Knock, knock. Who’s there? Olive. Olive, who?
Olive you, and I don’t care who knows it.
A woman was surprised at church one day when another woman, who had often snubbed her, went out of her way to give her a big hug before the service. She wondered what had initiated her change of heart. She got her answer at the end of the service when the pastor instructed, “Your assignment for next week is the same as last week. I want you to go out there and love somebody you just can’t stand.”
If loving others were only as easy as giving a hug to someone you don’t like, we all could excel in love. Just hug them and move on! But love is a bit more difficult than that. It requires effort because at the heart of loving others is putting the other person ahead of you, and that’s often a battle. Our default mode is to revert to self-concerns. For this reason, the New Testament as a whole and the apostle John in particular never tire of exhorting us to love.
With his brother, James, John was originally known as one of the Sons of Thunder. Everywhere he went he created a storm, and when he left people were glad to see him go. But, then, John grew into Christ’s disciples and he changed. He became known as the Apostle of Love.
In fact, the early church father, Jerome, said that when the apostle John was in his old age, he was so weak that he had to be carried into church meetings. At the end of the meeting he would be helped to his feet to give a word of exhortation to the church. Invariably, he would repeat, “Little children, let us love one another.” The disciples began to grow weary of the same words every time, and they finally asked him why he always said the same thing over and over. He replied, “Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if this only is done, it is enough.”
Five times in the First Letter of John, he reminds the reader of Jesus’ command to love one another. Love is a distinguishing mark, the necessary ethic, of a Christian in the world. In 1 John 4:8, John challenges us with the straightforward truth that if you do not love others, you do not know God. It’s because of this one man and his vision of the connection between God and love that we often define God as love.
Love, it is such an overused word, isn’t it? We say I love my dog; I love the University of Florida; I love cheesecake; I love a good book; I love the
beach; and I love children. It’s overused and misunderstood. It’s wrongly seen as sentimental feeling or thin emotion. But love has requirements.
Jesus commanded us to love. One can’t command an emotion. Therefore, love can’t only be an emotion. Love is a practice; it’s a habit; it’s an act of faith in which we move ourselves to be God’s agents who act in a certain way. We lessen our importance and place ourselves at God’s will and disposal to create something better. Love is a habit of faith because of which we commit ourselves to goodness and good acts, bringing glory to God and drawing Christ’s kingdom closer.
Choose love. Commit yourself to faith in God’s goodness. Keep close to Christ’s kingdom. The Lord loves those who love others. God draws close to those who bless others.
The early believers fulfilled this command; they loved one another. A writer name Caecilius (ca. AD 210) said of the Christians, “They know one another by secret marks and signs, and they love one another almost before they know one another.” The Greek writer, Lucian (ca. AD 120-200) said of the early church, “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it into their heads that they are all brethren.” The church father, Tertullian, said, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Look,’ they say, ‘How they love one another! Look how they are prepared to die for one another!'”
Christian love is personal. John does an interesting thing in these verses. He speaks of others, plural, in verse 16, but makes a deliberate and significant change in verse 17 when he speaks of one person, singular. He knew then what we often say today: It is easier to love humankind than it is love that man that lives with me. It is easier to love the world than my neighbors. It is easier to love the church than to love the person sitting across the aisle. G. P. Lewis wrote, “It is easier to be enthusiastic about Humanity with a capital ‘H’ than it is to love individual men and women, especially those who are uninteresting, exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive. Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular.”
Let’s face it some people are hard to love. You thought you were marrying Prince Charming but wake up most mornings next to Grumpy. Some folks may make us want to hug a porcupine instead. Maybe you can
identify with the rivalry between Winston Churchill and Lady Astor. One day Lady Astor said, “If I were your wife, I’d put arsenic in your beer.” Churchill replied, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
We all have people in our lives that are hard to like, let alone keep faith with God over. What do we do? We choose to keep faith. We practice our habit of being God’s people. We love them anyway. If we have the ability and see a need we meet it. We forgive them when they hurt us. We do good to them. We bless them. We pray for them.
Love is foundational to being a child of God. As John says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” It’s our habit of loving others that tells us God’s grace remains in us, and it’s God’s grace that saves us.
We may want something easier than this call to keep faith but keeping faith with God and for others means everything. Practice your salvation. Hold to your habit of trust. Rejoice that you’re God’s agent. Be on the side of blessing when others have already given up. Let love’s power persuade you to be on God’s side.
Can the church say Amen?