Love one another. It really is as simple as that isn’t it? Anyone who has been in a relationship and gone through, and beyond, the “EROS” stage, will know that “LOVE” changes. Anyone who has had children will know that they have reached, at some point, the horrible realisation that they “LOVE” their children but for a moment they really “DO NOT LIKE THEM”. So love is not simple by any means and we as humans are not quite up to the task, all of the time, to love all of the people.
Our, sometimes, ideal simpleness of “LOVE” is exacerbated because we have several commands “TO LOVE”, just as in these verses. Matthew 4:43-44a “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies
John 13:34 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.
And by definition, a similar call is found in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Finally we have the definitive description of love from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, that are, quite frankly and ultimately, impossible for anyone to attain even for a moment, let alone always.
These verses, before us, offer a somewhat neat formula to help of course: the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the disciples, and the disciples are to love one another. As I mentioned earlier, the task of the disciples, to love, is actually framed as a “commandment,” a word that can be confusing to us who may be steeped in a gospel of grace. How can Jesus be laying down a law “TO LOVE”? Surely love is an emotion, a feeling. It is uncontrollable? Isn’t it?.
The first thing to note is that this love that is spoken of here is not the heart racing, butterflies in the stomach, cupid, squishy, sort of love. The romantic, gooey eyed, sickly sweet mush, we are served by everywhere else. The Hallmark gushing and ultimately commercial ideal of “LOVE”. That idea of everlasting feverish excitement that MUST be present otherwise it’s not any kind of valid love at all. A love that is in the end a selfish one. Which is not what we are commanded to do.
We see this contrast when we go back to Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 12… The love Paul describes is tough. Giving this love is hard, sometimes it hurts. It acts in the giving, acts against the natural inclinations and demands. Without a doubt a course of action that we find very challenging indeed. Blood sweat and most definitely tears are required if we are to love as Jesus commands. It isn’t simple at all. It isn’t squishy. We will lose face, be embarrassed by rejection, ridiculed, laughed at and the world will see it as a weakness to be exploited. So are we willing to take on this command? Because if we do we might find some interesting outcomes that we weren’t expecting.
Love in action
There are some interesting parallels in these verses. The command to love is first found in v10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love and v17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
And being a command, it is something we do, it is about action not emotion.
The first verse, v9 frames what is to come next and the context is one that the way we know “LOVE” is found in action, is As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. So how do we know God loves us? HANDS UP. Sorry, force of habit. How do we understand the love of God shown to us? What is it that confirms this love that Jesus speaks of? Well, it is found in a very familiar place. It is this, God’s love is found in an act… because He sent his only begotten son… and how do we know Jesus loves us… well we find the answer in 1 John 4:7-12 but particularly 9 and 10
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins Jesus, in living and dying for us, shows, in action, his love for us.
We also find this encouragement to show our love in the gospels. Too many to mention but if we can go back to Jesus’, what we now know as his, Sermon on the mount, in Matthew 5:43-48 there is encouragement, trying not to use the word commandment but a rose by any other name, to Love your enemies. The word love is the same here as in the text for today. A word of action and Jesus gives us at least one example of what we are to do… pray for them.
And also just as James decries faith without works. Works that show the difference God makes in our lives, so love without action is not the love that we are commanded to show.
Now you must hear this before we go on. After all that you have just heard please know this, it is a very very very important point. Do not, I repeat DO NOT set out to “try and love one another,”. DON’T DO IT. Do not attempt to gird the proverbial loins and use all your strength you have to love. I know it’s very hard not to feel a little discouraged as you hear the words commandment and begin to realise the sort of levels we are called to achieve. If you try to love you’re way off in the wrong direction. If we have to “try and do it,” then we’re just adding an impossible burden onto what is already a pretty big weight. Trying to love one another is a recipe for guilt-ridden dead religion, in which the commandment does indeed become a commandment, in every negative sense of the word. It’s not the gospel, not what Jesus meant, and we won’t succeed, God knows we may even look around now and think, yeah it is hard, if we try to love this lot then we’re bound to burnout.
The key to this “commandment” is in the last words of v9 and v12, “abide in my love” and “as I have loved you.” We’ll come back to “abide in me” in a moment but for now concentrate on “as I have loved you” The love of the Son for his disciples is the source of the disciples’ love for one another. It’s not the other way around. We do not receive love if and only when we love Jesus. We are loved, regardless. We are not accepted because we love as Jesus loves but are accepted because Jesus loves us. To come to terms with that can be difficult. We are messed up and often, and I have say continue to be, feel we cannot possibly be worth that love, surely we need to earn it… That is religion and commandment which hopefully we have begun to see is not what is meant in this circumstance,
Another misinterpretation is that the phrase in v12 “love as I have loved you” to mean that Jesus’ love is the example or model for our love; we believe He calls us to the kind of radical love he shows. That’s kinda true in the fact that I think that this love is very different from what we think is love, but in fact we do not nearly come close to what Jesus is trying to say…
Jesus’ love is the fount of our love, the ever-flowing spring of the love that flows to and through the disciples. Loving one another is not meant to be a task in and of itself, but is ultimately shown in action. This love is something and that is about a way of life. That way of life is that “loving one another” becomes a natural outworking of being loved by Jesus.
In all of this “loved by” and “us loving out of being loved” I want to ask a simple question we all should be able to answer to some degree or another. We may in fact have quite a few answers to it and it is this, and I use action deliberately. How has Jesus shown His love for you? What ways has He demonstrated His perfect love? What grace has been given to you? When has He shown you mercy, dusted you down and lifted you up? How has God helped you in your hour of need? What strength and hope has been given to you by the Holy spirit when you most needed Him? You may also want to ask your own questions to bring to mind the love of God shown to you and those you know and love?
We might even dare to change John’s verb here. What if we read this line in the present tense, “Love one another as I am loving you.” What is happening now that shows God’s love for you? What grace is apparent in your life that is showing Jesus’ love in action? What need is being met even now?
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. Love comes from the FATHER, through the SON, to us. Not from us through Jesus to God. And… As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
ABIDE is a great word here…to remain, abide
in reference to place – to wait, not to depart, to continue to be present, to be held, kept, continually
in reference to time – to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure, of persons, to survive, live
in reference to state or condition – to remain as one, not to become another or different.
But I think the word TARRY marks for me a difference that uplifts “abide in me”… stay longer than intended; delay leaving a place.: linger, loiter. There is no force of will, no strained and difficult holding onto but an easy natural state of lingering in the presence of jesus’ love. When we are in touch with — when we abide— in the love of the living Christ for us and for all people, then love for one another flows as naturally as water from a fountain. It’s like a tree that bears fruit. The tree doesn’t try to bear fruit; it just does, because that is what a healthy tree does! When we spend time with Jesus, remembering His complete love for us. As we bring to mind all that hHe did and continues to do for us we can do nothing but bear fruit.
I believe I have been mistaken in my earlier assessment of what the command actually is. I don’t think it is to “love one another” but I think now that the actually the commandment is much simpler than that and is so much less hard work. Now I think the commandment is to tarry, linger and stay a bit longer with Jesus. I think I can do that.