Free to love

True freedom begins with an incredulous proposition from one or more messengers of a man who lived about 2000 years ago and claimed to be the Son of God [Romans 10:5-21]. Some are offended by this proposition, but many, because of God’s goodness, discern what’s on offer and embrace the lordship of Jesus. For such people, Easter is a lived reality [Romans 2:4]. The foremost evidence this transition has occurred in someone’s life is their love for God and people [John 13:34-35]. I recently realised that love and fear are mutually exclusive, and there’s a direct link between my capacity to love and my revelation of my freedom in Christ [John 8:36, 1 John 4:18]. In other words, if I truly understand the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus, I’ll love without fear, and that’s the hallmark of a truly free person. 

Love is an often misconstrued term today, so it’s worth examining what the God-kind of love looks like. Paul helpfully describes the nature of this love. He tells us the God-kind of love is patient – both in bearing offences and injuries caused by others and enduring misfortune [1 Corinthians 13:4]. It’s also kind. Interestingly, the Greek word for kind here is only used once in the New Testament and implies acting benevolently towards others. A person who loves this way isn’t jealous of others and feels no need to be boastful or arrogant. Individuals with these character traits are secure in who they are and whose they are. You can’t be patient like Paul describes without an inner assurance that everything will be okay, irrespective of what life looks like right now [Romans 8:28]. Neither can you be consistently kind if you’re insecure about your identity or future. The world offers no reliable assurances about tomorrow, but Easter does for those who understand its meaning.

Being conscious you’re loved and called to love affects how you behave toward others [1 Corinthians 13:5]. Your response to them isn’t predicated on how they treat you but who you are [1 John 4:7-11]. In other words, how I treat others directly reflects what Easter means to me. If I’m easily provoked or I refuse to forgive others, even if I’ve got a legitimate reason to hold a grudge, then I’m still in bondage to the machinations Jesus conquered on my behalf. We usually hold grudges and seek revenge because of our egos and the ignorance of our debt of wrongdoing before Easter. If we truly understand that it took a price we couldn’t pay – the blood of God’s Son, to clear our debt and nothing a human being can do to us will ever demand such a price, we’ll never harbour bitterness and unforgiveness [Matthew 18:21-35].  

The God-kind of love hates injustice; it’s not indifferent to anything God calls wrong or evil [1 Corinthians 13:6]. In today’s world, many preach tolerance, even to evil. Here, Paul makes a point which will be uncomfortable to some modern ears: Tolerating unrighteousness isn’t love; it’s evil. Love rejoices in the truth, which is God’s word [John 17:17], and speaks that truth always because it has no association with lies and their author [John 8:44-45, Ephesians 4:15]. A person imbued with the God-kind of love is also resilient. He looks for the best in others, desires their highest good and remains steadfast in adversity [1 Corinthians 13:7]. He can do this because his confidence is in the God who loves him with an everlasting love, not flesh [Philippians 3:3, 4:13]. For him, Easter is evidence that he’s made the right choice to love irrespective of circumstances because the God-kind of love never fails [1 Corinthians 13:8]. If it triumphed over Satan, sin, death, hell and the grave, then our choice to walk in the God-kind of love guarantees a victorious life.

Love, as the Bible describes it, is a verb. It must be something we live out, not just read or discuss. That said, Paul also taught that love is multi-dimensional and is best expressed in God’s love towards us. We’re called to become doubly established in the knowledge of this love by allowing Jesus to inhabit and govern our hearts – the very essence of who we are [Ephesians 3:17]. We’re to apprehend the height, width, length and depth of God’s love for us [Ephesians 3:18-19]. Height reminds us that while we were sinners and dead in our sins, God stooped down and raised us up and sat us with Christ, far above every power that could hold us in bondage [Romans 5:6-8, Ephesians 2:1-7]. Depth reminds us that Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to the point where He died a criminal’s death [Philippians 2:7-8]. That was rock bottom, and He went there for us because of love. Length compels us to ask: “When did God start loving me?” In the answer to that question lies a believer’s security [Jeremiah 31:3]. Width reminds us that God’s love is wide enough to cover the sins of the whole world [John 3:16]. 

Everything you’ve just read is pointless if the Easter story is fiction. But if it’s true that the God who spoke the universe and life as we know it into existence condescended to take on human flesh and pay the price for our rebellion towards Him because of love, then that changes everything. No one can condemn me if I’ve got God’s approval [Romans 8:1]. Fear can no longer paralyse me or dictate my behaviour towards others [Romans 8:31-39]. I’m free to love others boldly, as are you [Galatians 5:1]. But first, we must pursue love above all else and become utterly convinced of the love of God for us in the risen Christ [1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1, 1 John 3:1-2].

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