Choose Love

Would it make any sense for me to command you to do something that is out of your control? What if I commanded you to be pulled to the earth by gravity? What if I commanded you to breathe? What if I commanded you to stop breathing? That’s something you could manage for a short while, but your body would soon protest and override your efforts.

‘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.’ (John 13:34-35)

Jesus is commanding His disciples – including us – to love one another. He knows that this is a choice we have to make. Sometimes, when you think about some of your fellow Christians, it’s a difficult decision. When we start looking at people the way God does, it becomes easier.

He made that statement near the end of his life. Earlier He made an even more challenging one.

‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:43-45)

It’s a very basic fact that everything we do that counts for anything is down to our choices. Even in circumstances that are beyond our control we choose how to respond.

However much anger we feel about what someone has done to another human being – or to ourselves – we can choose to respond with love. Let the legal system do its part in determining guilt and punishment. Our response is above the law.

However helpless we feel about the state of the world and the desperate plight that people find themselves in, we can choose to respond with love. Insignificant as it may seem in our own eyes or the eyes of the world, our response is hugely significant in the eyes of God.

So love is beyond feelings, and not to be confused or affected by them. This is true in marriage too. Feelings and physical attraction can be strong, and an emotional bond feels powerful, but feelings can be fickle and emotions can turn like the wind. We all hope that our feelings will at least remain strong, and perhaps grow even stronger over the course of a marriage. But our feelings are out of our control. That includes our feelings for others as well as our spouse. This is why Paul commands:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

Love is a choice that in marriage becomes a commitment. It is deeper and more satisfying than any emotion, and as much as warm emotions can sweeten the relationship, love does not depend on them.

I am divorced. I married based solely on feelings, and negative self-centered feelings at that. I didn’t know Christ at that time, and I didn’t know love. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I hope that one day I will be able to make that choice and commitment to someone capable of making the same commitment to me. I thank God for teaching me, through Jesus Christ, what it means to choose love.

Freedom In Christ

I thought I’d share an insight I had last week while discussing “freedom” with my small group. It was a fascinating evening, with so many different ways of looking at the word itself, its meaning(s), and its consequences. I expressed this particular thought in a couple of sentences. I’ll expand slightly here – not much – and I hope it will bless you. It’s a very simple idea, but with huge significance. It was new to me, but I’m sure it has been explored at length elsewhere and I would love to be pointed in the direction of some of those explorations.

We think about freedom most often as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.” Paul wrote much in his epistles about freedom in Christ, but often spoke at the same time of being a slave to righteousness. In fact, it seems that slavery rather than freedom seems to be his main focus. For example, read Romans 6:20-23, at the heart of a lengthy discussion on the nature of sin, law and grace:

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can choose to be a slave to sin or a slave of God – where is the freedom in that? As Bob Dylan put it in his song Gotta Serve Somebody:

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

But Jesus said the truth will make us free, as he also described our slavery to sin (John 8:31-36). So how does this work?

I think the answer lies in the call for us to be Christ-like (see scripture like John 13:13-17, Ephesians 5:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:21).

Because Jesus Christ is God, is the Truth, and is Good. He did not sin. He was tempted but chose not to fall for those temptations. Jesus is able to do whatever He wants to do, and so by the definition I gave previously He has total freedom. The key is in our minds. As we seek to become more and more like Christ, our minds are continually transformed and our slavery to sin is continually diminished. If we could just become totally Christ-like, then we too would be totally free, able to do whatever we want, because it would be good. In this world our sinful nature keeps that ultimate goal just out of reach, but somehow, in a way that remains to me beautifully mysterious, when we are gathered together to dwell with God at the culmination of His plan, we will experience that perfect freedom. Until then, we can keep striving, and enjoy the glimpses of spiritual freedom with which He blesses us all, even in the most difficult of earthly circumstances.