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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer

Love That Passes Understanding

"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey. This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.


"And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love."

~1 Cor. 13:13

We've all likely read the Apostle Paul's encouragement that by casting our anxiety aside and making our requests known to God, we will find that "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:7). As I've reflected on the crucifixion of Christ recently, I've come to see that the LOVE of God passes all understanding as well. And it is a mystery, isn't it, that this love can be known so intimately and yet still remain a mystery? After all, if we never deeply, personally, experientially know the love of Christ, we can never really know Christ at all. The Bible teaches that we can know, say, and even believe all the right things, but if we don't know the love of Christ we don't know God.

One passage that has forever lifted me up and out of my old view of love is John 13:34. Jesus is just beginning his farewell to the disciples, and Judas has already left to betray him, when He says to the eleven: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

So, we have an old commandment and a new one. Let's look at both. First, what is the old commandment? Well, Phil talked about this just a week or so ago when he preached on Mark 12. Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is. His response was "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (vv. 37-39, emphasis mine).

Do you see the difference? The old commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but the new commandment is to love our neighbor "as I have loved you." Now, I don't know about you, but I can't live up to the old commandment, let alone the new one! Every single day I struggle to put myself aside in order to love others well. And every single day I fail.

Once again, we see that Jesus doesn't lower the bar for kingdom living, he raises it! Again and again we find ourselves with the crowd that listened to Peter on Pentecost after he tells them that it was they that crucified Jesus, the Son of God! They couldn't just blame their leaders, it was them! (Read Acts 2, it'll blow your mind!) And what was their response? "They were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, 'Brothers, what should we do?'" (Acts 2:37b).

Left to ourselves and our own efforts and standards our situation is exactly the same as theirs: completely, utterly, wholly and entirely, helpless. And until you come to this realization–that left to yourself you are totally without hope in the world–the promise of the gospel, the life of joy, hope, peace, love promised by Jesus, cannot be yours. The way to kingdom life with and in Christ lies through our futility and hopelessness, not around them.

But this is just our starting point. Our only hope of loving others the way Christ loves us is to first receive the love He has for us.

This is the secret that Christ has made known to one and all: We can only love others as we are meant to do when Christ Himself lives in our hearts. And I mean Christ Himself, I don't mean "as long as we mean well," or "as long as we do our best," or "as long as we're nice, kind, friendly, don't ruffle any feathers, etc." That's not love. As C.S. Lewis rightly noted, "Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness."

This is the secret that Christ has made known to one and all: We can only love others as we are meant to do when Christ Himself lives in our hearts.

So how in the world are we to love one another if this is the standard God will hold us to? By letting Him love others through us. We become in truth the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the world (Teresa of Avila). This word "let" is another pivotal word in our walk of faith. Jesus said "let your light shine before men" (Mt. 5:16, emphasis mine). Paul said that we must "let the peace of God rule in your hearts" (Col. 3:15, emphasis mine). There are other passages like this, of course, but my point is just that our highest obedience doesn't lie so much in spending every ounce of our energy on serving God, or serving others 18 hours out of every day, or trying really, really hard to do what Jesus would do, it lies in allowing Christ the room in our hearts–and wills–to hold sway over the way we interact with every person we meet.

And we will love every person we meet differently, just as Jesus loved everyone He met differently. Just as Jesus looked to the Father for direction and guidance first, so should we. Our question should be: "Lord, how do you want me to love this precious one of Yours?" And the way we love "this one" will certainly differ from the way we love "that one."

Here's a quick story to show you my point. Shortly after we were married, Sandy and I faced some financial difficulties. I realized something desperately needed to change, so I made up my mind with renewed seriousness to sit down and crunch the numbers. I was going to root out every extra expense, and then do everything in my power to add to our income. But as I prayed about it, God showed me a picture of me standing before Him with my hands tied behind my back, and I sensed God saying, "Hands off! Trust Me; I will provide for you." You see, God knows how I'm wired. He knows that my way of operating is to see a problem and fix it, figure out what to do and do it, and not to let anything get in the way. But another person facing exactly the same circumstances may hear God leading differently. Depending on how they're wired, they might hear God say, "Offer it all to Me, and then get up and get to work! Put a budget together. Find someone to give you advice on godly finance. No more letting my blessings slip through your fingers!"

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus wondering what to do to please God, Jesus told him, "Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Mk. 10:21b). This was not a command for all of us, but a command to him. Jesus knew the young man, and He knew that his heart was held captive by his possessions, and so in love, He told the man to sell it all, not because possessions are bad, but because those possessions were holding him captive.

So when we see different people struggling and we search for ways to let Christ love them through us, let us remember that it's not poverty or trouble or disease we're dealing with, but people. We're not fixing situations, we're loving image-bearers of God.

We've all heard that love is a verb, and it is. Love is something we do. But what does Jesus say about our words and deeds? That they flow out of what is already in our hearts! Only when Christ first lives in our hearts can we love our neighbor as He first loved us.

We're not fixing situations, we're loving image-bearers of God.

So let us set our hearts, our minds, our wills on seeing, truly seeing, the people around us. And then let us make up our minds to let Christ love them through us!

Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.

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