Command to Love

We are called into relationship with Christ, and from this calling, we are compelled to love our neighbor.  “Who is our neighbor?” my 8 year-old daughter asked.  “Who do you think?” I asked.  “My friend,” she said.  To her, our neighbor is literally the friend who lives next door whom she sees every day.

But Christ’s command to love extends to all – not just our neighbor next door.  Indeed, the command to love extends even to that part of the neighborhood marked “enemy territory.”  Conveying this concept to my 8-year-old presents me with two challenges.

Firstly, I must be careful to define this love as Christ defines it.  To our collective detriment, the concept of love has been degraded by a societal drift toward a form of romanticism where feelings and emotions control our responses and the validity of the love relationship is largely measured in what “I” get out of it.  Yet Christ calls us to love each other “as I have loved you.” (John  15:12)  That love led to Calvary.  That love stood silent in the face of hatred.  That love looked remarkably unlike the shallow selfishness that parades itself as love today.  I’m challenged in conveying this kind of love to my daughter, because it, quite frankly, is a kind of love that can and will be abused in today’s world.

My second challenge is that Christ-love is hard to live and I’m convinced my daughter has her own personal hypocrisy-detector!  I can’t get away with telling her that Jesus commands us to love “even our enemies” while I have difficulty being civil to the old lady who shushes children in church!

In the final analysis, Bonhoeffer offers me assistance in my challenged state.  Christian love means “liv[ing] in peace with every person.” (Christ and Peace)  Yet, as Bonhoeffer also points out, “… peace lies only in God … [and] is inseparably bound up with the gospel.”  I can’t manufacture love for my enemies; I can live into the gospel and be transformed by God’s Spirit.  If I try hard enough to love, I’ll still fail.  But if I give myself over to God, I – and maybe even my daughter’s hypocrisy-detector – might be surprised!

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3 thoughts on “Command to Love

  1. Thanks for this post. I remember those days of trying to relay complex Christian concepts to my kids in language they would understand and wouldn’t end up being harmful in some way. My baby’s 23 now :-), and both kids have better hipocracy-detectors than ever! Kids have a way of keeping us honest. But mostly I have found that having to explain concepts like Christian love, or eternal life, or grace (to anyone) offers the gift of forcing me to really reflect on what these difficult things mean to me, and to discover for myself why they matter anyway. Keep letting your little one keep you in the wondering!

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  2. Love is sure a tricky thing. You’re right to clarify that we (as Christians and leaders in the church) in terms of Christ’s definition, and not necessarily in a fairy tale, everything-is-rosy-from-the-beginning way. I find it’s important for many reasons, but mainly that it defines God’s love as something far beyond anything we as humans know or can experience; while we can feel the effects of God’s love, I believe, we cannot fully comprehend or grasp it.

    And yes, kids are great hypocrisy detectors! Grace can abound in that, though, which is a gift.

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  3. What a great post! It’s funny how kids can make us reflect upon and reexamine our lives. Christ’s all-encompassing love is indeed a tall order for us humans. Try as we might, there will always be situations in which we have difficulty offering love to a “neighbor” who continuously gets under our skin. Thankfully, we have a forgiving God and the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our interactions with one another. I love your image of being “transformed” by God’s spirit. Thank you for your words.

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