Christian love is a choice we make every moment of our lives to live up to the example of Jesus and his teachings. Christian love is not a feeling; it is a decision about how to behave toward others.
It is difficult to love a God we cannot see. If we are convinced that we were created in the image and likeness of God, and that we are all reflections of God, then we must treat each other, who we can see, with the love and respect we would treat God.
Love is a word we use every day to express a wide range of emotional attachments from simple liking to a passionate obsession. “I loved that movie. I love my dogs. I love that dress. I love my country. I love my faith. I love my parents, siblings, children, spouse” and so on. We try to express the strength of our feeling by the use of the word “love.” We assume everyone understands that we mean different things in these contexts and that our degree of attachment can range from affection, superficial liking, friendship, to a deep and strong emotional attachment or passion for something or someone else.
Jesus is the role model for Christian Love
Christians understand God from the unique perspective of Jesus’ first disciples. From their witness, we see Jesus describing God as a loving father who is generous beyond anything we can possibly imagine. We see the human person of Jesus going about the countryside, letting people know about his father, showing us as a living example, how we should talk to God and how we should behave in relation to other people Jesus, by his behavior, modeled what is meant by Christian Love. Jesus passion was to let people know that God loves us, each of us, unconditionally.
If we look closely at how Jesus treated other people, we can see he was not judgmental. He didn’t tell people how to behave or what to do. The most he would say, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery who was to be stoned to death, was “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t criticize the men who had brought her, knowing that they were testing him, saying only, “He who is without sin shall cast the first stone.” Although he had no great respect for the behavior of the Scribes and Pharisees, he still told his disciples to obey them implicitly in matters of The Law, as they were legitimate authorities. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, the most despised public sinners of society.
What are we to learn from these examples? We are to make no judgments as to who is and who is not deserving of God’s love. Make no judgments about the way people look and act, we cannot see into their hearts or histories. We are asked to treat each other with respect, kindness and concern for our inherent dignity.
As we follow Jesus through his public ministry, we find that many of his disciples left him when they could not accept what he had to say. He didn’t chase after them to come back, he didn’t change his message to please them and get them to return. Instead, he felt the entirely human pain of being let down by a friend. He didn’t try to win them back by changing his message, argument, pleading or false promises. What should we learn from this? Our lives will be filled with fair weather friends who will abandon us at the first sign of trouble. Let them go.
Everywhere Jesus went, he healed the sick. He didn’t shy away from lepers. He touched them and healed them. He did not despise the woman with the hemorrhage for touching his robes, although it made him unclean according to Jewish law. He spent hours healing without taking a break. Not everyone thanked him. We can be a healing influence without expecting gratitude.
Frequently, we see that Jesus forgave the sick person his sins before he healed him of his physical illnesses. Forgiveness was a major part of Jesus teachings on how we are to behave toward each other. He never retaliated when people jeered him or taunted him. Even when his family and neighbors tried to throw him over a cliff, he didn’t show any trace of anger or resentment. Nothing seemed to faze him. We, too, are asked to forgive everyone we believe has offended us and hold no grudges.
At the end of a long and exhausting day, Jesus would go off by himself to pray, sometimes spending the entire night in prayer. We tend to forget that Jesus’ strength came from his relationship with God. What are we to learn from this? We too need to spend much more time in prayer every day to find the strength to go on. We can only find Divine love through prayer. Christian love springs from this source alone.
Put Christian love into practice
Christian love desires what is best for the other person without counting the cost and not asking for anything in return. When we see another in need, we try to fill that need. We do not turn away and expect someone else to do the job. As Christians, we see Jesus in everyone we meet and treat that person the way we would treat Jesus.
Friendship or companionship helps us to do the things we know we ought to do. What may be an overwhelming task for one of us is easier if there is more than one to carry burden. If the task ahead of us makes us fearful, we draw strength and courage from companions who are facing the same challenge.
Through friendship, we develop deep seated bonds with others who have or are currently experiencing what we are experiencing. The influence of companionship and sharing cannot be overemphasized. We see evidence of this power in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Where self-help, psychotherapy, or medical treatment often fail, the fellowship of AA, the understanding of someone who has been there, and provides total dedicated support in times of greatest need, succeeds.
Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization based upon Christian principles and demonstrates Christian love in action. The principles are: acceptance without judgment, companionship at any time of the day or night, a reliance on the Divine (called the Higher Power) for support and healing. Acknowledging faults and failings honestly is requisite to healing. AA stresses forgiveness of self and others. The pinnacle of achievement (the 12th step) is helping others selflessly in their time of need, asking for nothing in return.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta is a good example of Christian love. She was in love with God and took Scripture seriously. She was able to see Jesus in each person she met. When she was forty years old, after a religious life that began when she was 18, she founded the Missionaries of Charity to work on the streets of Calcutta, living a life of extreme poverty, caring for the dying, the homeless, and the abandoned. Many joined her and her mission spread to all parts of the world, including the United States. She loved everyone as she loved Christ. When she looked at you, you were her entire world at that moment. When she took your hand, hers was warm and gentle. Mother Theresa epitomized Christian love. She achieved celebrity status by receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the homeless and unwanted in Calcutta.
Father Damien of Molokai is another example of sharing the love of Christ with the despised, the unwanted and the rejected of society. After he was ordained as a Priest, he went to Hawaii. There he discovered that lepers were isolated on the Island of Molokai. They were literally imprisoned for life on the little island, abandoned by their families, rejected by society. Father Damien saw these lepers as his mission. When he arrived, they were living in unspeakable poverty without health care, food, clean water or hope. Father Damien never left Molokai, he died there having finally contracted leprosy himself. At the time of his death, however, he had changed the misery of the lepers into hope. Health care, good food and clean water, schools for the children, meaningful work for the able bodied, were all in place when he died. Others have taken up his work. Like Jesus, his role model, he was not afraid to touch lepers and care for them.
Many Christians practice this form of love every day in total anonymity.
Christian love asks more of us. To reiterate, Christian love is not a feeling or an emotion; it is an act of will. Christian loves asks us to rise above our natural human inclinations, to reach out beyond the familiar and comfortable, to give when we don’t feel like giving, to want what is best for the other person without asking for anything in return. Christian love is not telling other people what to believe or how to change their lives; Christian love is showing, by our example, how our lives have changed by doing something for them. Christian love is an extension of God’s love for us.