Summary: The point of love, genuine Christian love, is to copy the self-giving love of Jesus himself. This is a love that is active, extravagant, and enthusiastic.
In his book, Love Does, author Bob Goff shares a particular “coming of age” story. Bob recalls his junior year when he decided he was done with high school. His plan was to move to Yosemite, find work in the valley, and rock climb in his spare time. He took his $75 and packed his meager possessions into his VW bug. But before he left town, he wanted to say farewell to a young man, a Young Life worker named Randy, with whom he had become particularly close. So early one Sunday morning, on his way to Yosemite, Bob knocked on Randy’s door and told him his plan. Bob thanked Randy for his friendship and turned to go, but Randy told him to wait a minute. Randy disappeared back into the house while Bob waited on the porch. When Randy came back, he had a backpack slung over his shoulder and he said, “Bob, I’m with you.”
Bob reflects how stunned he was. Randy’s response was not what Bob expected at all, thinking he was going to get a lecture about what a terrible mistake he was making. Then Bob was also surprised by the fact that Randy would just up and leave with him. Randy explained that he would head to Yosemite with Bob, help him get settled in, and then find a way home. So off they went in Bob’s VW. The first night, they snuck into an unoccupied platform tent in one of the campsites. They did the same the next two nights. Over the course of three days, Bob alternated between searching for a job and rock climbing with Randy. Pretty soon, Bob was out of money, and there were no job prospects anywhere in the valley. Randy offered to spring for dinner, and as they sat eating, Bob reflected that it was probably time for him to head back home and finish high school. Randy’s response was, “Whatever you decide, man, I’m with you.” So that evening after dinner, they climbed into the VW and headed back home.
When Bob pulled up in front of Randy’s house, a woman ran out, wrapped her arms around Randy, and said, “Welcome home, honey.” Bob had always known the woman as Randy’s girlfriend, but it turns out they had gotten married that past Saturday…the day before Bob knocked on Randy’s door on his way to Yosemite. Only then, though, did Bob realize just what his friend Randy had done for him. And he reflected, “…Randy loved me. He saw the need and he did something about it. He didn’t just say he was for me or with me. He was actually present with me.
“What I learned from Randy changed my view permanently about what it meant to have a friendship with Jesus. I learned that faith isn’t about knowing all the right stuff or obeying a list of rules. It’s something more, something more costly because it involves being present and making a sacrifice…
“The world can make you think that love can be picked up at a garage sale or enveloped in a Hallmark card. But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright…It’s a brand of love that doesn’t just think about good things, or agree with them, or talk about them…What I learned from Randy reinforced the simple truth [that]…Love Does.”
“Don’t be in debt to anyone,” Paul says, “except for the obligation to love each other.” Have you ever thought about what it might mean to be in debt to someone in love only? Have you ever considered the fact that you owe people love? It seems to me that if we owe people love, then we constantly have to be working at giving love to others, right? Love is nothing less than an action, and it should govern every decision we make. So when faced with a choice between staying with his new bride or being sacrificially present with a lost high school kid, Randy decided the kid needed his love, and he acted accordingly. “Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the law.”
If we are to understand the magnitude of what Paul is pressing upon us here, then we have to be willing to act in love in the same way Randy did for Bob. It means that when we see a person in need, we are obligated to respond to them, to offer them our love through our presence, sacrifice, and support. And if we don’t respond to a neighbor in need, then we are actually doing them harm.
Thousands of years ago, just after Moses led the Israelites out of bondage is Egypt, God gave to his people the law. At the heart of this Law are what we know as the Ten Commandments, but there are many other parts to the Law as well. The idea behind this Law was to give people guidance in how they were to relate to God and to one another. God, in God’s compassion, had freed the people from Pharoah. And now God desired that the Israelites would become a light to all nations as they shared that same compassion with others, which meant the Israelites could not behave in the same was as the Egyptians and others in the world. They had a new standard, and it was quite specific. Still, we know that laws are often violated, and they certainly were violated by the Israelites over and over again. But the limits of the law are overpowered by love. So there, in the middle of God’s law, was this one statement, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” It’s found now in the book of Leviticus, and as you know, it’s repeated by Jesus as the greatest commandment, and here again by Paul in his letter to the Romans.