I have a friend who just got engaged to be married. As he was detailing the way he proposed to his beloved, something he said caught my attention. In the course of his adult life, dating and living, he had promised himself that he would only use the actual word love towards the one who he was going to marry. He further explained that it was his thought that people 'throw the word love around carelessly' and that it had a special meaning, one meaning. For him, it was only to be used in speaking to his soon-to-be wife.
I can see his point, especially when thinking about dating. I know it happens, all too often, that relationships proceed a little too quickly and emotions peak prompting hasty pronouncements of love and devotion only to be rescinded down the line, after the passion has worn off. Careful and introspective we must be when experiencing and building a new relationship that we don't bite off more than we can chew, so to speak. I agree with my engaged friend - we must take this word love seriously and use it, especially in a romantic circumstances, with the utmost of care.
But, romantic love is not the only type of love, as I have talked about before. Scripture has a lot to say about love, and throws it around quite liberally. Think of these words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians,
"It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For G-d is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Yeshua HaMashiach (Christ Jesus). And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Messiah, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Yeshua HaMashiach, to the glory and praise of G-d..."
He is not speaking of romantic love here, but what can be a difficult, more complicated type of love - relationships not with our lovers but with our neighbors. The affection of the Messiah towards one another is not a love born out of desire of intimacy such as in marriage, but of pure compassion and care for those in our lives, in our congregations, in our communities. Paul was certainly speaking to a faith community, one to which he was closely attached. So, was Paul throwing the word love around carelessly?
You shall love the LORD your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." (Luke 10, the words of Yeshua)
It is more than clear to me that we are to love others with a purpose that goes beyond the surface. In my humble view, we are to care about their well-being, their physical and financial needs and their emotional needs. We are to make ourselves available and willing to put our own needs aside to help carry the burden of another. We are to be honest, humble and compassionate towards others in all that we do and say. A tall order, that is. What is more, we are to do this and live. Does that mean that if we do not love those around us, those that cross our path, that we not live?
Think for a moment what it would look like if everyone had the goal of loving each other with the affection of the Messiah...
When my children were small I often told them that they didn't truly need to worry about getting their needs met, for if they treated others (read siblings) with kindness and care, others would do the same for them and that would please G-d. But, if they were busy worrying about themselves and their desires all the time, no one else needed to.
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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13, the words of Yeshua)
So, how did the Messiah love? Further, it doesn't seem like He was shying away from admitting that He loved others. That being the case, should we as followers of Yeshua be cautious, careful or secretive about the love and care we feel for others? Should we only profess love for our mates and our mates only? How does that fit into the words above?
As I have lived through parting with some dear, dear friends in my recent past, I have thought long and hard about the subject of loving others. At one point, I made a statement to someone that holds a special place in my heart that startled me and prompted me to ask myself some hard questions.
"There is nothing you could do
that would change the way I feel about you."
that would change the way I feel about you."
The words above are the very essence of unconditional love. Would I still love my (friend, family member, spouse, pastor) if they tried to murder me? OK, perhaps that's extreme; how about just lying to me? Or if they stole my things or slept with my husband? What if they abused my children or talked about me behind my back? Could I still consider them worthy of love if they didn't keep to my standards of righteousness?
Since voicing this sentiment that first time, I have come to own it. I want to love others as unconditionally as humanly possible, to forgive sins committed against me and to love them even if they are unrepentant. Of course, I believe that forgiveness doesn't always make for restoration of relationship, but within myself I strive to view others who have hurt me as a creation of the Master, bearing His image. I try to understand the motivation behind the actions; not to give an excuse or 'pass' for bad behavior, but to do my best to feel compassion and empathy for their life and situation. I pray diligently that the LORD grant me the ability to do this at all times, difficult as it may be. Perhaps this is what the Messiah meant when He said "do this and you will live". For living with resentment, bitterness and hatred is no life at all.
Unconditional love. A worthy goal, to be sure...and very much in keeping with the type of love Yeshua displayed while walking among us.
Loving your neighbor as yourself.
Loving G-d with all your heart, soul and strength.
Commands that leave no question as to what is expected of us by the Most High G-d. I suggest that if we are going to throw something, we should throw out our cautious, self-preserving behavior concerning loving one another. We need to stop withholding care for others and quit putting our needs and wants higher than those around us. We perhaps need to rethink how we show love towards others with our words, thoughts and actions. Everyday, let us show ourselves worthy of the affection of the Messiah and give that love to those around us. It is in this way that we openly confess our love for the LORD our G-d.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of G-d, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:10ff