You Before Me
By Michael Moser
“The power of love is a curious thing” are what Huey Lewis and the News sing, and I must admit, I’m inclined to agree. What is love actually? And what does it look like to love? In English, we only have one word for love. It’s wholly inadequate to encompass the sheer complexity of the emotions, experiences, actions and memories that we try and cram into just four letters.
We need some sort of focal point amidst the parade of romance novels, Valentine’s Day window displays, and butterflies in the stomach. We need to look beyond the feeling of love, and get down to the core of what love truly is, because it’s so much more than just a bunch of roses or a stuffed teddy bear.
Love is a verb
One of the first things we need to understand about love is that it cannot be limited to just another noun. It’s more than a mere emotion. Love is also a verb. It is an action. In John 15:12, Jesus drops this bombshell on His followers: “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” You’ll notice He doesn’t say: “Feel the same kind of emotion for these people that I feel for you.” The reason we know that Jesus considers love to be inseparable from action is because He was the best example of this. “How,” you may ask, “did Jesus love the world?”
Whenever we see Jesus showing love, it is almost always accompanied and displayed by action. He fed others out of love and compassion (Matthew 15:32-37). Out of love, He healed the sick (Matthew 14:14). Out of love He taught (Mark 6:34) and in love He served others (Mark 10:45).
1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love” and if Jesus was God, as Christians believe (Philippians 2:6), then it would follow that He is the best example of how to love, since He would also be love. In John 15:13 Jesus continues His command to love others by saying that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus had the authority to say this, because that was precisely His purpose for coming in the first place.
It’s not about me
Rather than seeking what He could get from people, Jesus took every opportunity to selflessly give rather than to take. In all our relationships (not just the romantic ones), if we love somebody, we should seek every opportunity to give, serve and show love through action. Jesus embodied what He declared – that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” – by ultimately laying down His life for us (Acts 20:35).
The death and resurrection of Jesus were a result of love. He sacrificed his own life, dying on the cross, even though we were the last to deserve it. The magnitude of this love is only really understood when we come to terms with this truth.
The love chapter
1 Corinthians 13 is a famous portion of the Bible that serves as a helpful checklist of what love looks like. Due to space, I am unfortunately unable to share the whole chapter with you, but here is just verse four to seven:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
As a precursor to this high standard of love we ought to be striving for, in verse two Paul says that even if somebody has the faith to move mountains, it counts for absolutely nothing without love. The only way we will ever be able to practically meet this standard is by meeting Jesus. In 1 John 2:6 the Apostle John states that “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”
Rather than seeking what He could get from people, Jesus took every opportunity to selflessly give rather than to take.
Mission impossible on our own
But how? Real love is looking rather difficult at this stage. Anybody else think that unconditional, forgiving, patient, kind, selfless, constant, committed love seems to be pitched a little too high above our heads? We as humans are simply too self-centred to love others with the love Jesus modelled. Fortunately, God makes a way.
In Mark 10:27 Jesus says this: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” While this statement wasn’t specifically made regarding love, it remains true. Love’s standard is far too great for what is humanly possible, and so we must ask God for whom nothing is impossible, to help us live out this love.
Learning to love
We can’t give what we don’t have, so if we don’t have the love of God, we can’t show it to others. Therefore, if we are called to love others the way Jesus loves us, we first need to accept the love of Jesus for ourselves. And the way of getting that love is refreshingly straightforward: we ask.
Prayer is our love lifeline. It’s our direct hotline to God, and it is the perfect place to ask Him for the ability to love. The ultimate source of love is God and so any attempt to love must be made with the help of God, and in partnership with Him. To stay connected to the source of our love, we need to be praying as Jesus so often did. Prayer will link you to the richest source of love, which is God Himself, but it is also an opportunity to show love to others.
When we pray for others we are doing the most loving thing we could possibly do, because before you can pray for somebody, you must get to know that person better. You must know their needs, their hurts, what their struggles are, where they need help. This is in itself a loving act, for it shows that you care. It reminds that person that they not only matter to you, but they also matter to the God of the universe.
But it doesn’t end there. When we take our struggles, needs, hurts, cares and worries to the One most capable of helping, He doesn’t only listen but also feels for us. Hebrews 4:15-16 is a powerful scripture worth remembering:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us them approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
When you approach the throne of grace on behalf of somebody else, it is arguably the greatest demonstration of compassion you could ever show that person. It allows you to try and sympathise with their struggle and share in their joy as you’re bringing them to your Father in heaven, and so in humility consider them more significant than yourself (Philippians 2:3).
Putting yourself second is a tiny reflection of how Jesus selflessly loved us. It’s not easy and will take going against what you want to selfishly do. But as you grow in this love with God’s help, you will also grow up into everything that God has created you to be.