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“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
In light of the recently passed Hallmark holiday celebrating romantic love, let me share one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, from his book The Signature of Jesus, on what real love looks like:
“On the night of December 13, during what began as a long and lonely hour or prayer, I heard in faith Jesus Christ say, ‘For love of you I left my Father’s side. I came to you who ran from me, fled me, who did not want to hear my name. For love of you I was covered with spit, punched, beaten, and affixed to the wood of the cross.’
These words are burned on my life. Whether I am in a state of grace or disgrace, elation or depression, that night of fire quietly burns on. I looked at the crucifix for a long time, figuratively saw the blood streaming from every pore of his body, and heard the cry of his wounds: ‘This isn’t a joke. It is not a laughing matter to me that I have loved you.’ The longer I looked, the more I realized that no man has ever loved me and no one ever could love me as he did. I went out of the cave, stood on the precipice, and shouted into the darkness, ‘Jesus, are you crazy? Are you out of your mind to have loved me so much?’ I learned that night what a wise old man had told me years earlier: ‘Only the one who has experienced it can know what the love of Jesus Christ is. Once you have experienced it, nothing else in the world will seem more beautiful or desirable.”
There is something about that line, “This isn’t a joke. It is not a laughing matter to me that I have loved you” that cuts me to the heart and reduces me to tears. At the heart of this faith we practice, underneath the rituals and the morality and the good works and the fellowship, is this core truth: you are loved, more furiously, more passionately, at a greater cost, than you could ever fathom. Rituals may help you approach God. Morality may teach you know how to live. Good works might give you a sense of purpose. And fellowship may surround you with friends and support. But it’s experiencing the love of God, displayed in the death of Jesus Christ, that alone has the power to truly transform your heart and life.
Paul tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). True, transformative love gives and sacrifices and lays down its life even for those who do not deserve such grace. For all who have loved a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, or a friend even when it is hard, I expect that you resonate with Mannings’s words: “This isn’t a joke. It is not a laughing matter to me that I have loved you.” No – my love for you has been full of pain, full of sacrifice, full of tears. It has taken perseverance, selflessness and forgiveness beyond what I thought I was capable of giving. It has meant sleepless nights, sobbing prayers, and agonizing heartache. It may be many things, but easy is not one of them.
Flowers, candy, and Hallmark cards are nice and have their place. But Jesus shows us that true love is sacrificial, longsuffering, and full of grace. That is the gift above all other gifts that our God has given to us. May it also be the gift we give to one another.
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