Love has been on my mind lately. No, not because of Valentine’s Day or my wedding anniversary, it’s just been coming up again and again in the weekly epistle readings. That really isn’t surprising since love is at the heart of the Christian life. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and Jesus Himself teaches that the greatest commandments are “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind …And … love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). Church tradition says that when the apostle John was very old he would be carried into church where his entire sermon consisted of the statement: “Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7) Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit poured out into us (Galations 5:22) and the identifying mark of all Christians (John 3:35). The New Testament commands us to love more than fifty times!
So why do we find it hard to love certain people? I think the answer lies in the way we define love. For most of us, love means certain feelings: tenderness, affection and attachment which we expect (or at least hope) to have reciprocated. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people, even in our own churches and families, for whom we cannot muster up those feelings. We struggle to “love” people who have qualities that annoy us, who have hurt us or treated us badly, who disagree with us. How can we love people we don’t even like? How can we love people who don’t like us?
A careful reading has convinced me that Biblical love is not about feelings, but actions. We can’t control our emotions, but we can control what we do in response to them. We are to love others in the way we behave toward them. The apostle John, in his first epistle tells us to love “not in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” The love verses in the Bible are filled with action words: “serve one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2); “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15); “spur one another on to love” (Hebrews 10:24); “pursue love” (1 Timothy 2:22) and if fact “do everything in love” ( 1 Corinthians 16: 14). In some verses, the instructions are even more specific: “… outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10); “if you enemy is hungry, feed him (Romans 12:20); bless those who persecute you (Romans 12:14); “ …pray for those who abuse you(Luke 6:28).
Next time (and it will be soon) I am confronted with a person I find difficult to love, I plan to ask the Holy Spirit to help me behave in accordance with the love qualities described in Colossians 3:12-17: “ …compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” The apostle Paul calls this “walking by the spirit” (Galatians 5:16) Loving actions lead to freedom and peace; and as Paul adds, “against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:23).
This article was previously published in The Ambassador Facebook Page, an AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches) magazine