Love is one of the scariest and most difficult teachings of the Christian faith. If you think that talking about love is wishy-washy or warm and fuzzy, then you’re not really talking about love, not God’s kind of love. God’s love is defined by the cross – self-giving till death with no guarantee that you get anything back. And this is how we’re supposed to love each other. Love should be so self-defining to the Christian that the Bible says if you don’t love, you don’t really know God. If you don’t love the way Christ loves, how can you call yourself a Christian? But have you met the other people in my life? I can hardly stand to listen to some of them for more than 30 seconds, let alone lay down my life for them. This is a hard teaching.
The kind of love we’re asked to give to others really is impossible, it’s superhuman. And last time I checked, I’m just a mortal. Ah, but that is the point. This love can’t possibly come from within me. I am incapable of producing it, we all are. Much of the sinfulness of this world comes from this inability. In the absence of love, selfishness takes over, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get to the top, even if it means trampling over others like lemurs on the march. Others are there to serve us, to benefit our plans for a wonderful life, to make us feel important and significant, or at least to get out of our way. This is the darkness in our hearts.
But God tells us real love comes from Him. Love is who He is. And when we encounter and embrace the love of Christ, something new is birthed in us. Our ability to receive is directly related to our ability to give. When love is freely given to us, when it abides in us, it casts out the darkness and fear of our selfish existence. We are freed to love, because we know that even death cannot hinder love’s power.
It is not enough to sing Jesus Loves Me. God’s love is not perfected in us until we love each other. If we claim to follow Christ, we must follow his path. The path of love is always down, its shape is always cruciform, it is always given away. This is how God’s love is completed in us. We don’t understand God’s love by hoarding it. God does not rest satisfied in His own flawless fullness. He rips His very heart out and offers it to us, bleeding on the cross. We learn love by living love.
Many days I am an unwilling pupil. I just don’t want to make the effort. I’d rather stay home and sit on the couch, thank you very much. Love is hard work! Thankfully, the same writer who says if you don’t love others, you don’t know God, also says that if we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves. Love’s perfection takes practice. And on the days our love falls short, we fall back on God’s unfailing love.
Of course, we are still uneasy about this whole sacrifice thing. Seems a little self-destructive, don’t you think? What if I’m taken advantage of? What if I get burned, or burned out? So far, I haven’t been able to find a passage that says to love only if certain conditions are met, or that we can opt out based on certain well reasoned excuses. Sometimes you will have to love till your heart bleeds, till your hands are blistered, till your head is spinning.
But the beauty of the life of love is that it is designed to be shared. The Christian community should be a well spring of love, where giving and receiving flow naturally so that all are carried on its waves. If we are all loving deeply, we can all drink deeply. This is what true Christian fellowship is all about. This is how we share God’s love, this is how we are perfected as His bride. This is where we find rest for our souls and provision for our needs. This is where daily bread is shared because people are willing to be broken for the sake of their brothers and sisters.
This is also how the world will know we are Christians. If the people in your community were asked to define the Christians in it, would they say that Christians are the people who really love each other? If not, we have a problem. Our love inside the Christian community is directly related to our influence outside the Christian community.
To our selfish hearts, this is scary stuff. But this is real love and real life. This is real God.