Love. It is a simple enough word, but there is so much involved in this simple verb. It can be a very easy thing for us to do, but it can also be one of the hardest things we will ever do.
When Jesus came to the earth over 2,000 years ago, He came with a new challenge-a very difficult challenge. Someone asked Him what the greatest commandment was, and Jesus replied that there were two:
Jesus replied, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It wasn’t enough to love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you really wanted to please God, Jesus said, you must love others. So what exactly is the others that they are talking about here? We will get into that a little later in this blog.
On one level, it’s easy to love God, because God doesn’t have bad breath. God doesn’t reward kindness with evil. God doesn’t make berating comments. Loving God is easy, in a sense. But Jesus really let us have it when he attached our love for God with our love for other people.
Katherine Anne Porter wrote, “Love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it. Hate needs no instruction, but waits only to be provoked.”
Love is not a natural response that gushes out of us naturally. But hate is always ready to naturally spring forth, like “Old Faithful” geyser at Yellowstone National Park. Christian Love, on the other hand, must be chased after, aspired to, and practiced.
The Greek word “agape” is defined as selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. There are four types of love described in the bible and this is the highest of those four. This word and variations of it are found throughout the New Testament. Agape perfectly describes the kind of love Jesus Christ has for His Father and for His followers:
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
During this week that focuses on love, we need to seek to live everyday in a state of agape love with our Heavenly Father and all those close to use. So now I want to present you with a list of all the different types of people who you should love. In a simple sense, this list really is not necessary, because the short answer is that we should love everybody, just like God loves everybody.
What I want to do here though is present my list to focus on these different groups. I also want to focus on the order in which I list these groups. It is my opinion that we need to place our love for these groups in this order, with the most important listed first, to have the proper order that we should love them in. I feel that when this list takes on a different order, our life gets out of balance and we tend to lose perspective on what our priorities should be. Keep in mind, that their may be two on the list here that may not be applicable to you if you do not have them. If that is the case, just remove either or both from the list and continue in the same order. So with no more build up, here is the list:
It is pretty clear from the Matthew verse from earlier in this blog that Jesus says that this is the greatest commandment. Just remember how much God loves us. God’s love for us is unconditional. God love’s us so much, that he allowed His only Son to be brutally murdered so that we can have something we could not have without what Jesus did for us. That is to have eternal life. When I say God here, I mean the triune God. That is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I understand that humans are flawed and we are not capable of loving the way God loves, but with our best capacity to love, we should always make sure we keep God #1 in our love priority list. When we start loving other people or other things more than God, we will find that our lives will really get out of whack. The best way to love anybody, is to have a primary love towards God, that outweighs any love you have for anybody or anything else.
Marriage can be the gym in which our capacity to experience and express God’s love is strengthened and further developed. To get there, we have to realize that human love and divine love aren’t two separate oceans but rather one body of water with many tributaries. We show our love for God in part by loving our spouses well.
In the marriage context, we have absolutely no excuse. God lets us choose whom we’re going to love. Because we get the choice and then find it difficult to carry out the love in practice, what grounds do we have to ever stop loving? God doesn’t command us to get married; He offers it to us as an opportunity. Once we enter the marriage relationship, we can’t love God without loving our spouse as well.
Divorce represents our inability to hold Jesus’ command. It’s giving up on what Jesus call us to do. Yes, your spouse may be difficult to love at times, but marriage teaches us how to love.
Some may say, what about our children? Shouldn’t we love them as much or more than our spouse? I would say no to those two questions. I think that the very best thing you can do for your children is to love God more than anything else in this world and then demonstrate that love through the love you show your spouse. In that sense, your love for your spouse has to come before your children.
After your spouse, your love for your children should come next. Unlike youre spouse, you do not get to choose your children. I don’t really have any experience with this one as a parent since I have never been one, but I can tell you that from the eyes of a child, loving parents can help enable a child to do just about anything. Kids who grew up in a house with parents who love each other are much more adjusted for anything they will face in their lives.
Understand, that with children, as a parent, you sometimes have to show “tough love.” That means that you sometimes have to tell your child no. It also means that you must discipline your child. The best example of a parent/child relationship to model your parenting after is the relationship between God and us. God loves us unconditionally. He forgives us when we do wrong. He also disciplines us though. Sometimes He tells us “yes,” but sometimes He tells us “no” too. God always has our best long-term interests in mind, just as a parent should with their child.
Family is also something that you do not get to choose. You are kind of just stuck with them. Really though, family will, for the most part, be there to love and support you no matter what you do. I understand that this is not always the case, but family shares a common bond. They come from the same relatives. They are joined together in this life.
It is very important that you love your family members. A big part of loving family is loving your parents. They may not have been perfect parents, but they did the best they could. The bible instructs children to honor their parents. I think that it is vital that we do that. As children become adults, they realize that their parents really knew more than the children initially thought. As your parents get older, it is important that you remember how your parents took care of you when you were younger, and that you take care of them as they get older. It is the circle of life.
This one might seem a little odd to be here on this list. To adequately love anyone else, you need to be able to love yourself. If you are not able to love yourself, you will never be able to love anyone else on this list. I know that you have messed things up. You have done things very wrong at different points in your life and it may seem like you are unworthy of love. Guess what, everyone has screwed up at different times. I have plenty of times.
We may be flawed and imperfect, but we are the greatest creation of the most powerful Creator of the Universe. The GREATEST creation. That makes each one of us pretty special. If you have not already, forgive yourself for the things you have messed up and done wrong in your past and realize that despite those things, you are still very special. It is OK to love yourself. Just don’t love yourself too much. While we are God’s greatest creation, you as an individual are not the specific greatest creation God made. The key is to love yourself while maintaining a state of humility.
Friends we do get to choose. As you go through life, you pick up friends from so many different things you do and are involved in. For me, I have my Waterloo friends, my Hudson friends, my college friends, my football teammate friends, my fraternity friends, my vet school friends, my ex-wife friends, my girlfriend’s friends, my church friends. The list is endless.
It is important to show love to those friends who have touched your life in some way. I understand that with friends, there is different levels of communication that occur. You have some friends that you talk to daily. You have other friends that you talk to once a year. You may have friends you talk to every 10 years. The important thing to remember is that at some point in time the friends we have shape the people we are. Our friends touch our lives, even if only for a season.
I want to challenge you to think of a friend from your past that you have lost contact with and get in touch with them. Ask them how their life is going? Tell them that you care about them and that you were thinking about them. You never know when it will be the last time you ever talk to someone. Don’t let things that are on your heart go unsaid.
Of all the groups, this is the hardest one of all. Jesus had this to say about it:
“If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.”
It can be pretty easy to reciprocate love that is shown towards us. It is a whole other matter to try to show love to someone who not only does not show love to you, but is downright mean or hateful to you. How can we possibly love them? Well, it is not easy, but we make a decision that we will love them and we just do it. We try to demonstrate the love that God shows towards us to them. It will be very hard at first, but if you are consistent with it, it will grow easier with time. Eventually, you may find that person’s heart softens with time and they might start showing some forms of kindness and love back towards you. If they don’t, they don’t. It is not important that they do. What is important is that we love them.
Loving enemies are good for us because it teaches us to love somebody and expect nothing in return. It is good training for being a parent someday. Even if your love is not reciprocated, understand that the love you show someone can change their life.
Well, there you have it. All the different types of people that we should love. I am interested to hear from you on this one. Do any of you disagree with the order of importance that I have listed these groups in? There can be some shifting of the order I suppose, but without a question, God needs to be number 1 on the list and enemies and yourself needs to be somewhere on your list.
During this week that we are focusing on love, please do some reflecting on some of the different groups of people in your life and how is your love reflected with them? Do you have your love list in the order that you should? Are you showing a lot of love to one group and neglecting others? Balancing out and prioritizing your love list is a vital thing to do if you want to live a healthy, well-balanced life. During this week of love, I pray that all of the people in our lives know and feel our love for them. If they don’t, I hope they will soon!