Someone once said that “Love is a feeling you feel, when you feel that you are feeling a feeling that you have never felt before!” Unfortunately electric shock would also fit that description.
So what is love? Most of us know love when we feel it, yet have a difficult time giving it a good definition. There will always be elements of emotion and romance in most modern definitions of love. Romantic that I am, I tend to think that is a good thing. Yet Jesus gives us a definition of love that has little to do with either romance or even emotion. Jesus’ definition of love has to do more with the will and the commitment to do what is in the best interest of the other person.
Jesus speaks of loving our enemies, refusing to take vengeance and offering them forgiveness instead, giving more than we are asked to give and going further than we are expected to go. For Jesus, love means laying down our own lives for the sake of others. That is what Jesus taught, and what Jesus did. Now he calls us to “go and do likewise!”
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It has been said that this section of the Sermon on the Mount is the best known yet least practiced of all the teachings of Jesus. The reason it is often left unpracticed is not because it is difficult to understand—actually it is very plain—but because it is difficult to obey.
Most people define love in ways that make them feel good and keeps them safe from harm. Anything outside these parameters is not their idea of love. Yet Jesus gives a definition of love that goes way beyond our experience of pleasant emotions and is actually quite risky!
· Love does not practice vengeance.
When we are hurt—whether physically of emotionally-we naturally react in the interest of self-preservation. But soon we also seek to avenge our pain. This usually involves inflicting more pain on others than was inflicted on us. Jesus says that this is incompatible with discipleship. Forgiveness, not vengeance, is a mark of discipleship.
· Love willingly goes the second mile.
When we are forced to endure something unpleasant we generally want it to be over as soon as possible. We will suffer all we have to, but not even a little more. Yet Jesus talks of giving more than we are asked to give and going further than we are forced to go. Christians are oddities in the world because they gladly suffer more than they have to suffer and do more than they are forced to do. Second mile service is a mark a discipleship.
· Love offers itself to the enemies.
Loving those who love you is just common sense. It does not demand a great amount of faith or patience. But Jesus calls us to love those who are not “lovable” - who for one reason or another have made themselves enemies in your eyes. Paul reminds us that God loved us while we were still “sinners” and Jesus died for us. (Romans 5:8) Imitating this love for the unlovely is a mark of discipleship.
Loving in these ways is what makes us “perfect” as God is perfect!