To follow Jesus is to follow the path of love.
And the path is a thorny one.
Jesus condensed the whole requirement of God into two simple statements – Love God. Love your neighbor. And before his death, He gave one more final command to his inner circle of disciples – “love each other”.
So what then is love, this thing that God puts such a massive emphasis on?
Is it hugs, kisses and affirmative words? Birthday surprises, laughter, good times? Shared secrets, meals and WhatsApp groups? Exchanging smiles, wishes, prayer and stories on Sunday mornings?
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus, begs the community there to walk in unity and then adds, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God” .
As I turned this sentence over in my mind, in particular the words, “gave Himself up‘, it occurred to me that what God calls love is so vastly separate from our own perceptions of it. Walking in love, Paul says, is to love like Christ loved. In short, it is to give ‘self’ away – or to use Paul’s words, it is to “give oneself up”! A quick reflection on my own life revealed that what I call love has often stopped short of what God calls love. That is, my love always stops short of giving my ‘self’ up.
When self hurts, love stops.
I’ll love you till you deeply offend me (hurt my pride). I’ll make time for you if it doesn’t cost me all my afternoon naps. I’ll hang out with you if you don’t have ‘attitude’. I’ll reach out to you, if you’re not too difficult to reach out to. I’ll pick up your calls if you don’t call too often – for then you’re becoming co-dependent on me! You see, I’ll love you as long as I feel good about loving you!
It’s like we erect careful walls around our precious, fragile selves and love outside those self-made boundaries. The minute those boundaries are impinged upon, we raise our “trespassing prohibited” signs and hastily withdraw indoors. Needless to say that in situations of abuse boundaries are needed…. But what I’m referring to here is the tight grip we maintain on ‘self’ in the everyday routines that define our lives ( and eventually our future).
We are fearfully cagey about our time, our space, our money, our feelings, our ‘wants’ and ‘don’t wants’. We hug our ‘self-life’ tight and love others to the extent that it doesn’t cause us hurt, discomfort or sustained inconvenience.
In other words, we continue to love ourselves the most.
What I’m seeing with greater clarity now is that this is not the way Jesus loved. Shortly before his death he said to his disciples – “this is my body broken for you -take and eat. This is my blood poured out for you – take and drink” – a symbolic representation of his death on the cross and the life we would have by believing in Him. Jesus gave himself up, poured ‘self’ out – fully, unabashedly and without reserve for the world that God so loved ..and it is this love we are called to imitate.
And that’s why love is war. For to love..to truly love requires us to war against our natural instincts to protect, preserve and pamper self. The war is not against people, but rather against ourselves, as we make choices to love others despite our desire to push away!
Yep…all this seems challenging at first read. It does to me too! But I know that it leads me to helpless dependence on God who has made it possible for all who believe in Him to live in this other-centered, freeing way.
There’s more I have to say on this, but I’ll leave that for next week . ..there’s more than enough to chew on for today, me thinks!