Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A new command in loving

Too often, I hear non-believers say, "I don't understand you Christians. Jesus was about love. Why do Christians judge and criticize so much?" Indeed, this was one reason I stayed away from church for so long: the perception of judgement and hypocrisy. As Christians, we want the love of Jesus, it makes us feel good. But our sin nature often means we don't always give the love that He commands of us.

 At the Last Supper, Jesus said: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." - John 13:34-35  
When we went to Honduras, this verse was on the back of our t-shirts. What does it mean?  In our society, we think of love as something we feel. It's a warm and fuzzy feeling associated with romance or family bonds; how we feel about our children; how Hollywood and books tell us we should feel about our spouses, forever and ever, Amen. Or until we don't feel so warm and fuzzy anymore, and the world tells us to quit while we are ahead and move on.

So, when Jesus tells us to love everyone as He loved us - and we know He loves us greatly - we can struggle with that. We look at some of the unlovable around us and think, "but...."
Each of us has our own group of society that we don't feel warm and fuzzy about. It might be addicts, the homeless, gang members, thieves, people with different political beliefs, bullies, gossips, liars, victims, cheats.

Do you think of one of those groups and feel something very different to warm and loving feelings? Does Jesus even expect us to feel for them as we feel for our nearest and dearest? or was He talking about something else?
I sometimes class this as "Jesus-sized love" - that it takes His heart to love the unlovable. But that's a cop out. And Jesus said so, when He said "If we love only those who give us love, what is so great about that kind of love?"

So what do we do with that? 

"As I have loved you, so you must love one another." 

As I have loved you. Right there, Jesus is telling us how to do it.  Love is a verb. To love, to act, to do....something. The Gospels are filled with His instruction on how to love that way, both directly stated and demonstrated in the way He treated His disciples, friends, neighbors, strangers and enemies.
He loved by teaching, forgiving, serving, humbling Himself, giving hope, encouraging, chastising, correcting, explaining, healing, sharing, praying for them, sacrificing, helping, showing mercy, giving second chances.

Not by sitting back and feeling noble feelings. His love is an action.

The Apostle Paul gave us a great summary in 1 Corinthians 13. This is often read at weddings and quoted on Facebook on Valentine's Day, so again misinterpreted as something we feel or we are to get from others. Read it, even if you know it by heart.

"Love is patient, love is kind. 
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  
It does not dishonor others, 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."

Now re-read it but where there are spaces, insert your name.

________ is patient, ________ is kind. 
________ does not envy, ________ does not boast, ________ is not proud.  
________ does not dishonor others, ________ is not self-seeking, ________ is not easily angered, ________ keeps no record of wrongs.  
 ________ does not delight in evil but ________ rejoices with the truth.  
________ always protects, ________ always trusts, ________ always hopes, ________ always perseveres.
How did you do? 
Repeat it thinking of how you behave towards your spouse, then your family and friends. Then try it with one of those groups in society that you might not like.

When I do this exercise, it never fails to show me where I need to do some work on myself, both with my family and friends, and with strangers.

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