I don’t know about you, but there are certain periods in my life of which I’m especially fond—times when I felt good about myself. And even though all was not well with the world, I can look back and recall those very happy times.
Of course, sometimes I also think that I get caught up in some kind of romanticism. After all, things just couldn’t have been that good. And so I’m reminded of the common complaint: That the more one thinks of the events occurred, the more unreal they become. Nevertheless, they were still very happy times.
And one particular part of my life where I often get stuck is the late 1960’s. I was at school and getting ready to face the world. I read a lot and absolutely loved music (the right kind of course). I had a group of very good friends . . . Well…. you get the illusion.
Yes, it was the time of the Vietnam war . . . But it was also the time of Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix, and the final years of the Beatles. The “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament” was gathering momentum. And that well known expression “make love, not war” was becoming part of everyday living.
And so I find myself sometimes thinking about those times. Yet at the same time I think about how or why I get engaged in that sort of sentimental journey.
Now my nephew would tell me that just putting on one of my CDs would be enough. (After all, they all come from the late 1960s and early 1970s, or so he reckons.). But as I watch the news, today, I get the great distinction that history is constantly repeating itself.
Indeed, since the September 11 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York, there has been much talk about revenge, retaliation, and justice. But so too, has there been talk about the need for peace. And so that sentiment about making love, not war is being heard over and over again.
Now as a Christian this has particular interest for me. Because the sentiment, if not the exact meaning, is exactly the same as what should be proclaimed by the Christian church. Because as Christians, are we not taught to love God? Are we not taught to love our neighbour? Are we not taught to love our enemies? And are we not taught that the greatest thing that Holy Spirit has given us is love—that love is greater than all of the spiritual gifts and that love is eternal, and never fails?
So, leaving my particular sentimental journey aside for the moment, and with the background of yet another crisis—because there always is one—what can we learn from history? Or more particular, what does the bible say about making love, not war?
B. THREE BIBLICAL WAYS OF “MAKING LOVE”
Well, our first port of call should be some very important New Testament commands:
1. Love the Lord your God (Luke 10:27)
The first command “You are to love the Lord your God…” for many will be very familiar. It’s the command that Jesus acknowledged as being the most important of all. The (first and foremost) command for all Christians is to love God. It’s the centre of our faith.
And the extent of that love? “…with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Love in this context is total. It’s the totality of mind and will that should be brought to the worship of God. It’s undivided loyalty—total faithfulness and obedience to him. There’s no room for devotion to any other thing or being. Everything that we are and have should be directed to our creator and redeemer.
Of course that’s not easy. There are so many distractions and other things that call on our time and our attention. It’s so easy to get side-tracked, or to find ourselves putting ourselves first before God—and often we don’t even realise that we are doing it. But if we are true believers, then total submission to God is what we should strive for. A total love of God is what we should try to attain.
2. Love your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27)
The second command, “Love you neighbour…” was also acknowledged by Jesus. Linked to the first command, this was placed second in importance behind the command to love God.
And the extent of that love? “…as yourself.” As Christians we’re commanded to love others, not less than we love ourselves, but the same as we love ourselves. We’re commanded to show care and compassion, but not in any nominal way, with what we’ve got left over, after looking ourselves. But in the same way as we would want to be treated ourselves.
It’s about a relationship of equals. And that’s not easy to do either. Particularly as some people seem to be unlovable, difficult, and sometimes down right impossible to live with. And perhaps that’s why over the years there’s been a tendency to redefine exactly who our neighbour is.
For example, the background to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, derives from a Jewish interpretation of who a neighbour is as: Someone with whom one has something to do with on a regular basis. The Jews were therefore able to define a neighbour as either a fellow Jew, or someone who belonged to the same religious community. (Foreigners and Samaritan’s, in particular, were excluded.) The Pharisees were also able to exclude the ordinary people because they didn’t normally associate with them either. Furthermore, the Qumran community excluded people who were termed “sons of darkness.” And the list could go on . . .
But clearly the Parable of the Good Samaritan itself, if it teaches anything, teaches that no such division should be made. Some of our neighbours may not be easy to get on with—they may be difficult to love—but we have no biblical grounds to exclude them from the love that is demanded of us.
But there is a second issue here. It’s not only the term “neighbour” that has been attempted to be redefined in this context but also the term love itself.
Love has been seen, by some, in perhaps more romantic terms. Referring only the need to love those who are more attractive, easy to get on with people (eros). However, the real meaning of the term love in the command, should not be lost. The love that is required from us is the love which loves despite the fact that we may find the other person totally repulsive (agape).
And in a way that makes sense. Because if God loves us (and we must seem to him to be unlovable sinful disobedient creatures), then it’s only natural for him to demand the same response from us to others.
3. Love your enemies (Luke 6:27)
Now these first two commands Jesus acknowledged as being the most important. Indeed, they are a summary of the ten commandments. But I would also like to suggest that a third command is of vital importance too. The words of Jesus himself: “Love your enemies; . . .”
Now Jesus wasn’t just talking about spiritual enemies, but all enemies. (And a very hard thing for anyone to do). But we don’t just have to think of people overseas, we can think of those we know who don’t like us, who make life difficult, and even those who make it clear that they hate our guts.
And the extent of this love? “…do good to those who hate you. Speak well of those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you.” Love in this context, is concerned less with emotional affection, than with willing service and a desire to do good to the other person. It may be natural to hate those who hate us, but the command is not to return hostility with hostility. Instead we are to return hostility with love.
Now, of course, that does not mean that they will cease to be our enemies, but it does show that we need to be serious about our God and our faith. Because witnessing to our enemies is just as important as witnessing to our friends.
C. BIBLICAL ASPECTS OF “MAKING LOVE”
Love God, love neighbour, love enemies. It’s not easy. But the place of love in the Christian life is paramount.
1. The Supremacy of love
Indeed, the Apostle Paul, wrote to the church at Corinth about the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4). He talked about us all having been given different gifts for the common good. His words: “A word of wisdom is given to one through the Spirit; a word of knowledge is given to another through the same Spirit. Faith is given to another through the same Spirit; gifts of healing are given to another by the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:8-9). And the list goes on, but is not exhaustive.
But Paul also wrote to the church at Galatia about the fruit of the Spirit—the so-called “nine graces” which make up a mature Christian character. Paul’s words: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .” (Galatians 5:22-23a).
And the most important of all these “gifts”? Well, Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church makes it quite clear. We can have any gift of the Spirit that we like, but if love is absent, then what is the point. As individuals, as well as a Christian community, we can get by somehow without the gifts, but if love is absent our endeavours will be for nothing. Indeed, the most lavish exercise of spiritual gifts cannot compensate for the lack of love.
Paul’s words I think will be familiar: “If I were to speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have no love, I would be no better than a loud gong or clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and knew all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have faith to move mountains, but have no love, I would be nothing. If I gave up all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I handed over my body to be burned, but if I have no love, it would do me no good. Love is patient; love is kind, not jealous. Love does not boast, nor is it arrogant. It does not act in an unseemly way, nor is it self-seeking. It cannot be provoked and does not take into account any wrong suffered. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Lover never fails. But if there are prophecies, they will be abolished; if there are tongues, they will cease; and if there is knowledge, it will be brought to an end” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8). And he concludes: “Faith, hope, and love will remain; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
2. The divine nature of love
So, does that put the pressure on even more for us to love, and to love the most extraordinary and unlovable people? Well, it does, except that we need to remember that we are not alone. God is with us and will help us. And we can take comfort in the fact that the love that we are commanded to express is not human love, but divine love.
As Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “Our hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
God’s love for mankind was displayed in Jesus, through his birth, life, and death. And now it’s our turn to use that same love—God’s love—to do as he asks. To love God back, to love our neighbour, and to love our enemies too.
Now see what happens when I begin to remember the good times in the past—when I start to go down memory lane? Nevertheless, love God, love your neighbour, and love your enemies are three commands we cannot afford to ignore.
So today we are faced with a challenge: As a nation, as a community, as a church, and as individuals: Do we really love God? Do we really care for one another? And do we really love our enemies? And as believers: Are we using the divine love that God gives us? Because that is what God demands that we should do.
Posted: 13th June 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis