difficult. Not easy. Downright hard! Nearly impossible sometimes.
We are supposed to be known for our love, we Christians. Caring about someone comes with an inevitable vulnerability to having to feel their frustrations and their hurts. It comes with additional emotion on their behalf. And that’s when we are talking about the people we love most easily and naturally. Loving others outside that group we trust and know well, is a whole different task. Loving people is a risk, and doesn’t just come of its own accord. Loving our neighbor? That love that doesn’t flow naturally from the flesh, but must be rooted in the Spirit. That love that continues loving those nearest and dearest, even when they disappoint us, also doesn’t flow from the human spirit.
We find it easy to love a helpless newborn baby, a cute and clumsy puppy, people who make us laugh. But people who don’t give us anything, people who are needy and have nothing to offer, nothing to attract us, loving people like that takes something else. Sometimes, particularly when we are young and unjaded, we can more easily recognize the benefit of loving the unlovely, if for no other reason but because it makes us feel good to see them smile. But that kind of generosity of spirit seldom lasts beyond the years when life tends to deal us a few hard knocks of our own.
We have a natural tendency to begin withholding love and kindness, after we have been burned once or twice. After we have reached out to someone who was in need, maybe gotten a little “high” off the feeling of making someone else’s life a little brighter, only to have that same person demonstrate an utter lack of comprehension of the sacrifice we may have made, to start seeing a glimpse of what may actually be behind that person’s being in the circumstances they are in. That is when we start to discover the “strings” we had unconsciously attached to our giving, even though we had not realized it at the time. It comes with expectations. We expect there to be some acknowledgement, some appreciation, oh, maybe not overt, gushing over-the-top forever-in-our-debt kind of gratitude, but something. Some indication that they will take the “advantage” we have given, and springboard off of it into greater self-sufficiency or determination, or even just the habit of paying it forward.
But then we are disappointed. And when we are disappointed, we show that the giving was not without guile. When will we ever come to fully realize that in our flesh dwells no good thing?
Love is a decision we make. It isn’t a feeling. It isn’t supposed to be about self at all. But human love always is tainted with some selfishness somewhere along the line. Take parents for example. We give until it hurts, right? Who hasn’t foregone some desired something, for the sake of the kids? That kid didn’t ask to be brought into this world, and especially when they are young and vulnerable and not even self-propelled yet, or even very self-aware, it’s so easy to give. So easy to sacrifice and to love. But how many years into parenthood do we get before we start thinking “you know what I had a life once”? How much “selfless” giving are we capable of, really? Because after a while we start to notice a lack of gratitude on the part of the child we brought into this world. We start to notice they have a whole different set of priorities than we do, and we don’t figure into those priorities, and some resentment creeps in. We tell ourselves, they’re kids, they don’t know any better, this is what parents do, and shame on me for feeling this way. And yet. We feel that way sometimes nonetheless.
Some parents maybe get that way while the kids are still babies. “Man, I hate to say this out loud, but I can’t wait to go back to work”, says the first time mom. “Hey, babe, I’m going to by the field and watch spring training for a while before I come home, says the third-time Dad who just wants to remember what it felt like to do something besides work and deal with a tired cranky wife and a colicky baby. As hard as he works, it’s easy to justify leaving Mom to hold it together a couple of more hours, even though she has lived the whole day with the one merciful thought of that moment when Dad walks in and the kids rush to him, and she gets a few moments without someone anyone demanding anything from her at all.
Love is forgetting about yourself and spending your resources serving someone else. I’m not that good. I’m not that generous. I want to keep my meager “widow’s mite” of strength and energy. I have Narcolepsy. I do not say this with malice, it is simply true, but most people who think they know what Narcolepsy is, think that it just means a person who is prone to fall asleep just anytime, anywhere, even standing up. That doesn’t begin to encompass what narcolepsy is. But the point is not what we have to work with, rather God is interested in what we do with what we do have, to give I mean. Whether we give it in His name, that it may be multiplied, or whether we choose to hold tight and guard it for ourselves.
Life as a Christian is very much a learn-as-you-go proposition. I don’t think we ever stop learning how insidious our own flesh nature is. And we never master bringing it under subjection to the Spirit as the new man God creates when we are born again.
We can know full well what the better thing is to do in a given situation, and more times than not, there are multiple “choices”: the “clearly wrong” one, the “not ideal, but least costly to self” option, the “just not getting involved” option, and the “doing it because it’s the right thing, even though it is going to cost me”. We seldom choose the most costly thing.
Show of hands. Which one are you most prone to choose? Any scenario, doesn’t matter, just the general rule of thumb, when you are faced with someone else’s need which you are in a position to possibly help meet?
For the most part, we will do as little as we can, enough to say we didn’t disregard the need. Sometimes we go out of our way, but then there are also some days when we say, “this time, let someone else step up”.
It isn’t really a reflection of the kind of person you are, as one would think. It probably has more to do with the status of your tank, and what grade of “fuel” you have in there.
God did a pretty cool thing when He designed us with a capacity to love. Love truly is the one treasure that humans possess, which multiplies when given away. I am not saying that the more you pour out your love on others, the more they will love you back. That is a false notion and doomed to disappoint. But by the unfathomable virtue of God’s Spiritual law and principles, loving others returns manifold dividends. For those who doubt, you need not even rely on Scripture for support of this claim, although it is there in plentiful supply. Even the world knows that there is a personal benefit in people looking out for one another. Even in a mathematical sense, it stands to reason that if everyone did more good, we’d all be better off.
The problem is, there is a limit to human love. It is finite. While the love of God is infinite. Our determination to love, will inevitably run up against some wall. It may encounter an unspeakable evil, or it may simply erode with a thousand tiny disappointments over a lifetime. It may be incapacitated by a particularly brutal betrayal, or even crippled by a malfunction of the mind, be it an acute, temporarily incapacitating stress, or a long-term mental illness.
Only to the degree that God is free to operate in His love through us, can unconditional love ever issue forth from us. We simply do not have it to give.
Unconditional love is the only truly life-changing love that exists.
Did you know that the command “love one another” only occurs in the New Testament?
“Love the Lord” 3 times in the NT, “Love God”, 5 times, in NT.
The word “love” itself 637 times in the whole Bible.
Throughout the Old Testament, there are no commands to love one another, but manyto Love the Lord your God.
Isn’t that interesting? Something different about that old and new covenant. What was different? God demonstrated His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We weren’t commanded to love one another until God provided Christ, our example.
The longer I walk with the Lord in this life, the more I comprehend that whatever the Lord asks of us, He pretty much has to supply it in us Himself.
We can’t muster it up from within ourselves.
You can’t muster up faith, or understanding, or hope, or love, or patience, or even-temperedness. Oh, wait, those are familiar. Fruits of the Spirit, right?
Yeah. He’s the vine, we are the branches, He is the husbandman who brings forth this fruit. Our part is to yield to His cultivation. When hardship comes, we are to obey the scriptural instruction to trust Him, and not rely on our own understanding, just continue to acknowledge Him in all our ways, and trust Him to direct our paths as He promised. When He comes through in his faithfulness, our faith grows. When He sustains us through fiery trials, we are tempered by that buffeting. It is not in any “doing” on our part, only in our submitting.
When we are treated harshly, violently, or unfairly, we are not to retaliate, we are to wait upon the Lord, believe His warning that vengeance belongs to Him, and He will repay. When He tells us to love one another, He tells us how that is possible. “Love is of God and he that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. (I John 3:23) I am not saying that those who don’t know God are not capable of having loving feelings toward others, but the active love that is commanded and that we do out of obedience, is only possible by the love of God in us. That self-generated form of love is not self-sustaining like God’s love is.
Love does not require liking someone. Love is not always accompanied by warmth or joy, even.
Love is not proud, doesn’t demand it’s own way, considers others before self, does not envy, does not tear down.
Loving someone may sometimes require losing that person’s affection for you. In the same way that a child does not have particularly arm affection toward someone who is applying antiseptic to a cut. Love adheres to truth, and though it may hurt, it never harms, always has the other’s best interests at heart.
I am sure it hurt Mary to watch Jesus die on the cross. Surely it was very painful physically for Christ. Love is often a hard choice. Choosing not to love is pretty much or default human mode, therefore choosing to love must be conscious and intentional, and must stem from some source outside ourselves. Fortunately for us, we have the Holy Spirit within, Who offers an abundant supply.
Beloved, love one another, for love is of God…