What is the limit of love? Indeed, does love have a limit?
For many of us, it does…love does have a limit. We love as long as it is convenient for us to do so…so long as our personal safety and interests are not jeopardised…so long as it is not hazardous to our lifestyle or our comfort…so long as it doesn’t cost us too much.
But our Lord’s love goes way beyond all limits to the point of giving up His life and dying for those He loved. Jesus’ love – and the love He wants us to manifest in our lives – is a selfless love that always considers others before considering oneself.
John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…and this becomes the standard…the benchmark, if you will, for Christian living. Jesus thought it was so important that He repeated it five times prior to the Ascension…once in each Gospel and once in the Book of Acts.
Love enough to tell. Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Be my witnesses even to the ends of the earth. Love enough to tell…even if it means giving up that which is most precious to you…even if it means giving up your life. Love enough to tell.
That is what Jesus did – He gave His life a ransom for many – He died so that you and I may have life and free access to God the Father. The Gospels and the rest of the New Testament make it clear that there’s an expectation that those who claim to follow Him ought to love in the same manner…that we, like our Lord, would give up our lives for the lives of others, indeed for the life of the world.
The disciples of Jesus and their disciples understood that. In the book of Acts we see Peter and the other Apostles boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to the very same crowds and council that called for His death on the cross just a few weeks earlier. We see Stephen confronting a hostile group and paying for it with his life. We see members of the Early Church witnessing to Jesus in spite of severe persecution. They loved enough to tell.
If you love Me, Jesus said, you will obey My commandments. Those who accept My commandments and obey them are the ones who love Me. All who love Me will do what I say. This was Jesus message to His disciples – and to us – in our Gospel lesson for today. Show your love for Me through your obedience to My commands.
Go and make disciples, Jesus said. Wherever you go – in your own backyard, your hometown, your state, your nation, or across borders or oceans – wherever you go be My witnesses, even to the ends of the earth, Jesus said. These words are known as the Great Commission…these words are commands…imperatives…not suggestions…not options…they are commands. All who love Me will do what I say. Wherever you go, make disciples of all nations…
Philip understood this and so he did not hesitate when the angel of the Lord told him to go south down to the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. He went because he was told to go. He loved the Lord and so he did what was commanded. He went and met with a highly unlikely convert…an Ethiopian Eunuch. Oh yes, this man was wealthy and powerful and thus a very promising prospect for anyone seeking a convert…but he was a Eunuch and according to the Law of Moses, Eunuchs were barred from full conversion to Judaism.
But this didn’t stop Philip. He was told to go and so he went and so he witnessed to this man…and this man accepted Jesus and was baptised into His Name. Philip loved enough to obey…and thus he loved enough to tell…and consequently one of the first Gentile converts to Christianity was an African.
But this should not come as a surprise to us. The Lord clearly states even in the Old Testament that He wills for the nations…those nations other than the Jewish nation…He wills for all the nations of the earth to worship Him. Psalm 66 commands us to tell the world how glorious He is and it petitions God to let the whole world bless Him.
God so loved the world…that He gave His only begotten Son…He loved enough to invade our world, to give up that which was most precious to Him…so that the world might know Him…so that we might be His forever…
You know, people often ask us as missionaries what we miss the most. What they mean is what do we consider the most difficult thing to leave behind as we go to our host country – or in our in own case, host countries. What do we consider to be our most precious sacrifice? Usually they mean food or comfort or a position or a profitable income or something like that. But for us, the most precious sacrifice is plural. Our most precious sacrifices are our sons, daughters-in-law, and our grandchildren. To leave them behind is the most difficult part of obeying our Lord’s call to serve Him in Africa.
But we know that those who claim to follow Him must obey His commandments…we must do what He did…we must love like He loved…we must love the world…we must love enough to tell others about Him so that they might share in the kingdom together with our families. It has been said that missionaries are those that leave their families for a short time so that other families can be together forever…and so we go and so we love and so we tell.
John tells us in his first Epistle that we know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. That’s the biblical definition of love. Love enough to give up our lives for others as He gave up His life for us. But then he warns us not to simply say that we love each other, but rather to show the truth by our actions. Love is not some abstract emotion or thought or idea…no, love is action…love is doing…love can be seen and felt…
And now that we know God’s love we have to ask ourselves – and be willing to answer ourselves honestly – how we then ought to live. Many people claim to love God but disobey His commands. God wants us to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength – in other words with our entire being – everything we are and everything we own – and He wants us to love others as we love ourselves.
So, the glaring question is, do we love God? If we love Him, our lives must demonstrate that fact through our love for others. That’s the message John is trying to convey to his readers. That there are two great loves – love for God and love for our neighbours – and these two great loves cannot be separated. They go together hand in glove. In fact, John will go on to say in the very next chapter that anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Such a person, John says, is a liar for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, who we cannot see?
So, here’s the question again…do you love? Do you love God? Do you love others? Can that love be seen in action…in your behaviour…in your life? Can it be measured in terms of sacrifice? Do you love like Jesus loved? Are you like your Lord?
Some southern African nations have an interesting ritual they perform when they want their new-born to have the same traits as that of a person highly respected in the community. When the infant is ready to start eating, they invite this respected person to their home so that they might be the first to feed the child, usually with their hand…they might even be expected to chew the food first so that the child also ingests their saliva. The parents believe that the good qualities of the respected person will then be passed on to their child.
God is the Father of all believers. God is love. People who accept Jesus as Lord of their lives ought to be like their Heavenly Parent…they ought to possess the character of God…His good qualities…His love…His selflessness…because they feed on His Word. God has given us His Word to be a life-changing agent…and the Holy Spirit is our Guide as He is the one who leads us in all truth. He inspired the authors of the Scriptures to write what they wrote…and now He illuminates the Word so that we might understand and apply what we read. God’s Word is meant to shape us and mould us and make us more like Him so that we might reflect His light in the darkness of this world…that the world might see Him through us and worship Him with us.
But there is perhaps an even greater image of union with God than this…in one of the most controversial passages of Scripture, Jesus says, “Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in Him.” The precise meaning of this utterance has been debated ever since is was said, but the underlying principle is simply this…feed on Jesus and you will be part of Him…you will remain in Him…and He in you. These are the very words we use in the service of the Holy Eucharist…that we and all the whole Church may be made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him.
Focus on Jesus…intentionally focus on Jesus…study Him…meditate on Him…until you know Him so well that it is almost as if He is in you and you are in Him…
But that is the purpose of this union…it is so that we might be like Him…the Eucharist is a meal of remembrance in which we celebrate His ultimate sacrifice for the life of the world through the giving of His life for ours…the breaking of His Body…the shedding of His Blood. Here we feed on Him by faith. And when we partake of this feast, we proclaim His death until He returns…it is meant to be a witness to us and to all. It is a meal of love…but a love demonstrated primarily by an action of selfless sacrifice for other…for us…for the world…
Do you love like Jesus loves?
As you come to partake of this tangible symbol of love…His broken body, His shed blood…a life given for life…ask Him who was sent to lead us in all truth…ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your heart to you as He sees it. Does your heart reflect His heart? Do you love as He loves? Or do you measure your love by convenience?
Dearest beloved brethren, do you love enough to tell?
© Johannes W H van der Bijl III 2018