taking the words of Jesus seriously

This is my command: Love. – John 15:17

With this one statement, Jesus made it all really simple.  It was never about following the rules. It was never about trying to be good enough. It was never about being right or having it all figured out. Jesus told us to love.

He told us that love is what it’s always been about. All the Law and the Prophets and every command issued from the mouth of God was about love—love for God and love for others, which always go hand in hand. (Matt. 22:37-40)

But we have a way of taking something so simple and complicating it. We argue about the right interpretation of words on a paper. We argue about the proper way to worship. We argue about who is most deserving of the glory. We argue about who should be kept out. We don’t seem to believe that it could really be so simple.

Or maybe it’s just that the simple command demands too much from us. It seems easier to check off the boxes. It seems safer to draw distinct lines around who is in and who is out. It seems more secure to build our own tower to heaven.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

In this passage, we hear what real love is like. Real love requires sacrifice. It requires that we give of ourselves, that we lay down our desires and our comfort for the sake of others. Love is not a just a fuzzy feeling that is meant to satisfy us. Love is an action that reflects to the recipients their worth. It shows them that they are worthy of our time, our resources, our acceptance. Love involves risk. It can be challenging and messy.

Maybe we fear that love is a zero-sum game, that if we give of ourselves there might not be anything left for us. But love is not about self-abnegation. Love is about upholding the image of God within me and also within the other. Love is what leads to my flourishing and to yours as well. Love is what sets us all free. It’s how we experience the new life that Jesus promised. 

READ: God’s Up to Something: Laboring in Expectation

Jesus came to put this self-giving love on full display. He came to show us how God loves us so that we might learn how to love others. Jesus’s love was broad and inclusive. It was extravagant and surprising. It encompassed the “sinners” and the “saints,” those who thought they were holier than thou and those who seemed to be too far gone. His love melted hearts of stone, and it threatened long-held power structures. His love was revolutionary.

That’s the same love that we are called to live out. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. Love should be our greatest motivator and the most steadfast guidepost to which we always return. If we live our lives learning what it means to love, I think that will be enough.

We can’t manage this love on our own. We cannot give what we have not received. It’s not about earning and striving. Rather, it’s about receiving the truth that we are loved just as we are. It’s about living in the reality that God loved us so much that he gave everything to be with us and to set us free. It’s the embodiment of that truth that allows us to love others. We love because we are loved, and we recognize that everyone is just as worthy of love as we are.

If a day comes when we stand before God and give an account of our lives, I don’t think we’ll be asked which denomination or political party we claimed. I don’t think we’ll be asked where we landed on atonement theory or if we believed that creation really happened in a literal seven days. I think the question that we’ll have to answer is: “Did you love?” 

Did we believe Jesus when he said that love was the most important command? Did we give of ourselves to make sure that others had what they needed? Did we welcome the stranger? Did we feed the hungry? Did we uphold the dignity of God’s image in the prisoner and the immigrant and the trans woman? Did we love our enemies even when it cost us something?

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

About The Author


Vanessa Stricker is a Jesus follower, a peacemaker, and a recovering perfectionist, who is learning what it means to live on the side of grace. Vanessa works as Pastor of Peacemaking & Justice at One Life City Church and writes a blog at www.onthesideofgrace.com. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two kids.

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