The Requirements of Love
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
-- John 13.34-35
I know we’ve considered this passage at least in passing in the last couple of sermons as we considered “brotherly love” and “love” in the list of godly character qualities in 2 Peter 1.5-7. We can talk quite a bit about love. We can “know” that the love we are called to is about attitude and action, that it is motivated by decision not feeling. We can even imagine, perhaps, that such a call to love lays some obligation on us. But for the most part, it stays a very theoretical discussion. We end up, too often, being very loving people in theory, but maybe not so much in practice. How many of us, though, take the further step of trying to identify specific requirements of living such love as Jesus lived? To love as Jesus loved requires something of us.
If you pursue a university degree in any field you will have to fulfill the requirements identified to entitle you to that degree – there are courses and internships to take, not just to earn a grade, but to learn material and skills needed to be qualified in that field of endeavor. You cannot just walk into an office and ask for a degree because “I’ve always thought of myself as a doctor.” Or engineer. Or teacher. Or whatever. There are requirements to be identified, pursued, and (to the best of one’s ability) acquired.
Do we, as Christ-followers, ever intentionally “go to school” to learn to love as Jesus loves? Or, are we satisfied to say, “I’ve always thought of myself as a loving person”?
Recently, I was reminded of a list I’d seen many years ago in a book by the late Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb; The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1986). He lists some questions on pages 50 and 51 that I found challenging when I first read them almost twenty years ago. The fact that I still find them challenging probably shows how good Manning’s questions are. And the fact that I still find them dauntingly challenging definitely shows how shallowly I took the challenge all those years ago. Coming across the questions again was convicting. So, I thought I’d share them (in a slightly adapted form). Some of the questions help us to see what Jesus-like love is not. Some help us to grasp what the practice of Jesus-like love might be like. Maybe like me you will find them challenging… challenging you to step up to the requirements of love. Maybe they will challenge you to come up with your own specific ideas for living out the requirements of love. Above all, maybe they will challenge us all to do what 1 John 3.18 calls us to do: Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
Here they are:
Have I missed the point of Jesus’ statement that it is the “peacemakers” who are blessed? Have I failed to take the initiative to do what I can to settle disputes on a personal, local, and even global level?
Have I indulged in “habitual contempt” (Manning’s phrase) of any group of people: people of different ethnic background from me, of different economic status, of different educational attainment, of different race, of different political beliefs, of different religious understanding, of different age?
Have I stifled the personal development of someone else?
Have I expected to be respected while not respecting someone else?
Have I often kept others waiting?
Have I carelessly forgotten or not kept a commitment to someone else?
Have I been “too busy” to connect to others? Have I made myself difficult to reach so that I won’t be bothered (not on occasion to “recharge,” but habitually)?
Have I not really been paying attention to the person speaking to me?
Have I kept silent when I should have spoken out (whether it was to let someone know my heart better, or to defend someone, or to say what needed to be said even if it wasn’t what someone wanted to hear)?
Have I responded warmly only to those whose friendship might prove beneficial to me?
Have I besmirched the character of someone else by making harmful remarks, whether true or not?
Have I betrayed a trust or violated a confidence?
Interestingly, Manning adds a final question, anticipating that all of us come far short when it comes to learning to love in Christ-like ways, in living as if love (in specific ways) is a requirement of life in Christ. That final question is: Will I be merciful with myself in my failure, as the Master is merciful? Will I simply acknowledge that the Word is still not fully realized in my life and continue to pursue his ways in the light of his mercy and love?
In the end, that is the path to growth in Jesus-like love.