During the days Jesus was apprenticing in His father’s Nazareth shop, Ovid was writing poetry in Rome. Among his works was this wise counsel, “If you want to be loved, be lovable.” Instead of just wishing or demanding that others love you, make it easy for them. But in the New Testament, instead of urging the church community to attract love, authors urge believers to give love–without conditions, without qualification: love each another. Period.
…through love, serve one another… (Gal.5:13). By my count, some 31 times in the NT authors either tell Jesus’ followers to love each other, or say it‘s what’s typical of them. But we’re not given a lot of details about how to do that. There are some like showing hospitality to believers, visiting them in prison, feeding and clothing Christians in need, but nowhere near enough material for even your basic Saturday seminar “10 Awesome Keys to Loving One Another”.
Which I guess is why Bible teachers often give practical tips on ways to love “Love is…, love isn’t…”, tips not found in the Bible. Thanks to the sermons we end up with a list: do these things, don’t do those things. That’s how we know we have loved. Check.
Then again, can we boil down love to a checklist that suggests that if we to do 6 things and don’t do 5, we’ve loved? I still like Kenny Rogers’ music (seriously, why’s the guy still touring at 74?!). His husky tenor turned rock, pop and country tunes into hit after hit. The title cut of a 1978 Billboard smash was “Love or something like it”. Love or something like it’s got a hold on me. What he’s got ain’t nothin’ like love. The guy in the song is cruising bars trying to pick up woman after woman. Imitation love.
Which ours can be. It’s flawed, but we don’t mean it to be. It’s not corrupted like Kenny’s bar hopper, just ill-informed. Take Van who sometimes offers to take his wife dancing. He knows how much his buddy Doug’s wife loves dancing and so he expects his wife will too. Somehow the very invitation seems to make her sulky. What he doesn’t get (wasn’t he listening or wasn’t she saying?) is that his wife feels like she has two left feet and is too embarrassed to dance with others around. Van meant well, but his expression of love was flawed. Even though it was an expression someone else would have appreciated, it wasn’t right for her.
But since both of them treasure the marriage they work at trying to love better–by understanding how each other wants to be loved. But it can all be very confusing. Not so different in the church. I see people do loving things for others. Things not always received that way. How’s a person know what to do unless he/she has a sermon for every occasion? When is a hospital visit love and when is staying away love? When is offering money love and when isn’t it? When is speaking bluntly love, and when is it meddling?
The subject’s so vast that no preacher can preach enough sermons on how to–and how not to, love. The good news is, we don’t have to. In our church the best teacher is not yours truly, but the Holy Spirit. Same in your church. Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another… (1 Thess. 4:9).
The God who made not only you–but me and every other member of the body of Christ, knows every motley one of us better than we know ourselves. Knows what will be an expression of genuine love to Jessica or Mark or Danielle or Kent. And can teach us how to tailor our expressions to individuals. Go to the teacher who knows best: the Holy Spirit. …and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all… 1 Thess. 3:12.
Like Joseph’s robe, authentic love can’t be reduced to one or two colors and fabrics. But the One who inhabits our hearts waits eagerly to whisper to listening ears, “This is how you can show her Christian love; this is how you can show him My love.” Even if not always appreciated by the individual, the Spirit can help us distinguish between love and what is “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”.