“This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you.” (John 15:12)
In business, athletics and other endeavors of life, we often set goals for ourselves that exceed anything we have done before. Whether they include increased sales or production, running faster and longer, improving our grade point average in school or job performance measures at work, we refer to them as stretch goals.
Jesus set a stretch goal for the disciples and us with the above commandment.
How did Jesus love the disciples? He called them. He taught them with his words, stories, and example. He empowered them and sent them out to serve the needs of others by healing, casting out demons and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had arrived. And in a crowning illustration of love, he freely laid down his life for us to reconcile us to the Father and provide a means to overcome sin, death and Satan’s hold on creation.
He simplified all of the commandments into the love of God and neighbor, and said our neighbor is anyone we encounter, even a stranger as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Through the Beatitudes, he promised blessings and happiness if we are humble in heart, mourn over sin, hunger for righteousness, show mercy, and seek to be pure in heart and peacemakers.
How do we love as Jesus loves? The opportunities are endless. The key principle in most situations is to think of others over ourselves. When our oldest daughter was three or four, as I walked in the door after a long day at work, she would say, “Come on, Daddy. Let’s play.” I got so tired of playing the board game, “Flintstones,” again and again, but I knew that I needed to love my daughter and our other children by spending time with them.
Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) While this could actually involve giving up our life for someone else, more often it is about laying down our will, comfort, and desires for the needs of someone else. Some examples might be letting go of career ambitions for the sake of family; accepting that someone else’s idea is better than ours; letting love rather than judgment be our first response to another’s difficulty; or simply stopping and listening.
A few years ago I participated in a gathering where people were being prayed with for physical healing, reconciliation of broken relationships and other needs. At one point as I was standing to the side of the room observing all that was happening, the words came into my mind, “It’s all about love.” People were caring for one another, showing mercy, and humbly and faithfully interceding with God to be and bring his presence to bear on others’ needs. It was a stretch goal, but that did not deter those who were praying.
Are you called to stretch in your love for a family member, friend or colleague?