I’ve been absent from these pages since Christmas, but this time away has given me an opportunity to get back to basics. In my early 20s, I decided to become a conscious follower of Jesus Christ. I read the Bible, I attended Bible studies and a variety of worship services. I needed to know what being a Christian entailed as I progressed through my life.
I was not content just to claim the name, I wanted to know the rules of the game (no disrespect intended). There didn’t seem to be any clear guidelines and my questions were coming from verses like “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15), and “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
What exactly were these words, these commandments Jesus was talking about?
When I brought up the question at my Bible studies, answers would range from, ‘we must fulfil every jot and tittle of the Old Testament rules’ to some all encompassing fuzzy feeling of love for the world.
But how do I feel love, I asked. When I pressed for specifics, again the answers would vary defending upon the respondents own understanding of what love was, from ‘tough love’ to loving only believers to ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’. I began my own investigation starting with the Old Testament.
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22.21); “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19.34); “Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10.19).
I realized these verses tied right in with New Testament verses,“thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12, 30,31).
In Luke 10, Jesus tells us who is our neighbour with the story of the Good Samaritan. The beaten man, even though a believer, was left to die by the leader and the teacher of the temple because they were too caught up with every jot and tittle of the OT laws and wouldn’t risk being made unclean by touching a dying man. If asked, they would probably answer they ‘loved’ their fellow believer but what could they do, the laws took precedence. Then a Samaritan walked by.
Samaritans were despised by the Jews because of their different beliefs. There was no love for the Jews by the Samaritans or vice versa. This was a man who, as far as his people were concerned, had every right to pass by the injured man and spit on him as he did so…. but he didn’t. The Samaritan had no love for the Jews, did not know the injured man so had no connection and no reason to love him but he took pity on him anyways and saved the man’s life.
Here was my answer, love is not a feeling, it is an act of my will. Whether I like someone or not, whether the person is part of my tribe or ‘the other’, I am still to act in love towards them, to do what I can to save their life.
This hit home directly when reading Matthew 25; 31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats. The ones who entered into eternal life, who inherited the kingdom were those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, visited the sick and the prisoner, without reservation or condemnation.
This then is Christian love, treating everyone as I want to be treated, with kindness, respect and welcoming arms, whether or not I ‘feel’ for them.
As my mother used to say, ‘Do as you would be done by’.