Healthy Habits

Choose Love

“Holiness and hate are simply incompatible.” by Major Barry Corbitt

Despite our best efforts, the Gospels as written in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not difficult to understand. Most of us will have no issue comprehending their meaning and purpose. The Gospel writers were clear, concise and well-schooled in the basics of literary technique. Their inspired compositions depicting the life and ministry of Jesus adequately conveyed the Gospel as it was meant to be understood, creating in the process a guidebook for life based on the teachings and behavior of the Son of God. 

It’s hard to imagine there could be any debate among believers, based on the life of the one who atoned for our sins, as to how we should conduct our lives in holistic fashion, spiritually, intellectually and physically. The Gospels, therefore, contain vital life information. They are a clear message for anyone who has eyes willing to see. And yet, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Our willingness to see. Once our free will gets involved, what was once a message of pristine clarity becomes distorted by the defective lens of human interpretation and practice. 

Let’s talk about love, or perhaps the scarcity of it. Why is this simple command of Jesus so difficult to put into genuine practice? In Mark’s account, Jesus is approached by a teacher of the law and asked to answer this question, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus answers by quoting the Shema, or the Jewish confession of faith, “The most important commandment is this, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” He then adds a second thought not original to the Shema, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The fact that Jesus offered additional information beyond the original question is distinctively relevant. Of all the tenets of Jewish law that Jesus could have quoted, He chose the mandate of love as the second highest religious requirement. Perhaps the word “requirement” should be replaced with “expectation.” After all, is it not the natural expectation that those who claim identity with Christ should instinctively love as Jesus loved? We’ll get back to that later.

A natural question arises as we explore the depth of the aforementioned discourse. Who is my neighbor? The apostle Paul uses the word “fellow man” to describe those whom we are called to love. He goes on to imply that this love is meant for all of humanity, not simply those of our Christian persuasion. He says that we have a continuing debt, a debt that never ends when it comes to loving our neighbor. Paul says love is meant to be an affection of eternal nature. Its practice is to be perpetual. Its beneficiaries are the entire populace of our fragile planet. You might say, “Hey, wait just a second, I’m supposed to love everyone … how is that even possible?” You’re right, it is a lofty expectation, but not impossible as exemplified by Jesus himself. The same Holy Spirit who endowed Jesus with unimpeachable love is the same Spirit that can do likewise in our stubborn hearts. You might say, “Jesus had a divine advantage.” I would answer, His only advantage was a heart totally surrendered to God. Jesus could have chosen not to love. He was human, but He understood that true holiness left no other option, even to the point of death. Holiness and hate are simply incompatible. Love is the only logical outcome of following Jesus. We either commit to the totality of a holy life or we don’t.

Samuel Logan Brengle, The Salvation Army’s storied writer on the topic of holiness, describes the effect of his experience of sanctification as follows: “I walked out over Boston Common before breakfast, weeping for joy and praising God. Oh, how I loved! In that hour I knew Jesus, and I loved Him till it seemed my heart would break with love. I was filled with love for all His creatures. I heard the little sparrows chattering; I loved them. I saw a little worm wriggling across my path; I stepped over it; I didn’t want to hurt any living thing. I loved the dogs, I loved the horses, I loved the little urchins on the street, I loved the strangers who hurried past me, I loved the heathen, I loved the whole world.” Though this testimony is that of only one man, it accurately depicts the ultimate intent of salvation for all: to be changed from within and filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who thereby consumed and motivated by holy love. The apostle John further clarifies this point in his first New Testament epistle. He states that when one acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God then lives in that person and that person lives in God. John goes on to say, since God is love, any person who truly lives in God also becomes love by nature of the God/human relationship. Love then is meant to be the natural outcome. John tidies up the point with a final thought. He guides us to the ultimate, logical conclusion. If we claim to love God, yet consciously refrain from loving our neighbor, the sincerity of our love for God must be called into question. 

Maybe an individual assessment is in order. It never hurts to take account of our spiritual condition. In fact, it’s welcomed by God himself. He wants to have the conversation. I think He’ll tell you to choose love.