*Pastor’s Note: This is another short article I wrote in the late 90s along with some others for the Church section of the local newspaper where we lived in Globe, Arizona. I thought it might interest my readers and I HAVE updated some of the Scriptures references. All in all, it is pretty much as it was published in the Church editorial of the newspaper. The pictures were added for this posting.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:13.
This is one of the greatest scriptures in the Bible and one of the best known. When a person thinks of this scripture, several things come to mind. One, the great sacrifice that Jesus Christ paid for us while we were still sinners. Second, we think of the martyrdom necessary to make this real in our lives. Martyrdom entails death. Someone must give up their life essence for another to demonstrate the kind of love that most people think of in this scripture.
This past month, I lost one of my best friends to cancer. She is home with her Lord whom she loved with all her heart, but with that loss remains a legacy of the way she loved while she was among us. No, she wasn’t perfect, but she tried so hard to at least love people as much as she felt the Lord loved her. She didn’t just say, “I love you,” she practiced it. Because of this loss, it has given me pause to reflect on what love really is in the light of Scripture. One thing that Marie and I talked of consistently, was God’s love.
I want you to think of this scripture from another angle. Many of you reading this, live in the United States, and the act of martyrdom is very, very rare. There have been a few instances, yes, but in America, it doesn’t happen often that you are asked to die for your faith in Jesus Christ. Does this make this Scripture irrelevant to us? I should say not!
I want you to take a good hard look at your lifestyle, especially if you are an American. You may be very active in sports or hobbies, you may be a workaholic. Maybe, you are wrapped up in the things that your children are into and every little activity demands your attention. Maybe, you’re a couch potato and spend hours in front of your television screen. Whatever, the case maybe, the time you spend each day comprises your lifestyle. If it is devoted to the things that you desire to do or accomplish, your lifestyle revolves around yourself and that is what makes up your LIFE.
When, on the other hand, your lifestyle encompasses helping others fulfill their dreams and wishes, your LIFE revolves around others, especially if it is at the expense of setting what you desire aside. I hope that you see where this is going. When your life revolves around others, and less around yourself, you are effectively putting your life aside for another person. You are laying your life down, so that others may have more abundant life.
Laying down your life does not always entail a physical death. Jesus Christ already paid that ultimate price once and for all. Jesus Christ showed us that love is not just a word, but rather, it is demonstrated by action. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Jesus wanted His people to live and to do so more abundantly. But by the same token, we are to follow His example. His example was to love one another by doing, not by relying on a warm fuzzy feeling that you may have for someone. Real love, agape love, is love that is demonstrated, it is love that is a verb and not just a noun.
Jesus was considered a rebel because He didn’t just preach the Good News, but He demonstrated it and He commanded all those who would follow Him to do the same. The religious leaders of His time did not like that. They wanted to retain power and authority by their tongues and not their lifestyle example.
Sometimes actively loving another can seem harsh; at least to the one being genuinely loved, because true love demonstrates concern for the future and well-being of the loved one. If the Father in Heaven knows how to give us good gifts, and withholds from us things that are harmful to us, and He does so out of love, shouldn’t we also do the same if we truly want to demonstrate love? Is there any doubt that Jesus loved those He spoke to, including the religious leaders of His day? He died for them as well as for the common man, yet at times He spoke very harshly to them.
Love is not just a word we say to those we happen to like. Love is the actions that we demonstrate to one another. Here’s an example:
In a small town was a church that had been established for many, many years. The pastor and his wife were getting on in years and the church had provided them with many blessings. They were comfortable with the people that had stayed with them throughout the years and felt that that was their reward for establishing this church. One day, one of their fairly new members informed them of a man who desperately was seeking prayer for an illness he was suffering with. He did not attend any church, but felt that if he got prayer, God would do something for him. This established pastor explained that because he had relatives coming and they were getting ready to vacation in the mountains, he could not take the time to spend with someone unchurched.
This same member when turned away, went to a minister that not only didn’t have his own church, but was so tied up with a business that he had to run to support his family and ministry, he had very little time for any recreation of his own. This man dropped his business dealings, contacted another minister friend and went over to the sick man’s house and prayed for him as well as shared with him God’s love for him. This minister had nothing to gain from praying for this man. He didn’t expect him to be involved in his ministry in any way.
Now, you tell me which minister demonstrated real love. It’s not hard to see which one followed Jesus’ example. You may think me critical in this example, but I am no more critical than Jesus was to the religious leaders of His time. A lifestyle of love demands that when at all possible, others come before ourselves. That is what laying our lives aside for another is truly all about.
Loving, truly loving, by demonstration and action, is not what the world expects in this day and age. But then, it wasn’t in Jesus time either. The Apostle John wrote that we should not love with just word and tongue, but rather in deed and truth. (1 John 3:18). Great advice for a world that is hungry for the real thing!