Today is February 14th. Valentine’s Day. The day we celebrate love for that special person in our lives. And if the marketers are successful, we’ve spent lots of money to prove it.
But what IS love, really? And what did Jesus (and the Bible) say about loving others?
In Matthew 22, we see the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trip Jesus up. One Pharisee asked him what of all the commandments was the greatest. Not because he was curious about Jesus’ take on it, but because he was hoping to catch him in a trap of words. As we know, He answered that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. But he added, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matthew 22:39). I think that pretty tidily answers any questions about what Jesus says about loving others, don’t you? And let’s note here, he does not qualify “others”. He doesn’t say “others who look like you”, or “others who vote like you do” or “others who agree with you about things” or (hold on to your knickers, folks) “others who sin in a way you find acceptable”, or even “others who believe the same things about Me that you do”. Nope, he said “others”.
So before I get any deeper in this, let me just be blunt here. JESUS SAYS LOVE EVERYBODY. That does not mean you endorse everything about them or what they do. Got it? Good. Jesus says that is how we are set apart to be known as his disciples, by our love for one another. (See John 13).
How can we do this? Because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19). The love of God abiding IN us isn’t supposed to stay there and stagnate. It moves you to action. Loving others is an action.
Let’s just pause here and talk about social media. I love it as much as anybody. But it can be a minefield. I know I’ve stepped on some mines and I will admit to having set one or two. It will not take you very long to go find a site where people are fighting, bickering, or just being downright ugly in the name of Jesus (or religion). May I suggest this flies in the face of being known by our love? We may think we are tearing others down anonymously, but don’t think for one moment that God doesn’t have access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and everything else. It’s ugliness and it turns off non-believers. They have every right when they see it to call us hypocrites. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations. He never told us to go win arguments.
Rewind back to love as an action. I would hazard a guess that most folks are at least vaguely familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and the “Love” statements. But for those who aren’t, here is what the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
” Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (English Standard Version).
Paul, by the way, is not sending the Corinthian church a Valentine’s Day card. Here is telling the church, who was getting a little bit worked up about seeking and striving for spiritual gifts, that while the gifts of the Spirit are great, there is one thing that they must have or the gifts are meaningless–love.
So look at Paul’s words. Paul isn’t saying that love is being nice to somebody who is nice to you. Or that love is when you get the fluttery feeling in your stomach. (That might just be bad sushi, anyway.) Love is action. Love is work. Whether this is love between spouses, parents/children, friends, or people you’ve never met, loving others is more than a feeling. It’s doing things you don’t want to do. It’s sacrificial. It’s thinking of others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It’s carrying each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:20). It’s laying down your life for that of your brother. Jesus was our great example in that. But when you relinquish your need to be “right”, or have it “your way” and yield to another, that’s a way of laying down your life, too. That’s the kind of love Paul is talking about.
The last verse in 1 Corinthians 13 says “love bears all things, love believes all things, love hopes all things, love endures all things.” Believes, hopes and endures are pretty self-explanatory. But I want to point out “bears”. The Greek word used here is stego (and that doesn’t have the right accents to write that correctly, so you can go verify it here) and it means “to cover” as in a roof, or thatch covering, or to cover with silence, or cover against something threatening. Just think about that in the context of your relationships. Are you “covering” those you love and God has entrusted to you? I don’t mean just your close, immediate family. I mean something you heard in a prayer request….are you “covering that with silence”? Would you want yours to be covered in silence? I’ve got gossip and idle talk in my sights here. If you see somebody who needs bearing up, are you turning a blind eye and hoping somebody else will do it? Or are you getting your hands dirty and doing the bearing?
See, Hallmark and Hershey want you to think love is that squishy nice feeling that’s all nice and sweet and reciprocal. The love Jesus says is second only to loving God? It’s dirty and messy and often comes with no rewards from the person your loving. But your Father in Heaven sees it. And when you love like that it changes you in a way no Hallmark card ever will.
Abba Father, thank you for your steadfast love for us. Soften our hearts, Holy Spirit, to let love flow through us for everyone around us. Real, active love. Let us love like Jesus calls us to love, in whose mighty, matchless name I pray.