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« Are You Dead or Alive? | Main | Why I Am A Religious Conservative »

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Romantic’s hearts still flutter at the mention of this adored sonnet title. Yet, the greatest answer to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetic question emerges only when we consider the unconstrained love of Jesus for people he encountered in his life. Jesus did not allow his passion merely to float in the abstract. He defined his love with names, faces and events. He practiced his sermon on the mount in the valley of service. He counter-balanced his soaring rhetoric with selfless dedication to actual people. Count the ways he loved:

He loved by choosing. Jesus did much more than passively accept the decision of his followers. He actively and aggressively committed himself to his disciples when he chose them and commanded them to follow him. When someone chooses, he says “I want you!”

He loved by leading. Jesus loved people to the extent that he would not leave them in bondage. He lead his disciples out of oppression, ignorance and false tradition. He lead them into freedom, truth and service. Jesus represented the highest form of leadership: leading by loving.

He loved by defending. Picture the poignant moment when Jesus lifted the adulterous woman to her feet who had been flung to the ground before him. She literally had no one to protect her from the vicious attacks of the religious hierarchy. “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” Love never seeks its own refuge, but boldly steps forward to do the right thing.

He loved by mingling. Jesus always reached out to the misfortunate and the down-and-out. When he ate dinner at Simon’s house, he signaled to the world that he would be a friend of sinners, regardless of the scorn heaped upon him by his prideful and falsely pious critics.

He loved by weeping. Sunday School whizzes can quote the shortest verse in the bible: “Jesus wept.” While this verse may be brief, it delivers a powerful message. Even his enemies saw the love that overflowed his heart. Jesus gave people access to his deepest emotions.

He loved by rebuking. While the cowardly keep their mouths shut, he who truly loves speaks up, says the truth and risks everything for the sake of a loved one. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12:6

He loved by giving. You may give without loving, but you may not love without giving. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” While Jesus is synonymous with giving, it is remarkable that he never gave money. He gave things more important than money: time, effort, energy, love and life. Whoever or whatever receives your gifts, owns your love.

He loved by suffering. Jesus was true man. Suffering was just as difficult for him as for any of us. Jesus was also true God. Since he had power over his tormentors, he must have been tempted to stop the pain, yet he did not. Supreme love stands as the only reason that he endured it all.

He loved by teaching. Early in the morning or late in the evening, to few or to many, on the sea or in the mount, in a house or in the temple, to the elite or to the lowly, Jesus taught. His motive was not remuneration, his criteria was not convenience, and his goal was not tenure. He taught people, not because he loved teaching, but because he loved people.

He loved by companionship. Jesus cultivated close relationship with people. By his own initiative, he established this closeness, even when it taxed his patience and imposed upon his privacy. He spent three and a half years in the constant company of his disciples. Love alone provides the basis for willful close companionship.

He loved by sacrificing. Sacrifice is the act of offering up something of great value for the sake of another’s well-being. Great love brings about great sacrifice.

He loved by dying. Jesus Christ was a peerless teacher, a miracle worker and an unflagging leader, but none of these attributes made him a savior. Only when he took his final, fatal step to death did he seal his love for us and become our redeemer.

Count on. You’ll never exhaust the ways that Jesus demonstrated his love for us. But let the counting continue from the life of Jesus into our own. We must find ways that we, in turn, can love others. If we look to Jesus as our true example, his love will flow without restraint through our ministry and service to the people that Jesus died to save.

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