“The power and the manner in which we love others is rooted in our personal experience of God’s love. His love enables us to understand what real love means and empowers us to put it into practice. We are not the source of love but the reflectors of God’s iridescent love.”
The power and the manner in which we love others is rooted in our personal experience of God’s love. His love enables us to understand what real love means and empowers us to put it into practice. We are not the source of love but the reflectors of God’s iridescent love.
Jesus said one mark of discipleship is loving others. He even called it a new commandment.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34; 15:12).
What made this commandment new was not the substance (love people) but the model. In the Old Testament the model was self-love: loving others as we love ourselves. Since we are conspicuously self-centered, self-absorbed, and narcissistic, self-love applied to others seems like a very high standard. However, Jesus modeled a much higher standard: love in the way He loves. Only by the transforming power of the gospel are we set free to go beyond self-love to Christ-like love.
In The Adventure of Discipleship Blogs 44-47, I have been discussing the four ways God’s iridescent love is expressed to us and how we are to respond to each one. Now we go a step further and look at how to love others in those same ways. Principle: we are commanded to love others but not everyone in the same way.
First let’s review God’s love languages from our last blog that includes:
- His creative sustaining love
- His individual redemptive love
- His covenant family love
- His relational intimate love
Now then, in light of Christ’s new command to love one another like He loves us, what should our love look like?
1. Loving others with the creative sustaining love of God.
This form of love is expressed to everyone without merit and without conditions. It is the kind of love Jesus refers to in the “Sermon on the Mount”.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. (44) But I say, love your enemies! [Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you.] Pray for those who persecute you! (45) In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matt. 5:43-45).
This form of love is demonstrated by benevolent acts of kindness without regard to merit or visible reward. This expression of love shines brightest when the recipient is notably unworthy as it radiates grace and mercy.
2. Loving others with individual redemptive love
The love of God through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, is the ultimate example of redemptive love. So how do we express His redemptive love to others? Consider three ways as a starting point:
As ambassadors sharing the gospel of reconciliation. We are to boldly model and share the narrative of God’s redemptive love in Christ.
As forgivers of those who seek our forgiveness. Peter asked the critical question, “How many times should we forgive?” Jesus response gives several guidelines (Luke 17:3-4):
- If your brother sins, rebuke him.
- If he repents, forgive him.
- If he sins seven times in the day and turns to you (meaning repents), forgive him seven times.
Another way to offer forgiveness is by not taking offense in the first place. Too often our “injustice” detector is way too sensitive. In the classic description of love, Paul tells us to intentionally choose not to be offended.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered“ (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
We can offer redemptive love to a lot of people if we can learn to let it go, to absorb it by not taking offense.
As peacemakers who bring harmony.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).
People who love others this way seek opportunities to bring people together. They take a personal risk in order to reduce friction, bring perspective, and foster dialogue. Peacemakers lower the temperature in the room and radiate hope. They don’t suppress friction or ignore it, but their attitude and words of encouragement can provide an atmosphere that calms the storm.
3. Loving others with a covenant family love
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).
John is referring to the covenant family love of the Father. This love was not extended to humanity in general but to God’s family. It was the special kind of love He offered Israel as His chosen people. God did not love all nations or people equally. In the New Testament Jesus’ “new command” focused on the “one another”. John calls it loving the family of faith (I John 4:11).
An example would be Paul’s collection of money for saints in Jerusalem during a famine. It was specifically for the saints in Jerusalem who were suffering. The believers were not the only ones affected, but the collection from the churches in Asia Minor was designated to support the family of faith in Jerusalem.
This is not to say that love should be exclusive, but loving both our physical and spiritual family is a priority. In fact, Jesus says that those outside the family have a right to judge the authenticity of our faith by the way we treat each other.
4. Love others with an intimate relational love
Jesus called the eleven disciples His friends. This was a different relationship than what He had with the crowds. In today’s world the circle of people with whom we have this kind of love relationship is usually pretty small.
There are several reasons for this including our mobile culture, sound-bite communication, and the fear of being authentic and transparent with others. St Augustine wrote that our souls are “opaque” due to our inherited sin nature. However, in heaven we will have the freedom to be totally transparent with God and one another since there will no longer be anything to hide, fear, or prove. So now, what is exceptional, will one day be normal.
I think the relationship between Jonathan and David comes close to illustrating the closeness of this kind of authentic friendship love. It is also reflected in the relationship between Paul and Timothy as they traveled and served together (Phil. 2:19-20). This kind of love relationship is only developed over time in combination with trust, respect, and shared multiple experiences. It will not develop without intentional effort.
John reminds us that loving others is a command … not an option. “This is My commandment: love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus refracted His iridescent divine love into our lives so that we can reflect that same kind of love to others.
Questions for reflection:
- How do you respond to the idea that we are to love everybody but not everybody in the same way?
- What limits our ability to love others with a personal intimate love?
For more on God’s love and other disciplemaking topics, visit Ron’s blog.
© Ron Bennett Adapted from “Reflecting God’s Iridescent Love” on Ron Bennett’s blog The Adventure of Discipleship, January 21, 2019.
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