Love! Just a simple little word. And a word that is used so easily in our society; and for so many purposes. I love . . .
- Lord of the Rings, both the books and the movies.
- Snickers bars, especially the peanut butter ones.
- The Olympic mountains
- Backpacking and running (kind of).
- My wife and children.
- Gandalf and Eeyore.
So many things that we love; yet what we mean by love really is dependent on what it is we are loving. I love
- Snickers because they taste so good, making me feel good. Their consumption satisfies a physical appetite in a pleasing way.
- The Olympics because they appeal to my sense of beauty. Seeing them, and tramping through them, gives me a sense of awe, making me feel better.
- Eeyore, even knowing that he is a fictional children’s character. He is a character I can relate to. When I see him I see myself in a way that makes me smile.
- My wife because of what we share together. I cannot begin to describe what that does for me, but it does satisfy a real emotional and physical need for companionship.
- My children, although I have a harder time identifying why. I love them simply because they are my children.
The Challenge of Loving
That being said, I must confess that love scares me; at least when the object of love is another person outside of my family. Love is a risky business, often having an emotional cost that can be challenging for an emotionally constipated person like myself. Love can also require an investment of my time and stuff that may be more costly than what I am willing to invest.
While not written directly about the struggle to love, the song “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel does express how many of us react to reaching out to others in love.
But being a rock, or an island, is not really an option for me. God loved me and has called me to love others in return. But that love takes work. It requires me to change from being self-centered to being others-centered. Instead of what’s best for me, it needs to be what’s best for those around me, in particular my fellow believers. Peter has something to tell us about love in his first letter that I think is well worth taking a look at.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,1 Peter 1:22-2:1 NIV
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
Purification Leads to Love
Verse 22 says that obedience to the truth produces personal purification, which in turn leads to sincere, or brotherly, love for other believers. This sequence starts with the truth. But what is truth, we might ask, along with Pilate? Conveniently enough, Jesus answers this question with “I am the truth“. Jesus is the ultimate reality, and in rejecting him, one ultimately rejects reality and lives instead in a world that is just a shadow of reality.
Am I living in obedience to the truth, recognizing Jesus as Lord, and aligning my life with his? If so, then those things, attitudes, and actions that are out of alignment with him will not have a place in my life. I will have been purified, cleansed of impurities that keep me from being what he wants. Being pure is not being ‘holier than thou’ or ‘goody two shoes’. Being pure is being aligned with the truth; with Jesus: it is what we should be rather than some exceptional state.
It is when I have been purified that I am actually able to have a brotherly love for the other believers around me; we are family. Those things/attitudes/actions that conflict with love have been eliminated. I am free to love others. I don’t have to worry about the cost; because everything I have is His. And I don’t have to fear opening my life to others, because my life is His.
Love Leads to Love
It might seem that once I have brotherly love for my fellow believers, my siblings in Christ, I would have arrived. But to Peter, that was only a beginning place. You have a sincere love for each other, so now love each other deeply, from the heart. We are called to move from a sincere, or brotherly, love, to a deep love.
Brotherly love seems to flow naturally out of obedience and purification. We love our family in Christ simply because we have been purified by obedience to the truth. But then we are called to go beyond that love and to love as God loves. I am called to choose to do what is best for others, to lay down my life for my siblings. I am called to put the interests of others ahead of my own. Loving in this way is a choice I have to make. Will I make it?
There is another reason Peter gives for me to love other believers; I have been born again of an imperishable seed. If the seed I am born of is imperishable, then it would seem that I also am imperishable. And if I am imperishable, then so are other believers also born of that same imperishable seed. But what does that have to do with love?
We, as believers, are the body of Christ. Not just for the time of our lives here; but for eternity. Love, an others-centered love, is critical if we are going to work fully together as one body. A self-centered love would be a cancer within the body, and there is no place for that within the body of Christ. We are stuck with each other for an eternity. Just getting along is not enough. We need to love; to give ourselves to each other; to truly be one body; and to build each other up in love.
Clean up Your Act
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Notice the effect all of these actions/attitudes have on the people around you? They are self-serving and divisive. Few of us would likely admit to malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander. But how often are your words and attitudes toward other believers less than charitable? How often do we point out, or focus on, the faults of others? How often do defensive feelings arise when thinking about, or talking with others?
Put those feelings, those attitudes, those words, those actions away. Get rid of them. Love instead. Rather than defending yourself, and your turf, surrender yourself to the body in love. Love that one who hurts you. Love that one who is a thorn in your side. And love that one who is misled, at least in your mind. Love, not just with words, but with your actions and attitudes.
Living a life of love is hard. But it is not optional: it is essential. There is no room for excuses. Jesus has commanded us to love. It is the defining mark of his disciples. If we do not love, we do not know God.