John 15:12 NIV
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
What Does Love Have To Do With It?
When I was in seminary a group of us used to play a board game called Risk. It is a military game where each player has an army and tries to conquer the world. It involves rolling the dice and strategically placing your army pieces in such a way that you can best take the armies of other players. For a while we were playing once a week and it was quite competitive. I was the new kid in the group so for a number of weeks I got beat rather soundly but after catching on to it, I did pretty well. After a while, I got too busy to play and had to give up on it but long after I graduated, I maintained a love for the game; I just didn’t have a group to join me in it. Several years later our church had a picnic and I brought the game just in case I could find three others to play it. The game takes about two hours and sometimes longer to finish but I figured that since we were all there to relax and enjoy the day, perhaps I could put a group together who would join me in Risk. I was able to find three others who liked the game so we sat down on blankets and began to play. Now, the object is to conquer the world, and although it was done with plastic game pieces and no actual weapons are involved, to win, you have to one by one eliminate the other players until it is just two left and then you try to destroy the other player’s army. This is just nice friendly fun, in theory. The problem is you have to publicly wreck one player and knock that person out of the game if you are to have a chance at winning. That is not fun for the players being conquered. As I destroyed one player’s army and then another and finally the third, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with what I was doing. I was after all the pastor and as I watched the forced smiles get thinner and thinner as I took out one church member after another, I found it nearly impossible to enjoy my successes. No one stuck around to see who won. Actually, no one wanted to see who lost. It was too painful. I went home that evening and wondered if it might have been better to have thrown the game so that I did not risk hurting anyone’s feelings. It is hard to feel like a loving person when you are destroying someone’s army. It is really hard for that same person to feel loved.
Perhaps you are like me. You don’t feel like much of an expert on love. If you took a bucket and it was a “love bucket”, how full would you say yours is? I would have to admit that mine is pretty shallow. Do you love like Jesus? Is your bucket overflowing with love for others or does it have to be tipped way over to get anything out of it? Are there only a few people who get to take any love from your bucket or is it available to everyone? Do your enemies get any love from you? How about relatives you don’t really like? Does your love bucket have a lid on it or a narrow spout? How much love do you have for others?
Perhaps the third most famous verse in the Bible mentioning love is found in 1 John 4: 16. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (NIV) What does that really mean that God is love? Love, of all the spiritual qualities we can consider is the one most dependent upon relationship. Faith, hope, courage, honesty, purity and a dozen other qualities can all be expressed without another single being in existence. Love however requires others for it to exist. You can “love yourself” but what does that mean? It is a fruitless endeavor that erodes into self-absorption and selfishness. Love to exist must extend out to others or it rots and then dies. You might ask how it is possible for God to be three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but then you must in turn be asked, how it is possible for God to be love and not exist eternally as at least more than one person. He cannot be love eternally if He is forever by Himself. Jesus Christ has to be eternal God with other persons as God if He is to be love and to love. The same is so for the Father and for the Holy Spirit. No one of them can exist alone and still be love.
Love is the most profoundly Christian character trait there is. It has no rival. As the Bible says, And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV) When the Lord was giving some of His last instructions to His disciples before He let Himself be crucified, He told them, My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12 NIV) Later He underscores His demand of them. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:17 NIV) It is His solitary directive. He does not tell them to be sure to pray more or to take a bold political stand or sing more worship songs or listen to lots of sermons or give lots of money to good causes or study the Bible diligently during these last moments with them. He says “Love each other”.
Of course there are all sorts of good things we can and should do to be faithful to God but it is all to no avail if we do not love each other like Christ has loved us. The Bible makes a clear declaration of how important it is to God for us to love each other on His list of priorities for us. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV) Every single ounce of Christian behavior is tied to this one command, “Love each other”. Listen to this clear affirmation of how Christian people are to live. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6 NIV)
Let us be clear about this matter of love. It is a way of doing things, not a way of feeling about things…at least as it is found in the Bible. When Jesus clarified what it means to love Him, our Lord said it was behavioral. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:13-14 NIV) Love for God means to do what He tells you to do, not feel good about Him or be attracted to Him. That may and probably will happen if you love Him but without obedience to Christ, there is no love for Him. Martyrdom or laying down your life for Christ means that your life becomes God’s to do with as He wishes. Whatever He commands, you do and that means you love Him and are His friend. There is nothing abstract about Christian love. It is practical and concrete. If you love as a Christian, it means you do something; something for someone else that is a specific act that God would say is loving.
The Bible makes it very clear what sort of behavior is love behavior. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV) If you wish to fill your love bucket and please God, you need to pick one of these practical ways of being loving. Perhaps it would be to keep “no record of wrongs.” How would you do that? You just don’t bring up any grievance you have against someone and you stop thinking about it or pray for God to bless that person every time your complaint comes to mind. Maybe you choose to trust someone who has made the same mistake over and over again. This could cost you…you might be frustrated or irritated by being let down again…but consider how many times Christ has entrusted you with something and you have let Him down. You might do something kind for someone, something that is even extravagant and because Jesus just does kind things for you without expecting anything in return, you too do your kind deed without expecting anything back or even hoping you will get something back. Perhaps you fight against your tendency to get angry with certain people. Relax, say a prayer and smile when someone irritates you or inconveniences you. Let someone get in front of you, pay someone’s bill, give a back rub, provide a warm compliment, take time to listen to someone else’s story, refuse to make a disparaging remark about someone else.
Love is quite simple. Loving because Christ loves you is even simpler. Choose something off this list of love bucket behaviors and do at least one of them today. Ask Christ to fill you with His saving love for all people and make a choice who and how you will love a person you know or don’t know. Perhaps something as easy as deciding to pray for God to bless an irritating or frustrating person through the day would be what God wants of you. Instead of having a “good day”, have a “loving day”.