Commanded to Love?

love
When we talk about love, we tend to imagine something warm and accepting, something with big smiles and open arms, like a mother or a grandmother or Big Bird with Snuffleupagus.

People don’t usually look at a football coach and think, ‘man, that guy loves me,’ even though he probably wants nothing more than to see his players mature and succeed. You would expect your mother to keep loving you even if you drop an easy catch in the end zone with the clock running out. The coach? Maybe not.    

We sense that love should come without limits or conditions. It should be open-hearted, open-handed and open-minded.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

But if love always trusts, hopes and perseveres, keeping no record of wrongs, what do we do with, say, an intervention? When parents entrap their addicted children into a scenario where they are forced make changes or suffer the relational consequences, can we say that those parents are putting conditions on their love?

Most people would agree that when a loved one is moving in a direction that could bring them harm or even death, it would be unloving not to act. Love compels us to sit that person down and have the hard conversation.

Love without borders is a slippery slope, leading to things like enabling, spoiling or endangerment. But how do we manage these borders without becoming like that football coach, making our relationships based more in some kind of give-and-take, performance-oriented thing, rather than pure, open-hearted benevolence?

Christianity only complicates the issue. Christians are commanded to love God. We are commanded to love our brothers. We are commanded to love our enemies.

Sadly, the first thing God ever clearly said to me was: You don’t love me.

I had a hard time with that. Of course I loved God. I sang worship songs every week of my life. But he showed me that if I really loved him, I wouldn’t struggle so much to spend time with him or to stay faithful to him. It would be something that I wanted to do, not a sub-cultural obligation.

If you ask a random person on the street of any major city in America how they feel about Christians, do you think a majority of them would say that Christians seem more open-minded and loving, or more closed-minded and judgmental?

The negative stereotype actually makes Biblical sense. The Bible urges God’s people not to love the world or the things of the world. It calls them ‘set apart,’ a chosen people. It claims that these special people have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, no longer associated with the violent and lustful sinners of this world.

But . . . love them anyway?

I think sometimes we take Biblical ideals and redefine them to fit who we already are, as if conversion itself can somehow transform us completely without having to pick up our own crosses and let death do its sanctifying work.

We claim to be in God’s image and likeness, but feel comfortable acting nothing like him. We claim to have a peace that passes understanding, but continue to worry. We claim to have joy deep deep down in our hearts, which apparently drags the corners of our mouths down with it. We claim to love everyone, though we can’t seem to keep our pointer fingers in their holsters.

What is the solution to all this? Personally, I find Paul’s statement in Romans 5 very intriguing:

We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Wait, Paul’s goal wasn’t just to get into heaven? It wasn’t some crown of glory? Apparently, Paul wanted nothing more than for God’s love to be poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit. And he was eager to embrace suffering if that’s what it took to get him there.

Paul didn’t trust his own ability to love. And I agree with him. Trying to genuinely love an invisible spirit or a stranger or an enemy is sort of like trying to pick yourself off the ground by your own hair. Without an established relationship, love is really hard. One might even say impossible.

God, however, would look at his own creation with a natural sense of compassion, wanting to redeem it at any cost. This is what we hear in the Old Testament prophets. This is what we see in the life of Jesus. This is sentiment behind all the Lost and Found parables. This is the core of Christ’s message.

If God truly loves his Creation, and God lives inside his people, it would make sense that this love is available to anyone who is willing to set their own life aside for something greater.

Are we willing to admit our own lack of love? Are we willing to do whatever it takes for our natural Grinch hearts to expand, making enough room for, say, murderers, child molesters, Islamic terrorists and–gasp–even our new president?

I really hope so.

2 thoughts on “Commanded to Love?

  1. Hi John,

    Great post, while there is definitely a lot to discuss about this subject, time prevents me at the moment from writing too much, so I guess we can have the extended discussion later and for now just hit on one point.

    In the beginning part of the post, I think your representation of love as the “mommy warm-fuzzies” but also a “tough coach that wants an athlete to succeed” are great examples of love. I just finished two weeks of dog sitting for my aunt’s dog. He is a bit misbehaved (not aggressive) but a bit routy and naughty at times, like dragging the leash, or jumping up on people when meeting them.

    God really helped me better understand how He views us in this light; how He loves us.

    He loves of us in spite of our sin, but does not want us to stay there, because as a loving parent, He wants us to succeed in being the very best we can be: a.k.a. In His image.

    Despite my aunt’s dog’s problem behaviors that does not make me love him any less. How can I stay mad at such a fun, loving, sweet-heart of a dog. He just has some bad habits is all. Now, yes, discipline and practice is necessary to train him out of the bad habits, but the discipline is not harsh or done in anger or frustration. That would just create fear and resentment.

    Plus any commandment I give him is really to protect him not to stifle him. For example, is he allowed to jump up to greet people, no, as if he did that to grandma, she could fall down and get hurt. But in a controlled situation where we are playing, can he jump on me when we rough house? Absolutely, yes. But when play time is done, he is learning to calm down as well and not over do it.

    Point being God has given us His commandments to help us flourish and bloom like a beautiful flower opening up. Not to stifle us. Sin does that by killing us from the inside out.

    Also, another I learned about working with dogs has really changed my perspective on “what” love is.

    In American and western cultures, today, I think many, including myself, have mistaken “affection” for love. And “discipline” for anger, frustration, yelling, spanking, etc.

    Sometimes people say, “I can’t discipline my dog because I love them too much.”

    But an out of control dog who is shown only “affection” (which I know now is not love) is not a happy dog. Anymore than a crazy person who does not know how to relax is a happy human.

    I think what that person means to say is, “I am afraid I will hurt my dog (physically, emotionally, or mentally) if I get upset and yell and scream at them for peeing on the carpet and will make them fearful if I spank them.”

    In reality though what is true love and what is true discipline? Love is about wanting the very best for another and not wanting them to be in a state of mediocrity even if it is the superficially easier option to keep the status-quo (in our case in the status-quo of sin). Discipline is the focus, practice, and the clarification between what is acceptable and not acceptable needed, so that the individual can become aware of evil and avoid it and only work goodness and righteousness. Sometimes this means we need to give things up, other times we need to be focused and stick to a task no matter how daunting.

    The discipline is the bridge that takes us from mediocrity to success.
    It is a striving to improve. Affection is the “warm-fuzzy” part of love but “discipline” is also part of love. Both are necessary to help someone else become their very best. As affection untempered by discipline and wisdom will result in a very spoiled dog (or child and we know God is not a negligent parent.)

    This has given whole new meaning to versus like this:

    Hebrews 12:4-6
    “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

    “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
    because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

    (I realize that in some translations the word “chasten” actually means “scourge” like spanking with a rod, but let us look at what this rod of scourging really is)

    Proverbs 13:24
    “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

    This does not mean God is yelling and screaming at us with a paddle spanking the living day lights out of us. By His grace, I know realize this means He will tell us what we did was wrong, He will not be an enabler, but He will always give us a chance to amend our ways and try again. To do better as that is the evidence of true repentance. So His discipline as a way of loving us becomes comforting in the end because it gives us the hope that we can do better.

    In other words, I believe the “scourging” really is a hebrew way of saying (as Paul was quoting OT Scripture – Proverbs 3:12 is one example.), “discipline”.
    (But what is true discipline?)

    I believe Scripture supports this view in both and new testaments:

    Psalm 23:4
    “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy ROD and thy staff they comfort me.”

    Notice the rod is one of comfort and love. And discipline is a part of love. So, yes, one who does not encourage and help their child learn to walk righteously in the light of Christ and abandons them to wickedness really does hate their child. Makes a whole lot of sense.

    John 8:10-11
    “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no longer.”

    Notice how Jesus did not compromise. He called out sin for what it is and let her know her adultery was wrong (discipline), but also was compassionate (the warm-fuzzies).

    Colossians 3:20-21
    “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.”

    In the past I remember as child, fighting with my parents and them saying with anger and frustration, “The Bible says to respect your parents!”

    Never knew the rest of the verse until recently. In other words. Yes, as children we must respect our parents (certainly need God’s help to overcome bad habits even today) and be loving towards their short-comings, but parents also should not confuse discipline with anger or wrathfulness.

    I believe, now, that the way Jesus dealt with the situation of the woman caught in adultery is a perfect example of how true discipline will not compromise, but also encourages. He was at peace, joyful, and compassionate all the way through but called out sin for what it was. Demonstrating also the holiness and justice of God just as much as His affection by offering repentance and forgiveness. In other words:

    Affection+Discipline+Wisdom+Truth+Righteousness = Love, not:

    Affection+Affection+Affection+Affection+Affection+Infatuation (this really equals “selfishness)

    And discipline is built on a foundation of peace, joy, and compassion, and truth, not anger, fear, abuse, hatred.

    Makes sense why God urges us not to do things the world’s way. Its all upside and causes nothing but pain and suffering.

    Thanks again, John
    God Bless

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is excellent, Ryan. Your thoughts were bringing thoughts and verses to my mind, but you promptly quoted them all before getting to your final summary, leaving me with nothing more than . . . YES!

      I think any parent understands this balance instinctively. They can see the harm that happens when a child is left without rules or penalties, both short and long term.

      I think we often present God to people as more of a grandparent than a parent. Ha!

      Like

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