A little over a week ago, I stood up in front of 30 women, soul bared, and opened my mouth. I let words flow out that I did not want to say. I let Jesus take over because that’s what He asked me to do. But I did not want to. You see, He had very specifically asked me to speak about LOVE, and I knew that I was going to be standing in front of a group of women I loved but that also included my harshest critics. Love was the hardest topic He could have come up with at that point. Love was the greatest struggle in the room. In my very own soul.
When the Lord told me what it was that He wanted to chat with these ladies about, my response went something like: “REALLY? Why can’t we talk about Motherhood? Or Marriage? Or Endtime Prophesies and the Tribulation?” And His answer: “I want you to speak on Love. I want you to speak about Me, and I Am Love.” Well then. Fine.
So for a week I wrestled. How can I speak on love? Lord, I’m the biggest “love failure” there is! I don’t feel deep love for all the people I should feel love for. I don’t even feel “like” for all the people I should feel love for. And that still small Voice, “I want you to speak on Love. I want you to speak about Me, and I Am Love.” Well then. Fine again.
I thought the topic of love was a little hokey to be honest. It’s February. It was the Sunday before Valentine’s Day. The room was decorated in red and pink with hearts and roses. Hallmark holidays = hokey. Hearts and roses and love = hokey.
But I found myself, notes spread out over a podium, pouring out all the things that Jesus wanted to say. I bound and gagged all the things I THOUGHT should be said. And I spoke Love. And what happened was remarkable.
As I reviewed all the Scriptures I’ve known since childhood I was reminded that love is the central theme in the Bible from beginning to end. It is woven throughout every story. It is the theme. It is the point. It is the cornerstone of who God is.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”(1 John 4:7-8 NIV)
Love is our all encompassing command. It is the greatest. We were told that our greatest commandment was to 1. Love God and 2. Love people. Plain. Simple. This cannot be argued with. This is not complicated theology. But it is quite possibly the most complicated thing to follow.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:12-17 NIV)
Love is a fruit. It is the result of a deep and healthy relationship with God…who is Love. It is the product of communication with Him. The Kodak moment that comes from walking hand in hand with a Savior who did nothing but Love. Ever. The Bible talks about bringing our first fruits to the storehouse. This, of course, is referring to giving (monetarily) to the Lord and His work. It is the best we can offer. It is our greatest sacrifice. But what if we stretched that? What if we looked at love as the first fruit? After all, it is the first fruit of the Spirit listed. What if we are also charged with offering love as our greatest gift? The best we have to offer. Our greatest sacrifice.
Sacrificing is “the act of giving up something that you want to keep.” Sacrificing can be hard. Love can be hard. I think that sometimes love feels like a sacrifice because people don’t always seem lovable. In reality, loving them is a command. It is non-negotiable for the believer. Liking them? Not so much. Liking people is a choice. Liking people coincides with how we are treated, personality compatibility, hurts, hidden sin, expectations. The list goes on. But loving and liking are not the same. Like -> choice. Love -> command.
“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21 NIV)
So how do we love that child, that spouse, that friend, that neighbor, that church person, that co-worker, that stranger when they become unlikeable?
“We do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14 NIV)
Our words should speak love. Our actions should portray love. If Christ lives in us, the life that should flow out of us should be love. Love needs to be who we are. Sadly we often lose that old lovin’ feeling after someone lets us down or disappoints us or hurts us. Our claws come out. And they are SHARP!
You see I’m all for giving the truth in love. The problem is that many people forget the love part of this equation. We feel that it is our right to correct, reprimand, and guide… but often we forget about the love that is to go along with that. And harsh criticism and loving correction are NOT the same.
I have learned in 13 years of ministry that those people who come to me with harsh criticism are not being sent by the Holy Spirit. If they are not coming to me in love, they are not coming to me with correction that God wants me to accept. That criticism goes in one ear and out the other. I do not allow it to take up lodging in my heart or my mind. I usually smile and nod (the pastor’s wife gift) but when I walk away, I say “I do not accept that word spoken over my life/my family/my ministry.
So how do you love someone that you just don’t like? Maybe they’ve hurt you one too many times. Disappointed you. Let you down. Stabbed you in the back. Love is NOT always continuing a deep relationship. Love may mean parting ways. Love may mean agreeing to disagree.
Love is not lashing out.
Love is not hurting them the way they hurt you.
Love is not gossiping about them.
Love is determining that you love their soul more than you love their sin.
Love is forgiving.
Love is releasing them.
Love is giving up control and letting God take over.
Love is allowing the Holy Spirit to teach YOU a lesson even when you’re not in the wrong.
“Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 AMP)
Love is praying for them. Especially when they’re unlikeable.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:43-48 MSG)
So here we are. A little over a week later. I got up there. I spoke the words Jesus gave me. I obeyed. And you know what happened? Love came in. That was 10 days ago, and in those 10 days we have faced the harshest criticisms, the biggest hurts, the ugliest betrayals, the nastiest devices that Satan could use people for. The attacks should have been crippling. And you know what? Love is still there. It is reigning. Those criticisms and hurts and betrayals will NOT take up lodging in our hearts or minds because our souls are full. There is no room left for them. Because love is there filling up every void, every space. We have stepped aside and let Jesus fill us up to overflowing. And He. Is. Love.