“Never assume someone knows what ‘love’ and ‘closeness’ really mean.”
All of us have strongly held ideas about love and relational closeness. And it seems that most of these ideas were formed deep in us before we could understand them. We all have been influenced by brokenness in our most crucial relationships from birth and have been shaped by the world around us that function as if things can go on without God. But no matter. Many of us still act as if our persuasions are so reliable that they can be taken for granted.
To the questions “What is love? Have I been loved? Do I love others well?” we might reply incredulously, “Of course I know what love is! I’m not perfect, but I have been loved and deeply love my family and close friends!
Why ask such basic questions? Why ask?
Well, in part, because even after growing into an adult and living with the greatest Teacher of wisdom ever known, Simon Peter had to be asked by Jesus, “Do you love me” (John 21:15-17)? The same One who shortly before that, while hanging on an instrument of torture, pleaded, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
In Jesus we see that love is bold, risking reputation and (physical, relational, emotional) safety, willing to ask painfully honest questions and hear painfully honest answers.
It is a courageous act to really ask questions about love.
A train of thought similar to Paul might sound like this:
‘If I speak often of traditional values and morality, if I give lots of money to charity, if I am willing to do all kinds of deeds in the community, but don’t have risk-taking love, I have nothing. And if I tirelessly serve my friends, and if I’m willing to do all of the hard things others are not willing to do, and not even complain when they don’t meet reasonable expectations, but don’t have risk- taking love, I gain nothing. If I attend all my kids’ little league games, volunteer in their school, cook their meals and wash their laundry without asking for thanks, but don’t have risk-taking love, then my service is really not loving at all.’
Yes, it is a courageous matter to consider how we have been shaped by others actual (not imagined) expressions of love, and how we ‘naturally’ tend to love others. Thankfully, we have One who loves us perfectly and to the uttermost. He did not leave us alone to the forces of a sin-ravaged world under the dominion of a cruel taskmaster. He lovingly gave His own life for us, even now by His Spirit, in ruthless honesty and extravagant grace. He loves us too much to leave us the way we are. And, clearly from Scripture, His way involves a community of siblings who will risk reputation and comfort to seek our collective good, for His glory.
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us, broken, sinners, in need of truth and grace. We can only hear if You unstop our ears. We can only see if You open our eyes. We can only feel if You soften our hearts. We can only love if You form us to live more fully in Your Father’s love.