If you love me, keep my commands. (John 14:15)
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. (John 14:21)
Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (John 14:24)
I’m not a very good leader; leadership makes me uncomfortable, because I always feel like I’m doing it wrong. Leading people is a huge responsibility, one that I don’t take lightly, and do not take on all that often.
I’m a natural follower though; I think rules can be good for us, and I will follow good rules. I follow people, too. I am not a blind follower, however, and won’t follow just anyone. I follow rules that are good, not those that are evil, or stupid. Not do I follow just any person–one must earn my trust before I will follow him or her, and I weigh a person’s actions against his or her words to see if I am morally and /or ethically able to follow a person’s teaching or leading.
I suppose I’m telling you all this so that you’ll understand, in some part, why I started this post with the verses in John 14 where Jesus tells His disciples that if they love Him, they will obey Him. I’m not very good with love, but I can do obedience pretty well.
I have a strong suspicion that what we think love is in our American, secular culture and what love really is is a problem that has been played out since the concept of love was first introduced to humans. Most people think of love as a strong feeling of affection or care for another person; sometimes there is lust thrown in there for good measure (If the person we think we love is physically attractive), and most of the time love is passionate. But what happens when the people who love us stop loving us? What happens when they don’t have those strong, mad, passionate feelings for us anymore?
Or is that really what love is?
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul says that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” I know I’ve quoted this before, but this is really important and needs to be said again and again and again until we really, truly understand what love is. And I think it’s important to understand that this is how we are to love everyone, not just those people who love us in return.
How we feel about people changes. Just ask any person about his or her life partner–one who has been in a romantic relationship for a long time can tell you that she may feel great affection for her partner in the morning and by lunch feel absolute wrath towards the other person due to her partner’s actions or words. She might feel romantic towards her partner the next day, but the day after that feel nothing but a deep, abiding friendship for that person. Feelings change.
But Paul doesn’t describe love as a feeling. Love is about doing or being. Love is a verb, it’s something we do by being patient, kind, selfless, humble, etc.
Jesus defined love within the framework of obedience; if we truly love God, if we truly love Jesus, we will obey Him.
How many times do those of us who profess to follow Christ get the feelings mixed up with the actions? How many times have we confused passionate feelings for the Savior with obeying His commands? How many times have tears rolled down our cheeks as we sing worship songs to Him on Sunday, but on Wednesday when we pass the homeless beggar on the street, we feel nothing and turn away, even though Jesus told us to take care of the poor?
I’m a big believer in obedience. I’m not perfect at it though. I break rules all the time; I always have and probably always will, yet when I was growing up, I was the good little girl, the one who did as she was told by adults of all stripes. Most of the time, I’m still a good little girl. While a small part of me would love to break a bunch of rules and just have fun doing it, the rest of me knows that following rules is good for me. Obedience keeps my life from spinning out of control and molds me into the person I believe God wants me to be.
There are many days when I wonder if I love Jesus. Most days, that feeling of love isn’t there. In almost twenty-three years of following Christ, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have felt affection or anything resembling a feeling of love for God. In that same amount of time, I have heard the commandment to love God and love one another and have had a hard time with it because I know that my feelings for other people are often wholly apathetic, if not bordering on complete disdain. But if I love people by being patient and kind and selfless and humble towards them, do I need to feel something for them as I obey God, or will those feelings of affection spring up by practicing love and obedience?
Going back to those verses I opened with: if we love Jesus, we will obey His commands. Jesus commands us to love God and love our neighbors. I take Jesus’ commands very seriously… mostly. Sometimes. On days when the world hasn’t completely pissed me off.
I’m going to begin reading Red Letter Revolution today. Authors Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne ask, “What if Jesus really meant what He said?” I hope to share more of my thoughts on love, obedience, and practicing what Jesus preached as I read through it.