In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a the Apostle Paul gives us a description of love - probably not a proper definition. In that description we are told that Love is: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, not demanding, not irritable or resentful, does not celebrate wrong. Instead love rejoices in truth, is tolerant, trusting, and hopeful, love never ends. That is why he can say to us…
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10
I’m not sure this passage is usually used correctly. I find that it is used mainly to encourage thrift. “Owe no one anything”. I don’t believe that is the point the apostle is trying to make. At least that’s my opinion! I do not intend to say we should not avoid debt. Of course we should, as much as possible, be debt free because it allows us to make difficult decisions easier. For instance, if a person is heavily in debt and they sense God wants them to leave a good paying job for another job that pays less the decision is hard if not impossible.
The second phrase is more meaningful to me. Our obligation is to love each other! I am so grateful we are not commanded to “feel loving” toward each other since that is not just hard it is impossible. For example, Jesus called us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). There is no restriction to simply pray for our enemies. Even to pray for their salvation! Since the Lord Jesus put these two words, “love” and “pray”, together it is reasonable to conclude that God intends to answer our prayers even when the prayers are for our enemies! Love is a debt that we have to pay and it doesn’t matter how we feel about the person we are required to pray for. Loving our enemies is a God ordained debt!
So, it can’t be that we are required to “feel” love because feelings can’t be commanded. In the last days of his ministry on earth Jesus gave direction to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). This is easier than the next level we will be moved to.
Jesus set the example for love. I do not believe he was referring to feelings he was talking about actions. Here Jesus is saying “love one another”. And then he laid out the measure we are to follow in loving other people, especially the disciples of Jesus.
How much did he love us? Think with me about it! For eternity he had been with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He enjoyed uncountable number of angels surrounding his throne. He left that! Not because he had to but because he chose to. Having left the glory of heaven he entered the womb of a young lady. And for nine months he experienced whatever it is we experience when we are to be born. Anyone remember? I don’t! I don’t remember the day of my birth or the next few years. I have a picture of myself when I was about one year old. I can look at that and think I remember it. I am sure that is not true. Somewhere around four years old I began to have memories that I’m pretty sure are real.
Jesus spent that time in the womb understanding what it is to be human. He was born in a manger with no attending physician. We are not even told there was a midwife but I assume there might have been.
After being born, as a human, Jesus grew up like everyone else. Mary had the privilege of teaching God the Son how to walk, talk, and all the other intricacies of being a human baby. When he entered the temple at the age of 12 he understood that it was His Father’s house. Then he spent 18 years being normal. His neighbors were not impressed with him beyond what they would be with any other boy in the neighborhood. His brothers and sisters, born after him, did not expect him to be a prophet much less the Son of God! At a very early age he was introduced quite naturally into the workforce as a carpenter. First he had to be an apprentice to his human father, Joseph. I believe he probably was good at whatever he did.
After being introduced to the world by John the Baptist Jesus lived like everyone else. At one point he said he had nowhere to lay his head! Then, he went on proving who he really was until finally being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He went through a phony trial and then was beaten to the point of near death. He couldn’t even bear his own cross to the place of execution. When he arrived there he was nailed to the cross and lifted up above the earth. That, in a nutshell, is what Jesus did to prove his love. So that is what he meant when he said, “just as I have loved you”. More than dying for us Jesus suffered in every way we have. Other than suffering because of sin he suffered every other way that we have.
He left heaven’s glory for earth’s gloom. Not only that — when he became a man, though he is God, he limited himself in time and space. Not just for 33 years on earth. Forever! Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to Timothy, For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6). He gave himself a ransom for all and limited himself in order to do so. He did not stop being God indeed he always was God and always will be God. He is one with the Father and one with the Holy Spirit but he is “The Man Christ Jesus”. What does all this have to do with us loving each other? All I can say is that’s the way Jesus loved his disciples and his people throughout history. So when we read the words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). We have something to measure that love with!
It’s not supposed to be difficult to love fellow Christians. However, if you talk to any Christian counselor you will find that one of the biggest problems in the church today is conflict between fellow believers.
How do we get back on track with this business of love?
During the last days of Jesus ministry he was often confronted by the ruling Jews. They tried everything they could to bring him down. At one point they had a lawyer asking a question to test him. It was a routine question in the Jewish studys. What is the great commandment in the law? And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).
There is a feeling factor in what Jesus told them. “With all your heart” I take to mean with your feelings. At least it means with enthusiasm. So that loving God comes first in our lives. But, right next to it is loving our neighbor! This was not some new idea brought up by Jesus. Both Jesus, and Paul, are quoting from the law of Moses. (Leviticus 19:18).
What is the standard by which we love others? “As yourself” is a pretty difficult direction. When you see someone who is mean and unloving to others you can be sure that that person has difficulty loving themselves. They are a world away from loving God. Love your neighbor! Sounds good doesn’t it? The way we treat others reflects what we think of ourselves. After settling the issue of salvation I believe we need to begin forgiving ourselves. If you wont forgive yourself, and you are a Christian, you are acting as though you are more spiritual than God. When God forgives you must accept his wisdom and forgive yourself. You cannot have higher standards than God. His opinion of you is what stands!
Jesus also said, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25). Jesus is clearly not talking about the forgiveness we receive when we are born again. That forgiveness is a one-time event. Here he is talking about a repeated prayer. “Whenever you stand praying” is speaking of any time you pray. Forgiveness leading to salvation is not to be prayed for over and over again. But, on a day-to-day basis we do sin — and that requires our seeking forgiveness from others and God. In the first of his three little letters John the Apostle assures us that forgiveness is on its way. I am encouraged by John’s self inclusion with regard to day-to-day sins. (1 John 1:9-10). It is easy to get discouraged when we do what we know is displeasing to God. That’s called sin. I thought that the men who followed Jesus might have reached a level of spiritual growth where sin was not part of their life. Well, it didn’t happen! John said, “if WE say WE have not sinned, WE make him a liar, and his word is not in US.”
This man had walked with Jesus through three years of ministry. In his gospel he is identified four times as the one whom Jesus loved. In the upper room as they observed Passover the disciple whom Jesus loved leaned back against him. John may have been the only person, other than Mary and Joseph, to hear Jesus’ heartbeat when he leaned against him that day. At the same time he recognized sin in his own life.
If we love one another we must be willing to forgive one another just as we desire for God to forgive us. After all, God forgave us at the time we received Jesus Christ as Lord. When we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord the Bible says we are saved. Not because we are good enough but because he chose to save us. When did he choose to save us? The Bible says that choice was before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4). Therefore at the right time he put in our heart a desire to be saved.This is a tough subject! One that I have struggled with for many years. What is God calling on us to do? Pray, for more than just our enemies. Especially for those who openly persecute us! Jesus went on to say that when we love our enemies we are acting like children of God! You see, God makes his sun shine on the evil and the good. He sends rain (which is very important in an agricultural world) on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).
Jesus demonstrated this concept when he healed people. Nowhere in Scripture will you find Jesus saying, “Do you believe in me?” Luke tells us (Luke 4:40) that, in at least one situation, Jesus healed all those who were brought to him. He didn’t divide them up into groups of “saints” and “sinners” he simply healed! When he hung on the cross, he simply prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). No one can convince me that is not a prayer! There is a wonderful truth here. While his persecutors divided up his clothing one of those criminals who hung there beside him was saved! First, this man rebuked the man on the other side of Jesus’ cross. Then he asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. That man did not have time to do any extensive Bible study or listen to a “plan of salvation”. We do not know how much he knew about what he was asking. He may have only known what he had heard as Jesus struggled under his cross on the way to the place of crucifixion. Jesus’ reply is breathtaking. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43).
I, for one, want to be known as a child of God. God who gives sunshine and rain to all equally. A Savior who forgives those who are crucifying him. Jesus not only called for the Father to forgive those who crucified him at the same time Jesus paid the penalty for their sin. The death of Jesus on the cross was sufficient to forgive the sins of all who will come to him in repentance and faith. I challenge you today to give serious consideration to your relationship with Jesus Christ. If you’re not sure of your salvation contact me and let me talk to you about faith in Christ. If you are not a Christian and are unconcerned about your spiritual condition be afraid ask God to guide you to the truth.
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.