am willing to pour myself out for you;
- I will be faithful to you even when you are not faithful to yourself;
- I will suffer great loss for your benefit and for your good;
- I will endure humiliation, shame, and degradation for you.
Yeah, that’s why we don’t really love one another. It costs way too much to do that.
But why do we think it costs too much to fully love?
We’re scared that we will lose ourselves.
We’re scared that we will be taken advantage of.
We’re scared that we will be betrayed.
We’re scared that we will pour in and have nothing left over.
John gets it. That’s why he pointed out that perfect love casts out fear, and there is no fear in love.
John does not deny that we will lose ourselves, that we will be poured out, sometimes taken advantage of, and betrayed. But none of that is to really matter in the grand scheme of things, because God is love, we can love because God loved us, and if we really recognize the value and power of love, we will have no fear in losing ourselves in love.
Because God loved us when we were yet sinners (Romans 5:6-11). God poured out of Himself and “lost Himself” on the cross for us. God was taken advantage of and was betrayed. And how many times have we betrayed God or taken advantage of His kindness and mercy?
No religion or worldly ideology can compare with the expression of love God has displayed in Jesus. And this is why Paul prayed so fervently that Christians would be strengthened by God in the inner man through His Spirit so Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith so they would have the strength to apprehend the dimensions of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, a love that surpasses knowledge.
The only way we can get past liking, tolerance, or mild affection for one another is to continually meditate upon and be overwhelmed by God’s love for us in Jesus, to allow oneself to be immersed in the love of Jesus, and then radiate out that love to others.
Yes, we will suffer for that love. No, we can never be the same. But we really shouldn’t want to be the same, anyway. Being in control of the self hasn’t helped us much. Yes, it will be costly. People are messed up, and need a lot of help. It will demand more of us than we’d care to commit.
If we pour ourselves out for others, God will make sure we are never lacking.
We can’t say we love the God we can’t see when we only mildly tolerate His people whom we see all the time. We can’t make grandiose declarations about how much we love one another when we can’t, or won’t, meet the basic material and relational needs of our fellow Christians. We can claim all day long that we’re a church of Christ, but if we’re just mildly tolerating one another for a couple of hours, and then get back to our regular lives and are otherwise “unbothered” by one another, we have no lasting share in Him.
We need to be the people we need in life: those who love not in pretense, but in substantive practice. We need to be the ones who say “I love you” and mean “I love you like Jesus loves you and me.”
It will cost us everything. And it will be more worthwhile than anything we could ever imagine…because we will love like God, and share in God.
Ethan R. Longhenry
(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)