At the very center of the Christian faith is God’s love. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Later, the apostle John would write, “We should love one another… This is how we know what love is– Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” One of the first songs many of us learned was “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Growing up in a Christian culture, we have come to take this love of God for granted; but in other religions the love of God is not a central teaching. In the Muslim faith the central theme is God’s will; Allah determines and decides everything, good and evil, and it is for us to merely accept it. At the center of Hinduism is not love, but Karma, a belief in pure justice; so if you live like a rat, in your next life, you will be reincarnated as a rat, or worse. The goal in Buddhism is not to love, but to withdraw from all human emotion and desire in an attempt to live perfectly content, living above all that would disturb you (See EmailMeditation #494); but as you well know, if you are going to love others in this world, you are going to suffer. And, you won’t find much love in the primitive religions of the world; rather, you find in them fear, the fear of evil spirits in every tree and under every rock. This does not mean that there is no love between the members of these other faiths. But the focus of all these other religions is on something other than love. So Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “I have a new command, I want you to love others as I have loved you.”
All those elements that are foremost in other religions are also in Christianity. We, like Muslims talk about the will of God. We even pray for it– “Thy will be done,” we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. And Christians, like Hindus, believe that God is concerned about justice. And, Christians agree with the Buddhists that we should live above our selfish desires. And, just as in primitive religions, the Bible tells us to fear God. But in the religion of Jesus, none of those things is the main theme. The main message of the Bible is the love of God, revealed most perfectly in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is by God’s love that we are saved, and it is by love that we are to get along in this world– by loving others and treating them as we would want to be loved and treated.
Earl Lee, an African-American pastor of an inner city congregation, tells a story of this love of God in action. Pastor Lee had been the guest preacher at a congregation in Houston, and after church the host pastor said to him, “Come with me this afternoon over to the prison. We have a ministry there and I’d like you to meet some folks.” So Pastor Lee went along to one of the chapel services inside the prison. He was surprised to see how many prisoners were there and how lively and meaningful the service was for them. After the service, Pastor Lee saw one of the prisoners standing by himself, so he went and asked him why he came to the services.
“Because it helps me,” the man said.
“Tell me how,” said the pastor, “tell me your story. Tell me how Jesus has made a difference in your life.”
The prisoner said, “Well, to tell you the truth, I did not start coming to these services to hear about Jesus. I came for the same reason a lot of guys come, because showing up for chapel might get us some extra privileges. You know, it makes it look like we’re trying to be good, and the warden likes to see that. That’s why I went the first time.”
He went on, “That first time I came to chapel I did not know anything about religion. There were lots of churches in my neighborhood, but I never went to any of them, so I didn’t know anything about Jesus. All I knew was how to get into trouble, and I learned that from my daddy. He is also in prison now, and so is my son. And so my whole life stinks. Get the picture?”
“And then,” the man went on, “then I get to this chapel service, and the dude is talking about how Jesus loves us all and how we should all love others like Jesus loves us. That made me mad. Nobody ever loved me, and I didn’t feel like loving anybody else. This preacher didn’t know anything about my life, so who was he to be telling me about loving others? Why should I love other people? Nobody ever did anything for me except beat me up, lie to me, sell me drugs, and teach me to steal; and then somebody else put me in here. And now I’m supposed to love everybody? It was the stupidest thing I ever heard of, so I left the service, vowing never to return.”
“But that night,” said the man, “I could not sleep. That preacher’s talk got me thinking about all the people who hurt me, and those bad memories were swirling around in my head. I seldom saw my dad, and if he did come around, he was drunk and would beat us. And my mother wasn’t much better. She thought more about getting high than about feeding us kids. So I was always out on the streets, and nobody loves anybody there. Everyone out there did me wrong too, and I learned to do it back. Love was just never a part of my life, so who was this preacher to be telling me to love everyone like Jesus did? My anger was keeping me awake.”
“But then,” said the prisoner, “a different kind of thought came into my mind. It just popped in out of nowhere. I now think God put it there. It wasn’t a memory, it wasn’t more anger, it was just one little question that came in to my mind. For some reason it occurred to me to ask, ‘What if?’ What if I had been loved? What difference could love had made in my life? What would have been the difference if my father would have loved my mother as he loved himself, like the preacher said. I thought about that. Then I wondered, how different it could have been if my mother would have loved me as she loved herself and her own good times. And what if my father would have loved me? And then I went a step further, wondering how different if could have been if I would have loved my son as Jesus loved me. The preacher said that Jesus loves us all, Jesus loves even a bad man like me, and that we should love each other. I thought about that for a long time. What could have my life been like if the people around me would have done that; if I would have done that. And then I realized that everything, everything would have been different. And then I did something I had not done since I was 14 years old. I broke down and cried. I cried for how things could have been. Love wasn’t in my life, but that doesn’t mean Jesus was wrong. Rather, it proves he was right. When there is no love, you end up like me and my daddy and my son. Love could have made the difference. And so I keep coming back to chapel to hear more about this Jesus and loving others, because when I get out of here that’s the only way I will make it. I’ve been going at it all wrong for way too long.”
Do you see what happened there? That convict heard just a few words from Jesus, and his life was changed. His whole way of looking at life and himself and other people was all changed by the love of Jesus, and by the command of Jesus to love one another as he has loved us.
John 13:34-35 — (Jesus said), “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
1 John 3:11…16a — For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
John 3:16 — For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 15:12 — (Jesus said), “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
Our hearts are cold; Lord, warm them with your selfless love.