Brace yourself for a rapid-fire immersion. We’re headed into the preeminent topic of the universe: love. The chief New Testament writer Paul suggested as much when he wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). In other words, life without love is nothing more than a noisy illusion denying our potential.
Questions about love typically arise over how we can best receive and share God’s love. There are a myriad of ways to respond, but it’s helpful to reflect on the grandeur and majesty of God’s love, a subject of almost mind-numbing significance. “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV). Paul shares how love is greater than faith! And hope? Nope, even that pales against love.
No other religious tradition has as much emphasis on the transformative power of love as does the faith Jesus exemplified. Sure, other religions have interesting moral/ethical systems and helpful teachings on various topics. Yet nowhere else is there anything trumping the majesty of Jesus’ “Golden Rule”: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NRSV).
How can something worded as simply as the Golden Rule be so difficult to practice? That seems to be the way with most noble behaviors and attitudes. Also, it’s easier to say, read, and point to other people about what to do then it is hold ourselves accountable. We struggle to practice what we preach. This is the great human struggle, to close the gap between what truly sets us free and what we actually do to ourselves and others.
Even people of faith like you and me grapple with how best to love. Love is the essence of God and has fantastic power. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). We can admit that love is the highest aspiration, but we also confess that we fail in loving as much as we ought. The Holy Spirit is the essence of God provided to those who have accepted redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice. We embrace this Spirit of God which then empowers us, guiding us from within as we are awakened to who and what we are becoming.
Jesus consistently practiced what he preached, and that is why he exudes moral authority. People watching Jesus while he walked the earth could see that he lived according to a higher standard. When combined with his message of forgiveness, Jesus’ actions energized the Gospel which still attracts us. Love demands more than lip service. Jesus demonstrated love at every turn, culminating in his willingness to give his life—the ultimate and highest price of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV). In no other place, time, or text do we find something greater than this. Jesus’ emphasis on love transforms theory into reality—if we accept and follow love’s invitation.
More about the power of love? Absolutely, because there’s a magnificent summing-up by Jesus about how love connects us with God and propels our destiny. Jesus was asked about greatest commandment, and his reply echoes through eternity. “[Y]ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31 NRSV). You can’t expect more powerful clarity than this, summarizing the message of the Old Testament Jewish Law and the channel to God.
Love’s challenge is how best to demonstrate it on a daily basis. There’s no exhaustive list of each and every possible act of love, but then again there doesn’t need to be. Love is life’s guiding principle, like a force or energy that can be directed in infinite ways. If this seems vague then we can define love as any act or attitude that enhances life. How about love as giving of ourselves in a way that helps another [human] being. No matter how you parse it, love is something we can feel and recognize despite lacking a single, universally acceptable definition. Love is limitless and without timid boundaries. Love is willing to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others. Love is a guiding light which, when internalized as part of our lifestyle, produces amazing effects in both earthly and heavenly realms.
Are you living and loving as God calls you? Can you perceive how love provides what you most seek and can’t find elsewhere? It’s not about guilt pushing us, but it is about empowered awareness drawing us. We are invited to conduct our spiritual journey onward as we draw closer to God.
Join us at St. John United Church of Christ where we accomplish the essential church mission of discipleship and outreach. That is, we partner with God to strengthen existing Christians and we partner with God to make new Christians. We get up close and personal, connecting with God and with one another in transcending the façade of religious theater. We cultivate the deepest, most meaningful relationships inspiring our spiritual journeys. All along the way, we shall celebrate God’s love and truth with vigorous joy. Join us!
–Reverend Larry Hoxey