In trying to sort out and establish my faith in God, I had to determine the following: A. Did I believe in (know) God; B. Did I respect God, and C., Did I truly love Him?
Some say the answer is obvious – if you Believe, then all else follows. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. Even in my ignorance, I knew that much. This led me to the age-old question: What does “to know” mean?
What exactly does God “want” from us?
A pastor I know once explained that God wants to perceive us as His “friends.” This concept, the pastor explained, is based on the scripture where Jesus told His disciples:
“12This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are My friends if you do what I command you.…” [John 15:13]
In our society today most of us understand the concept that “blood is thicker than water,” or that love between family members is stronger than that of a set of friends.
But is it really? When I read John 15:13 and listened to the pastor’s sermon, I began to wonder. It isn’t that one kind of love is stronger than another, but it’s more about how it is given.
You are born into a family, one that you are expected to love all the members of, even if you don’t really like any of them. One can love a parent or sibling fiercely, laying down your life for them, but when it comes to simply spending time with that family member, a lot of us just don’t have time. Or maybe we have the time, we just don’t make it for the ones we’re related to because we think, “Well, they know I love them. After all, we’re family and love goes without saying.”
But love isn’t exactly an easy concept to explain, mainly because there are different forms of it. Because a lot of us learn by example far better than we learn by rote, Jesus explained a lot of His teachings in the form of parables – stories – so that the people around Him would think past their preconceived notions and actually consider what He was telling them.
That’s one of the aspects of Jesus that I truly love and adore. He loved to express Himself and His teachings in story form. Not only is it an effective way to get a point across, the parables were passed on from person to person, from generation to generation. So when I first read the scripture concerning laying down one’s life for one’s “Friends,” I wondered why Jesus specifically used the word “friends” instead of the word “family.” It’s the “blood is thicker than water” knee-jerk reaction to think of people as “family” being a more desirable than being “just a friend.”
But is it?
Grandma’s Sweater and “Gifts from the heart”
We love our families, adore our children, love our parents, love our Grandma and Grandpa. There are times, though, when the kind of love found within family is easy to take for granted because it’s often based on obligation. We are obligated to love family; we didn’t necessarily “choose” them. We love them even though we might not even like them very much or want anything to do with them.
We love Grandma and that sweater she knitted for us because she lives on a fixed income. She couldn’t afford to buy us anything nice, so she made this sweater instead. Even though it was something crafted by her own hands and came from her heart, the sweater doesn’t really fit us that well, the color doesn’t look good on us or the weave makes us look ten pounds heavier, so we shove it into a drawer somewhere (after we call and thank her for it, of course) and then forget all about it. But Grandma still knows we love her. After all, we’re family! This should go without saying…
Problem is, nobody asked Grandma.
I see this sort of thing all the time and it bugs me. It bothers me not just because I’ve done this myself in the past, but because everyone does it at some point in their lives. It seems to require too much effort to reach out to those who are blood-related to us. Again, it’s not that this is a strong form of love, but that for too many people it becomes a “love” borne out of duty. We do it simply because we’re “supposed to.” Because we’re “family.”
But is love borne out of obligation even “love” at all? Yes, in my belief it is a form of real love, but it is often something we take for granted. Not all of us, mind you, some of us value our families very highly. Some of us even idolize their own family above all else.
The “Grandma’s Sweater” example is how a lot of “believers” tend to treat God and the Gift of Salvation given to us by His Son, Jesus Christ is often taken for granted. We love it, think it’s great, but for some it’s a bit too awkward to wear in public. We keep it because we “may need it one day,” so we shove it into a drawer or closet and forget about it. Occasionally we may take it out of the drawer and wear it, but only on Sundays and only in front of “family.” Many won’t dare wear it in public, because someone might think we’re unfashionable or downright crazy.
So why does Jesus Christ place emphasis on the Disciples as “friends” rather than what we might expect, like saying they were His brothers or His “family?”
You’re born into family. Society expects us to love our families. But again, sometimes that isn’t always what happens. With God’s thoughts being higher than our thoughts – as well as the way we view relationships – perhaps “Friends” are loved on different level because they chose us and we chose them? As friends, we like each other. We value each other’s company. People will often listen to a friend when they won’t listen to their family members at all. But it isn’t that family is not as important – many would gladly lay down their lives for their blood kin.
Friendship is a bond that most people take seriously. And there are different kinds of friendships. This sort of friendship is like that of two soldiers in the military who became friends during the time of battle, Eventually they came to rely on one another in bad situations. They would gladly die for one another if and when the time came. This is important to know: You are chosen and that God wants us to choose Him rather than follow him simply out of a sense of duty. Family is that which you are “given,” whereas a friendship is a choice.
So as I considered the concept of friendship versus “family,” I came to realize that the pastor was right – or rather, Jesus Christ was right 2,000+ years ago when He made a point of calling His disciples “friends.” They chose to leave everything behind and follow Him, and when it was all said and done, before He went to the cross, He told them that He loved them and commanded them to love others that same way – with the strength of a bond formed out of choosing and being chosen.
This kind of love, known as “Agape” in the Greek form, is a form of love based on a commitment, it is a choice made and is “shown” (rather than “told”) in one’s actions.
In order for Agape to work, each individual must give equal time and fellowship to the other, and take what they say with seriousness. People sometimes tell friends things they would never tell their family members. It is not difficult to see why God would want this level of personal investment. And that’s just the start.
Jesus also spoke of the bond between man and a woman. While this kind of love is slightly different than Agape, this kind also involves “choosing” and subsequently “knowing” each other, not just physically but also on a spiritual level that is far more intimate than anything the flesh can provide. Jesus often used metaphors of “marriage” and “weddings” as well as “brides” several times within His teachings. That’s a long subject that others can explain far better than I, but once I understood why the Marriage Covenant means something far beyond what we perceive it to be in God’s eyes, I began to understand that God expects a high level of commitment – in body, soul and spirit.
The Holy Temple has three chambers for a reason, and they directly correspond to our own bodies, the “living temple” in which the Holy Spirit is to dwell if we have Salvation. The outer wall is the flesh, the inner chamber is the soul, and inside of that, the far inner chamber where the spirit dwells. Again, this a long subject that is better explained by those who are far better versed in this typology than I.
For now, as I write this for a very small audience (my own family), I think of our love and blood-bond that far too often and for far too long has been taken for granted between us. I hope that you come to understand that there are different kinds of love and that love isn’t just sex or other acts of the flesh. Too many people think all love means is that you have the right to copulate with whomever or whatever you want. That’s not love – that’s just flesh slapping together. Loving God is greater than love in the flesh – far greater. His Love is of the spirit, which is far more powerful than anything comparable here in our lives on earth.
Well, as some might ask, what is Love then?
Love isn’t even an emotion – it’s far greater than that. It’s a move of the spirit. It’s a force that flows from God out to all creation. That’s why God, who gave us far more than we will ever comprehend, is the very definition of the word Love. God is, in fact, Love.
That’s why He went to the cross and sacrificed Himself for us — we “walking viruses” that are polluting our own planet. Despite humanity’s generally filthy ways, our hateful and generally unforgiving nature, He loved us anyway. He knows that we are also capable of receiving and giving great love.
The Lord God, our Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit deserve our gratitude, God deserves to be glorified every minute of every day. He is to be loved with our whole hearts, not just merely “appreciated” yet set aside like that sweater Grandma sent us; thought about only when it’s cold outside and when we need Him.
God and His love for us is not to be taken for granted. Seek His face while He may still be found.