Let us love

One of countless love notes from God, this one at the Montreal Botanical Garden, May 2009

One of countless love notes from God, this one at the Montreal Botanical Garden, May 2009

“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.”John, apostle of Jesus (I John 4:7-8, NIV)

In a chapter that opens with ominous warnings about false teachers, John gives us these beautiful words, along with many others that describe love as the way to know God.  For all the beauty of these words, though, they set the bar quite high.  Love is not an easy task, particularly when it is commanded without conditions.  We are not told to love only those who are worthy of love, nor even to love only those we know.  “One another,” “everyone” and “whoever” are fairly all-encompassing terms.

Taken in the context of the entire Bible, this description becomes all the more daunting.  It becomes quite clear that love is not seen as a limited or qualified thing.  How could it be limited, if the surpassingly infinite being of God is love?  When we read the command to love our enemies, we tend to come up with internal, possibly unconscious parameters: “Yes, but that doesn’t mean…” or “I can love someone and still…” or even “Well, that sounds good, but nobody I know can really pull it off.”

The words themselves are simple, but not easy.  We are the ones who turn it into something complex, mostly as a way of dodging the frightful implications of putting the needs of others before our own desires.  Some people say “all love begins with loving oneself,” and while this may be true, John pointedly says nothing here about self love.  I can’t think of a time when Jesus did, either.

What’s ultimately comforting about this passage is the confident declaration that God is love.   When we focus on that, we tap into the energy and power to do what seems impossible.  Every day, in countless ways, the love of God is poured out through the beauty of creation and the blessings that come from the hands of creative, competent and compassionate people.  When we immerse ourselves in all the manifestations of what is true, just and lovely, we naturally want to become part of that loving force.

It’s a pretty safe bet that this very day, as all others, you will be called upon to love someone else, through some big or small task, or perhaps only through patience and kind words.  In fact, chances are you will be in a position to show love to more than one person, through more than one opportunity.  If it seems hard, just look around you for examples.  God sends us love notes on a continual basis, and if we look closely, we can learn from them.  How will we be asked to love one another today?  How will we respond?

35 Comments

  1. The love of Jesus Christ by His indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to love others. Praise God for His great mercy and love to us. God bless you:)
    http://holdingforthhisword.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/repentance/

    • Thank you, Eliza! Every day that I live, I seem to depend on God’s mercy more and more. What better motivation to show love and mercy to others? I appreciate your visiting us here, and your comment.

  2. Raynard

    Thank you Julia for your blog.I’m still choked up after my visit back home to NYC yesterday.Seeing my oldest sister’s lifeless comatose body laying in a hospital bed.It was 25 years since I see her last. Your blog today was just one of “the many wet smelly fish” God used.(and he even didnt have to “unwrap it from that rag of a newspaper ie NY Post or The National Inquirer”.. lol. What just came to mind is Psalms 1, 23 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.It’s a joy reading not just what I just mentioned and your blogs but still( with bi-focals lol) being able to read and appreciate it. Be encouraged and blessed..

    • Thank you, Raynard. I appreciate your sharing with us about your sister although I know it must be painful even to mention it. We need to keep in mind how brief and uncertain life can be even though it can often feels long, and the “same old thing” until we get one of the wake-up calls you describe with such humor. As one who long ago had to adjust to bifocals, I agree with you that I am thankful to still have my vision and be able to read and write. I hope you will have a blessed week!

  3. I awoke, this Lord’s day morning, to the sound of my wife reading the words of this blog, aloud. They fit so well with our activity of last evening. We found ourselves huddled around a campfire, at a church camp, singing spiritual songs. What was unique about the group was that it contained some of the people mentioned in Matthew 5:44. And yet, it was Sherry who suggested we sing “The Greatest Command”. Many of your readers have blended one of the beautiful parts of this song: “love one another, for love is of God . . .”; “love hopes all things, believes all things. . .”; “love the Lord, thy God with all thy heart . . .”; “God is love, God is love, Go-od is love”. If you have not participated in this, picture the only light coming from a flickering fire; but the resulting warmth coming from many sources.

    • Eric, I wrote this blog post two weeks ago after singing that very song in church that morning. I have posted links to that beautiful song before, but this morning when I was looking for a link to share again, I came across a fairly new video someone has made with lovely photos combined with the singing. The singers are a small, nonprofessional group probably much like the one you sang with last night, and like the ones we have sung with in homes over the years. It was through our dear friends in San Antonio (the parents “Uncle Paul” on Grady’s page) that I came to love this song so dearly, and I cannot sing it without thinking of them, usually with tears. Hope you enjoy this touching slide show with the song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2RqZXShfQo

  4. Beautifully written. It is especially fitting on the day we “worship with the saints.” I find that one of the most difficult places to love is at church. It becomes that much more exhausting as a pastor’s wife, one who is expected to be loving continually. And yet, where better a place to experience God’s love? I must go to Him at church, through prayer, Bible reading, etc. to receive His love. Then only may I love others. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Barb, years ago my all-time favorite preacher shared this bit of doggerel, which I’ve never forgotten:

      To live above with the saints in love, oh, that will be glory;
      To live below with the saints I know – now THAT’S a different story! 🙂

      My sister is married to a minister, and I’m sure she can identify with what you are saying!!! Thanks for being here, and for your comment.

      • I wholeheartedly applaud today’s post,dear sister! Now please bear with me while I respond to you and Barb. While it is true that I struggle mightily with what I perceive as the lukewarmness and carelessness of some of my brethren and sisters, I actually find my fellow brothers and sisters with whom I worship our creator are the easiest in all the world to love. Yes Julia, you know that I certainly have my struggles, but I figure there wouldn’t even be a struggle if there was not love involved. I would really welcome further dialogue.
        LOVE! Carla

        • Carla, thanks for your response here. I am glad Barb brought this up, because I think very few people can truly understand what it’s like to be part of a minister’s family. I think that sometimes, we have a similar dynamic going on with our church family, as we have with our biological family; on some level, we expect more from them. In one sense this is natural; when there is a formal or established relationship, especially those that exist over many months or years, there is a degree of commitment that we do not expect with strangers, or those who are newly met. One delightful thing about blogging is how many people you “meet” online, people from all over the world, whose existence was unknown to you (and yours to them). In such a situation, every little gift, kind word, prayer and so on carries with it the magic of being wholly unexpected, like a surprise gift, unearned and given freely by all who exchange bits of themselves through writing and responding. On the other hand, with people at our workplace or church or other place of worship (and for clergy, these are the same!) we expect things we would not ask of strangers. This is intrinsic to a deeper relationship, and also to a shared commitment to a particular set of religious values, and is mostly a positive thing; I think it generally does more good than harm. But as with most blessings, it carries risk with it. Such people become essential to us, or at least very important, and in general they have the power to hurt us far more than those we have never met face to face, or have not known for very long. It can also cause us to put inappropriately difficult expectations on each other. All that to say, I agree with you that the struggle ensues out of the relationship, which ideally is one of love (although not always – and here again, this is why love is so essential, especially in spiritual bonds). Hope all this makes sense! I think there’s a reason why, in the final hours of his life, Jesus prayed for believers to remain unified. He obviously knew it would be a tough thing to maintain. I wish we could manage to do a better job of it!

  5. Rene

    To love one another: a difficult command, but at the same time, so simple.

    • Yes, I am realizing more and more how often “simple” does NOT equal “easy,” especially in this overstimulating, distracting, anxiety-provoking world.

  6. Hi Julia,
    This seems to be a running theme today. Amazing how our blogs at times connect.

    Also, in Sunday School today we were in 2 John talking about this very thing (Love) in addition to Abide and Truth. In our study we looked at Abide→Truth→Love as being inseparable. One flows directly into another. One must abide in Christ….who is Truth….so as to Love as God loves. As human beings we are incapable of maintaining a selfless love. We love because he first loved us and are commanded to go and do the same. Abiding makes that possible. Apart from the vine we can do nothing.

    Thanks for your always insightful posts. Blessings, Starr
    http://bringinglifeintofocus2.blogspot.com/2013/10/sunday-solace.html?spref=fb

    • Starr, thanks so much for sharing this link! I can’t get the video to play (a running problem since I started using Windows 8 😦 ) but I will keep trying. Meanwhile, I really appreciate your point, and it’s one I’ve never heard before. We really do have to tap in to a higher power to move beyond selfishness. It’s completely natural, at times, to do and feel many things that are ultimately harmful to us or others, so in a sense we really are called to behave in ways that are supernaturally loving or compassionate. We see this happen all the time, from the heroes who save lives at jeopardy of their own, to the people whose tireless work keeps the world running. But all of us have times when we just “don’t have it in us” to keep on, and that’s when we realize that people are just the conduits for divine love. How often have you seen a news reporter ask someone who saved a life at great risk to self, “what made you do it?” Often, they seem bewildered by the question; they might say something like “I just didn’t really think about it” or “Anybody would have done what I did.” It may simply be their modesty talking, but I think it’s something deeper. Almost any parent I know can say the same about how they managed to keep getting up in the night to take care of a crying infant. It never occurs to us to do otherwise. Sometimes, we are given the stamina to do what we could never do on our own.

  7. Without going into detail, I was in fact asked to accept another that I’m not fond of. She’s brought pain into my life and that makes it doubly hard. I care only about the one I do this for, the love I have for him I feel will somehow carry me through. I’m feeling tested and constantly looking for strength to be accepting and trusting. It’s not easy when you’ve been hurt before. It takes all the love one can muster. Thanks for being here and sharing your love Julia. It means a lot to me.

    • K, thanks for being so honest about a struggle most of us feel at one time or another. I had a quote I was saving for a blog post one day, but I will go ahead and include it here, in hopes it will cheer and encourage you: “To love, and to be hurt often, and to love again — this is the brave and happy life.” – J. E. Buckrose. You will be in my thoughts and prayers – and remember, LOVE CAN and WILL carry you through! 🙂

      • Thank you Julia for your constant thoughtfulness and kindness and this inspirational quote. I AM a believer, love will carry us thru. It’s how you navigate thru rough water that allows for pleasant sailing on the clear days. Luckily we are still both traveling in the same direction. xoK

        • 🙂 🙂 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing this. What a beautiful flower to go with a beautiful thought. I got the note from you and Matt. I think the photo card of him is great. Looking forward to seeing you all again. Give my love to Matt and Jeff. Keeping you all in prayer. Love, A

    • Thanks Amy, I forgot to thank you for the wonderful latte mug. You shower us with so many gifts, it’s hard to remember all of them in one small note! YES we must get together again soon. Love you!

  9. Sheila

    Julia, it really is hard not to love when those are our instructions from God! Our daughter, Stephanie, has a “daily love habit” that I recently became aware of. She does three kind acts of love every day, but never mentions it. She just knows it in her HEART. You show your love here, considering the time you give to others, through your photos and your beautiful words. You enrich my days. Love, Sheila

    • Thanks Sheila, you enrich my days as well! What a lovely idea for Stephanie to enact daily. I imagine there are far more than three, but it does help to focus the mind on specifics, which are often the key to translating good intentions into actual habit. How much better the world would be if EVERY PERSON carried such a mental “to do” list with them! I appreciate your steadfast presence here!

  10. Mike Bertoglio

    Beautiful picture of a peony- One of my favorites- and beautiful treatise on love. I would love to visit – Hanzu? China- the peony capital of the world.Yesterday I saw a fall color “Full moon maple”- that stopped my in my tracks. Will try and send a pict by e-mail. The earth is filled with the finger prints of God. I think there is a song with a similar theme,

    • Hi Mike, I loved the photo of the maple – and hope to feature it here soon! I too love peonies. I have had very little luck with mine, though the plants hang on and return each year. The foliage does OK but the blooms are few and far between. When we had to host Drew’s rehearsal dinner at the Hermitage near Nashville, we chose a rustic cabin setting on the grounds that badly needed decorating for such a festive occasion. With impeccable timing I had an emergency appendectomy just days before, and was barely able to be cleared for travel to Tennessee in time to attend the dinner and wedding, much less arrange for all the preparations. Jeff’s niece Emily came to the rescue, decorating with absolutely gorgeous peonies from her own yard. Her artistic abilities, combined with the natural beauty of the abundant flowers, created a lovely memory that I’ll always associate with the peony. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many blooms of that flower at one time. Her plants must be amazing!

  11. MaryAnn

    What a grand group of people sharing love on this blog! The comment from Daystarr stating “Christ is Truth” fills my heart! I have been teaching people that living for & in Jesus is the answer because “Truth has a name: Jesus.” I say I spell truth with a capital letter T when speaking of Him, because so many in our world speak of “situational” truth and “your truth is not my truth”.
    I, also, get very emotional singing the 4 part harmony “The Greatest Command”. It was such a joy to teach “my” babies in 2 & 3’s Bible class: “God is Love” & then Mark 12:30-31
    “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, Love your neighbor as yourself.” (NIV)
    Thank you, Julia, for expressing your love to us!

    • Thank YOU, Mary Ann, for being here with such joy and love!

  12. I believe when Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves his wisdom alerted us to the truth that that we cannot love others when we despise ourselves or despair of finding hope or are filled with pain and regrets, and so on. I do believe the Hold Spirit and God’s healing Love can alter our ability to love others, yes. But as a counselor for many years, I have known so many who appeared to truly love God, yet had so little care for themselves, still–for a number of reasons–that they could not love others healthily until they got healthy. It all takes time. God is patient with us, thank goodness. Depression and other mental illnesses, addictions, repeated losses/abandonment and violence can damage people so badly. So I do believe God wants us to love our own selves–as He loves us–then to go out and love the world.
    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • Yes, I agree. I think there are many who don’t even realize how little they care for themselves. I don’t usually hear these types of people talking about how important it is to love oneself; often they feel unworthy of any love. And often, they, and really most of us at some time, try to “earn” love by loving others, which as you point out, is getting it backwards. I think realizing, on a deep level, how much God loves us can be the key to self love, and then love for others. We are indeed fortunate that God (and loving people) are patient with us! Thanks for being here and adding to the discussion!

      • Thanks for the response and “mini-forum” for your readers!

        • 🙂 I love discussion! 🙂

          • Creative non-fiction offers that option a lot more than poetry and fiction. And you write well. Carry on! 🙂

            • Thank you!

  13. Mike Bertoglio

    Glad you got the Maple pict. It is growing alone in a deserted strip mall in South Seattle. When I saw it I literally drove off the road. Our fall colors have been amazing. I will have to send a pict of our Stag horn sumac in fall regalia.
    Our peonies did well this year. Not so the Dahlias.

    • Thanks for stopping to photo the tree – I really do plan to feature that pic here soon. I have seen photos of sumac in fall, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one “in person,” at least not that I knew of at the time I saw it. I have heard they can be gorgeous. I didn’t plant any dahlias this year but I did plant a flat of zinnias that I got for next to nothing at a roadside nursery. They were amazing. Now I plan to plant them again next year. I don’t see too many Dahlias around here, although one of our neighbors has a nice display of them around their mailbox. I used to have good luck with them when we lived on the central coast in California, but haven’t had any since.

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