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What difference does love make?
By Greg Hughson in Articles
reflections on Christian love this Christmas timeWhat difference does love make? by Greg Hughson
Jesus teaching encourages us to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. The Christian life is all about love. The author of John's gospel goes so far as to declare that God IS love.
But what is the nature of true love in the Christian sense ?
It is more than a feeling. Christian love is an act of the heart, soul and mind. Christian love flows from our heart and soul but is disciplined and directed by our mind and will.
Remember what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the sort of love which Christians should express: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13)
Can you imagine a world without love? For some, sadly, this is a reality. There are many people in our world who are living in situations where love is absent. Wherever abuse is happening it can be attributed to insufficient love. For where love is strong and persistent and consistent in families or institutions, abuse will not happen. People do not intentionally abuse those who they truly love.
Christian love flows from our heart, our soul and from our mind - in other words, from our whole being. Christian love is felt and expressed as a response to the love of God for us. Christian love is directed towards not only those whom we agree with, but towards those we disagree with.
What difference does love make? Love makes a huge difference. Children who have not been genuinely loved will not thrive or be able to reach their potential emotionally, physically or spiritually. In my ministry as a Chaplain I sometimes meet with students and with staff who struggle with all sorts of problems as a result of less than ideal childhoods. Where there has not been enough love received in childhood, people find it harder to be loving as adults. Where there has not been enough love received, confidence is not as strong in adulthood - and there is a higher chance of depression. And yet there is always the opportunity for healing and restoration. Whatever we have missed out on as children I believe can be made up for by being surrounded by loving people later on in life, and by opening our hearts, minds and souls to the love of God. The Church family exists to pass on this love of God to each other, to encourage each other in loving ways and to demonstrate love in action to the world around us. I have in recent years discovered that other religions have very similar goals.
There are many differences between Christian belief and Muslim belief, but at the heart of both faiths lies the two core teachings which are central beliefs and are the same, to love God - to devote ourselves to God with completely, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Recently I organised an interfaith panel to Visit to St Hilda's School. I went along and introduced the panel who spoke to a Year 11 Religious studies class. The panel was made up of one Jewish, one Christian and one Muslim person. All three shared about their love of God and their religion's commitment to caring for others and improving our society and world.
In spite of these good intentions, as we all know people of these three great Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam do not always live out the core beliefs of our faiths. If we are truly full to overflowing with the love of God we will have the ability to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us and to work for healing of relationships with people who are different to us.
It is the love of God which will empower us to take on the character of God so that we will be able to uphold the cause of the oppressed, give food to the hungry, prevent abuse, give new insights to those blinded by crime or affluence, lift up some of those who are bowed down by grief, anger, depression and hate, watch over and care for new arrivals here in Dunedin and Mosgiel, sustain and uphold those who have no parents and those who have lost their husbands or wives.
God can help us to do all these things. If we have love in our hearts, minds and souls we will be able to love our neighbour and care for our neighbour as we love and care for ourselves. Following the way of Christ is following the way of love and service, and along the way we will, like our lord Jesus find ourselves weeping and crying alongside others who are grieving.
As Christmas approaches, let us love our neighbours as we love ourselves, especially those around us who are grieving. They shall know we are Christians by our love, a love which can be inspired by allegiance to God and to God's greatest commandment. All you need is love.
Greg Hughson, University Chaplain