September 01, 2004

"You act like you never had love..."

"...and you want me to go without."

(This is the latest in a series of posts called, "One: An Extended Look at Christian Unity and Disunity." To see previous posts in this series, click here.)

"This is how we know what love is," says John, the "Apostle of love," in 1 John 3:16, "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." (Sounds like something out of the 70's doesn't it? "John, the Apostle of Luuuuuv.") But if you asked the average person how they learned what love is, I think you'd hear something along these lines:

"My parents were very affectionate. I always felt loved in our home."

"I didn't know what love was until I met my wife. The first time we kissed...fireworks! And it's the same today. That's true love."

"I didn't know what love really was unti I had kids. They're always happy to see me, even when nobody else is! That's what love is."

"My friends have a way of always making me feel good about myself. I know what love is because of that.


But the idea John is trying to communicate is that Jesus taught humanity what love is. And it wasn't through his preaching or his miracles, his powerful words or powerful acts. Nor was it through his relationships with the people around him, like his mother or his disciples or the seekers he met along the dusty roads of ancient Palestine. It wasn't through his birth, his life, or his resurrection. None of that provided the textbook definition of love.

It was through his death.

Jesus taught us what love is by dying for us. As my mentor and friend Dr. Bob Marsh once said, "The only place we can go in this universe and empirically know God's love is Calvary and the cross." In a perfect world, when you look up "love" in the dictionary, you see a picture of Jesus on the cross next to these words: "That expression of care and concern exemplified by Jesus' self-sacrifice for the sinful world."

Of course, that's not the definition of love our society teaches us. Love, the pop culture prophets and pundits tell us, is something you feel. When you feel it, you do it, and when you don't feel it, you don't. For example, when I feel love for my wife, I act in loving ways toward her: I buy her gifts, I offer her my help, I share a home and a life with her. When I cease to feel love for her, I stop acting in loving ways: I become distant, I treat her coldly, I divorce her and go looking for somebody else that I can feel like I love. The world has "dumbed down" love to the same level as the animal instincts that drive humans to rut like dogs when not controlled by something higher than instinct, like societal norms, religious conviction, or spiritual transformation.

Jesus teaches by his example that love is more than a feeling, it is a commitment. I act lovingly regardless of how I feel, because Jesus acted lovingly toward me and as an expression of Jesus' love for those around me. "This is how we know what love is," John says, "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

What does all this have to do with the unity of the Church that Jesus willed when he prayed, "May they be brought to complete unity?" Ask yourself this: Which definition of love is your church or denomination teaching by the way it interacts with the rest of the churches and denominations in the world? By our level of fellowship and cooperation with other groups of Christ followers, are we telling the world that love is something that you feel, some vague sense of affection or fraternity that is largely confined to words, or something that you do? Are we "laying down our lives" for the rest of the church, in spite of the issues that separate us, or are we like the bad example John offers:
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
Amen, John. Let it be.

2 Comments:

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Rick said...

Just found you. I always say that I don't have the guts to follow Jesus so I settle for being a Christian. I guess what I mean is that to follow Jesus requires something of me... to die to myself... to empty myself for others. Like Paul said, we can do a lot, but without love we are just banging gongs and clanging cymbals-- NOISE.

I'll be around to check you out!

Thanks,
Rick

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Wow, that's some hard stuff, Rick. I like it. I wonder if many of our churches don't have the guts to follow Jesus so instead they settle for being Baptist or Episcopal or Methodist or nondenominational or whatever.

Hope you'll be back and drop more pearls like that one...even if they're heavy ones.

 

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