“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” —Luke 6:35
What is love? It is a question many of us have probably wondered at one time or another. When we read through the New Testament, there are two words in the Greek that are translated as “love” in the English.
Continuing in the passage, Jesus challenged His disciples, “And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:33-35). Anybody without Christ can love in the same manners as sinners. This is an easy kind of love. But the type of love Jesus was calling His disciples to express is a different kind of love—a supernatural love.
Regarding this text, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “By our enemies, Jesus means those who are quite intractable and utterly unresponsive to our love, who forgive us nothing when we forgive them all, who requite our love with hatred and our service with derision. Love asks nothing in return but seeks those who need it. And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of love?” Bonhoeffer was familiar with this kind of love. He was imprisoned in a Nazi jail and eventually executed days before the end of World War II.
What is our love like?
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for challenging the way I love. Help me to love others with a supernatural – agape – love. Amen!
Three unique characteristics of love
What does the greatest command hinge upon? Love. What will be the defining characteristic of followers of Jesus? Love. What will never pass away, even after faith and hope are gone? Love. Love is the mark of the disciple. Jesus said that “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Not our Bible knowledge. Not our fasting. Not our stance on public issues. Those things are important indeed, but according to Jesus, the defining mark of Christian discipleship is love. – Agape
Simple enough, except for the fact that this word – love – has been so overused that it no longer has much meaning. Consider how many times you’ve heard the word love today. For that matter, consider how many times you’ve used the word love today. We “love” foods, sports, celebrities, puppies, and our moms. We love movies, nature, long walks on the beach, and everything in between. We are a culture, it seems, that is in love with being in love.
As a result, to say that “love” is what marks the disciples of Jesus means very little. Not with a word as diluted as this one is. And yet when we turn to the life of Jesus as penned for us in the pages of Scripture, we see a very different definition being lived out than the one that passes for love in the world today. Christian love – the “Jesus” kind of love that would mark His disciples – ought to stand out in its uniqueness. Christian love is unique, then, at least these ways:
1. Christian love is sacrificial
Human Love as we understand it is self-centered. We love pizza. We love ice cream. We love this You Tuber or that one. What does our use of the word reveal about its definition? Mainly, that “love,” at least in our culture, is about receiving. We base our love for someone or something based on how they can benefit us emotionally, intellectually, or physically. In other words, “we” are at the center of our love for another party.
Christian love stands against this because of its sacrificial nature.
Instead of taking from another, Christian love constantly assumes the posture:
Sacrifice is, in fact, fundamental to the truest definition of what love is: “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
2. Christian love is demonstrated.
We are very free with our words. We throw them this way and that, whether in person or virtually, without giving too much consideration of their impact. Words are the cheapest of all currencies, easy to give and receive without expecting much else behind them. And yet Christian love is different. Christian love is not merely stated; it is demonstrated: “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth” (1 John 3:18). In John 13 we see a visible demonstration of His own love for His disciples when he bent low to wash their feet as they were busy arguing about who would be first in the kingdom.
3. Christian love is based on initiative.
Love, in many cases, is a weapon. If not a weapon, then a bargaining chip. It’s something that we hold back, waiting for another person to warrant it. It’s ironic to think that we use the word so freely and yet have the tendency to be so careful with its reality. But Christian love is different. As Christians, we don’t wait for someone to show themselves to be lovable or worthy of our love; rather, Christian love is initiative. Christian love goes. It pursues. It seeks out. Just as Jesus did for us: “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
This is how we are to love like Jesus. To love in a sacrificial, demonstrated, and initiative-taking kind of way. This is unique, and indeed it should be. May we be the people who are marked by this kind of love so that the world will know the Jesus whom we claim to represent.
One of the primary terms the Bible uses to describe our relationship with Jesus is the word “walk.” It’s a good word. It gives one the feeling of forward progression. We aren’t meant to have a stagnant relationship with our Lord. Instead, as our relationship grows, we will make a forward progress in intimacy and obedience.
Because of the culture in which we live, this walk often seems like an uphill battle. These are attributes that are so infectiously true of the environment we live in that they inevitably work their way into our own lives just because we are human. Unfortunately, though, these cultural characteristics are also obstacles to discipleship, and a long walk in the same direction with Jesus. We live in a culture that demands immediacy and is repelled by adversity. Our lives are overly crowded and complicated. As disciples of Jesus, we are meant to be salt and light. We are meant to stand distinct from this worldly pattern as we Walk with Him, Know Him and Follow Him. That’s it. Everything else is an aid to that simple, core message that we should seek others to love with the same sacrificial love Christ demonstrated.
“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).