THE REALISTIC NATURE OF LOVE

What proportion of our lives is spent following the impersonal ‘what’ of things and systems; rather than the personal ‘who’ of God and his love?
 
Technology has brought many wonders into our lives: from telescopes so powerful, that you can almost see next week coming; to mobile phones so small, that you almost need a toothpick to operate the buttons.
 
Rapidly developing technologies, have brought with them radical changes in our lifestyles: and we are becoming increasingly dependent upon machines and their systems and programmes.
 
Most households have 20 to 40 items, that, together, do much to determine the pace, direction and practical effectiveness of our domestic lives.
 
How great is our dependency upon the love of God, and his purposes for us? Does the divine love, more than anything else, determine the pace, direction and spiritual effectiveness of our Christian lives?
 
The Bible tells us that the love that God poured out in Christ, was not the offering of an abstract quality; the province of philosophers and poets; but the giving of some part of himself, into our human situations and needs.
 
‘Heavenly love’ is deliberately made ‘down to earth’, in relation to us: so that we can experience it, and express it, in all parts of daily life.
 
At 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous treatise on love does not refer to some ‘peaches and cream’ emotion that is of little use to anyone. Instead, it takes a practical, ‘nuts and bolts’ approach, to a robust quality of life.
 
Paul teaches that love takes hold of the Christian faith, and enriches it, thus making mundane things work to spiritual effect; and he places special emphasis on love’s enduring and ongoing nature.
 
The ‘Teacher of the Law’, who approached Jesus, knew that there were 613 commandments, including the famous ‘Ten Commandments’.
 
365 of them said: ‘You shall not (live like that) and the other 248 said: ‘You shall (live like this). Jesus was very clear as to which two of them, were the most important; and the lawyer agreed with him.
 
Our text from Mark says: ‘When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him: ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’. It is to be noted that he did not say: ‘You have arrived!’ but, instead: ‘You’re almost there’.
 
The deepest and most accurate knowledge of the Law; is not enough. It is the full acceptance of Jesus Christ as our personal God, Saviour and Lord that makes us Christians.
 
Was the lawyer willing to learn that; accept Christ, and move on: or was he so content with his knowledge of the law, that he was unwilling to change, and, inadvertently, counted himself out?
 
Out of 613 commandments, some of which were very weighty, Christ chose just two, which, between them, had a three-fold application: love God, love other people, and love yourself. (Deuteronomy 6:4. Leviticus 19:18. Mark 12: 30+31).
 
Matthew’s gospel record, of the same event, adds a further and profound teaching of Christ, who said: ‘On these two commandments depend all of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets.
 
What are our attitudes to the great love-commands of Christ? Do we give each of them the supreme importance that he gave?
 
Many Christians pick and choose: accepting some things that are required of them, whilst disregarding other things.
 
Having attempted to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength; and having done their best to love their neighbours; such Christians may believe that they have fulfilled what is required of them - but have they?
 
Not if, unwittingly or deliberately, they disregard themselves.
 
At Mark 12, we find Jesus confirming the two, great love-commands from the Old Testament, including the ‘love-your-neighbour-as-yourself’ clause, and then saying about them: ‘There is no commandment greater than these’.
Those who count themselves out of the equation, through lack of proper self-acceptance, countermand the word of God.
 
Love your neighbour as yourself’. Proper self-love is Christ-taught as being essential, if his commands are to be fulfilled. If they are not fulfilled, through our failure to love ourselves properly, then… it hardly bears thinking about.
 
Our well-known saying: ‘Charity begins at home’, does not relate to money, but to a particular application of love. From a Latin root (caritas from carus - dear) it means ‘loving regard begins at home’.
 
What we do not possess, for ourselves, we cannot give to, or share with others. A lack of proper, loving regard for ourselves; cannot produce a proper, loving regard for others. Where such a lack exists, Christ’s love-command remains unfulfilled.
 
‘The Lord’s Prayer’ says: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. ‘As we forgive,’ means ‘in the same way’.
 
If we forgive others, or ourselves, reluctantly; half-heartedly, partially, or even not at all; then, will God do as asked? Will he forgive reluctantly; half-heartedly, partially, or even not at all? Suppose that he did just that.
 
As with the clause about forgiveness, so with the last part of the three-fold love-command of God, that we love our neighbour as (in just the same way) as we love ourselves.
 
It should be no surprise to find that those who love themselves reluctantly; half-heartedly, partially, or even not at all, take exactly that attitude to others, and love them reluctantly; half-heartedly, partially, or not at all.
 
I did that for years. How about you?
 
It was not until I fully accepted myself, that Christ’s no-strings-attached acceptance of me became fully effective. From that moment, my life opened out, took on greater depth, meaning, energy, purpose and direction.
 
Jesus’ ‘Vine and branches’ teaching says: ‘You are already made clean (by me) (John 15: 3). No one should ask: ‘Who? Me, Lord?’ but rejoice in what is given.
Such rejoicing in what Christ has done for us, releases us into that ‘wider field’ of love’s expression, where the Lord’s best hopes of us, and our best hopes of ourselves, may be fulfilled.
 
If it is obvious, to us, that what we do not have, we cannot share…
 
…is it just as obvious that what we do have, in Jesus Christ, is all that we need, in order to develop and grow in faith; to receive God’s blessings, and to share them with others?
 
In various places, the bible teaches that the word of the Lord is timeless and ongoing; and that so is his love. As St. Paul wrote: it has an enduring nature that can overcome all obstacles, and accomplish all necessary good.
 
God’s love does not ‘put up with’ us, but fully accepts us. Divine grace enables us, not to merely ‘put up with’ ourselves; but to fully accept, and love ourselves, and each other.
 
Heavenly love is very much ‘down to earth’. It takes hold of our Christian faith; enriches it, and makes it effective.
 
When not prevented, such love is always quietly at work. Such love enables us to see ourselves as Christ sees us; and to accept and love ourselves, as he accepts and loves us.
 
When Jesus Christ says: ‘Follow me’, his emphasis is not upon going in a certain direction, with various happenings along the way.
 
Instead, it is upon who he is: upon his qualities, attributes and attitudes, which, as far as in us lies, we should adopt and apply.
 
His ‘follow me’ call, has the powerful implication of: ‘become like me’; and it contains the further implications and inferences of: ‘when you set off with that attitude, I will make a wonderful difference in your life; and you will never want to turn back’.
 
What proportion of our lives is spent following the impersonal ‘what’ of things and systems; rather than the personal ‘who’ of God, and his individual love of each of us, in Jesus Christ? Amen.