So much is written, sung, and said about love. Does it fall from the skies above? I love chocolate. He loves football. She loves purple. For God so loved the world. The word is used to express so much in life. What did Jesus mean when he said that we are to love God and to love each other as we love ourselves? What did he mean when he said that those upon those two commandments hang all the law and commandments?
What does it mean to love? I think this is a question that almost everyone asks at some time in their life. Some people will ask the question many times over a lifetime. Many times over the years, I have participated in discussions of what it means to love.
Dictionary definitions for love are:
· a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
· attraction that includes sexual desire
· the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship
· a person you love in a romantic way
· strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
· an assurance of affection
· the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration
· unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
The most important commandments (MIC) as given by Jesus say that we are to love God with all that we have and all that we are, and that we are to love others as we love ourselves. I find that none of the dictionary definitions are adequate to use in connection with Jesus or God. So, how can we define love as defined by Jesus? Note that in the MIC Jesus said we are to love others. Nowhere does Jesus say we must likeeverybody. It seems obvious that not even Jesus liked everybody.
Humans have attempted to understand God in terms of human behavior throughout history and most assuredly prior to historical records. So, we typically think of love as it is explained in the simple dictionary definitions given above. I think most of us believe we are able to think in terms of love beyond human terms. While we may be able to think in terms of love beyond human terms, do we normally think in that manner? I do not believe we are very good at thinking as Jesus directs us to think. Therefore, living a consistently loving life as directed by Jesus is not very likely.
As I understand how to live a loving life as defined by Jesus, we are to use the key components of love which are respect and compassion. In order to practice those key components one must develop the ability to listen and the trait of humility. I have only learned this gradually over the years and certainly wish I had learned it long ago.
Respect is necessary since without it, one is very likely to regard poorly those who are different from oneself. A lack of respect results in feelings of disdain for others. I gauge my respect for another person by monitoring the adjectives and adverbs that pop into my mind when I think about the person. The more negative the adjectives and adverbs, the less I respect the person. Although it is important to be able to honestly evaluate those around us, I have found that I must look for positives and handle relationships more from the positive perspective in order to be successful with a relationship that is beneficial to both parties.
Compassion is a personal quality that I believe many of us tend to overestimate in ourselves and underestimate in others. Compassion means “with suffering” or “to suffer with”. It is a desire to assist in alleviating the suffering of others. It involves sharing. When loving another, it is important to place yourself in the position of the other. You try to “walk in the other’s shoes”. It is accomplished best for me when I let go of myself, when I can place my own feelings and desire aside so I can understand through the senses of another.
I frequently fail at loving, but I hope I am improving with practice. I have worked to set triggers in my mind that go off first to let me know when I am lacking respect for another. Then, if I have respect in order, I check if I am able to sense the person’s feelings appropriately? The easiest path is to assume that everybody else should think just like me! What a boring world that would be.
What are the greatest obstacles to living Jesus’s MIC?
The greatest obstacle is the natural tendency to be self centered. This tendency may be the only real obstacle to living the MIC. We are born to be self centered. We must learn to step into the place of another. It is work to develop respect for another person and live with compassion. Compassion requires vulnerability. I believe it is likely that living the MIC makes one feel vulnerable and thus somewhat uncomfortable and defensive. For one to become comfortable with being vulnerable, one must practice and experience vulnerability just as is required for learning any new activity or situation.
If I find myself thinking mostly in terms of I, me, mine, and myself, I usually take it as a warning that I am likely over the line. I am failing to love the person with whom I am dealing. This does not mean that to love someone else you must let others walk all over you. It means you must be able to recognize when you are either walking on others or you are walking away from them when you could develop a functional relationship if you would just try. This cannot be done with everybody. Even if you can do it with a certain person, I may be unable to develop a good relationship with the same person. It remains important to give it the effort. I can be talking to a person and using words such as “you” rather than “I”, but the important concept to understand is who you are really considering as you talk. Is it for your benefit, for the benefit of the other, or is the benefit mutual?
Closely related to being self centered is the assumption that God thinks and behaves like humans think and behave. This is because each of us has a naturally occurring tendency to consider everything first from our own perspective. That means we tend to think of God in terms of ourself.
Questions for each of us to ponder if we truly desire to follow Jesus is:
Can I subscribe to live by the MIC, Matthew 22:36-40?
Am I willing to work to learn to live my life by loving God with all of my being, accepting God’s love for me so I can love myself, then loving others as I love myself?
Am I willing to use the MIC to reform my relationship with God, to reform my relationship with myself, and in turn to reform my relationships with others?
Love = Respect + Compassion
More on this in the future. I believe it is what life is about and it is what the Bible is about when one learns to understand the Bible. Consider this for now. Pray on it.