What was most on Jesus’ mind, the night before he died, was the quality of his followers’ love. He had been teaching them and loving them for the past three years. Time and again they had witnessed Jesus’ winsome way with even the most hurting and wounded people, lepers, prostitutes, publicans, mendicants. People flocked to Jesus wherever they went, and Jesus always had compassion. They saw his heart go out to the people, seeing they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Now, Jesus said, only by remaining deeply and intimately connected in Christ to God (and incidentally to each other) could they bear fruit. The evidence of that fruit would be seen in answered prayer, and in a life that glorifies God. Even more so, evidence of fruit in a believer’s life would be seen in a life that expresses God’s love.
Is love a decision?
Yes, there is truth in that saying.
But the second half of the saying is not true. Love is -never- not a feeling. Love -always- includes genuine compassion and empathy. The heart is -always- involved, when it comes to love.
Let us go back to 1 Corinthians 13:1-8
Love is patient and kind.
You and I can be patient and kind to that person we might think is an absolute troll because the Lord God within us is patient and kind, and God has given us the Holy Spirit to live not only in but through us.
Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
The mark of Christ is humility, and each of these four qualities hinges on self-serving, self-righteous, self-absorbed, self-promoting selfishness.
As a disclaimer, each of these emotions are also experienced through a sense of injury and lack. If you or I feel these things, rather than try to tell ourselves we do not, or force those feelings into suppression, or condemn ourselves for having negative emotions, or penalize ourselves with penance, or use any other form of self-contempt, let us permit the healing process that begins with the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
This is a good saying for you and me: conviction, not condemnation, confession, not contempt.
This One who is coming [the Holy Spirit] will expose, reprove, and convict the world concerning sin and concerning righteousness and justice—conformity to God’s will, purpose, thought and action, and concerning judgement.Jesus to his followers, John 16:8
There is therefore now –no- condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.Paul, Romans 8:1 (NRSV)
If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, if we [are acknowledging of] our sins, trustworthy and righteous [is the one] who forgives us and cleanses us from –all- unrighteousness.John, 1 John 1:8-9
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.Song of Ascents, Psalm 123:3 (NRSV)
Instead, seeking out a wise counselor, a therapist, a mentor, to help us process through the source of those feelings, the damage this has all done within us, and to help us receive God’s healing and restoration, will guide us out of the enclosed negative loop of self-absorption.
Love does not insist on its own way.
But please take careful note: Love has the strength, resilience, and confidence to express personal desires and ask for them. Love does not erase the self, but rather brings the full self into the relationship.
In this way, all those in love relationships are both fully self-aware as well as other-aware.
In loving relationships, those involved seek the other’s good as well as the other’s desires, and are willing to make sacrifices for the other, while at the same time understanding healthy boundaries, cooperation, and compromise.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Older translations might say something along the lines of “not easily angered.” However, the Greek does not permit this disclaimer. Love, agape, is not irritable. Agape is not resentful. Not ever.
That might earn a splutter or two from us! How can we possibly pull that off?
But God can.
Again, when we feel these emotions of resentment, bitterness, irritation, and the like, let us remember this good and scriptural saying: Conviction, not condemnation! Confession, not contempt!
We are going to fulfill the call of love but imperfectly. Because you and I are . . . wait for it . . . human. We are not perfect. We are in the process of being perfected by the divine work of God and our own cooperation with the Lord.
Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. At first glance, we might think this characteristic, at least, we can accomplish our own. You and I can refuse to rejoice over unrighteousness, or to participate in it. Any decent person, we might say to ourselves, is never going to rejoice in wrongdoing. Any decent person is going to want truth rather than deceit, in a relationship.
Except, not really.
To rejoice in wrongdoing looks first at our own actions and words. A long and careful perusal of our daily lives is going to reveal countless wrongdoings—things said in a certain way so as to make us look better than we really were in a particular situation. Little manipulations that make something go our way. Lots of unspoken things that are designed to hide something, or avoid something (which is deceit, after all).
Love is not like that.
So, when you and I are like that, we not only take note, we ask ourselves some important questions that will help us get to the source:
—What am I afraid of, that I have resorted to deceit instead of disclosure, or manipulation instead of open communication and trust?
—What feels unsafe in this relationship?
—What am I unwilling to face, or deal with, or allow?
—What has happened in the past that I am working off of now?
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Because of God’s life within us, you and I have enough love to bear all things. We have enough love within us to believe the best in that person, even when they do the worst. You and I can hope for better, and endure the bad times.
Here comes the disclaimer, though.
Certainly you and I want to be wise in relationships that are truly complicated, difficult, unhealthy, or involve some kind of sin or wrongdoing. It is prudent to seek counsel in such relationships, with a wise and trustworthy person—a licensed counselor, therapist, social worker, or other person who has proven to be skilled and able in navigating what can be treacherous and dangerous waters.
But even making the effort to do that is the expression of love, striving to bring righteousness into that person’s life, being willing to do what it takes.
Love never ends.
But, sometimes relationships do end. God never stopped loving the people of Israel, but the relationship God had with the nation of Israel did end. That might come as a shock, but that is what the scripture states:
And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce . . .YHWH, Jeremiah 3:7-8 (NRSV)
When the people of Israel returned from exile, the land of Judah is where they landed, and it eventually became Judea. Though there were many Israelites in Samaria and Galilee, the ancestral lands of the ten tribes of the lost nation of Israel, it would never again become its own nation.
Let us have a full-bodied view of God’s agape. God’s character, God’s wisdom, God’s supernatural, overflowing, extravagant lavishing of love upon you and me is our guide.
This is the love of Christ.
At the same time, God’s justice, God’s whole and complete sense of self, for though God sacrifices all, God also asks for all, and though God’s mercy and grace are limitless, so is God’s call to righteousness. There is balance here, to prevent you and I from wandering into the false areas of indulgence or codependency on the one hand, the abuses that can come from misapplied “tough love” on another, or self-victimization in yet another.
This is my commandment, that you all would love one another even as -I- loved you all.Jesus, John 15:12
[Jesus washing the disciples’ feet | The Brooklyn Museum / James Tissot, Public Domain]