“Commanded to Love”

Easter 6

May 10, 2015

 

Text: John 15:9-17; 1 John 5:1-6; Acts 10:44-48

         

          Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another.

          To many people, that sentence sounds very strange. After all, most of us usually think of love as a feeling. We often think loving someone is an intense form of liking someone. Feelings cannot be commanded, because a feeling is an internal response we have to a stimulus.

          Now there are certainly feelings people often associate with love. Depending on the person involved and the situation, some of those feelings include concern, affection, fondness, closeness, or sexual attraction. But the Bible does not describe love as a feeling, for Jesus commanded us to love, and while faith in God can inspire certain feelings in us, we do not have certain feelings just because someone tells us how they think we should feel.

          It is more accurate to say that the Bible describes love as action and decision. Jesus told us to love one another as he loved us. Jesus showed God’s love to us through his actions. He loved by serving others. He loved by healing the sick and broken. He loved by teaching people God’s ways. He loved by encouraging his disciples to carry out the ministry God had given them. He loved by confronting those who fell short of God’s intentions. And above all, he loved by giving up his own life on the cross to deliver us and all people from our sins if we place our trust in him.

          Jesus and John also both tell us that love is a matter of action. John tells us that we love God’s children when we love God and keep his commandments. And Jesus reminded us of his commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. The greatest love is to give up your life for your friends. And Jesus, who gave up his life for us, said that we are his friends if we do what he commands—loving one another sacrificially.

          If love is a matter of action rather than a matter of emotion, that changes the game significantly. It means I can love you regardless of whether or not I like you and regardless of my opinion about what you say, think, or do. And you don’t have to like me in order to love me. Love doesn’t have to do with whether or not we like each other. It has to do with how we act toward each other.

          Or since this is Mother’s Day (or if you prefer the official United Methodist title, Festival of the Christian Home)—mothers and fathers, if you’re brutally honest with yourself, do you always like your children? Do you always like everything about them? Do you like everything they do, every choice they make? I am pretty confident that nearly every parent in this room would probably answer “No” to at least one of these questions. Does that mean we don’t love them? Of course not. If we are good parents, we teach our children what is right and wrong. When our children make the wrong choices, love means we help them understand they will face consequences for their wrongdoing. When we love someone, we want what is best for that person in relationship with the world we live in. We disapprove of some of our children’s actions and choices because we realize that those actions and choices are not likely to lead even to a good outcome, let alone what is best for them.

          Surely Jesus did not like every person he met. In fact, the Bible says very little about who Jesus liked or disliked. We don’t even know for sure that he liked all his disciples. And we know that Jesus sometimes was displeased with his disciples when they weren’t understanding what Jesus was trying to tell them (Remember the time they started arguing with each other about which of them was the greatest? Remember the time Jesus told off Peter after Peter refused to accept Jesus’ declaration that he was going to suffer and die?). That did not mean Jesus didn’t love them. Jesus wanted what was best not only for them but for accomplishing God’s purposes in the world through them.

          Our lesson from Acts also shows an act of love, although the word “love” is not used in that text. Peter was at the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, a God-fearing Gentile, after having a vision telling him not to call unclean what God has made clean. Cornelius had summoned Peter because he had a vision telling him Peter had a message of salvation for him. So Peter, accompanied by other followers of Jesus, went and told Cornelius and those gathered in his house the Good News of Jesus Christ. As Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit descended on all who heard the word, and they began praising God and speaking in other languages.

          Now up to this time there had only been Jewish followers of Jesus. In fact, Jews in those days were not supposed to eat or fellowship with Gentiles. Already God had led Peter to break that custom to tell Cornelius and his household about Jesus. Now Peter and his companions observed that God had given his Holy Spirit to Gentiles just as he had to Jewish followers of Jesus. So Peter said, “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” Peter saw that God, out of his great love, had poured the gift of his Spirit on these Gentiles. He realized this meant that same love required that these Gentiles be baptized and welcomed into the community of Jesus’ followers as equals with the Jewish followers of Jesus. To do otherwise would be a violation of God’s purpose. And so they were baptized.

          We are commanded to love one another. This does not mean we are commanded to like everybody or agree with everything people do. It means we are commanded to do what is best for others, even when it means sacrificing our own self-interest. It means we are to share God’s love with others in word and deed, regardless of our feelings about them. It means that in all we do in relation to our world we are to live in ways that help others fulfill their God-given purpose. God help us to be faithful in so doing.

                                                                   Amen.

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