As I have been reading through the New Testament, I was jolted the other day by a series of “Love Statements” that our Teacher made. Throughout His ministry our Lord Jesus would state or be asked, “What is the greatest commandment.” His answer was simply, “Love the LORD your God…, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Sermon on the Mount He addressed this and expanded this Love to our enemies. This is a difficult Love. And then in the Upper Room Discourse, our Master raises the bar from “self” to “as I have Loved you”—an even greater Love….
As I pondered these three different objects (or expressions) of Love, as I said, I was jolted. For some, Loving oneself is the most challenging, let alone Loving ones neighbor. And their self-loathing comes out in rather harsh tones as they interact with their “neighbors”—both near and far.
For others, Loving our neighbors is easier than Loving our enemies. To them, Loving their enemies is the ‘greater,’ more difficult Love. Still for others the “greater Love” is laying down our lives, preferences, desires for a friend—literally as well as figuratively.
Why this did jolt me? It appears to me that our Lord is deepening our understanding of Love (before I continue let me say that I capitalize Love to = the Greek, agapē that unconditional, sacrificial Love) by raising the bar of the object of Love.
Let me see if I got this: Loving our neighbor as ourselves, even sometimes out of self-interests, is nonetheless a rather elementary form of Love. This bar is rather low. Then Jesus raises the bar by changing the object of this Love from neighbors to enemies. Though a much more challenging Love than the elementary Love of ones neighbor, it is still not the greatest Love. The greatest Love is laying down ones life for a friend—and not an enemy or a neighbor! Right?
And this is what jolted me. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b), and then a couple of verses later, St. Paul continues: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life” (Romans 5:10 NIV84)!
Does our Master merge these latter two Loves? Are they distinct in degree or merely in the object of Love?
Forgive the apparent headiness of this, but I am coming to realize that my Love is rather shallow. Oh, yes, I can say I Love my neighbor, even beyond convenience and ease. I can even say I Love my friends with some mild delusion that I will indeed lay down my life for them, but what of my enemies? Oh, I tolerate them, but do I Love them—as Jesus Loved them—and me!?
Perhaps you are like me and rely on His gushes of Grace to do what we cannot do? Care to share?
Main Text— John 15:12–13 (NIV84)— 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts
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.—1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NIV84)
Let all that you do be done in love.—1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB95)
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.— Ephesians 2:4–5 (NIV84)
Lord Jesus Christ, reduce me to Love. In Your Name, Amen.