“Pursue love…” (I Cor. 14:1a). Now, you may automatically think I’m talking about romantic love. No, that’s not it. I’m talking about the kind of love that transcends the hatred and angst that fills so much of our world today. Seems it’s hard to find nowadays, but then again maybe it’s never been easy to find.
In my post, “When Trust Is Broken,” I stated that the bottom line for those of us who are Christian is this–at the core of everything, whether it is showing mercy or extending forgiveness or tenuously trusting again when there’s no sane reason to trust again–is love.” And I quoted I Corinthians 13 which is known as the “Love Chapter” in the Bible.
I don’t know about you, but I know I need some further instructions on this thing called “love.” Love for others is by no means an automatic response for most of us (if you doubt this just think of your enemies). In fact, we are most likely self-consumed much more often then we are consumed by love for others. And, I’ve even heard some people say that until they learn to love themselves, they can’t really love others (in other words, they are still consumed by self). As long as the focus is on us there is no room for loving others.
I must confess that most of my own thoughts that tend towards “self-absorption” come from feeling a need to protect myself at times. This is not a kind world that we live in, and it doesn’t take much to look back into the past to see where people have hurt us for a variety of reasons. And, it is tough to pick up and go forward again when people disappoint us especially when we don’t understand why they did (for example, the circumstances that brought about my unemployment). This is not to say I haven’t also run into some very caring people, too–most recently like the doctor and her staff that I wrote about in my post “A Very Good Ending To A Very Bad Week.” As I stated in that post, the world needs more people like them.
I think you will agree that when it comes to love and relationships, Jesus is our ultimate guide. He knew what was in the heart of every human being He came into contact with, and He still loved them, flaws and all. He went all the way to the cross and still forgave all of those who put Him there. His mission was about the redemption of humankind, a redemption we must personally and individually accept (it is not “automatic”) and He let nothing stand in His way. His love was absolutely unconditional, and the price He paid for us is far greater than any of us will ever go through in our own lives. You can read the story and accept His offer by reading the Gospel of John.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) Jesus’ own words regarding love are found in Matt. 5:43-48. While the link includes these verses in several versions of the Bible, I like how the paraphrase, The Message, states them: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
“Grow up.” Doesn’t that really say it all? We can choose to continue to live mostly self-absorbed lives or “grow up” and look beyond ourselves and the hurts others have inflicted upon us. We can continue to live our lives wearing our own personal armor that shields us from others or the armor God has provided for us (Eph: 6:10-18), which is a topic for a later time, but I want to emphasize a very important point stated in verse 12 with reference to the subject of love and loving our enemies. Ultimately, as Christians, we know “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Unfortunately, when we are hurt by others, we almost always only see the human side of the battle, but the real battle is in the spiritual realm. If we can just grasp that one reality, it would be so much easier to lay aside our own self-built armor of self-protection and replace it with God’s armor.
Love isn’t easy and don’t ever fall under the illusion that it is. Most of what we call “love” in our society isn’t even close to what love really is–and I mean unconditional love that doesn’t require anything in exchange for giving or receiving it. We just don’t love like that very often. We’re just too self-absorbed most of the time.
So, I’ll end this post with these verses from I Cor. 13:4-8a: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails….”
And yes, that kind of love never fails….
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