Are you a good lover? Many of us when we hear that question, jump in our minds to an erotic understanding of “lover,” but that is not the kind of love I’m referring to. Are you good at being loving? The problem with answering this second question (“Are you good at being loving?”), is illustrated by the confusion we can have with first question (“Are you a good lover?”). What I mean is that we so often we think we know what love is, but what if we don’t? Is it possible that we assume love is one thing, but it is actually another? In our study this week on the ancient letter in the Bible commonly called 2nd John, we’re learning what it means to walk in love. But what is love? To answer that question, we turn to Jesus as our teacher and guide.
In the previous post I suggested that rather than ask “What would Jesus do?” we should ask the question: how can I learn to love like Jesus loved?
So let’s investigate a Jesus kind of love for a bit.
The love that Jesus taught and lived is not emotion or feeling. What we normally think of when we think of love is a feeling or simply an opinion, saying, “I like this or that!” but saying it very emphatically, “I love it!” The reality is that opinions can change, even about things for which we have said, “I love that!” It is okay if our opinions change about them. There is nothing wrong with changing your opinion. You might like something very passionately one year, but grow bored with it another year. Last week my brother texted me asking if I could bring some baseball cards to our family Labor Day gathering. A couple of his sons have really been getting into baseball, and he wanted them to see our cards. I say, “our” cards, because my brother and I collected together. In approximately 1986-1990, when we were in upper elementary school, middle school, and into my early years of high school we blew a lot of money on baseball cards. At that age our ability to earn money to spend on cards was fairly limited, but we still ended up with around 10,000 cards. At the time, I would have said that I loved collecting baseball cards. Now I look at the boxes of cards taking up space in my closet and think, “That was fun. I really hope they’re increasing in value! But I’m not passionate about them anymore.” I don’t like collecting baseball cards anymore. It was an opinion that changed.
Love is different from an opinion. The word John uses for “love” is “agape,” and when Jesus teaches and show us love, he, too, is using the word “agape” to depict a love that is different from opinions and feelings and emotions. Love is a choice, a conviction, and it does not change. Agape love is an other-focused way of life in which we care for the other person. It is what you should do, which is not always what you want to do. It means you love enemies. It means you love those who cannot return or repay your love.
In many contemporary societies, love is often equated with feelings and eroticism, which is not what John is talking about. But our society’s view of love is not all bad, as it also conceives of love as commitment, which is very similar to where John goes next in his unique description of love.
Both Jesus and John do something interesting with their idea of love. Look at verse 6. They describe love as obedience. “Walk in obedience to his commands.” And at the end of verse 6, “walk in love.” To walk in love, therefore, is to live a life of obedience to Jesus’ commands. That’s a very different way of thinking about love. We show our love for Jesus by how we live.
It seems this is a theme in John’s writings because in the Gospel of John, he mentions the foundation for seeing love as obedience, when Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
So if love is obedience to Jesus’ commands, that presupposes that we must know what his commands actually are. And we shouldn’t assume that we just know the teaching of Jesus.
So back to the illustration of WWJD. That’s great, but what if we don’t know what Jesus would do? We need to learn what Jesus would do. We need to learn his commands. We need to learn his way of life.
Make it a priority to get to know Jesus. Read the Gospels. Spend time with him.
This takes us back to verse 2 and 3, where John said that the truth lives in us and is with us forever. I encourage you to read John’s Gospel, chapters 14 and 15. In those chapters we probably have the clearest teaching of the idea that Jesus lives with us. He says things like “when people show their love for me by obeying my commands, my father and I will come and make our home with them.” That’s pretty amazing, right? This is the theological concept called Union with Christ. It means that Jesus is with us. He goes on in John 14 and 15 to say a good bit more about it. First, he says that it is through his Spirit that he is with us. The Spirit of Jesus lives within us. And what’s more, in John 15, Jesus says that apart from abiding in him (which is sometimes called remaining in him or depending on him), we can do nothing. That concept of abiding in him can work itself out in many different applications, but one is that we show our love for him, or we walk in love, by obeying his commands. And when we obey his commands, when we walk in love, Jesus says, we will have the empowerment of his Spirit to bear fruit for his Kingdom.
But here’s the key: We still have a choice. Jesus doesn’t turn us into robots who love and obey him. We have choice. I often wish I was a robot for Jesus, and had no choice but to obey him. This raises a question: Which comes first, love or obedience? Do we obey him first, and then we grow in love for him? Or does our love for him motivate us to obey? If love is not emotion, then it seems best to answer that we must first choose to obey. We might say that our love is expressed in our willful choice to obey. And there are plenty of times when we are willing ourselves to obey, not because we want to, but because we know it is the right thing to do. Those battles of the will are difficult. But they are real, and we can win, especially as we practice. So much of obedience is practice. Can we say the love is practice? I think we can. We practice what we care about, right? We’re willing to work at it. We’re willing to struggle. That image of love as practice is not enticing. And yet it is perhaps the foundation of love.