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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Love: The Mark of Maturity

Jesus tells us, “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Two commands. Both are to love. Love is truly something we don’t ponder much as we strive to be like Christ. It’s something we believe is a naturally occurring virtue. We certainly don’t think loving others is as difficult as having patience or self control.

However, are we really loving others as God would have us love them? When our family and others are around us, is our mind focused on seeking to understand how we can  minister to them? Or are we seeking to understand how they can love and minister to us?

There is a story long told about John, the apostle and disciple of Christ: In the evening he would sit for hours with his younger disciples gathered at his feet. One day, one of his disciples complained, “John, you always talk about love, about God’s love for us, and about our love for one another. Why do you tell us about how to love?” John is said to have replied, “Because there is nothing else, just love…love…love.”

This is from a man who knew Jesus intimately. Why then do we, as followers of Christ, often fail to love others? Why do we not truly reach out with Christ’s love to everyone around us? Why are we not others-focused in our day to day lives?

Perhaps it’s our preoccupation with self. We busily go about our lives trying to secure the things that we believe will bring us love (or the honor and respect that we think will result in love). We want love!

Ironically, we desperately seek that which we already have. We richly possess the kind of love that is able to make us feel completely and totally secure.

John recognized that if we could truly grasp how deeply and passionately God loves us —just as we are—we would be released from our longing to be loved. We would reach out to others in true, meaningful, and sincere love. We would love them freely, sacrificially, and selflessly—without a thought given to our needs. We must sincerely love others without our fears and insecurities hindering us, lest they become an obstacle in our obedience to God’s second most important command. We should abandon self-absorption and embrace self-forgetfulness, forgetting ourselves as we love one another. Just as Christ did.

When I think of genuine love, I often think of Stephen, the first martyr. How much he must have grasped the knowledge of God’s love. Described as having “the face of an angel,” Stephen truly cared about the souls of those who torturously stoned him to death (Acts 8). How I long to be like Stephen—so full of the Holy Spirit that my love for others just naturally flows from my heart to theirs, not only to my family and friends, but also to those who have hurt me.

The power of love is way within our reach. It is something we can do. It is a command of God and, therefore, completely and absolutely His will for each of our lives. Yet we are powerless to love in this way. It is only through His power, through Him changing our hearts, that we can truly love others. The only thing we can do is cry out to Him for this change. A cry from a repentant heart is the attitude in which He delights. It is the essence of true prayer.

It is my prayer for all of us that we truly internalize the love God has for us. That we love one another with authentic vulnerability. That when we encounter others, we unreservedly embrace them with sincere love.

Here are some verses to encourage us in love:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-18

But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Galatians 5:22

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6

Love must be sincere. Romans 12:9


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