We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

At Easter time, we think of the greatest act of love that there ever was. Pure, sacrificial, completely undeserved, inconceivable, selfless LOVE.

And those who follow the Christ of this incredible love are, in turn, called to love. The Bible tells us that we can only do this because of His love for us.

But in a world where knowing our rights and learning to speak up for ourselves are celebrated, and where hotly debating topics (especially online) is the norm, I sometimes think we’ve forgotten this. Somehow, even when speaking of Christian things, even when seeking to share truth, there is often a real absence of love, compassion, understanding, kindness. And this can be a huge barrier to that truth.

I recently read Michelle Obama’s autobiography and was struck by how her parents sought to teach their children about compassion and understanding: “Even if we didn’t know the context, we were instructed to remember that context existed. Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance”.

Compassion and understanding must go hand-in-hand with the desire for people to know the truth. Compassion and understanding should affect how we convey the truth, or when. They should temper our attitudes and the words we use. They should direct our reasons for saying the things that we say. Think of how tenderly Jesus treated the woman at the well, for example. He didn’t shun her or ridicule her because of her background. Nor did he shy away from the challenges. He spent time with her, understood where she was coming from, and gently pointed her to God.

If we truly believe in the Easter story and the love that made it happen, if we are amazed by exactly how much Jesus loved us when we are so completely undeserving, then surely love should be pouring out of us. We love because He first loved us.

That doesn’t do away with the need for discernment, wisdom, or perhaps sometimes even distance, in line with the greatest commandment to love God above all else. But the second greatest commandment, as given us by Jesus himself, is to love those with whom we share this planet. Love for God and others must be the basis of our operating system. Without love, as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, nothing else matters. (I used to think a “clanging cymbal” was a strange way to describe someone, but all you have to do is watch a political debate on TV to understand the metaphor!)

If all our interactions, in person or online, were tempered by a love that was borne out of the love with which Christ first loved us, what would that look like? If our opinions were shared out of a genuine desire to help, to encourage, or to win someone to Christ, rather than out of a desire to be heard or to be right, would they be shared as frequently? If our relationships were based on selflessness and sacrifice, how much happier might our homes be? If we remember that context always exists, how might we treat the people we meet as we go about our daily business?

If ever there was someone who was treated unfairly and had good reason to fight back, it was Jesus. Yet at the last supper, he washed the feet of Judas, all the while knowing that the next day, the same Judas would betray him. Washing feet was a Biblical gesture of welcome and kindness. I read a quote recently which said that we win the war by washing the feet of those who oppose us.

Welcome… And kindness… Extending these to people who oppose us or are different from us? It seems like this might just be loving as Jesus loved…

We are human, therefore we love imperfectly. But through God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice, we are empowered to love nonetheless. Love is the crux of those two greatest commandments. And Jesus said that Christ-followers would be known BY THEIR LOVE. Not by their loud voices, or by how many meetings they hold each week, but by their love. Is that how we’re known? Is that how we “do church”? Sacrificially, selflessly? Is this how we live day-to-day, in our families and workplaces?

As we think about Christ’s love for us this Easter, let’s pray that by the Holy Spirit’s power, we are reflecting that love out to the world. That when people come into contact with us, they experience love, first and foremost. How amazing to have the reputation of being someone – or even a whole people! – who loves well.

Most merciful God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
we confess that we have sinned
in thought, word and deed.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
In your mercy
forgive what we have been,
help us to amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be;
that we may do justly,
love mercy,
and walk humbly with you, our God.

(Common Worship: Daily Prayer)