What is love? Here are few answers given by a group of young children. Chrissy, says “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you theirs.”. Mary Ann says, “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” Karen says, “When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Elaine says - “Love is when my Daddy gives me the best piece of chicken.”
As their answers illustrate, love is a word with different meaning to different people! Yet for followers of Jesus, nothing is more important than to understand what love is, how we are to love and why we should love! Love is a serious issue because the nature of our love for God and others reveals the true spiritual condition of our heart before God! If we really want to know whether we belong to God we simply need to look at our love! Here is what the apostle John says about love:
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling (1 John 2:7-10).
This commandment is old because it goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD”. The commandment is new because Jesus gave it his followers. John 13:34 says, “A new command I give to you, that you love one another”.
Sadly, when we hear we that God commands us to love, many of us think that is not for me! That command is for grumpy Jack next door who never speaks to his kids! The reason we think like that is that we forget that when the Bible says “love”, it is using a specific word called agape – the free, unconditional and uninfluenced love for others!
Michael Wittmer in one of his books tells a story of Robertson and Muriel. The year is 1990, the couple has just celebrated 42 years of marriage. But shortly after this, Robertson notices that Muriel is forgetting things! She forgets the dessert when she makes dinner. She forgets Bible passages that she knows by heart. Robertson is shocked, as he realises that Muriel's new condition would eventually require round-the-clock care.
Should Robertson retire from his ministry as president of the Bible College to provide that care? Or should he put Muriel in a nursing home and carry on as usual? Friends tell Robertson to put her into care. They say Muriel would adjust to her new environment, and given her mind she will not even know what she is missing. But Robertson remembers that 42 years ago he vowed before God to stand by his wife, "in sickness and in health” so he cannot abandon her now.
Initially, Robertson hires a companion to stay with Muriel while he goes to work part time, but soon Muriel becomes alarmed and follows him to the Bible College. He is overwhelmed by her desire to be with him. He realises, "With me, she is content; without me, she is in despair. There is only one thing I must do. I must resign and focus my attention on her. Yes , a day may come when, because of my health or her health I may not be the best person to look after, but for now, she needs me, and I need her."
And so for the next 10 years Robertson cares loving for his wife. He baths and feeds her even as Muriel eventually loses her speech, her legs, and finally her arms goes limp! Each night Robertson kisses his wife good night and whispers a prayer: "Dear Jesus, you love sweet Muriel more than I, so please keep my beloved through the night; may she hear the angel choir singing". He does this until the night Muriel goes to glory!
The incredible love of Robertson for his wife Muriel reminds us of what love looks like. Love is sacrificial and committed! It is a love that very much resemble what agape looks like! And yet, Robertson’s love is not a full expression of agape. Agape is love that not only reaches to those who love us like our wives, it reaches out to enemies who hate us! The only perfect demonstration of agape is what God has done for us in Jesus.
When God tells us to love others, he means that we must love as God loves us! That means loving the unloveable! It means having genuine affection for that person who says nasty things behind your back! It means desiring and longing for that person who never wants to come and visit you at home. Loving that person who looks down on you because of your age or ethnicity or financial status! Is this the love you have for others?
The truth is that obeying this command is difficult for all of us. We are all sinners and our primary impulse is hatred! How can I possibly ever love people who have hurt me in the past? How do I love people who are so different from me? The world’s answer is that to love others you must first love yourself because you cannot give what you do not have! In other words, love is really “self-love” and it is down to you! But self-love is not agape! The love God commands us here is the free, unconditional and uninfluenced love for another person! It is selfless!
So how do we obey this command? The good news as John tells us is that God has not left us to our own devices. All followers of Jesus can love each other because Jesus now enables us to love because we are in “in the light”. When John says, “in the light”, he means being in God, or sharing the life of God through Jesus because God is light. So when we have life with God, we love others!
When you become a follower of Jesus, God connects you to the eternal love of God within the Trinity and he now enables you to love as God does, and to grow in that love! Without Jesus, we live in darkness full of hatred. We are lost and the darkness has blinded our hearts! Without Jesus we have no capacity to love others as God does!
Now someone may object. What about the love we see in the world? Are we really saying that non-Christians cannot love others? Why do I need Jesus to love others? What John is saying is that without God in our hearts, we cannot express agape, love in its purest form. We cannot love as God loves without God in our lives. The love in the world is a counterfeit – a shadow of what love is meant to be – only God through Jesus can enable a person to really love as we are meant to love!
May be you are currently not a follower of Jesus, and you want to live in a world of love. The Bible is clear that you cannot find pure love outside Jesus. Stop searching for love in the wrong places. Come to Jesus and receive his abundant love. Only Jesus can enable you live a life of love for God and others. So tell Jesus your sins and ask him to forgive you.
May be you are a follower of Jesus with a challenging family or work situation, where people do not seem to have love for one another. Knowing that only Jesus enables us to obey the command to love love should help you to be patient with non-Christians around you. Their love will always disappoint us because only Jesus enables us to love as we should. So we be must be patient, loving and prayerful towards them. And in the same way we must keep coming back to God and asking him to enable us to obey his command.
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2017