Love is central to Christ’s way. In fact Jesus teaches us that to love the Lord and to love our neighbour is the summary of everything you need to know on how to live God’s way (Matthew 22:40). Paul poetically said that even if you were to do glorious unbelievable acts of faith but were to do them without love it would mean nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1). For the Christian, love is everything. And learning how to love like Jesus intends us to is everything.
We know that this kind of love is about much more than affection or attraction. That after all is the easy part. Whether it is love to a friend, child, sibling parent or spouse to feel affection or attraction towards that loved one is natural and easy. It often happens even unconsciously. It’s the other aspects of love that don’t come so freely. And yet it’s those aspects of love that truly reflect Christ’s resurrection power at work in us. His grace, forgiveness and his ministry of reconciliation.
Christian love is what we all yearn for from each other. Simultaneously the standard of Christian love is certainly higher than what can be achieved by human effort. You see it requires us to act consistently in a way that is contrary to our fallen nature. The human brain is quite a remarkable thing. It processes huge amounts of input all the time. And not just from the five physical senses, but memory, emotion and much more. The pathways of your brain are massive highways of knowledge constantly evolving, storing and making new connections. Your brain is also constantly striving to make as much of its computing automated, to free up processing power. One of the ways it does this is by boxing information and standardising responses.
A good example of this is taking an umbrella to work during the rainy season. You don’t need someone to tell you it might rain. You know that it’s the season when rain is likely so you get your umbrella before leaving the house. A helpful automated response. You know your child is hungry when you fetch them from sport so you always have an apple in the car for them. Another helpful automated response. Sometimes, our automated responses are less helpful. I know this colleague always moans when she has her lunch so I see her coming and I walk away. I know my sister-in-law is lonely and talks for a long time so I send her call to voicemail. Your brain is trying to be helpful, to streamline and automate your responses.
But is this love? Or more so, does this fulfil the Christian standard of love. Paul told us many things about what love should look like in 1 Corinthians 13. The one I have been pondering as we have started 2022 is “love keeps no record of wrongs”. How quick we are to assert that we do not hold grudges and do not maintain offences. I have always believed that I am a forgiving person. After all Christ has forgiven me, who am I to withhold my forgiveness to another. But to me this requirement has another layer. To keep no record of wrongs is more than just forgiving that person.
Keeping no record of wrongs means, that once this person has wronged me. In all future dealings not only will I forgive them but I will not deal with them with that previous injury in mind.
(Now to be clear I am not referring to abusive situations. I don’t see God wanting his child to remain in a relationship expressing love towards someone who remains abusive towards them. Perhaps if that abuser has had a truly repentant moment, but otherwise it would be a matter of forgiving and releasing in that type of scenario.)
When I say injury here I am talking about the every day moments of our rough human edges bumping and scraping against each other. My husband likes to say “family is a close contact sport”. And those bumps and scrapes add up. And they get translated to “you always…” and “you never…” suddenly we have this subconscious running tally of wrongs. And our brain gets helpful and starts to switch to automatic drive. And we find ourselves responding to history not today. Judging the thoughts and actions of each other before they’ve even been expressed. And not allowing each other the grace of a clean slate, a new creation.
To receive forgiveness and a clean slate is just what we all long for from each other. To give it is humanly impossible. Our brains want to protect us and switch into self preservation mode. And to fight that requires intention, and more so the Holy Spirit. If we are nothing without love, we cannot love without the Holy Spirit. His love, His way, by His power is the record breaker.
Sarah Dlamini is a regular guest contributor at Women of Reverence:
Sarah is loved by God and counts that as the first privilege and blessing above all. She also has a husband and 2 children (a son and a daughter) who she loves inexhaustibly. As a medical doctor currently specializing in paediatrics Sarah is passionate about public health. At the end of her day’s she would want it to be said that she spared no part of herself in loving God as He has loved her and loving those around her as He asked her to do.