Photo by CRISTIANO DE ASSUNÇÃO on Unsplash

Greater Love Has No One

It’s the night before the crucifixion, and Jesus is teaching His disciples:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” –John 15:12-13

I imagine, clueless as they tended to be, that the disciples nodded knowingly.  “We do that,” they thought.  “Pass out some bread.  Heal the sick.  Forgive a debt or two.  No problem.”  Maybe they thought “laying down one’s life” was metaphorical:  staying up late with someone sick or giving up an extra coat.  But then the next day the Teacher stretched out His hands on a cross and gave up His very life for them.  In the following days, as the resurrection unfolded and the Spirit poured out wisdom upon them, the truth of true love sank in.  I’m sure they were overwhelmed with joy and worship.  I wonder if they were also, maybe, a little scared.  The standards had been raised so much higher.

Years later, the disciple John would expound on Jesus’ command in a letter:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.  –1 John 4: 7-12

There are days when the words of Jesus and John shake my soul.  Is my Christianity measured by my capability for love?  And if so, am I in trouble??  Do I love?  What counts as love?  Do I love enough?  Do I have to love everyone?  Do I really love at all?

And before I know it, I’m singing the North Wake classic, “This Is Impossible.”

He said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees teaching in the synagogues, you will in no way enter the kingdom. I cried, “This is impossible; this is impossible.  There’s no way to God.”

I accept God’s standards for love.  I know I must follow His example.  I must pass out not only bread and a little forgiveness. I must also love with my life.  I must exude compassion for the sick, the homeless, the complainer.  I must speak the gospel to my lost, hostile neighbor.  I must give like the widow who counted it all joy to spend her last mite.  All my energy, resources and time should be poured out in the service of love to Christ and His people.  Of this I am sure.  Of this I am incapable.  I am stymied by selfishness, trauma, physical limitations, fear, introvertedness, and a horrible forgetfulness.

But God does not leave us terrified.  He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, 
so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. –Psalm 103:10-14

Our Father is mercy, grace, and love.  I fall at the feet of the God who loved me enough to die.  I tried, Lord.  I tried and failed again.  I clutch at His robes for forgiveness and another chance.  I pray for a heart that overflows with the Spirit and love.

And He gives it.  Assured that His sacrifice was enough, assured of His unwavering love, I turn back with a hug for the child who disrespected me this morning.  I make another visit to the woman suffering alone in her house.  I make an apology.  I speak of Jesus to a lost family member.  I teach another class of two year olds.

Loving other people is hard.  Even my love for the most loveable (puppies and babies) fails when there’s a mess to clean up or sleep is disturbed. But people—people betray, abandon, and neglect.  What do I do with that?

I remember what is true.  That Jesus himself showed us how to respond to hurtful people.  You die for them.  If I can manage to remember that all things are possible through Christ, love begins to seep out of me.  If I manage to remember I am built to love, something in me seeks to rise.  Empower me, Jesus.  Empower your church, Jesus.  Make us a kingdom of priests who die for each other.

North Wake, may God Himself, the God of peace and love, sanctify you through and through. May all your spirits, souls and bodies be kept blameless and full of love until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.  Love well.