Psalm 106:3 (NIV)
Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
For many years, I have leaned heavily on the Good News of Jesus’ love and salvation given as a gift of his grace, received by faith alone, inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit. I have more often than not been the Lutheran in the imaginary conversation between Jesus and a Lutheran believer.*
Jesus: Love your neighbor.
Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus, forgive me. I have failed to love my neighbor as I should. I have hurt and harmed him. Forgive me!
Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. Now, love your neighbor.
Lutheran: Thank you Lord Jesus! And I will try to love my neighbor, but I know I won’t do it perfectly. Even my best efforts will fail to love him as I should.
Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. I will help you. Now, love your neighbor.
Lutheran: Lord Jesus, I will try to love my neighbor, but I don’t want to do it with false motives. I know I cannot please you or earn your favor by loving my neighbor, for I am a sinner.
Jesus: Yes. I know that. But you are also a saint. Now, love your neighbor.
I wonder whether the Lord tires of such thinking. In fact, I wonder if that is not more burdensome than the outright refusal of a non-believer to love his neighbor. He expects more from his own people.
That’s the beautiful thing about God’s love. It is not dependent on the heart or the live of the sinner or saint. It just is. God loves us because he IS love. His desire for us is that we would express his love to others. He delights when we love others, because he loves us and our neighbors. We have failed to love our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t earn his favor when we do. We must never love others in order to gain something from them.
The Good News still stands. It is essential to our relationship with God. Jesus’ love is perfect and his command is clear: As I have loved you, love or another. Amen.
*Credit where it’s due: Thanks to my friend and colleague Jeff Gibbs, who is now a professor at Conconrdia Seminary in St Louis, MO, who first offered this imaginary conversation to me many years ago.