Paul literally wraps up his instructions of being on your guard, standing firm in the faith, being men of courage, and being strong, with the admonition to do ALL of these – in fact, everything – in love. (1 Cor 16:13) It is fitting that love ties up the package, as our lives are always intersecting – even unintentionally –with others, requiring love. Who knows the message we send the grocery store cashier when we barely acknowledge her because we are lost in our own worlds? (Is apathy loving?) Similarly, carrying out any of Paul’s instructions minus love, potentially changes for the worse what was intended to be positive outcomes. This distinction was so important to Paul that he spent a whole chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, describing what loving actions look like.
The words of this chapter are familiar to most anyone who has attended weddings. “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Wedding guests generally respond with a warm and fuzzy “Ahhh …” But how convicting are these words taken out of the fairy tale context and applied to our everyday mode of conduct?? Am I always patient? Am I consistently kind? Am I ever envious? How easily do I become angry? Do I have a long memory of what others have done to hurt me? Can I say I am always trusting and hopeful? Since my thoughts and actions tell on me, and it is equally obvious that I don’t know how to practice what I don’t know, how do I better understand love, so that I can truly live it?
God made it simple for us by being the personification of love: “God is Love.” (1 John 4:8) So what we must really understand is the character of God. But, simple does not mean easy … “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:34) The complexity of the God of all Creation is unfathomable – far beyond the ability of our finite minds to understand. This fact was not hidden to God, therefore, He sent Jesus: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) Jesus’ life on this earth was a continual demonstration of love, culminating in the ultimate act of love, dying in our place. So, if Jesus is our model, how do we practically emulate Him?
My personal testimony is that being like Jesus is not just hard, but impossible. Willfulness, pride and selfishness (just to name a few) always seem to get in the way. Obviously, if loving others as Jesus did is going to happen, He is going to have to do that through me, in spite of me. We’re talking about massive change, in which I am so grateful that Jesus’ strength is made perfect in my weakness. My admission of ineptitude also opens the door to asking Jesus to allow me to see others through His eyes and to love them with His heart.
While the power of change remains with Jesus, I have a role to play. In response to His love and sacrifice for me, my desire is to move towards him – I want to change to be more like the One I love. This initiates an amazing cycle that draws us into proximity with our Holy God. Few of us stop to consider that the nature of Holiness is so consuming that nothing unholy can survive in its Presence. That means that my sin nature is being dealt a death blow every time I am truly in His Presence. It’s the spiritual version of radiation exposure/poisoning from being around plutonium. The physical evidence of this Spiritual work is that our actions, thoughts and motivations start to change. Because I know my normal responses, the stark contrast of the Lord’s work leaves me wanting more of Him. So, the cycle continues. It only stops if we stop seeking Him.
One of the most wonderful things about this cycle of seeking Jesus is that it puts us in the position of being in Him through our activity with Him. In Him, our exposure to what is true enables us to be on our guard against what is not of Him. Guarding our hearts against the counterfeit is an exercise of faith that grows stronger faith muscles. Great faith produces the courage to come closer to Jesus and intentionally become more dependent upon Him than upon our own capabilities. It takes great courage to love those who do not love us, or in any other way present as unlovely. I have to admit there is nothing in me that wants to love people that lie for personal gain, abandon their children/spouses, or are narcissistic in any way. Only in the light of Jesus’ love, do I gain the courage to even want to love those people. Courage must be met with supernatural strength to successfully carry love to its fruition. Loving certain people is so unnatural and so impossible that when it happens, we are shocked and changed through the experience. Seeing through Jesus’ eyes, we discover a person deep inside that we had no idea existed. To the degree we remain in Him for direction, we operate from a position of love, “which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5)
Loving others is so important to Jesus, He is more than willing to give us the faith, courage, and strength to start – perhaps right where we live, with a family member or a co-worker. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) This is exactly what Jesus did for us … He is telling us to go and do likewise.
Who is He asking you to love? And how will you respond?