Love As Christlikeness
Becoming conformed to the image of God’s Son is the raison d’être of every follower of Jesus. Jesus is the meaning of God for us. We too may be channels of the meaning of God in Christ to others. The perfection of our love is a primary concern of our being perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect in love (Matthew 5:43-48).
This invitation to be likeminded with Christ (Phil 2:1-11) is at the heart of Christian living. I wrote previously that in our calling to follow the example that Christ set for us we have to begin with the incarnation: God becoming like us. This truth is the center of the Christian faith and a unique truth among all religions. Nothing in other religions or in Christianity itself equals this truth of God becoming like us in order to live like us, die our death, and rise in anticipation of our resurrection. We too, then, must humble ourselves and be willing to come to people’s rescue in the name of Christ.
I also wrote that Christ models for us a life of service. The towel and basin are the symbols of God serving man, which Christ manifested while he brought God’s kingdom near. The reason God came is to serve us and by serving us he modeled how we too must be carriers of towels and basins. Serving others is the posture of the church toward all people in the church and outside of it.
I want to reflect today on a third way we are to follow Christ as John Stott challenges us to do in his Radical Discipleship: By becoming loving as God in Christ loved us. But before I write on our imitative love I must reflect on God’s love. Nothing is more enthralling than to speak of this love of God. Only by knowing God’s kind of love are we able to understand and manifest that love to others.
Karl Barth, a pastor and teacher of theology who shaped western thinking about Christianity for over 50 years, was asked about “the most profound thought you have ever had?” His response: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” “God is love” (1 John 4:7-9, 16) is the most profound truth we will ever know. We begin here, we do life daily here, and we end life here never surpassing this deep truth. Humans have love, but God is love. His love is whole; ours is divided, incomplete. “God’s love is not an activity. It is his whole self” said Peter Van Breeman (quoted by James Bryan Smith in Embracing the Love of God). This image of God as love must drive our lives, doctrines, and activities.
Jesus is God’s love come near to us. So near that we hear him, see him, gaze on him, and touch him daily by faith (1 John 1). Paul invites the church to “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” Ephesians 5:2). Cross-love is accepting. It follows us all the days of our lives in the forgiving mercy of God. It cuddles us in the tender motherly care of God. God beams his love into our hearts so that we too may beam it into the lives of others. God calls us to this cross-love way of life. In the words of William Blake: “And we are put on this earth a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love” (from Embracing the Love of God).
Knowing we are loved by being accepted is no easy thing. It is more difficult than loving others, even our enemies. It is difficult to know we are loved because we know what we are like. We want to make ourselves worthy of love in order to accept being loved. But as Augustine reflected, it is “by loving us, that God makes us lovable.” We all (at times) sport some wrong notions about God. He will accept me when I eliminate what makes me feel ashamed of myself, when I control my weaknesses, when I become less of a coward, and when I ditch my pride. Well, that’s what our love is like often and we easily and carelessly at times transfer unto God what we are like. Voltaire, the French philosopher mused about humans, “God made us in his image and every day we try to return the favor.”
It is evident that love is at the heart of the message we proclaim to the world (God loves you and has a plan for your life). Jesus loved you and died for you. Accept him and he will take you to heaven when you die and spare you hell. That’s great news. But this historical loving event is not the end of love; it’s only the beginning. I quote again from Embracing the Love of God a prayer by Soren Kierkegaard to help us reflect on the constant love of God.
You have loved first, O God, alas! We speak of it in terms of history as if You loved us first but a single time, rather than that without ceasing You have loved us first and many times and everyday and our whole life through. When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You—You are there first—You have loved us first; if I rise at dawn and at that same second turn my soul toward You in prayer, You are there ahead of me, You have loved me first. When I withdraw from the distractions of the day and turn my soul toward You, You are there first and thus forever. And we speak ungratefully as if You have loved us first only once.
May all of us who walk with the Master know the ever-present love of God and walk in it!
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