- Renée Coventry
Love: The Spirit-Filled Life, Day 2
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He answered immediately, "The first of all commandments is 'Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31). Love – there's a reason it is listed first in Galatians 5:22, as a fruit of the Spirit.
Of note is the connection between God's oneness and the command to love Him. Jesus prayed for His church to be one, and that can only occur in the context of love. Unfortunately, in ourselves, we are too selfish. I don't often recommend books, but I do refer you on this to Francis Chan's book, Until Unity, in which he dives into this in detail. For this post, I am primarily concerned with love as the overarching characteristic of the children of God.
In His nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus explains, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Note that God's motivation in sending Jesus was love. Everything that God does is motivated by love. The Apostle John reminds us, "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (I John 4:8). If we are to emulate our Father in heaven, we, too, must love, not in a superficial capacity of acting lovingly for wrong or selfish reasons, but because of a heart change in which the power of the Holy Spirit transforms our very motives.
I'll be the first to admit that this doesn't come easy. People have hurt me, and I do not doubt that I have hurt people. In a dog-eat-dog world where the church bears little resemblance to its Head, it requires a complete and thorough overhaul. But, when you ponder the process of metamorphosis, it's miraculous that any living creature can withstand it. One day you're crawling along, minding your business, unconcerned with others, and selfishly consuming leaves you didn't plant. The next, you're upside down, enclosed in a tightly woven cocoon where you can't move. Your movement has been suspended at the desire of your Creator because there is so much more He has for you. You must wait out the process, or you will die. Suddenly, one day, you find that you breathe a little easier and movement becomes easier as the chrysalis in which you've been trapped gives way. You no longer munch on the plants of others in easy self-gratification but rather become a pollinator of them, doing your part to bring beauty to the world around you.This is the transforming work that the Holy Spirit does in our hearts as we learn to walk in love first toward our Lord and then toward our neighbor.
The order is essential. It is impossible to love others if we do not love our (and their) Maker. Again, the Apostle John tells us "not to love in word or in tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18). Love snatches from the fire those who are about to be burned. It pushes one out of the way from imminent harm. It speaks kindly, but it constantly proclaims truth. The two are inseparable. Loving God requires that we live in the reality of our Creator, which is not a single dimension but spans the entirety of our being: body, soul, spirit, and strength. It takes up our energy yet infuses us at the same time. It is impossible to love our neighbor as ourselves if we are not fully cognizant of the deep and abiding love the Father has for us as individuals and have learned to return it. Paul reminds us in Ephesians that we are to be "rooted and grounded in love" that we "may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19). Take it from one who knows, it is one thing to be able to teach the love of God and quite another to be rooted in it, fully assured of your position as His child. God’s love at work in our lives is essential to accessing all that God desires to bestow upon us as His children.
Many of us are masters of the mask, desiring love yet evading interactions with others because we fear they will see us as we are. Yet God has seen us, and Paul reminds us that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Before we ever dared to love Him back, our Maker, the Word made flesh, willingly sacrificed Himself. He took a holy risk. We cannot love like God loves unless we first become vulnerable and willingly risk our hearts in a daring and bold move. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). Jesus laid down his life. However, the question that bears asking is whether we're willing to lay down all superficiality and fear of exposure to reach out with a love that defies every tactic of the enemy. This type of love requires proximity. It does not allow us to remain in the shadows; it's meant to be lived out loud.
Love that is long-suffering, kind, selfless, considerate, not motivated by evil, rejoicing in the truth that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things," the love that never fails described in 1 Corinthians 13, is not achievable by human will. It is a work of the Holy Spirit of the Living God, who has set the example for us. If we’ll but submit to this labor of love, all other fruits will follow more easily. As we live lives of total abandonment to Him, loving the Lord with everything within us, we are changed, and as a result, we will become known for our love, true disciples of a living Christ (John 13:35).