In my NIV Bible 1Corinthians chapter 13 is entitled, Love is indispensable…and at the beginning of the chapter Paul speaks about various gifts of the Holy Spirit – speaking in tongues, prophecy and faith – but states that if he has all of these but does not have love then he is nothing.
Indeed Paul goes on to say this more than once – without love he is and has nothing – and as we read through the whole chapter we are left with this wonderful idea of what true love is all about. Love is patient, love is kind…Love always trusts, always hopes…Love never fails. Indeed of faith, hope and love – love is the greatest of the three.
However, when we look at the world around us today, where we see so many situations where kindness is somewhat scarce, where trust is hard to find, where hopes forever seem to be dashed and where patience is in short supply, the idea that love never fails might be a difficult concept for many to understand and accept.
Yet Paul is unmoving in his exhortations and in the same way that we thought of Paul and the fruit of the Holy Spirit last week, this week we look to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and for Paul it is love that binds all things together. And given his own personal encounters and experience with Jesus, it’s perhaps understandable why Paul would believe this.
The question is do we believe this – do we believe that love is indeed what binds all things together, do we believe that love is indeed indispensable and what did our Lord have to say on the question of love?
Loving God we thank You for Your continued presence with us each and every day, and as we come to You now, ask that Your Spirit would be upon us, drawing us closer to You. Help us today, as we hear Your Word and meditate on what it says to us, to allow that same Spirit to guide us through the day ahead. We praise You for all the opportunities and challenges that You set before us, and thank You that by Your Spirit, You supply us with the gifts and skills we need to rise up and meet these, to the glory and honour of Your name..
Yet still we confess dear God there are times when we fail to listen to You, times when we ignore Your Spirit altogether and seek to do things in our own way, often realising, only when it is too late, of the foolishness of our behaviour and of how we have failed to act as You would have us. Gracious God, for these and all our faults and failings, forgive us, we pray, and enable us once again to know Your presence in our lives. For despite our sinfulness, deep down we know that You are always there to call upon, always there to offer help, guidance and support, always there to offer mercy and forgiveness and to welcome us back into Your tender loving care.
So help us to look to You at all times, we pray, and to allow Your Spirit to lead us through each day, that in all we say and do, we might not only continue along the journey that You would have us take, but through our witness and using the gifts and faith You have given us, invite others to join with us on that journey. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen.
Read Matthew 22:34-46
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbour as yourself…’ In these two short sentences Jesus essentially summed up the entirety of the Law in a nutshell. But I wonder if we have ever taken any serious amount of time consider which of these two commands we find easiest to obey. To love God with all we have – or – to love our neighbour as ourselves?
Is it, for example, easier to love the neighbour we can see as opposed to the God we can’t see? Or is it easier to love God than the neighbour who we never seem to be able to avoid? Of course that choice is offered somewhat tongue in cheek.
Yet the reality is that for some loving God is easier than loving their neighbour – and vice versa. However, although both of these commands are quite distinct in their own way, they are both equally compulsory – if we would be the Disciples of Jesus that we wish to be.
The fact that these commandments appear in all three Synoptic Gospels shows how important they that. And whilst John doesn’t quote this great commandment, he does something just as significant, the pivotal moment coming just after Jesus washes his disciples feet in john 13…
I give you a new commandment… love each other…just as I have loved you…so you also must love each other…
So there can be no question that for Jesus the doorway to life is love. And for us today, the essential guiding principle as we face all of life’s big questions – is love.
And if we are serious about following Jesus, then we have no choice but to learn to open our hearts and make love the primary focus of our lives— as tough and messy as that may be. If we call ourselves Christians then the truth we will have to live with is this love can be the only law we live by.
But as we know, that’s not always easy…
In our opening reflection we thought of what Paul had to say about love. But I wonder if we have ever seriously stopped to consider that, love begets love. And whilst some might be suspicious of such a claim, it is true – the more love you give, the more love you have to give.
So essentially, we love by loving. And the way of loving God and neighbour is by loving God in neighbour and loving neighbour in the love of God…and loving the most difficult neighbour at that…
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5, for if you love those who love you, what reward have you. And in 1 John chapter 4 we are told, if anyone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen – and this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also…
John of the Cross was a major figure in the counter-reformation in the 16th century, and was canonised by the pope in 1726. He was also something of a poet and his work often focussed on the growth of the soul. And in one of his poems he says…that in the end we shall be judged by love alone…
And if that is the case, then Paul is correct – Love is indispensable. So where does that leave us?
The kind of love that we are talking about here is not some kind of superficial slushy kind of a love. Nor is it even merely a genuine and sincere love that truly comes from the heart – although that is a good start. The love we are talking about here is a love that can only be found in God Himself. A self-giving, sacrificial kind of love – offered again and again. A love that we see in Jesus Christ.
A love which is more than emotional and which is not merely passive; A love that means being involved in a real and intimate way with those to whom we offer this love. A love that means using our gifts, our services, our talents, to help in any way those to whom we are offering this love; And a love that is not merely a matter of the heart – but also a matter of the mind, body, strength and soul.
However, in our society today, are we capable of such love? Many might suggest we are not, giving many reasons for that. But I wonder if we’ve ever stopped to consider this.
If we look again at what Jesus says – Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Here it would appear that the way we love ourselves is to be the model for how we love others.
If you remember we kind of touched on this last week when we thought of behaving towards others as we would have them behave towards us. And we concluded that as we would only want people to behave in a good way towards us then we should do likewise to others.
But is it as simple in this situation?
For example, Carl Yung was an eminent psychoanalyst whose work was very influential in philosophy and religion. And he once said, ‘…that I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ – all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do to the least of my brothers, I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all the beggars . . . [is] within me, and that I myself am the ‘who’ that must be loved – what then?’
Essentially, what if, for whatever reason, we feel so unloved that we are unable to love ourselves? Maybe certain circumstances in our life have driven us to the point of feeling this way, where we have no self-esteem or self-respect and that we are completely on our own and no-one cares for us in any way.
How are we to love others if we are unable to love ourselves? Is that even possible? And where do we go from here?
The Bible tells us that God created us in His own image, His own imprint is within all of us, and He created us so that we might be at one with Him and with all His creation. And although as human beings we ruined that relationship with God, still His love for us is such that He gave His One and only Son to reconcile Himself to us. Remember what John 3:16 says…
The key then is to hold on to this – that God loves us in this way. Why? Because our love of self, cannot contradict our love for and of God, because God’s love is here within us all – it is part of God’s creation within all of us.
So now we can go back to the first command that Jesus gave here – to love God with all our heart, soul and mind – and we do so now, knowing that we can do this because of God’s love for us. And if we can begin to love God in this way, then as part of God’s creation made in His image, we can also begin to love ourselves in the way that God loves us. Then we can move on to Jesus second command to begin to love others in the way we should.
The Gospel we hold on to and the faith we claim to have and seek to live out each day is surely based on these two simple commands that Jesus gives us today. And of course it all begins with God, whom we are called to love with all of our being. Because if we do indeed love God in this way, then our love of others and ourselves should follow automatically
So let’s seek to do as Jesus commands here – to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we can all do this and by our example encourage others to do likewise – and if every Christian up and down the land did the same – then in the love of God, who knows what might be possible…Amen.
We thank you, Lord for this wonderful world in which we live, full of variety, so that each day is full of new opportunities and challenges; full of excitement, where each day is new and different from the previous; and full of love and compassion, so that each day we are comforted in sorrow and sadness, and uplifted in joy and peace. We thank You for the life we now have in Your Son, and thank You that by your Holy Spirit your Son is still at work in us and in our church today; revealing your truth, renewing our lives and guiding us to your eternal kingdom.
Yet we know that this world is far from perfect and so we thank you for your Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ, come as one of us to show us how to live our lives in this world today. Help us as your church here on earth to be your disciples in this time and place, to bring warmth where this world is cold, light where it is dark, joy where it is sad and, above all, love in all things.
We remember also those for whom life seems to be a time of constant toil and exertion, and never a time of joy and happiness, and those for whom circumstances cut deeply and wound painfully, and we ask Lord for your intervention in their lives. And we think of those whose lives are now filled with fear and trepidation, those who are caught up in the crossfire of conflict and who no longer feel safe in their own homes, and those who feel so unloved, isolated and on their own.
Gracious and loving God, these are but a few examples of how your people need your help in this world today and we see them in every nation on this planet. Lord be with all your people we pray and lay your hand upon them. Grant them your peace and comfort, grant them your healing and compassion and minister to each as only you can. That even in their most dark and difficult days they may know your love in all its fullness and see a way forward in You, and so find renewed hope and faith in their lives.
Be especially with those known to us, our families, friends and neighbours, indeed all within our wider communities. You know all their needs, all their concerns, all their fears, so we ask that You would be with them now as only You can. And keep us all safe in your tender care over this coming week. Help us as best we can, in all we do, to live as You would have us, sharing your love with all people at all times. And all this we ask in Jesus name…Amen.