"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34)
This is Christ’s new mandate for the New Covenant. It forms the basis for our Maundy Thursday service last night, the Thursday when Christ gave this Mandatum Novum to his disciples.
Walking in love is the first and last lesson we ever learn in the christian life. It is the first lesson, because our first venture Christward is one of faith, love, and hope. And it is our last lesson, because it is never one we stop learning; we fight it to our dying day. The death of self, and the incumbent self-love and self-life that rules our fallen flesh, is the sum and substance of the christian’s warfare with the powers of darkness on earth.
To walk in love, we must get the focus off of ourselves onto others. 'You before me' is love’s motto (Phil 2:1ff). The sinner faces two titanic struggles to maintain this other’s centered perspective.
The first is pride, we are naturally full of ourselves. The proud man is demanding, judgmental, and opinionated, defensive to criticism, and irritable to inconvenience. In his twisted world, others exist for his benefit. He comes to be served not to serve. A polar opposite of Christ, he expects his neighbors to walk the Via Dolorosa in the service of his desires. His life is just too precious to waste, giving it away to anyone else. With tragic shortsightedness, the proud man holds on to life, not realizing, in the strange logic of Heaven, you gain life by giving your own away (Mark 8:34-38).
The second barrier to a life of love is insecurity, which is a close cousin of pride. The conventional logic is that if the proud man thinks too much of himself, the insecure man thinks too little. This only approximates the truth. The insecure man actually has more in common with the proud man than he would like to admit. He, too, is proud; he just fears he has nothing to be proud about. What’s worse, he lives with the fear that others might agree with him! His greatest dread is that which Churchill said of Clement Atlee, others might think, feel, or say about him: “Clement Atlee is a very modest man who has much to be modest about!” Or, “An empty taxi pulled up at 10 Downing Street. They opened the door, and Atlee got out!”
Such fear is the enemy of love, and it lives rent-free in the insecure man’s head. Do you see how this cripples our ability to love? If we are terrified others will reject us, think ill of us, or criticize us, we will find it all but impossible to retain the necessary poise to act for their benefit, especially if such action might jeopardize our own standing either in their eyes, or the eyes of others. To love truly we need remarkable and rare clarity of soul to size up the situation, the people involved, and our duty therein. The fog of insecurity, fear, and anxiety rob us of such stillness. The static of possible “Consequences,” “Relational Fall-out,” and “What I stand to lose in all this” muddy the waters, confuse the mind, and divide the will in that, the most decisive of all moments, when love must stand up, speak out, and act purposefully for the good of others.
The remedy for all this, is neither to think more of ourselves, nor is it to think less of ourselves; it is to think more of Christ. This is not a lesson we learn naturally, nor is it one we learn easily. This kind comes only by prayer and patient bible study. We must meet Christ to know Him and be known by Him, to have His love flood into our hearts, filling us up with His fullness (Ephesians 3:14ff). It is only as we experience this love for ourselves, standing at the foot of the cross, lost in wonder love and praise, that such a One as He would choose to lay down His life for me, that we can ever hope to find the stability of soul to love others in like manner. May God deliver us all from living the benighted, loveless life of an unfelt-Christ. How much of Christ are you feeling in your soul this Easter? For most of us, I suspect, this is the one thing that must change before anything else will change in our walk before God and men; more of Christ and less of me.