By Pastor Vince Gerhardy
William Gladstone, a member of the British parliament in the mid 1800s, announced the death of Princess Alice to the House of Commons. With the announcement he told this story. The little daughter of Princess Alice was seriously ill with diphtheria. The doctors told the princess not to kiss her little daughter because that would endanger her own life by breathing in the child’s breath.
Once when the child was struggling to breathe, the mother, forgetting herself entirely, took the little one into her arms to keep her from choking to death. Rasping and struggling for her life, the child said, “Mumma, kiss me!” Only thinking about her dying child and without a thought for herself the mother tenderly kissed her daughter. She got diphtheria and soon after Princess Alice died.
Real love forgets self. Real love knows no danger. Real love doesn’t count the cost. The Bible says, “Many waters can’t quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Song of Solomon 8:7).
The gospel text today is about this kind of love. And how fitting it is that we have this text on Mothers’ Day. Jesus’ words could easily be about being a good mother or father, but actually they are aimed at the whole Christian family, at the whole Church. Jesus says,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,
just like I have loved you; that you also love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
Take note that love is not an option for the followers of Jesus. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you”.Not a suggestion, not a recommendation. A commandment! This is not just a command to love like our mother or father but to love in the same way that Jesus loves us. Jesus said, “Love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another.” Notice the little word “must”. Just as there was no getting around our mother’s command, “You must wash your hands before eating”, likewise there is no way around this command of Jesus, “Love one another.”
Why does Jesus command us to love? He gives this command because there is a part of every one of us that rebels against the idea of pure, unconditional love. Despite the example that we have in Jesus’ undeserved and unconditional love for us – there is a part of us that says such love is out of place in the world in which we live. There is a part of us that says –”sure, loving others is great – up to a point….”
Isn’t that what we do all the time?
We draw a line and say, “That’s how much we are prepared to love the next person”. We draw a line and say, “That’s how far we are prepared to do a kind deed for someone else”.
We draw a line and say, “Those are the people we are prepared to love”.
We are happy to love in this selective kind of way. We are comfortable with the kind of love that doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable. We might be happy with this kind of love but it is not what Jesus was talking about here when he said, “Love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another.”
What Jesus says is quite plain. We should love others in the same way that Jesus loves us. His love is sacrificial and self-giving. We see that on the cross.
He loved us so much that he willingly gave his life for us.
He had no thought for his own safety, but readily put his own life at risk.
He was prepared to risk pain and suffering, even death because of his love for us. He loved unconditionally.
His love is genuine, honest, caring and compassionate. His love is not turned off and on by fleeting passions, or emotional highs.
He didn’t draw a line and say that going beyond that line was too much to ask. His love knew no limits.
That’s how he commanded us to love – willingly and sacrificially. In fact, that’s why Jesus commands us to love, because he knew that we are happy with a love that is anything but unconditional and sacrificial.
I wouldn’t have to twist your arm too hard to get you to admit that this is a far cry from the kind of love that we actually show toward others. Do you know why it is that we find it so difficult to love as Jesus commanded? This kind of love that Jesus is talking about goes right against our human nature. It goes against all human reasoning and logic. But that’s the way God’s love is toward us. It’s totally unreasonable to think of God loving people who in no way deserve it.
It’s easier for us to be selfish, to ignore the person who needs our love, to offer up any kind of excuse why we shouldn’t get involved in other people’s lives. It would seem that to love as Jesus has loved us is humanly impossible. I might be generous enough to say that we might manage it on the odd occasions but loving others unconditionally and sacrificially all the time is a bit of a tall order.
The Bible states that our ability to love comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ. “We love him, because he first loved us”, says the Apostle John (1 John 4:19). We are able to love because he loves us. Understanding this is critical to our ability to live out the Christian life of love. The more the love of Jesus fills our lives, the more we will be able to love other with the same kind of love that he shows to us.
Love does not happen in a vacuum. Love is something that is passed from one person to another. This is one reason Christian parents are so important.
A child who does not receive love, psychologists tell us, will not be able to give love.
On the other hand, a child who has received the proper amount of nurturing as an infant and as a toddler will have a sense of security and trust that will last them all their lives. You see how the love that children show is dependent of the love they receive from their parents. In order to show Christlike love, we need to receive that love from Christ.
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Let’s look at it this way. Let’s say you want to get fit so you take up jogging. You buy a pair of top quality running shoes and a track suit and sprint down the street. Not far down the road your muscles begin to cramp, you get the stitch in your side, you can hardly get your breath. You slowly walk home gasping, “I’ll never do that again”.
That’s called anaerobic running – running without oxygen. It’s caused by the body using up more oxygen than it takes in. Many people try to run that way, and many people try to love that way. They love with great fervour and self-sacrifice. As a result of what you hear today you might resolve to love, but it only lasts a while, maybe an hour or a day. You can’t keep it up. Like the joggers we find ourselves down the road in pain, gasping and cramped, saying, “I’ll never do that again.”
Love, like running, must be aerobic. Our output must be matched by our intake. Running requires oxygen. An enduring love requires God’s word, his presence, his Holy Spirit, his love and forgiveness. As we love aerobically, we will love not in our own strength and ability but the strength and ability that we receive from Jesus. We will love because he has first loved us.
To love as Jesus commands us in our text today means that we need to immerse ourselves in his Word and Sacraments and to let the love of Christ enter our lives and empower us to love, serve and work together. We will come to realise more and more our place in God’s family and cast off everything that is opposed to love – things like impatience, selfishness, greed, an uncaring attitude, an unforgiving spirit and be led by the Spirit and be more Christlike in everything we say and do.
There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew tired of this big, unattractive stone in the centre of his lawn, so he decided to turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until the ugly stone became a beautiful running deer. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking.
A neighbour asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvellous likeness of a deer?”
The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like a deer!”
If you have anything in your life right now that doesn’t look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away!
If you have anything in your life that doesn’t look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away!
If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God’s sake, and the for the other person’s sake, and for your sake, get rid of it!
Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn’t look like tender heartedness.
It is interesting to note that love is the Christian’s primary witness to the world. How often do people say to you, “I’m impressed with the way you love other people? You must be a Christian.”
Do people see the love of Jesus shining through you?
Is it obvious that there is something different about you that make people wonder, “What is it that makes that person so likeable and so easy to get on with”?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
It doesn’t take too much imagination to realise that this command of Jesus is one that we take too lightly. To love as Jesus loves us seems way out of our reach. To let love rule everything we say and do, seems almost impossible. We fail again and again. That’s not to say that because we are such poor lovers that we should give up. But it does mean that we need the love of Christ more than ever before. We need his unconditional, never-failing love to forgive us for our lack of love. Thank God that Jesus doesn’t love us like we love others. Jesus’ love for us creates the potential for us to love unconditionally and sacrificially.
My hope for you, for me, and for this congregation today is that we may love as Christ has loved us.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2004, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.