(Jesus said) “This is my commandment. Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.12-13)
(The Apostle Paul wrote) There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…Strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way…Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 12.4, 7, 31, 13.4-7)
Daily, I strive to practice, to live Jesus’ commandment.
I understand his commandment (notwithstanding the word “commandment”) not as a demand, but rather as a statement of God’s will. To love as Jesus (God) loves is the way God is and the way God has created life to be.
I interpret Jesus’ commandment, that is, what it looks like when I am doing it, through the lens of the Apostle Paul’s definition and description of love.
I also view, indeed, see Jesus’ commandment in the light of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25–37) in which Jesus teaches me that all people are my neighbors and that I am to be a neighbor to, for, and with all people.
Through this lens and in this light, love, for me, is a Holy Spirit-given gift. As gift, love is an unearned, undeserved, unmerited power or ability (in Paul’s language) for me to be patient, kind, and not to be envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insisting on my way, being irritable or resentful, never delighting in wrong, always in truth, and bearing, believing, hoping, enduring all things, up to and including (in Jesus’ stark terms) death for the sake of my friends.
O’er the years and in my daily practicing, living the love of Jesus,(1) I, for myself, have learned what love ain’t.
If, when I love you whilst seeking something from you (whether your immediately proclaimed, “Thank you, Paul”, or your later return of favor to me), it ain’t love.
If, when I love you whilst regarding whether you deserve or merit it or whether you have earned it by how well you have treated me or how highly you have esteemed me, it ain’t love.
If, when I love you by seeking to calculate and give unto you in equal measure whatever kindness you have given unto me, it ain’t love.
If, when I love you and declare to others what I have done for you, it ain’t love.
If, when I love you and whatever I have done, I have done(3) less for you (that is, for your benefit) and more for how it fulfills my self-satisfaction or how it elevates my self-esteem, it ain’t love.
If, when I love you and whatever I have done, I have done to you (that is, I perceive you not as a person whom I regard, but rather as the object of my action, so, for example, to demonstrate my caring qualities or, worse, I am the actor and you are my audience, who, at the end of my action, you are expected to applaud in praise of me), it ain’t love.
If, when I love you and whatever I have done, I have not done with you (that is, in those circumstances when it applies, your permission), it ain’t love.
If, when I love you in the act of my forgiving you for any reason other than that you have trespassed against me and, thus, there is a trespass for me to forgive, it ain’t love.
If, when…ah, this is enough for now!
(1) Honesty compels the confession that I, from time to time (and more often than I care to admit, even unto myself), choose my always self-interested wants and needs, preferences and prejudices over God’s will, Jesus’ word, and the Holy Spirit’s way, and fail to love as Jesus loves. Thus, in giving examples from my experience of my un-love, the necessity of sincerity demands that I write not only “if”, but also “when”.
(2) In each of the examples, my failure to practice, to live the love of Jesus is rooted in the conditionality of my love; my adherence to my wants and needs, my preferences and prejudices limiting my love for you. Now, it is true (or so I believe) that we humans always, in some measure, no matter how slight, are conditional creatures. There is nothing we do or can do wholly devoid of the interests of the (our) self. That acknowledged, I also believe that Jesus, through the presence of the Holy (his) Spirit within us, can and, therefore, does call us to love as he loves.
Moreover, these examples of my un-love are but a small sample. For, akin to the great John Donne (1573-1631) when contemplating his sins, “I have more” (from A Hymn to God the Father, verse 1).
(3) “Done” includes, as the circumstance may entail, or said, or not done, and or not said.
4 thoughts on “It ain’t love if…when…”
I appreciate being led today down this path to explore what love (as Jesus practiced and taught it) is and what it “ain’t.” I have been thinking so much lately about how it is we humans can hope to live according to the command of Jesus in the world we inhabit today, but particularly in the context of each of us as uniquely-created children of God also living out our God-given purpose in the world and in this life.
As I read through your examples of what love isn’t, it occurred to me how many very subtle potentialities for turning away there are as we try to love another or others as Jesus loved. There are SO many temptations to self-interest, self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness in general that slip in to taint the actual love of neighbor that Jesus always demonstrates. And this seems even more true when I hold alongside the commandment to love as Jesus loved what I believe is an equally compelling command for each of us to fulfill our own unique purpose, to become the creature that God created us to be and to do the work that God put in our hearts to do.
I am so glad you acknowledged the great difficulty of loving in the following sentence: “Now, it is true that we humans always in some measure, no matter how slight, are conditional creatures. There is nothing we do or can do wholly devoid of the interests of the (our) self.” I have to agree with you that that is a given. We’re never going to love completely unselfishly, no matter what; we are human. Where I find myself really caught by this reality is at the point where I realize I am incapable of loving others without the expectation that by loving, I will in some way foster relationship with them, that my expression of love will be met with at least a modicum of welcome or good will in their lives, even if that result is only momentary. I think it is very hard for humans to separate loving acts and loving attitudes from relationship. I think we are made to be creatures in relationship, and love is the greatest power we have. To expect to use the power of love without in some way hoping to foster relationship with others by its use is a BIG order. I’m puzzled about how to think of this. Is it wrong to hope to build relationship with love, or must love always be its own end? I can think of a hundred contexts for this question, but I don’t want to try to lay them out here. Perhaps another way of asking this is, should we always think of love as something we can or should offer as anonymously as possible, even if our hearts also long to build or repair relationship with the ones who are the recipients of our benevolent, Jesus-inspired love.
I hope the above makes sense. Perhaps you and I can talk about this sometime, and I can explain more fully why I ask. Suffice it to say I think it’s an important question for our world at the current confusing crossroads.
Thank you, Paul, for once more sending me further down the path I have been treading for a while, as you always seem to do.
Karen, as I for you, so, you for me compel me to think, to feel more deeply, indeed, differently than that place from whence I started…
I much appreciate your inquiry – probing and poignant – about the connection between loving and relationship. I hadn’t thought of this, which is to say, I didn’t consider loving apart from relationship (especially, for example, in my example/illustration having to do with forgiveness). For I, as you, believe God created us to be in relationship, which, akin to our human incapacity to existence utterly without self-interest, is a quintessential element of our human beingness. Hence, most (all?) exercises of love fall within the scope of our human relationships.
Now, this said, yes, I do believe that there are countless moments when the act of loving as Jesus love comes in the scope of “instant-relating”, that is, with those whose paths intersect for an instant, and then never again. As I contemplate this existential reality, it occurs to me that in such encounters there may be a greater premium (and risk?) placed on the discernment and decision to love as Jesus loves (or not!) given the likelihood that before that moment and soon after the stranger (who in the moment of the giving and receiving of love became a soul-friend) again will be a stranger.
I must…and will!…think and feel more on and about this!
Love, always and in all ways,
I read this several times yesterday… then I read it again along with Karen’s response and your response to her. I some many feelings about this, primarily because I’ve always tried to focus on what something “IS” as opposed to what it “isn’t”…. so this was harder for me to process….
Worse is the fact that I saw so much of myself and how I interact with others I profess to love in what you listed as “ain’t love”…..and I have to say it was surprising to me!! What I likely will do next is to define what love IS for me and see HOW I apply that love to others…. so I’ll get back to you. Lots to think about!
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Now, my beloved sister, you have to know that I look forward to your getting back to me, for I always want to know what you think and feel.
I get what you mean about processing/understanding things in regard to what they are as opposed to what they are not. I tend, I think, from time to time, to appropriate my conceptualization of a thing via the lens of what is not. The concept of negation itself fascinates me, perhaps because I see so much void in myself of characteristics of humankindness that I cherish. To wit, I am not always (or, perhaps, often) as loving or as charitable or as forgiving or as understanding or as kind or as…or as…etc. as I’d want to be.
In this regard, as I suggest/imply in this post, along with John Donne, in regard to my sins of un-love, “I have more” examples/illustrations! I think I stopped where I did because I couldn’t stand to look at the dark side of my soul any longer.