The Nature of Love

June 13, 2010

And that is the sum of the New Testament teaching, All you need is love. Paul wrote exactly the same thing in Romans 13:8 without the catchy tune, Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbour, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. That’s what it boils down to. If you love your neighbour, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.
How simple is that? Should be able to stop right there. Am I right? Here endeth the lesson. We could close our bibles and go home. As a matter of fact if we wrote that on a piece of paper and stuck it to our mirrors where we’d see it every morning and if we committed to live by that principle we’d never need another sermon.
And it wasn’t just Paul who said it. . . it was Ringo and George and John as well.
And from a Biblical perspective it wasn’t just the apostle Paul, the first time we hear the command comes from the top in Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” And in case someone misses it, Jesus reiterates it over and over again in the Gospels, for example in Mark 12:30-31 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” And listen to how James refers to it in James 2:8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
By the way and this is a comment without commentary: the principle of loving your neighbour is found throughout the bible, in both the Old and New Testament, but is absent in the Quran. Just saying.
So if it is so simple why is it so tough? One of the reasons is how we define love, for most of us when we think of love we think of a romantic love kind of like Wood Allen who said “I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I had smallpox.” And so for most of us love is a feeling, an emotion and it’s hard to control or harness our emotions. And so if we don’t have an emotional bond with someone than we don’t feel that we can love them.
We’ve spoken before about how the New Testament was written in Greek and how that language tended to use more words to reflect the meaning of a thought then we do in English. When you think about it the English language is a really lazy language. For example the word fast, you ever think about what fast means. It can mean that you are quick, or it can mean that colours don’t run, or it can mean to tie something up, or it can mean that someone is morally loose, or it can mean to not eat, or it can mean that your watch has gained time or it can mean that you are loyal or it can mean that you are sleeping soundly, or it can mean that you are close to something. Kind of like I read the red book.

 Another word like that is love. We throw the word love around to mean almost anything. I love my wife, I love “”Big Bang Theory”, the TV show not the concept, I love my little red car, I love flying, I love pizza, I love my kids, I love my parents, and I love all of you. But I love each of those things in different ways, but I describe my feelings with one word.

 The Greek language however has several different words that are used to convey love for different things. First there is Eros, which is a sensual love, a passionate love that would be what Woody Allen was speaking of.
Eros isn’t actually used in the Bible. The next form of love was Philio and this is the warm fuzzy feeling we have for those nearest and dearest to us. This is friendship. Have you ever wondered why Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love? Then there is Storge, and this is affection, what you feel for your parents or children. My sister gave my mother a plaque that says “I love you more then you love me, because you have only loved me for part of your life and I have loved you for all of mine.” Cute.

 But Paul doesn’t use any of those words for love instead he uses the word Agape. And agape is less a feeling of the heart and more a feeling of the mind. It is as much an act of the will as an act of the emotions. It is a choice we make. It is why Jesus can tell us to love our enemies. It is a conscious action, something that you decide to do and something that you cannot do without the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.

 Remember the sum of Jesus teaching is to Love God and to Love Others. Which is why when there is a disaster, on the other side of the world, happening to people we don’t know and might not like if we did know them Christian relief organizations are there firstest with the mostest. And you have to wonder what would happen if everyone lived by those principles?

 It was Napoleon Bonaparte who wrote “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.” And the foundation of Jesus’ teaching? Love for God and Love for People.
So it goes back to: what is love? And I think we all know what love is supposed to be but that seems way too hard so we try to define what love is and what love isn’t. Do you remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Do you remember how it started? A man came to Jesus and asked the question
Luke 10:25
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” And so Jesus said you know what you are supposed to do, what is it the Law says? And the man replied by saying
Luke 10:27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Simple enough right? That must be what Jesus thought because he replies by saying Luke 10:28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” Simple, right? Apparently not because in the next verse we read Luke 10:29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” And that’s when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan ending with the question Luke 10:36-37 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Simple right? Obviously not as simple as one would think because throughout the New Testament love is constantly being defined, spelled out and clarified.
Paul tells us in Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.
And so Love is Defined by How You Don’t Behave This is probably the easiest way to define love and the easiest way to display love. Love does no wrong to others.
We have all heard about the Hippocratic Oath, even if we don’t know what all is in the Hippocratic Oath, and what we do know is delivered through television and is wrong. We hear TV Doctors say “remember what it says in the Hippocratic Oath “First do no harm”” but that isn’t in the Hippocratic Oath, that is just an old Latin saying.
The Hippocratic Oath is the Oath Historically taken by Doctors and it was written by a Greek Doctor named Hippocrates 400 years before the birth of Christ. And the first part of the oath states: I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
So really if we took a similar oath to never harm anyone we would be well on the way. It is interesting that for over two thousand years that statement was part of the oath but it’s no longer there, possible because there is another portion that is now missing and that is the portion that says: I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a potion to cause an abortion.
Interesting. Paul had just spelled out this concept of Love in the verse before this one. He has reached back into the Ten Commandments and pulled out four of the last five commandments Romans 13:9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” So from this reference anyway love seems pretty simple. You demonstrate your love to your spouse by not sleeping around on them. You show you love to your annoying neighbour by not choking them to death while they sleep or poisoning their strawberries. You show your love to the rich man down the street by not stealing his shiny new car. And you do this by not coveting what doesn’t belong to you, not his wife, not his life and not his possessions.
This is the type of love that is demonstrated in the Ten Commandments, You do remember the Ten Commandments don’t you? Pop quiz, in your minds or on a piece of paper how many of the 10 Commandments can you remember?
1) Do not worship other gods.
2) Do not make idols.
3) Do not misuse God’s name.
4) Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to God.
5) Respect your father and your mother.
6) Do not murder.
7) Do not commit adultery.
8) Do not steal.
9) Do not tell lies about others.
10) Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.
If we were to take a closer look at the Ten Commandments we would discover first of all that the first four deal with our relationship to God, they are vertical commandments, then we would discover that the next six deal with our relationship to our fellow man, they are horizontal commandments. And with the exception of honouring our parents they tell us what not to do.
But when you stop and think about it, if that is all there is to loving someone all you would have to do is avoid them. If you have no contact with people then you will not steal from them, lie to them, murder them etc. etc.
By that definition of love the first two men who came upon the traveller in the story of the Good Samaritan loved the man, because they did not kill him, they did not steal from him or lie to him or rush home to sleep with his wife.
So the most loving people in the world would be the hermits who retreat from society, and maybe that’s why they do it’s just easier to be nice to people when there are no people around.
But for most of us that’s not an option.
So in the real world our love is not only defined by how you don’t behave, more importantly it is Defined by How You Do Behave Probably the greatest definition of love written is in 1 Corinthians 13 and this is what Paul writes 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
This is how we show love in the everyday, nitty-gritty world we live in. This is how we display the love we show to our family our friends and the strangers we come in contact with every day. Maybe it could simply be redefined as respect.
It is more about what you do do than what you don’t do. In this case love becomes work. It goes beyond avoiding a problem and it corrects the problem.
It is love that forgives, it is love that goes the extra mile, it is love that prepares meals for Ronald McDonald House, and love that puts on work clothes and helps clean up the back yard at Phoenix house.
And it’s the little things, holding the door for someone when you go into a store, from my vantage point at Tim’s I am amazed at how few people exhibit even that basic common courtesy. Giving someone a break in traffic, giving the homeless guy a buck and not lecturing him on his behaviour, how about giving someone a smile. Carol Burnett said that her philosophy in life came from Beverly Sills who said “I’m not always happy, but I always try to be cheerful.”
It’s easy to love those who love us, Jesus tells us that in Luke 6:32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! Hitler probably loved his mother.
But this isn’t about loving Osama Bin Laden, or Paul Bernardo, or the crazy pig farmer from BC, well it is kind of but that is pretty abstract.
This is about demonstrating the love of Christ to those we come into contact with every day, the staff at Tim Horton’s, the homeless guy on the street, the person you work with, your spouse and your kids.
How about the parent who abused you? The boss that passed you over for promotion? The bully who picks on you? What about the jerk that cuts you off in traffic and decapitates your inukshuk?
Luke 6:33-35 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. Not just avoid doing them harm but do good to them.
That’s tough, and it will be a choice that you make, you will either do it or you won’t do it.
2000 years ago Jesus told his disciples in John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
So ultimately we not only define love by what we do and don’t do We Are Defined by the Way we Love by what we do and don’t do.
Jesus told us that when people see our love they will know that we belong to him. Do they? And John writes in 1 John 3:14 If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. And Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
And I know as Christians that we blow it from time to time and there are always people around to point a finger and say “and you call yourself a Christian”. And that’s good because we need to be reminded occasionally that we do call ourselves Christians and with that comes responsibilities. And the greatest responsibility that we have as a Christ follower is to love. Because ultimately Jesus said that people would know that we follow him, not by our wealth, and not by our theology, or by the translation of the Bible we read, or the church we attend but by the way we love.
So the bottom line is this “If people had to guess who you were following by your life and your behaviour what would their first guess be.
And then Paul closes by reminding us in Romans 13:11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
Every one of us is older today then we were yesterday, and yesterday is gone, you can’t change how you loved people yesterday but you can decide how you are going to love them today and tomorrow.
And so I close with the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh “Love is a force that enables you to give other things. It is the motivating power. It enables you to give strength, freedom and peace. It is not a result; it is a cause. It is not a product, it produces. It is a power, like steam or electricity. It is valueless unless you can give something else by means of it.”