“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12–13 NASB)
“‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30–31)
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are abusive to you.” (Luke 6:27–28)
I am an only child. I was pretty close with my mom. After my dad died, I was responsible for her care and her finances for thirty years. I recall my relationship with mom changing as I went from being a son who sought care from her to one who provided care for her. All along, I was never unaware or unsure of my mother’s love. And as an only child, there was a unique bond between me and my mom. I miss her.
There is nothing like healthy, parental love. Healthy, parental love protects us when we are young, provides guidance and discipline to us as we grow up, and offers coaching for us as adult children. After she passed over two years ago, herself already a widow, I remember having the thought that a significant amount of love for me has now left the earth. I am loved by humans that much less now that my mom is gone.
But why? It is because I was her child. She was for me. She was biased toward me. This can be a good thing, when healthy; kids need their parents’ preference. And yet we live in a world of much deeper, more divisive biases, a world of tribal preferences that are not healthy.
As I was having those thoughts, I recognized I was missing something. The perfect and holy love of God is so powerful that it can make up for the loss of those who have loved us deeply and uniquely. This doesn’t mean we don’t grieve; after all, as a popular television character articulated recently, “what is grief, if not love persevering?”
God’s love is extensive and manifold, so much so, I can depend upon the supply of his love even after my mother’s departure from this world. And, to reference the Kansas sang, the love of God is “more than a feeling.” God’s love does things. God’s love is transformative. As those loved by God and commanded to, like God, love those around us, our challenge is to overcome our tendency toward bias, toward selfish preference, so we can love with open arms from an open heart and, though humanly, reveal a glimpse of what God is like.
In about 197 AD, in his Apology, early church leader Tertullian writes, “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us [the church]. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. And they are wroth with us, too, because we call each other brethren; for no other reason, as I think, than because among themselves names of consanguinity [descent from the same ancestor] are assumed in mere pretense of affection.”
The love of God among his people distinguishes us from a world of hatred and division.
Christians love one another while the world reflects mutual hatred.
Christians are ready to die for one another while the world would rather put others to death.
Christians call one another brethren from the heart, while the world might use that term hypocritically.
Christians also love their enemies while the world seeks the destruction of its enemies.
Christians pray for those who despitefully use them, while the world holds grudges and looks for opportunities for revenge.
In a world characterized by division and animus, our challenge is to live up to the expectations of sacrificial, selfless love that God has commanded of those who call him Father. Christians are commanded to love fellow believers (John 15:12–13).
Christians are commanded to love our neighbors, near ones (Mark 12:30–31).
Christians are commanded to love our enemies (Luke 6:27–28).
These are difficult. They are not natural. These commands should challenge us, mystify us, and drive us to our knees as we interrogate our hearts and our attitudes and actions. May the Lord use his church to break down division and extend his Kingdom love to those around us, unto transformation by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo gloria.
—Written by Wayne Stapleton, VP of Cross-Cultural Engagement and Emerging Leader Engagement