For decades I’ve prayed asking the Lord to help me love like Jesus loved, or at least like my former pastor did. His name was Herb Sweat and he had the ability to make everyone feel like they were the most special person in the world. I loved that guy and so did everyone else. I wanted to feel great love and compassion for everyone I came in contact with. But some people are easy to love―others, not so much.
Jesus commanded us to love one another (see 1 John 15:17). It wasn’t a suggestion or just a good idea, it was a commandment. Christians know we are commanded to love one another, but it’s easy to forget when we are caught up in the day to day struggles of our busy lives.
Back in the late 70’s I heard Dr. Len Evans speak on the Theology of the Love Commandment. I was deeply moved by his message. Recently, I’ve been thinking about his message. He has passed on, and his book “Love, Love, Love” is out of print, but I was able to find some of his notes and a list of scriptures that he assembled simply titled “Love List by Len Evans.” I printed seventy-seven of those verses from the New Testament to read and meditate on. I quickly came to a surprising revelation as I read those verses. The word “love” was not used to describe a feeling. It was always used as an action word, a choice or a mindset. Emotion had very little to do with the word in the New Testament.
The realization that love is an action word and not an emotion set me free! I can obey Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and even my enemies without necessarily feeling deep affection towards them. As I examined those seventy-seven verses (there are many more), I noticed the New Testament is precise in its definition of love. It tells us exactly what love is, and what it is not.
A well-known portion of scripture read at a lot of weddings is 1 Corinthians 13. It’s called “The Love Chapter.” It tells us what love is, and what love is not in verses 4-7, “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.”
Those attributes of love are words requiring actions and/or positive mindsets, or refraining from negative actions and/or negative mindsets. I must confess the first description of love is the one I struggle with the most. Honestly, I have almost no patience. I’m tested on this one daily. I have no patience for red lights, traffic jams, long checkout lines, or being told to “hold please.” The other morning my love was tested at my favorite greasy spoon diner. I ordered my usual bowl of oatmeal and after a few minutes I saw the cook place it under the warmer light. My mouth began to water for that clumpy goodness covered with heaps of brown sugar and low-fat milk (got to cut back somewhere). I quickly scanned the restaurant looking for my waitress, so I could calculate how long it would take her to grab my oatmeal and deliver it promptly to my table. She was at the cash register ringing up a customer’s check. This isn’t good I thought to myself. Suddenly the words “love is patient, love is kind” popped into my head. I just ignored those words because I was hungry and longing for that oatmeal and now a couple more people got in line to pay for their meals! What’s going on here? Where is her priorities? Hot food first! Cold cash second! “Love is patient, love is kind.” Oh, I get it. This is a test. I began quoting “love is patient, love is kind” to myself over and over again. But I could feel the tension rising as I looked at my oatmeal, then at the waitress, then at my oatmeal and back to the waitress. I had to reach into my pocket and pull out the little index card that I had written this verse down on and read it over and over again until my waitress brought my oatmeal to my table. What was the second part of that verse? Oh yeah, “Love is kind.” I smiled and said, “thank you.”
I wasn’t feeling the love but I was able to practice it just the same. The fact is, if I don’t show patience to someone, I’m not really loving that person. And if I’m not giving love I really don’t know God at all. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn 4:8 NIV).
Sometimes we do feel compassion towards someone in need, but we don’t have to feel it to do it. Recently, I was approached on a city street by a middle-aged woman begging for money. Even though she was painfully thin and said she was hungry, I knew what she really wanted was drugs. I gave her my last $5. She said a pizza cost $8 and asked if I could cough up a few more bucks. I showed her my empty pocket and she moved on. The man I was with was a little irritated by her tenacity. I wasn’t bothered. I went for a stroll up the street a little later that evening and she asked me for money again. I told her I already gave her my last $5. Later the man I was with and I went outside the building after dinner and sure enough, the woman asked for money again. He was agitated by her persistence, but I felt only pity towards her. God created that woman to be so much more than a drug addict begging for money from strangers. My heart broke for that poor woman. I felt genuine love (God’s kind of love) for that lost soul. Sometimes we may feel compassion that motivates us to act in love, but we don’t need to feel anything to obey Jesus’ reminder, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
LOVE IS AN ACTION WORD, A CHOICE and a MINDSET, NOT JUST an EMOTION.
C.S.Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
The New Testament describes love as patient, kind, honoring, protecting, trusting, hopeful, persevering, humble, gentle, forbearing, forgiving, generous, tender, and compassionate. Love doesn’t hold a grudge, delight in evil, harm others, become easily angered, dishonor others, or boast. It rejoices with the truth, speaks the truth, values others, covers a multitude of sins, and never fails. It is not proud, selfish, self-seeking, vain or harsh. Love causes us to look to the interests of others and even lay down our life for another.
I believe 1 John 3:16-18 (NIV) sums it up, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”