When you hear the word "love", what comes to mind? What types of actions do you categorize as loving? Why do you classify certain actions as "loving", while others you may deem to be spiteful, vengeful, or selfish? How do you know what love is? Is your concept of love based on what God calls love or is it your own idea? Since the world's definition of love is different from that of God, the people in the world (including those that were religious) did not understand Jesus (John 1:5, 10). Today most people (both religious and not) do not understand Jesus and therefore think that much of what is done by His followers-preaching repentance, judging evil deeds as sin, teaching others to live like Jesus, etc.-is "not being done in love." This paper will briefly examine the world's concept of love in contrast to God's view of love and how Jesus demonstrated the love of God to others.
Most people in the world have a view of love that differs considerably from what God calls love. The world's view is so prevalent that it has crept into the churches so that very few know what love is according to God. Most have allowed the world to define love for them and therefore have a perverted concept of how God loves and how we are supposed to love others. The reality that a "false love" has crept into the world and into many churches is not a new idea. In fact, Jesus predicted that it would happen: "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12). The Apostle Paul also affirms that people will have a false love: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, ...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (I Timothy 3:1-4).
So what is the world's view of love? The following summary of several dictionaries and thesauruses serves to accurately define what the world (and many churches) call love: A feeling of warm personal attachment, deep affection, devotion, tenderness, and strong liking toward a person who arouses delight or admiration. Notice that a person usually arouses or elicits love from others. It is common for a person to love others based on something that they have done or a quality they possess and which makes them desirable. The person who loves does so because there is something desirable or beneficial to be gained. If I love someone with worldly love, there is always a reason why I want to love. Ultimately, selfishness is at the center of all worldly love. Think about it. As an example, take dating relationships. Why do most dating relationships begin? Is it because two people want to display the love of Christ to each other? No, usually it is because one person notices something desirable (something that he/she wants) in the other person. Often, the quality is something as shallow as mere physical beauty. Sometimes that quality is money, status, or power. As another example, take friendships. Why are some people not accepted socially? There are always those who just do not have many, if any, friends. Why is this? It is because these people do not posses a quality that others find desirable or beneficial; therefore there is no reason for someone to love them-another example of selfishness. This agrees with the story of the good Samaritan that Jesus told in Luke 10:25-37. The man who was beaten and robbed possessed no desirable characteristics that made anyone want to love him and so both a priest and a Levite passed by the man without so much as calling for help. A Samaritan showed true compassion and love by helping him. There was a cost involved-at least monetarily (Luke 10:35), but also socially (Samaritans do not associate with Jews) and probably physically. It was no easy task to pick up a half-beaten, bloody man and take him to an inn. Jesus said that the story illustrated how we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). This was not a worldly love, but God's love.
True love originates from God, not from self: "love comes from God" (I John 4:7). In fact, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you love with God's love, the people that you love may not have any characteristic that makes you want to love them. In prophesying about Christ Isaiah said that "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). Rather than loving people for your benefit, you choose to love them for their benefit and God's eternal benefit. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us to consider others better than ourselves. According to the Bible (I Corinthians 13:1-8), love can be defined as any act, attitude, or manner of living characterized by patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, and a hatred of evil. Motives or goals of love include bearing with others, trusting, hoping, and enduring; thus, it is not temporary.
We can better learn about God's view of love by looking at the way Jesus loved because he is our example and we should follow in his steps (I Peter 2:21). In many of Jesus' dealings with others, he does things that are surprising if you hold to the world's view of love. Some of Jesus' actions do not fit into the world's definition of love, but they are love from God's viewpoint-these are the actions that will be highlighted in this paper. If you saw someone doing similar deeds today, how would you react? Would you think that such a person could not be doing what is right because he/she is "not acting in love"? Let's examine some of Jesus' interactions with religious people, seekers, his relatives, friends, and his disciples to get a clearer picture of what love truly is. Jesus did many things out of love and this paper will focus on those things that are contrary to the world's ideas of love. Therefore many instances where he healed people as well as some other things he did that even worldly people recognize as love have been omitted. It would be impossible to mention every act of love that he did. As John writes, "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (John 21:25).
Jesus did not accept people merely because they were religious. Going to church, studying the Bible, and praying were not enough-he demanded wholehearted obedience and commitment to everything he said. Often, the religious people of Jesus' day were lacking in their devotion to God and Jesus sought to expose them. On one occasion in the temple, Jesus became angry with those who were selling things there. He made a whip and turned over tables attempting to clear everyone out of the temple who was buying and selling (John 2:15-17). Was this act love? Yes, Jesus was angry out of love for God and he did not rejoice in the evil (I Corinthians 13:6) that was being done. On another occasion Nicodemus, a religious teacher came to Jesus. He was not immediately accepted by Jesus even though he was a teacher of religion. He was told that he needed to change and be born again (John 3:3). John chapter 5 illustrates that often those who were religious-who were strict Sabbath keepers (5:16) and diligent Bible students (5:39)-received some of Jesus' harshest judgments. He said that they did not have God's word in them (5:38), that they could not believe because they accept praise from others (5:44), and that they did not even believe Moses (5:46-47), on whom their hopes were supposedly set (5:45). Once when many religious people were present, Jesus made a judgment about all that were standing there, saying, "not one of you keeps the law" (John 7:19). On another occasion, he told them, "You will die in your sins if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be" (John 8:24). Several times, Jesus picked at their "pet" doctrine of forbidding healing on the Sabbath and once had a man with dropsy stand up in front of everyone on the Sabbath to be healed (Luke 14:3-6). When Jesus was invited to the house of a prominent religious person, he rebuked his host and told him what type of people he should invite to his house (Luke 14:12)-the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. All of these acts may sound perhaps rude or overly harsh, but one must remember that Jesus loved with God's love and not necessarily with the world's love. His goal was that people would be totally committed to God and, ultimately, if the people followed his rebukes, they would be better off with God as well. The ways in which he interacted with the religious people of his day was for the eternal benefit of all involved.
It is clear that Jesus dealt rather strictly with the religious people, but what about those who were genuinely interested in his work and wanted to know more-the seekers? Jesus made several points with his seekers so that they would understand him and what was required of his followers. Three themes are noticeable as Jesus interacts with the seekers. First, he wanted to make sure that all who followed him were not half-heartedly doing so, so he placed conditions on the people-qualities that they must have in order to follow him. Next, Jesus was not interested in large crowds of people; he did not compromise his message by making it pleasant in order to gain more followers. Lastly, he told the people plainly that following him would not bring them peace with the world, but rather conflict and trials.
There are conditions to being a follower of Jesus. In John 8:31 Jesus said to those who believed him that only if they continue to hold to his teachings would they truly be disciples. Note that he said this to people who had already believed at least some of what he said and that this was after many people deserted him because his teachings were too difficult for them (John 6:60, 66). These people may very well have been quite dedicated (or at least seemed so). He continued to challenge them telling them that they needed to be set free from sin (8:33-34). They became offended and eventually, it was evident that their hearts were so hardened that Jesus called them "children of the devil" (John 8:44) and "liars" (John 8:55). These people believed that they were right with God, children of Abraham (John 8:33, 39) and of God (John 8:41) and yet Jesus revealed their true selves. Jesus had another interaction with people who seemed dedicated, but were not. The day after he fed the 5000 people, some of the crowd whom he had fed realized that Jesus had left and so they went in search of him. The crowd must have seemed quite dedicated to walk around a lake to find Jesus, a journey of probably several miles. In John 6:26 Jesus told this crowd that they were really looking for him because he had fed them even though the people were "dedicated" enough to travel around the Sea of Galilee to look for him. A pretty harsh judgment wouldn't you say? But Jesus wanted to ensure that those who followed him were wholehearted and committed.
Jesus did not make his message "easy" to win large crowds. He said in John 12:25, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" - a difficult statement to accept! To the crowds of people coming to hear him, Jesus often spoke in parables so that "though seeing they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand" (Luke 8:10). Clearly, Jesus was not out to gather as many people around him as possible. He was not concerned with great numbers, but rather, he wanted whole-hearted, sold-out individuals who would do whatever he commanded. In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus turned away three seekers who would have followed him. One man asked Jesus if he could first go and bury his father (v. 59), but Jesus replied in a manner which would seem quite cold from the world's viewpoint: "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (v. 60). Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family" (v. 61). This was unacceptable and so Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God" (v. 62). What wholehearted commitment Jesus demanded! In Luke 12:56 Jesus called the crowds of people who came to listen to him hypocrites because they could not interpret the signs of the time. He continually spoke a hard message saying to the people, "Unless you repent, you too will perish" (Luke 13:3) and that we must give up everything we have or we cannot follow him (Luke 14:33). As the crowds became larger, Jesus continued to make sure that they understood that he did not want to compromise his standard of holiness in order to accept half-hearted followers and he said as the number of people listening increased, "This is a wicked generation" (Luke 11:29).
Jesus did not pretend to come for the purpose of bringing peace to all who sought him. He came to glorify God and to bring people out of the darkness of sin and into the light of righteousness-peace with God, not the world. He knew that the darkness hates the light (John 3:19-20) and so he stated, "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division" (Luke 12:49,51). Jesus loved the seekers so much that he would not give them a false hope of salvation by compromising his message. He did not say things that they wanted to hear just to make them happy. Rather, he said what he knew they needed to hear in order to make them right with the Father.
How did Jesus interact with his family and friends? Sometimes family and friends can get in the way of what God wants done. It is interesting to look at how Jesus loved his family and friends in a way that would help them get closer to God and in a way that would not hinder God's work. Again, it is important to note that sometimes this type of love (God's love) is hard to understand unless you are attempting to understand the situation with God's view of love. Jesus taught that love of God is of primary importance to love of friends or love of families and that true love of others can only be accomplished when one loves God first.
A friend of Jesus named Lazarus was very ill and even though he was asked to come and heal him, he did not go and do so (John 11:6). Despite the fact that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus he did not improve their circumstances, but rather allowed a very painful event to happen (Lazarus' death) so that God could get glory and so that those around would put their faith in God (John 11:15,42). This action, then, displayed true love for both God and men. On another occasion recorded in Luke 10:41-42 Jesus was again at Mary and Martha's home and Martha wanted Mary to help with dinner preparations. Mary was at Jesus' feet listening to him and he remarked that she would not help Martha because she had already chosen what was best. Listening to Jesus' words was better than helping her sister. Clearly, Jesus placed loving God in highest priority and the result was proper love for his friends.
Regarding family members, Jesus said, "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37). Jesus put what he preached into practice. For example take Mark 8:31-35 when Jesus' mother and brothers came to where he was preaching and wanted to see him. He did not stop preaching to go see them but replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" and said as he looked around him, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." It is interesting to note that his family was coming to "take charge of him, for they said, 'he is out of his mind.'" (Mark 3:21). Jesus did not allow God's work to be hindered by his family. In Luke 9:59-62 we see some insights into what Jesus expects our attitudes to be toward our families. We cannot in any way allow God's will to be hindered by them. In this passage in Luke, Jesus said that one person should not go and bury his father and another should not go and say good-bye to his family, rather, they should follow him immediately. This is no different from what he required of other disciples, James and John, who were called by Jesus and "immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him" (Matthew 4:22). Our families must not interfere with serving God.
Jesus realized that anyone who clung to his message in true faith would be hated (Matthew 10:22) by those who compromised and did not whole-heartedly accept him. This includes family members (and friends) who are not fully committed to Christ for he said, "From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter..." (Luke 12:52-53).
There are times when it is appropriate to listen to your family, particularly your mother and father and thereby honoring them (Ephesians 6:2). Jesus demonstrated this at the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11. Mary asked him to do something about the wine being gone and Jesus did even though his time had not yet come (v. 4). Mary may not have had anything miraculous in mind, but Jesus listened to his mother and did something about the wine in a way that would bring him glory and cause his disciples to put their faith in him (v. 11). Again, as always, Jesus acted not merely to alleviate the circumstances of others, but so that those around him would have faith.
So, how did Jesus love his disciples-those who showed a commitment to him? Jesus did not soften or compromise his message even with those who were his close followers. This would not be true love. In John 6:60,66-67, many deserted Jesus saying that his teaching was too difficult, so he turned to the disciples and asked them if they wanted to leave too! He did not want anyone around who was not sold-out to God. Jesus challenged his disciples in Luke 6:46. While looking to his disciples (Luke 6:20), he said, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say" (Luke 6:46). Jesus stressed commitment and forsaking of self. After calming the storm, Jesus again challenged his disciples about their faith saying, "Where is your faith" (Luke 8:25). In light of their intense fear for their lives, Jesus wanted them to examine themselves (II Corinthians 13:3) to see if they actually had faith. He knew that in the end many would call him "Lord" and do many "good, religious things" but that they would not be accepted into the kingdom of heaven because they did not surrender all; some aspects of their life still contained sin. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:21-23). For this reason, Jesus wanted to make sure that all those who were calling him "Lord" really meant it.
As with the seekers, Jesus placed conditions on his disciples. One of the conditions for being a disciple and for continuing to be a disciple (John 8:31) was that anyone who would follow Jesus must "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). He said, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me" (John 14:21). He also told them that if they followed these conditions, becoming a true disciple, that they could expect trouble from other people who did not follow him. He did not try to paint a rosy picture of life by telling them they would have peace with others, free from trouble. Rather he said, "You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me" (Luke 21:16-17). Clearly, on earth there is tribulation for those who would enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22), but those who trust Jesus wholeheartedly can be confident that, as Jesus said, "By standing firm [they] will gain life" (Luke 21:19).
It should be clear that Jesus did some things that would appear to turn people away rather than draw them to himself. At times, some of what Jesus did was not "loving" from the world's viewpoint. Imagine that you heard someone preaching. Perhaps the preacher called his listeners hypocrites or liars. Maybe he told them that they were going to perish unless they repented. He may have told some people that they were not worthy of eternal life-not worthy of God. What would you think about such a preacher? Would he be showing love to his listeners? Yes, he would be following in Jesus' steps. Most would claim that such a preacher is spiteful, not speaking in love, but he would actually be loving others with true love-God's love. People need to change their views of love and come to understand God's view. In all of Jesus' interactions with others, he had one goal: to please his Father. Jesus said of the Father, "I always do what pleases him" (John 8:29). Jesus also said, "I seek not to please myself but him who sent me" (John 5:30). Should Jesus' followers be any different? Shouldn't they take the same measures that Jesus did to ensure that their listeners are not half-hearted? Yes, they should "live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).
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