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Tag Archives: Love

We know we should “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). As followers of Jesus–similar to how Jesus got under our load to help us when we were so desperately in need–we are invited to get under the load of others. Our love for others can be seen when we get “under it” with them, for their good, for their spiritual health.

But I do wonder. What does that look like? Practically, how are we to live that out?

Over Thanksgiving, my son and I helped serve a meal to those in need. Part of the provision was to also make available sacks of groceries to those who needed additional food. My son bore “another’s burden” when, seeing someone struggling with a grocery sack full of food, he offered to carry the sack out to the waiting car. That’s a practical way to “bear one another’s burdens.” But most of the burdens that we carry are not so physically tangible.

So again I wonder. Practically, how are we to live this call out? And I think I catch a glimpse of one way this happens in Paul’s letter to Philemon. In sending Philemon’s run-away slave (and now fellow Christian) back to him, Paul explains what he wants:

If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account. (Philemon 17–18)

This is huge . . . and practical. There is nothing superficial or hard to understand about what Paul is asking. In sending Onesimus back to Philemon, Paul invites two things from Philemon:

Treat Onesimus the way you would treat me because of the relationship that you and I have with one another.

Whatever debt or obligation you feel Onesimus owes you let me make that up to you.

Paul is getting under a load–a load that belongs to another. Onesimus has wronged Philemon. Onesimus has broken laws, violated trust. No matter how we resolve the slavery issue, at this point in time Onesimus has robbed Philemon. There is wrong done, debt owed, relationship disturbed.

And Paul says, let me handle that. Let that burden rest on me. Philemon, let me get under the load that Onesimus is carrying and I will carry it for him . . . so that your relationship with him might be restored.

That is a practical, helpful example . . . and a tremendously convicting one.

Can you think of two people in your world, your sphere of influence, who are at odds? Is there some way that you can step into that relationship, in grace, and seek to bring resolution and restoration by “getting under the load” and paying the cost, covering the loss, making good on the debt of another?

How very much like Paul! And, beyond that, how very much like Jesus!

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I can remember watching a Christian leader at a little road side eatery in the Bahamas. I was on the island on a teaching trip. And he was there because he was an “apostle,” there to check on one of the works he was overseeing.

He had a small entourage with him. As they approached the owner of the outdoor restaurant, he told one of the men with him, “Get me some of that.” He went to sit down. He then instructed another of the men to get him a certain drink. It wasn’t entirely “bossy,” but it was very clear that he was giving commands and those in his entourage were taking orders. I can remember thinking: “That doesn’t look much like Jesus.”

Reflecting on Paul’s little letter to Philemon, I came to a verse that reminded me of that incident–and reminded me of what it looks like to live like Jesus. Paul was writing to a friend, but a friend who knew that Paul was a spiritually mature, mightily used “man of God.” But notice how Paul writes:

Therefore, although I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you . . . (Philemon 8-9)

Paul could command or order Philemon to “do what is proper.” The word Paul uses is commonly used in the Gospels to speak of Jesus’ control over demonic spirits. With authority, Jesus insists that they should obey Him . . . and they do. And Paul is comfortable enough in his grace-given role to say he could command Philemon. But he decides against that approach.

Instead, “for love’s sake” he takes a different tack. Literally, Paul says “because of the love.” That is, because of the love he shares with Philemon share, because of the love of God, because of Christ’s love, he will reach out to Philemon differently. He wants to encourage Philemon to do the right thing . . . but he wants to encourage Philemon to do the right thing by encouraging him in the right way.

This reminds me of Paul’s words to the Galatians where he writes that the freedom that has become ours in Christ is not a freedom to get our own way, but a freedom to “in love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

That seems to me what is evident in these sentences in the letter to Philemon. Paul is not explaining to us how to live–but he is living the way we should live. He could exercise his right as an apostle to order Philemon to do the right thing–he could tell him, “I want this . . . get me that . . . do this thing.” And, given his God-given call, there would be a rightful sense that Philemon should respond. But Paul is not that kind of man–he is more like Jesus than that (and not like the “apostle” I met in the Bahamas).

And that nudges me . Do I seek to influence the lives of those in my world because I can . . . or because of love? Do I try to make them do what they should do or does love really constrain me?

Augustine, in The Confessions, addresses a profound and simply prayer to God: “O God, command what you will, and give what you command.”

I think what he captures in that short cry is becoming increasingly more important to my understanding of how God intends to draw us into a full and rich experience of intimate life. And I think it is when I miss the simple insight of Augustine’s short petition that keeps me faltering in my journey with Jesus.

Where do I see this? In the response that arises in my soul when I hear Jesus speak–through his Word, by his Spirit, to my soul. For example.

Jesus calls us to forgive those who have wronged us (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-22; Mark 11:25). And I hear those words. I know what Jesus is calling me to. And I often respond, “I can’t do that! I don’t feel ‘forgiving’ toward that person. That’s not in my heart.” And I act as if Jesus is commanding something that he is not or will not or cannot also provide. He calls me to forgive and I resist.

Jesus calls husbands to love their wives and wives to respect and value their husbands (Ephesians 5:33; Titus 2:4; 1 Peter 3:7). And we hear those words. I know what Jesus is calling me into in my marriage. But it is easy to respond, “But she (or he) isn’t loving me. I’m not getting from my spouse what I deserve. It doesn’t feel right to just love without reciprocation. I just can’t do that.” And I act as if Jesus is commanding something of me that he is not or will not or cannot also provide. He calls me to my role as spouse and I resist.

And behind all such resistance is the thinking that something has to happen in me before I give into the call. And it is there that my thinking might just be a bit off.

Maybe Jesus issues such calls and extends such commands because it is in the command that the empowerment comes. In other words, it is because it isn’t me to live that way–it isn’t in me to love or forgive the way he intends–that Jesus commands it. He commands what he does in our lives so as to make possible our living the way he wants us to. For apart from the command it just won’t ever happen.

Perhaps we can picture it this way.

Why does Jesus command Lazarus to arise and come out of the tomb? Yes, Lazarus is dead. But why the command? Jesus is not suggesting Lazarus consider “becoming alive.” Jesus is commanding what Lazarus needs. Lazarus needs to live, so Jesus commands, “Lazarus, arise!”

Why does Jesus call the man with the withered hand to stretch out his hand? Because the man’s hand is withered. Jesus is not suggesting that the man think about whether he wants his hand restored. Jesus is commanding what the man needs. In such instances, Jesus commands what cannot happen apart from his command–the very command is Jesus’ means of bringing about the end he intends.

Maybe it is in hearing and responding to Jesus’ call that the very thing I think I lack will be found. Maybe it is in the giving in to the call of Jesus that I will discover that what he is commanding he is also providing. Maybe it is in the inclining of my heart to affirm what he is calling for that I will realize that the reason he commands such seemingly impossible things in my life is that without the command I will never be different.

Today I watched as a mother run toward her child in the mall. The boy was middle-school aged. He was with a friend. They had shopping bags in their hands. And when the mother saw the boys she ran toward them. And what she did next gave me pause.

She screamed at them. There in the mall. I understand. She was concerned. Apparently she had become separated from the boys–or the boys had wandered off without telling her, or they didn’t meet up with her as they had planned. I tried not to eavesdrop in on what she was saying, but it was impossible to ignore. She was shouting at her son at full voice.

“How could you do this to me!? You are in big trouble. Don’t ever do that again. I have been so worried. Why did you do that?! I am so upset with you.”

And the boy stood there. Listening. Eyes down. Mumbling. And his friend looked like he wanted to just turn into the nearest store and slink away.

I get it. The mom was concerned that the boy was lost. She was worried for her son’s safety, perhaps justifiably so.

But I didn’t get the impression that the boy thought his mother was glad to see him. It sounded like the mother was more worked up about her own anguish rather than having any real gladness in finding the boy. I wondered if the next time the boy was “lost” from his mother’s presence whether he’d really want to be “found” by her.

How glad I am that the Father doesn’t respond to his lost children that way. Jesus tells a parable that helps me see that. It’s well-known. The parable of the prodigal son–which really is about a Father who finds a son that was lost. You may recall.

While the son is still a long way off, the father sees him. The father has been on the look out. The father knows what the son has done. The father knows the son has purposefully left. Yet the father is looking, waiting, watching. And the father sees the son. And the father runs to the son. And the father kisses the son. And the father hugs the son. And the father calls for a celebration. Because the father in the parable has real joy in finding the son of his who was lost. (You can–and should–read the whole parable. It’s found in Luke 15.)

The father in the parable has more joy over finding the lost son than anguish and sorrow over the absence of the son while he was lost. The delight overpowers the anguish.

And the Father above has real joy in embracing every child that has been lost and becomes found in Jesus. He is looking for us, for you. He is running after us, after you. He embraces and welcomes us with love. He rejoices over finding us.

If my image of God is like the mother in the mall, I may find myself keeping my distance when I find I have strayed. If my image of God is like the mother in the mall, if I don’t really know this God I will not likely want to be found by him.

But if my thought of God is shaped by the parable Jesus tells . . .

Well, let’s just say that being embraced in love that way is what it feels like to “come home.”

Jesus has invested time over many years with these men. They have travelled together, labored together, taken meals together, faced challenges together. He has taught them, comforted them, empowered them, led them. Now he sits with them around a table in an upper room to share a Passover meal with them–something he most likely has done more than once in their journey together.

As he sits there with them, he knows. In a few hours they will all abandon him. They will pray together, but before the evening is out they will all scatter, abandoning him. Most will simply flee their separate ways when trouble comes. But that one, Judas, has already made arrangements to sell Jesus out to those who are seeking his death. And the one sitting near him, Peter, will publicly declare with oaths that he doesn’t even know the man named Jesus from Nazareth.

None of them will give back in relationship with Jesus anything like the love and attention and affection and kindness and grace and service that he has lavishly poured out on them. Having taken so much from him, they will leave him alone. And he knows this.

That is what makes what happens in that upper room so marvelously helpful in understanding what it means to “follow Jesus.”

Jesus knowing that his hour had come that he would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. . .  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. (John 14:1-5)

Jesus loved his own, loving them all the way “to the end.” Jesus served them by washing their feet because the need was real and he was willing to serve them. Jesus washed the feet of those who would abandon him. Jesus ministered to those who would deny and betray and leave him. Jesus was free to live in the kind of love that we are called to extend to one another because he was living in a non-reciprocal relationship with his disciples.

Jesus was going to be who the Father wanted him to be–who he wanted to be–regardless of how these avowed “close friends” did or did not reciprocate. Jesus was going to love freely, give freely, serve freely, expecting nothing in return.

He looks so much like his Father doing that! (Luke 6:35)

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