How do we recognise love?
In the English language we only have one word yet in the languages of scripture – Hebrew, Greek there are many variations depending on which way it is used
I love dark chocolate
I love my brother and sister
I love Alastair
I love God
They may sound the same, but you all know that each is a different sort of love
The act of expressing enthusiasm; the familial love; romantic love; loyal covenantal love
When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?”
The man asking genuinely wanted to know; he was a teacher; an expert; he knew all the laws; as a teacher of the law it was his role to help the people understand and follow God’s teaching.
There are more than 600 different commands and rules in the Hebrew Scriptures; detailing the minutiae of life; they make life itself difficult and complex.
Yet everything was not easy, not simple and he sought to know more deeply what it was that God actually wanted humanity to do.
‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
If we were to read on in this passage we discover the teacher is satisfied; he agrees with Jesus, and Jesus tells him – “you are not far from God’s kingdom”
This phrase ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’ is one that is contained in both Old & New Testaments;
in Judaism it is considered so important it is included in daily prayers; it is used to begin every worship service for it lays down the foundation of everything.
It is called the Shema – from that first phrase: Listen, O Israel – in Hebrew Shema is Listen or hear.
Hear this!! Know this!
Listen to God’s teaching: Love is it; love is all; love.
And love crops up everywhere in the Bible!
In the epistles of Paul and John, and Peter and James; in the gospels; in the Prophets, in the Psalms. Everywhere you look Love is the answer!
But what does it mean?
From the flippant, I love chocolate – to the declaration: I love you there is a vast range of emotions and definitions.
Listen! Hear this! Love life. Love God. Love others. Love yourself.
Which of these is hardest?
It may be that for each of us the answer is different; and maybe even that in different times; in different seasons of our lives the answer may change; but for me, generally the one that has been most difficult over the years is the very last one.
Loving me; accepting who I am; what I am has been one of the hardest things ever. Accepting that others may express love for me; that I have worth; that I am loveable has been a difficult journey.
Many things contributed to the fact that I was not happy in myself; I did not like who I was. I wanted to be different: more clever; thinner; prettier; happier. I wanted to be different to the way I was made.
Little by little that has changed; until now I am content. I know I am not perfect – but I try.
I know I get things wrong from time to time – but I do my best
For someone who lacks self confidence and is naturally shy and uncomfortable in a crowd – God has a great sense of humour! Calling me to a job where I am in the public and open to criticisms all the time – thanks God!
It’s a good job I love you!
But this is the crux of Jesus’ teaching and example. He didn’t call twelve confident, articulate, holy, educated, loving men.
He called a mismatched bunch of earthy misfits who constantly got it wrong and tripped up; he had a larger group of followers comprising foreigners, slaves, tax collectors and women – he sent out 72 of them to spread the news; but he didn’t expect them to work alone – they were sent in pairs. To be company for each other; to encourage and support.
And he taught them: love God; love your neighbour; love yourself.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if we were able to really live this out in practise?
To be truly loving, we wouldn’t talk about folks behind their backs; we wouldn’t ignore those who are different from us; we wouldn’t try to get the better of others; we wouldn’t make our own comforts a priority…
And as it radiates out into the wider world
People wouldn’t seek to use and abuse others
Countries wouldn’t seek to take over their neighbours
Death through violence would disappear
Physical and psychological harm would be a thing of the past
The world would seek good things for each person: a full life; a safe home; clean water; enough food to eat…
Is it all a pipe dream?
A distant utopia that is impossible in our day and age?
In the Book of Revelation we get a glimpse of the world to come
No more tears or mourning, or pain or death – only God and light and hope and joy and love.
So when Jesus declared that there was no commandment greater than to love God, love others, love yourself, he was also declaring a vision of perfection; a situation to strive for, to the very best of our abilities.
Love God, love others.
Keep it simple.
Love brings generosity, compassion, selflessness, kindness and hope.
For, whatever the question:
Love is the answer.