What does it mean to love one another? Here are a few ideas. See if you like any of them…
- Being nice to people
- Being nice to people you don’t like
- Being generous, or sharing what you have so that others don’t go short/go hungry
- Treating everyone the same as you.
- Expecting everyone to agree with you.
At different times I think most of us, if we are honest, have limited our ideas of love to one of these, or a mixture of them. It can be pretty difficult to love at times can’t it. Some of us have bad experiences of giving or receiving “love” from those who we trusted to care for us, but who instead let us down. Some of us have done that to people we cared very deeply about. It’s easy for us to spend our whole lives feeling guilty, like we don’t deserve love from anybody, or from God. One of the things that this kind of thinking does is make it very hard for us to love ourselves.
As we look at the reading from this morning, Paul is telling us that the whole of the law, that complex system God created for people to relate to Him, themselves, and one another, can be summed up in the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself.” Growing up in Church I was more than aware of the old phrase, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Many of us have heard this many times. We think we understand what it is to love God (although I’m not sure any of us really do), we work hard at loving other people in some of the ways I’ve described above, but we’re not very good at loving ourselves. A few years ago, a fellow minister pulled me up short when I was saying about how much I loved God, and sought to love others, but I didn’t want to love myself, because I was always sinning, always messing up etc. He very clearly explained to me that in order to love my neighbor, those around me, I had to love myself too. To say that I love God and my neighbor without loving myself is to lie. Don’t become all about yourself though. We are to put others first. Living in a community of faith and hope like Emmanuel, my dream is that as each of us puts others first, we too will have an other who will put us first. Wouldn’t that be great?
Without love we cannot please God. God is love and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. So how are we to live in love?
Well, I think what our reading this morning invites us to do is “clothe ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ”. This doesn’t mean wearing Jesus like a coat, that would be a bit too odd. What it means is, I think, get to know Jesus, get to know Him and His ways of living. Understand what He asked people to be, how He asked people to live. After all, it was him who said that the whole of the law was summed up in the command to love. If we clothe ourselves with Christ, putting Christ first rather than what the bible calls the desires of the flesh, but which means here, our own selfishness and our own desires, we will see that we are meant to live for God, to serve Him and others. Jesus came to serve us, and as we follow His way, one of the best ways we can do this is to lay down our life for our friends, our neighbours.
Who is our neighbor? Everyone, not just the people who live near us, or the people sitting next to us this morning.
If we’re going to lay down our lives for our friends, we might give time, money, food, prayer to them, just as we were talking about last week, but there’s something else we can give to them too. As I said earlier, everything we’re asked to do is summed up in the command to love our neighbours as ourselves. And again, as I said earlier, without God there is no love. God didn’t just invent love, He is love. It is His character, His personality, His essence. It defines Him even more clearly than my beard, my wheelchair or my dog collar define me. Jesus lived, died, rose and ascended to heaven to express in the most complete and powerful way possible that God loves us, so that we might have life and have it to the full. Most of us here this morning are here because we know Jesus, or about Jesus, in some way. Most of us are here because we were invited, or welcomed, or felt the need or desire, to respond to Jesus and His love, and to follow after Him. If you don’t know Jesus this morning, or you’re skeptical about Him and what I’m saying about Him, then come and talk to me afterwards. If you know Jesus though, I hope you’d agree that the message of life we’ve been given is the best news we could ever have.
So, one of the best ways we can have as Christians to love one another is to tell the story of our lives, as far as we can to tell people about what we believe and why we do. We don’t all have to eloquent, or preach standing on tables. I’ll never manage that. What we can be is open and honest. Do we really believe that God loves us? Do we really want to love others? Then let’s be a community that loves ourselves, loves God, loves one another, and invites people to join with us and share in the joy and hope that we’ve been welcomed in to.