“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10
I was raised in a loving family. My parents and my siblings lived in loving and caring ways. We had our disagreements and squabbles, but we loved each other dearly and made sure that arguments were settled peacefully when all was said and done. We were taught that our standard was Christian conduct, and the biblical admonition to “love one another” was expected.
Even a cursory reading of the Bible makes it plain that “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” When asked which is the great commandment, Jesus paraphrased the Torah: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind.” But immediately Jesus added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In John’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “A new command I give you, that you should love one another as I have loved you.” Anyone can easily see that love is what life is all about.
For many people, loving others is hard to put into practice. Certainly, love is not always easy or convenient. Too often we act selfishly and focus on our own needs and desires rather than on others. We say things and do things that are the exact opposite of “love one another.” In the church, we acknowledge that we are sinful people and make mistakes despite our best intentions. And sometimes we encounter challenging folks, those for whom extra grace is required.
Another reason it can be difficult to love others is that sometimes we misunderstand what love is. We tend to think of love as an emotional response. But the kind of love God calls us to have for others is the same love God has for us. This godly love is a matter of the will, not the emotions. God has not called us to feel love for each other, but rather to act in loving ways. In Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul names these characteristics in defining love: “love is patient and kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices with the truth, and never fails.”
What a lofty list of ideals! Without the help of God, we could never live up to such a benchmark. But fortunately, God gives us the grace and strength to live in loving ways, if we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our lives. And, of course, the more we strive, the more we learn about God’s love and grow in our practice of love. Therefore, despite the difficulty, we love because we are loved by God. We offer our best to one another in response to God’s great love for us.
That’s the gospel.