"How much do you love me?" the murmuring Christian asked Jesus. Jesus stretched out His hands and said, "This much." And then He died.
Love is the virtue many desire and expect of others while believing that they themselves have already given it in great measure. It is the core of music and poetry, and in this world where the pop icon earns more than the ordinary head-of-state, it has become the fashionable morality.
Singers sing of love and the world echoes in chorus. They mouth cute homilies on children being our future while being pregnant out of wedlock. And then they slip in the notion that the greatest love of all is to love oneself. Another sings to all the girls he had loved before, who had traveled in and out his door. It does not surprise anyone that this balladeer has been called The Great Lover.
To the most feral, love means sex. To many others, love means attraction, friendship, compatibility and family. For dreamers, love is fireworks, laughter and tears and that ultimate display of sacrifice. Their paragons range from Valentino to Mother Theresa to Oskar Schindler.
In chivalric times, honor was the virtue in trend. During other eras of our world's troubled history, enjoyment, knowledge and achievement have taken their turn at the head of the list. I suppose as Christians we should be happy and comfortable that love has taken its rightful place in the thoughts and imagination of the people today.
And yet, no one can really feel comfortable looking at the world today. Or see what the Bible says: "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Mt 24:12).
And then again, men's love will grow but how?
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." (2 Tim 3:1-4) Love is the greatest abiding virtue but the perversion of true love has become the greatest deception to humankind (1 Cor 13:13). It has literally spawned millions of illegitimate babies, spoiled innumerable children, released savage criminals with but a light reprieve, sustained the immoral and extravagant lifestyles of music and movie stars, attacked justice and discipline, and compromised the doctrines of the Bible. Today, more than at any other time, we need to know what true love is.
That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17-19)
We want to speak of the dimensions of love so that we can measure against them what is purported to be love.
The Breadth of Love
Too often, people speak of love but mean it in a very narrow and selfish way. The dejected, or perhaps rejected, lover finds that he cannot love anyone else, not even himself. Finding life meaningless as a result, he kills himself. Such is the stuff of romance a la Romeo and Juliet. The suicide victim cannot understand the anguish he has caused to his family and friends.
Jesus lived and died for all humanity (2 Cor 5:14). That surely is the greatest breadth we can imagine that love can take. He died for all genders, nationalities, races, and people of all time.
How broad is your love? Does it only encompass one, yourself? Here's a simple test. When you say, "The church has no love!" do you mean no one cares about you? Because if you had loved others in the first place and not just expected others to love you first, the church could never be without love. It has yours!
The ever-broadening circle of love begins with us, then our family, our friends, our brethren in church, those who are not saved, our enemies; and all the while our love for God is increasing and becoming our motivation (1 Tim 5:8; Gal 6:10; 1 Jn 4:20-21; Mt 5:43-48)
Are we so easily fooled by a pop star giving of his abundance to the children of the world while the TV cameras roll and the media presses closer for a better picture and quote? Yet that is still something compared to the majority of superstars and religious leaders who speak of love to their poor worshippers while they themselves live in the lap of luxury. Check ourselves to see if our acts of charity and giving are merely to salve our conscience or for publicity. A truly loving person finds it hard to spend lavishly on himself while others are suffering.
There is another area of concern that bears looking into. In showing hospitality to visitors from other countries, every local church needs to analyze whether a disproportionate amount of effort has been channeled to tour groups while students and foreign workers who stay for longer periods are neglected. Priorities and the scope of loving others must go hand in hand.
The Length of Love
Time heals all things. Equally, time can destroy all things. Many a perfect love-match has disintegrated with the passing of years. Similarly, many a Christian has noticed that his initial burst of ardor for the Lord has somehow faded away, but how or when it went, he cannot for his life figure out (Rev 2:4). The answer is simple—time has taken its toll.
God said, "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you" (Jer 31:3).
This is no empty boast. Consider this: after Adam and Eve sinned, God made coats of animal skin for them, providing for their protection from the elements and symbolically providing for the spiritual salvation of humankind through the future sacrifice of Jesus. Then He maintained a chosen group to be His light of truth for the world throughout the generations, beginning with Seth, Noah, Abraham, the Israelites and finally the Christian church. He sent prophets to tell humankind His will. He sent writers to pen His Word for our instruction. He sent Himself to die for our sins. All this, for at least 6000 years, in spite of the sin and rebelliousness of humanity, in spite of rejection and unfaithfulness, in spite of personal suffering, humiliation and risk.
A love true
Is like pure gold
It won't wear out
Because it's old.
Today's celebrities often have prenuptial contracts with their intended spouses for fear that they may lose a substantial amount of their fortunes if they divorce in the future. The irony of such contracts is that the participants proclaim true love for each other. The message seems to be: true love in the world is for the moment, ever lusting but not everlasting.
Divorce and adultery will never be Christian options if individually we strive to keep our marital vow of true love. There will be quarrels between a couple. Yet, if we realize that when we say "I love you", we mean it for life, we will work on our marriage. We will not justify straying eyes or companionship of the opposite sex in times of loneliness or of being misunderstood. We will not say that our love has died a natural death and feel no guilt about it.
True love stands the test of time. It cannot die while the couple is still alive (Mt 19:3-9; 1 Cor 7:39).
In church, let us also ensure that our display of love is lastingly genuine. Let not love be showered only to someone who is new. Granted that those who are new need more love, we cannot suddenly neglect a person after he or she is baptized.
In like fashion, the church should not proceed with a project if she knows that she cannot or if she has no intention of sustaining it. Of that kind of image-building and report-enhancing programs, the Lord of love has no need (Mt 6:1).
The Height of Love
Possibly, the most visible aspect of love would be the great deeds that are associated with it. The earnest young man will dare to climb the highest mount, swim the deepest ocean and fight the fiercest beast for the hand of his beloved. A mother will brave the flames to rescue her child and a patriot will not betray secrets even under torture for the sake of his country.
Monuments, whether attesting to great deeds, heroes or wealth, are often high structures to amaze the eye and capture the heart. The power of true love is such that it will raise its own monument. Though the great flood covered the whole earth and left no mountain visible, the Song of Songs says, "Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised." (Song 8:7).
It was a man-sized cross on a small hill in a small country. But the wrenching drama of the Man from Galilee was the greatest act of love the world will ever know.
Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed…
He is despised and rejected by men;
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed...
Yet it pleases the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief...
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. —Jesus Christ (Jn 15:13)
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. —Whitney Houston
The world has strange messages for the unsuspecting and the wayward. The great monuments of love such as filial piety, patriotism, religious sacrifice, love for God and love for our neighbor have been brushed aside by the banner of individualism and freedom, behind which hides simple selfish love.
Go to the rescue of a man being attacked in a restaurant? Oh, no! I've got a family to look after. Who's going to feed them if I should get hurt?
Do more work in church? Oh, no! I've got a family to look after. I've got to earn as much as I can to make their lives as comfortable as possible.
Is there any great act of love that you can lay claim to? Can God see your love? In God's eyes, is our monument of love an Eiffel Tower or a miniature representation of our own condominium block? Is there any great act of love that your local church can lay claim to? Shouldn't we all toil to be worthy of the cross of Christ?
The Depth of Love A tall building needs a firm foundation, the deeper the better. Some great deeds of love when carefully scrutinized have been uncovered as fakes or from a different persuasion. Soldiers may have died for their countries simply because they enjoy the exhilaration of mortal combat. A philanthropist may have donated largesse to ensure the memory of his name, etched in concrete on some building in some university.
An iceberg stands one-tenth of its mass out of the water. That is to say, what you don't see under the frigid waters is nine times the hulk visible above the water. True love is deep and in relation to its deeds, is always more than any single one of them. It has great potential for more great deeds and it has also accomplished many other unseen works. True love does not boast of itself and so very often what you see is not everything that it has done or that it is capable of (1 Cor 13:4).
A little girl came up to her Mummy one day and handed her a list.
"What's that, honey?" Mummy asked.
"It's the money you owe me," the little girl replied.
Mummy took the list and her heart ached as she read:
For clearing up the toys -20 cents. Mummy put aside her apron and started to write a list of her own.
For washing the dishes - $1.
For putting baby brother to sleep -50 cents.
"May I see what you have written, Mummy?" the little girl asked.
She took the note from her and read:
For carrying you nine months in my tummy - Free. The little girl's eyes filled with tears and quietly she took her list from her Mummy.
For keeping awake at nights to feed you and when you were ill - Free.
For wiping your nose when it ran - Free.
For hugging and comforting you when you were sad and in tears - Free.
She scribbled on it and returned the note.
Over the list was written - PAID IN FULL.
We have already said that the sacrifice of the Lord on the cross was the highest act of love of all time. Yet the immense depth of that love continues to astound and move anyone who has searched and whom the Spirit has moved to understand. What Jesus gave up for us, what daily sufferings He bore, the abject passion when the Father forsook Him on the cross—death itself, all these were not as visible as the physical and verbal abuse He suffered for us on the cross (Phil 2:5-8; Mt 27:46; Heb 2:9-15). But the love that carried Him through all that was deep and strong indeed.
How deep is your love? Love makes the most shallow existence meaningful but if that love were shallow also, how bleak such lives must be!
One test of depth is constant thought for the beloved (2 Cor 11:28). People who are deeply in love always think of each other, cherish precious memories and plan pleasant surprises for each other. How much do we think about God or about the church? it is difficult to say that we love the brethren if we hardly ever hold them in our thoughts or prayers. We cannot say that we love our parents if we often ignore their feelings and claim that we alone should decide our course of action.
The depth of our love should be plumbed so we can better understand our present situation and then, humbly and prayerfully, improve on it. Similarly, the breadth, length and height of our love need to be measured for a more complete appraisal of our condition.
In the same way, love in the True Jesus Church ought to be measured. Consider: believers in the Taiwanese hill tribes offer out of their poverty to build beautiful church buildings for the Lord while their own homes remain modest shelters. Members in the United Kingdom and continental Europe are famed for their warm hospitality and concern for visitors and backpacking tourists (1 Pet 4:9; Heb 13:2). In Singapore, members frequently donate blood at hospitals for the sick. What about the steadfast love of the believers in the Philippines who hold on to the truth in spite of their poverty? Or the sacrifice of the intellectuals from the United States who gave up well-paying jobs in industry and universities to become full-time workers? Indeed in every land where the True Jesus Church is, there are monumental examples of the heights that true Christian love has achieved.
And what of our depth? Dare we question those who have died for the Lord in the religious persecution of Communist China? Or the integrity of our preachers who have given all and work, with so small an allowance?
It is wrong to boast of ourselves but we are not doing so here. If anything, we boast of the grace that God has given us (2 Cor 10:13-18). We list our achievements out of God's love so that those who denigrate the church of God may be ashamed. For he who criticizes and lays burdens on others without lifting a finger to help is the real Pharisee of today (Mt 23:4).
We also list our achievements so that we can measure them against the dimensions of love discussed above. We should not blindly follow any other model of love that the world is so ready to provide. To do so would be to build a skewed version of the love that God intends for us.
In addition to our achievements is the acknowledgment that we still have far to go to reach the standard required by God. Still, the direction we must take is that of building on the correct dimensions of love. The Lord has demonstrated the extremes of love and though we can never equal Him, we should steadily strive to extend the limits of the dimensions of our love.
With this true model of love, we shall escape the deception of this world and live to glorify God and benefit humanity.