“Love one another, as I have loved you.” This is a very simple statement. Easy to understand. Easy to grasp. Jesus knows he will be leaving his followers soon. He knows that he will be arrested and killed within a few hours, and he is giving some final instructions to those he has known so well, those whom he has loved. And he keeps it simple and straightforward. Love as I have loved. Love each other. This is how people will know that they are followers of Christ if they have love for one another.
And this very simple instruction is for us today as well. We spend a lot of time talking about evangelism. There are hundreds if not thousands of books written about how to bring the “unchurched” into the church. There are seminars and training programs offered around the country and around the world about how to spread the “good news” of Christ to a world that knows very little about him. But as well-intentioned and informative as all these books and seminars and classes are, evangelism, spreading the good news of Christ really comes down to this very simple instruction of Jesus. “Love one another, as I have loved you. This is how people will know that you are my followers, if you have love for one another.” All of our beliefs all of our faith all of our ethics can be boiled down into one very short instruction. If we have the love of Christ for each other, our community will be so full of joy, so attractive that people will want to be a part of it.
So why is this command so hard for us to follow? If it is so simple, why don’t we just do it? Why do we struggle with loving each other as Christ loved those around him when he walked on this earth? I think it is because we don’t really understand love. Our definitions of love are not true, they aren’t really about love, or at least they are not really about the kind of love that Jesus is talking about.
C.S. Lewis once wrote about love. He tackled the topic after examining all of the Greek words for love (unlike us, the Greeks had more than one word for love). He concluded that in the end he could divide the words into two kinds of love: “need love” and “gift love”.
Need love, according to Lewis, is always born of emptiness. It is inquisitive. A need lover sees in every beloved object or person a value that he or she covets to possess. Need love seeks greedily to grasp and take for itself. Lewis contends that many times when we human beings say to each other, “I love you,” what we really mean is “I need you, I want you. You have value that I very much desire to make my own, no matter what the consequence may be to you.” Need love is about us, about me.
Gift love, however, is very different. Instead of being born of emptiness, this form of love is born of fullness. The goal of gift love is to enrich and enhance the beloved rather than to extract value. Its goal is to bless and to increase rather than to acquire or diminish. God’s love is gift love, not need love. Jesus’ love is gift love. Gift love is concerned with others.
We only have to read about Jesus in the Gospels to see how gift love works. In story after story, we see Jesus loving each and every person he meets as if there were none other in all the world to love. Each person is special. Each person is a unique creation of God. You have to work at this kind of love, because it is much easier to put people into groups, particularly people we don’t like, to generalize about them. All republicans are selfish, all democrats are immoral. People who are homeless are lazy, people who are wealthy are greedy. He’s always disrupting our meetings with his anger; he’s got mental problems. I could go on and on. But the point is that we don’t see Jesus making these generalizations. Even when Jesus spoke to someone with words of harshness, it was because of a concern that he felt for those whom he addressed. They were never words of hatred. He never spoke with disdain or contempt.
It is this kind of love that we are called to show to one another. We are called to love each other with gift love. We are called to enrich and enhance each other rather than to seek to fulfill our needs through each other. We are called to love each other in a way that blesses and increases rather than acquires or diminishes. We are called to love as Jesus loved. We are called to love each other even when we hurt or betray each other. We are called to love each other even when we are having trouble liking each other. We are called to place the others needs before our own.
So, what would it look like if our community were to fully embrace this kind of love? What would our community look like if we were to love each other fully and completely as Jesus loves us? Would we be living in some kind of conflict-free utopia? Probably not. I suspect that we would still have disagreements and conflicts. There would still be some people we liked better than others. But how we handled these things would be different because our goal in these situations would not be to fulfill our own needs, but instead our goal would be the betterment and increase of others. For example, if we were discussing remodeling this worship space and we found ourselves in disagreement about exactly how it should look, we would pause to see if our arguments were coming from a place of “need love” or a place of “gift love.” Do I want the worship space to look a certain way because it would fulfill my own needs, or do I want it to look a certain way because it would make it more accessible to those who have not yet heard the good news of Christ?
To love each other as Jesus loves us, is to set our needs aside. To love each other as Jesus loves us, is to see each member of our community as the unique, beloved child of God that each of us is. To love each other as Jesus loves us is to love from a place of fullness. It is to recognize that Jesus loves us, has filled us up with his love, and therefore we have an abundance of love to give to each other.
Love one another as I have loved you. They will know you are my followers because you love one another. You and I, with the help of God’s grace, can grow into the wonder of loving each other as if there is none other in all the world to love. You and I with the help of God can love each other as Jesus loves us. Amen.