From Romans 13: The love Christians are called to, entails, at least, not doing certain things.
The way that Paul describes love’s fulfillment of the law helps us to better understand love. In saying that love fulfills the law, he quotes negatively stated commandments from the Torah, and says that love fulfill those.
9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In other words, love is characterized not simply by what it does; but also by what it doesn’t do.
We can do a lot of so-called loving things and yet fail at loving by what we don’t not do.
On the flip side: we should appreciate the love that some people have by noticing what they don’t do even though they might have opportunity.
To give examples from just three of these negative commands:
I think I’ve mentioned before the first time I remember stealing something: I was around sixth grade and was starting to get into collecting football cards. My friend, Tim Hurlbut, was further along in collecting than I, and he had several nice cards, including a 1985 Joe Morris card (Giants running back the year he ran for 21 touchdowns). One day when he left his collection unattended, I relieved Tim of Joe Morris.
What was my problem? Lack of self-discipline. Lack of patience. Greed. But a summary answer was: I didn’t love Tim Hurlbut. If I had loved Tim, I wouldn’t have taken what he had.
What love for Tim would have felt like was wanting something, seeing an opportunity, but shrugging my shoulders and walking away – missed chance.
Love sometimes feels like a missed opportunity. Not doing what I could do, want to do.
Love can cover a lot more ground than simply not harming someone. But let’s not forget that love at least covers this ground.
You shall not commit adultery. You’re at work and find yourself enamored of a colleague who is a little feisty, sharp-tongued, possessed of a nice figure, ridiculously easy to talk with, smart etc etc. Nothing is wrong except for the fact that she’s married, and you’re married.
You could say to yourself – but I love her. And you mean that you’re drawn to her, you want to spoil her, you’re willing to take risks and leave all to obtain her, willing to sacrifice for her. Now these feelings seem a lot like love.
But what does genuine love do? Retreats from her. Keeps her at a distance. Probably includes some curtness. Whatever is required to go away from her. Why? Because you love her. And you love your kids. And you love your wife, even as you’re also currently bored with or even repelled by her.
This kind of love would be difficult to make a movie about, because choosing to love this way is also a choice to not allow a plot to develop, to keep things the same. The movie would end just like it begins – in the same house sitting around the same table with the same family.
Dear brothers and sisters – You’ve met the love of God in Jesus Christ. He loves you now. He loves you, a sinner-saint. This required from God a lot of mercy, a deep-down, thorough going zeal. As Paul says in the lyrical line: He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up to redeem His church.
And you’re going to answer all that mercy and zeal with your little emotional surge? Respond to His love with a kind of love that comes into being under the spell of a Chicago song?
No! Respond with genuine love. A love zealous enough to sometimes, sometimes, take your most powerful feelings and authentic urges and ignore them, ridicule them, kill them.
Thou shalt not covet. Another thing that love doesn’t do. So-and-so child is praised up and down while all of your child’s fine traits are ignored. Perhaps the darling is even criticized.
Rising up in you is a surge of rage for the compliment-er, and coldness toward the mother of the (let’s just call it what it is) two-dimensional charm. I wanted that compliment. I gotta have that compliment.
Dearly beloved – love. You owe to that compliment-er, to that parent who got their child to look good – love. Don’t give an inch to those ugly feelings that rose within you. Don’t allow a bit of resentment or frigidity to set into any of your discourse.
What unrighteousness we discover in us! I’m impatient and love shortcuts like stealing. An upgraded spouse sounds great. I demand to have what my neighbor has. This all comes to us so easily!
Jesus came not to summon those imaginary creatures whose feelings and responses are all in line with God’s will. Jesus comes to call creates like us to repentance!
There is grace for us sinners: for those who are dishonest, for those who are disordered in their sexuality and disloyal in their relationships, for those who are really good at nursing grudges and hating.
Jesus comes to people like this today, and says – Come on, follow me. You’re done with all this. It’s time to start loving.
And to thwart your attraction to that person who’s not your spouse, maybe he’ll set you to reading some Chronicles genealogies.