It’s February. If you haven’t thought about it yet, it’s time to think thoughts of love as Spring begins making an early appearance here in the South. It’s time to send kids to school with Valentines for the teacher and friends. It’s time to make a reservation for the Valentine Banquet here on Valentine’s Day itself. You don’t even have to have a Valentine to come to the banquet. Just come and enjoy. And it’s time to think about the great commands of scripture: that we love from the heart.
In recent months, I have been struck with how often that command is repeated and not just repeated but how the command to love is placed at the very heart of our faith and our lives. It is everywhere in the Bible. “Be imitators of God and live a life of love.” (Ephesians 5:1) The core thought of being like God, to imitate him, is to love deeply and indiscriminately. I once thought being like God had much more to do with morals and behavior. I know now it has to do with this deep and wide love flowing from our hearts; a love that causes us, compels us to sacrifice and give beyond our limits. That takes care of morals and behavior.
This loving others is, if we really believe the Bible, the truest expression of our faith. In Galatians, after spending chapters telling people that adding religious, spiritual looking activity to their faith is useless, Paul says none of those things “carry any weight—the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6). Did you hear that? It’s not about how “religious” you act. It’s about faith in God showing up as love for people. Real Christianity is seen in crazy, radical, sacrificial love for people.
And that love isn’t just, “I love you,” expressed in words or hugs or Valentines shared. It must be tangible. “My little children,” I John says, “let us love not with words or tongue but in truth and in deeds.” We love with gifts, money given, time sacrificed, long nights spent awake, and even in blisters earned. Love expresses itself in actions. It crosses more than streets; it crosses barriers of every kind and gives. It comes down out of heaven and willingly is nailed to a cross so that those we love will not be.
That last idea brings us to the craziest thing about the love we are called to do and which is seen in the real Christ follower. It loves everyone sacrificially. We are even to love our enemies this way. People who oppose us. Hurt us. Spite us. Persecute us. “Love your enemies” has been called the most radical teaching ever; the strangest thing ever a spiritual teacher taught. Of course we love people. We love our mommas and daddies. Our babies. Our friends who see eye to eye with us on issues and politics. But loving the ones who rage at us and who would crucify us, that’s above and beyond. But it’s what Jesus said. And it isn’t an option. It isn’t only for the super spiritual. It is (Galatians 5:6, remember?) the only thing that matters. It’s what God did, Jesus did, and those who are like him do. It’s how God rescues and saves the world through his people.