“For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything… And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit he has given us.”
–1 John 3:11-24 (NRSV)
Thanks for your letter. It’s given me a lot to think about.
It’s February here by the Gregorian calendar, and I don’t know if you’ve heard but in America, we celebrate a holiday called Valentine’s Day. It’s supposed to be a celebration of love (well, kind of… I think people really mean romance, but we’re not very precise with our language). All that’s to say, your letter is a timely read.
When I hear “commandments,” I usually think of Exodus: not worshipping idols in the shape of golden calves, not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing… you know, they’re the “don’t do” commandments and I don’t want to brag but I’m pretty decent at not doing stuff. Just ask my Netflix account.
Oh, never mind. You probably don’t know what that is.
The point is I don’t often think of love as one of the commandments, let alone what Matthew, Mark, and Luke call the “great commandment.” After all, if loving others, especially my Christian brothers and sisters, is the standard by which all of my conduct will be measured, then I will have to be a lot more intentional and purposeful about a lot of things.
I mean… do you have any idea how many people I encounter every day, how many people are in my community? I don’t know about what your world was like, but we’re super busy here. We have graduate classes, jobs, and mortgages. And people have enough stress learning how to love other family members, let alone figuring out how to really love someone outside your family.
I know. I’m making excuses. But can you at least try to understand? Laying down our lives for one another? That’s heavy and scary, especially if this is as important a thing as you’re making it sound. Why can’t not murdering and not taking the Lord’s name in vain be enough?
Even when I do want to go out of my way and love my roommates, my friends, my church—to be compassionate, gracious, merciful, accountable, and all the other ways that Christ has shown us—it can feel draining and exhausting. I don’t have the energy for it. Sometimes the intentionality of trying to love my brothers and sisters feels like too much.
Do you know C.S. Lewis? Unfortunately, I think he probably agrees with you more than me:
“It is probably impossible to love any human being simply ‘too much’. We may love him [or her] too much in proportion to our love for God; but it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the [person], that constitutes the inordinacy.”
That’s probably what you mean when you mentioned that we should pray and ask God according to his will, because if we do, we will obtain such a request. I bet if we rely on our own capacity to love, our stock will run out pretty fast; we might even lose the wisdom in taking rest, since Christ did say that we ought to love ourselves as well. That would probably take some prayerful guidance also: to love ourselves well, without being narcissists. I ought to boldly ask God to teach me how to love—how to love the Lord my God, and how to love all those around me. I don’t remember the last time I prayed for that.
I guess my main takeaways from your letter are to remember Christ in the commandment to love one another, and to pray frequently that our love for God ought to increase so that we may then, as a happy side effect, increase our capacity to love our neighbors.
Oh, and one last thing about Valentine’s Day: not everyone likes it. The responses from some can range from disgust to apathy to excitement. Especially for those of us who are without a relationship, the day can be a forced reminder of their perceived deficiency.
But there’s hope if you’re right about what you say. As someone who has spent twenty-six consecutive Valentine’s Days romanceless (again, not to sound too braggy), I hope that by daily accepting Christ’s sacrificial and transformative love as my own–and living my life with the urgency and priority as if loving others is the greatest commandment–that God will make me ready when romance does arrive; and even if it does not, I would know that I still possess an unsurpassable love that is wide and long and high and deep.
I should go soon though. There’s a show on called “The Walking Dead” that I need to watch. I looooooooooooooove it… but something tells me you wouldn’t. Tell Paul I said “hey.”