The following is excerpted from an e-mail message that I got from my neighbor and friend John Gilman. I love what John says ... he cuts through the religiosity ... his writing is insightful and helpful ... enjoy.
In my last letter, I said about love: “Why else ‘be a living sacrifice,’ or ‘submit to one another,’ or ‘let yourself be wronged?’ Well, actually, there are other reasons why people obey the commandments. Here is one of the most amazing statements in the Bible:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Co13:1-3)
Giving everything to the poor and sacrificing your life for some other reason than love? That’s hard to believe. These are great things! And they amount to nothing? That’s even harder to believe. But, and this is so critical, if we don’t love, we are nothing! We gain nothing! The Apostle John said:
“Anyone who does not love remains in death” and “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I Jn 3:14 & 4:8)
These love claims are not little hyperbolic asides by Jesus and the Apostles. They make their main point, we are to: Love God completely, love our neighbors and ourselves rightly, and love some fellow apprentices as Jesus loved the Twelve. Obedience is supposed to be an _expression of this love.[i] Faith is supposed to express itself in love. Love is the most excellent way. Love is greater than faith and hope. With love we shine like the stars, we have the very nature of God. With love we are perfect like our heavenly Father. And the Greatest Commandment is…?
I grew up in a church of people who were trying to keep all God’s laws, including kindness, justice, and responsibility. A child is far better off in a society of laws than in a lawless one and I am thankful for those people.[ii] And I am thankful for the laws that kept me out of harmful pits of stupidity like: abandoning my family, or addictions, or affairs, etc. However, if love becomes just one or two of the laws we keep, than the laws can be obeyed for other reasons such as: pride, acceptance, self-justification, prestige, fear, and on. We can pray because we’re supposed to, or because of love. I used to be kind, out of obedience; now, hopefully, I am kind out of love. Often the giver and the receiver can feel the difference. Ask my wife.
I have always tried to love and much of my obedience was motivated by love. But many years ago, at a men’s conference, I was envisioned with the importance of “obedience” and I told God that by his grace I would obey him. That, coupled with a positive experience in the military, meant obedience became the goal, and love became a few of the commands I was trying to obey. I marched home from the conference with the Marine slogan, “perfection is our basic minimum” ringing in my head, and immediately assaulted my loved-ones with a perpetual pressure for perfection. The laws of God became both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because of the attempt to deal honestly, kindly, justly, etc. A curse because my obediently patient perpetual pressure for perfection meant everybody (including me) was always failing. Usually I was obediently-patiently-kind about their failures, but obediently-honestly-clear in pointing out their failures. God began correcting my miss-guided zeal by revealing “grace” to me, which was a huge step up. Then God revealed his definition of perfection to me. And now I’m praying that my obedience will hang on love, like fruit on the vine.[iii]
Dear Father, help us love your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
John—a worker in the harvest.
[i] I concede the circularity here—we are to love out of obedience and obey out of love—but the emphasis is correct and can be clarified, I believe, through an argument that is too long for this letter.
[ii] Many, although they may not be able to articulate it, are living lives of love. Their obedience has resulted in the adoption of love into their lives. Wittingly or unwittingly, they have become lovers of God and man. Their inner compass pointed toward God’s love, they asked Jesus into their heart, and they’ve sailed that direction ever since, reaching, one by one, the shores of heaven. Every time I see them I want to kiss them. My mother was such a one, and early Wednesday her sturdy craft bumped ashore and the One-Who-Is-Love greeted her with a smile saying, “Perfect!” Far behind her, her family follows her long straight wake.
[iii] "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt 5:43-48
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” I Co 13:8-10
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Jn 15:8-12