So I was working on something else completely last week when God laid the subject of love on my heart. Well, if I’m being honest, I was sitting around after a conversation I’d just had and thought, ‘Can’t we all just love one another?’ And, by ‘we’, of course, I meant ‘they’.
With this in mind, I started to look at the quintessential chapter on love, I Corinthians 13. You know, the one you find painted on signs that adorn our homes and quoted at every wedding? In case you missed it, I’ll write it:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13: 4-8)
So there it was. And boy, did I find that I’m pretty good at it. I mean look at that list. God’s idea on how to love is easy, right? So incredibly natural for us that it should be like breathing: an involuntary response that we don’t have to try at or even think about. (Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?) Why is it when you’re trying to pray for others to get things right, God so often reminds you that you’ve still got it all wrong yourself? Yeah, love it when that happens. So here’s what I’ve figured out over this past weekend, and I’m so far from being done. Apparently, I am a work in progress even on the issues I thought I’d mastered.
First off, love is really, really hard. Not that I didn’t realize that before, but maybe I just needed a reminder. Oh, yes, the song says, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing’, and it is, when it’s directed at you. But when you’re the one that has to do the loving, and you just don’t feel like it, well it isn’t always so ‘splendored’ then. I think Jesus felt this when he contemplated dying on the cross for us. Look at Luke 22:44 as he prayed in the garden. At this point, Jesus clearly was warring over what was to come and didn’t necessarily feel like doing it. I mean, the man was sweating blood, trying to figure out another way. So, WHY did Jesus die for us? And we’re not talking a ‘let’s take my last breath and lay here and die’ death. No, we’re talking crucifixion. A nailed to the cross, spit on, beaten, very painful, death. The answer is quite simple: love. It wasn’t the easy choice. He knew we didn’t deserve it. He knew those that claimed to love him would turn away from him, some would even be in the crowd. But he still chose it out of his love for us. Yet, I can’t muster up a loving response to you today because you’re stepping on my last nerve. Oh sure, that’s understandable.
Second, I realized that there are no conjunctions in love. You can’t say you’re going to love someone and then add a condition. “I will love you if…”, “I will love you, but…”, or even “I will love you, and”. It has to just be “I will love you.” Did you catch that period? Yep, that’s how you end it. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Jesus surely didn’t add a condition onto His love for us. Romans clearly tells us; “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) He didn’t require anything from us. He didn’t ask us to be perfect. He didn’t ask us to give him anything. He just loved us when we so did not deserve it. He just loved. Period.
That last one alone should be enough for us to love others. It should have us out of our seats, jumping and hugging everyone around us. When we realize that amazing love God gave us, how can it not overflow? Unfortunately, we are stuck in these bodies and war with the feelings that play over us. So we start to make excuses, and that was the next one God called me out on. Love doesn’t use excuses. Just as I said above there are no conditions, well, there are also no excuses either. God called us to love one another. He made it very clear and repeats that commandment over and over again throughout the Bible. We cannot escape it or put it on someone else's shoulders. It won’t matter if they looked a little funny, were in need of a shower, spoke differently or drove their car way too slowly in front of me. I’m supposed to love them. Or, and here’s the harder ones; it won’t matter if they’ve hurt me, disappointed me, or are completely in the wrong. I’m still supposed to love them. When we stand before God one day, I won’t get to use someone else’s actions as an excuse for why I didn’t do what God has called me to do. Love them. (Now, as a small side note: this doesn’t make us doormats. There are some people in your lives who are healthier to love from afar, yet you still must love them.)
As I sat this weekend with these thoughts, I realized they all sounded well and good, but what I really wanted was an out. I wanted God to understand that I wasn’t so sure I could do what He had done. What He does on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis. He wasn't going to give me one. Nope, not so lucky. Instead he reminded me of the words I shared a few weeks ago about my genetics. His DNA runs through me, and I cannot escape that nor - if pressed - do I want to. And here’s what the core of his DNA is. God is love (I John 4:16). And if He IS love, and He lives in me, then I should be able to exhibit that love. It’s not going to always be easy. I’m going to be asked to love imperfect people. I can’t use excuses. I don’t get to ask that the other person comes to me first. I don’t get to ask that they love me more, or that they make the first move. I’m just supposed to love them. Period.
So, that’s what I’m going to try and do. At times, it’s what I’ll struggle to do. But, if I want to show others the love of God, I cannot do it without loving them myself. They simply will not be able to hear anything I say. Going back to that chapter on love in Corinthians, it starts out by saying that without love I am nothing but a clanging gong. Every effort I put into life will be nothing without love. Love needs to be the base for every one of our actions. I don’t want to be just some noisy person, clanging about wherever I go. I want my voice to be heard, clearly and full of God’s love. And though I may mess up, if I’m leading with His love first then I have this promise. His love never fails. Thank you, Lord, for that.