Lessons in Love, Part 1

I thought I was pretty good at loving people. I care about injustice. I strive for equality. I love my family and my husband. I serve in the prison. I care for the kids at church. I’m friendly and hospitable.

But when I was flattened by a chronic illness, I felt the loneliness of isolation. I didn’t feel very loving all alone day after day. Then I studied 1, 2, and 3 John, and the high demands of love convicted me.

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14 NIV). In other words, love for others is the evidence that we are saved.

“Love” here is agapao in the original language. This is love that desires good for others – no matter what they’ve done. This love regards others with strong affection. It expresses compassion. Christ’s example defines this type of love.

As I assessed myself, God surfaced the resentments, grudges, and lack of forgiveness I held in my heart because of small injustices and oversights.

No, I discovered, I fail at unconditional love.

I’m loving when I feel loved, seen, and appreciated, not so much when I feel invisible. In other words, I do not love like Jesus.

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
 by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
 he humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)

Michelangelo - Dying Slave Giulio Menna via Compfight

To have the same mindset as Jesus means we embrace becoming nothing. As the all-powerful God, Jesus’ “love drove him to a position of weakness for the sake of sinful mankind” (ESV Study Bible).

If we live like him and take the form of a servant – the position of weakness, it means we will be treated as servants, as less than. A servant in biblical times expected no gratitude. Servants were typically slaves and were largely unseen and unappreciated.

But Jesus loved us, so he became this for us – the unseen and unappreciated.

jesus closeup on cross

“But Jesus went much farther, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Crucifixion was the ultimate indignity, a public statement by Rome that the crucified one was beyond contempt. The excruciating physical pain was magnified by the degradation and humiliation” (ESV Study Bible).

As he died on a lonely hill in a backwater city, all eyes were on Rome. Hardly anyone noticed or recognized the value of one man’s death in Israel. But God knew. God saw.

The audience of One is the only necessary audience.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
 in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
 to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

We put our souls in danger when we quit living for the audience of One.

Expecting others to truly see us or to come looking for us when we become incapacitated provokes grief and heartache. Others prove just as human as we. Understanding human nature, Jesus knew his friends would betray and abandon him, yet he committed himself to death anyway.

Why? Because of love.

unsplash, cross

“By humbling himself on the cross out of love, he demonstrated that he truly shared the divine nature of God, who is love” (ESV Study Bible).

I am not like this. When compared to Christ’s example, I haven’t the slightest inkling of how to love. I am resentful when I am forgotten.

Yet we humans are the same. We are all selfish sinners. We are the disciples who ran away. We are the people who only wanted bread. That makes Jesus’ offering all the more glorious. He knew exactly what we were. Still, he came.

He knew we would race through our days often forgetting to call on his name or to speak to him. He knew we would forget his precepts and neglect to live out his commands. He knew we would be unloving, forgetting others. And yet, he still came to die for us.

This is the Man we are to emulate. His steps are the ones we follow.

Lord, help me to be more like you.