It’s not enough to give love…


“Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 15.12)

We confess that we love Jesus, and we’d be right to say we let Jesus love us, too. But when Jesus says to love like he loves us, we too often interpret the rules according to our own preferences: What does it mean to love and — especially — to be loved?

We might believe our charitable works show our love for our sisters and brothers — even the ones very different from us. We lovingly ladle soup into bowls, tuck checks into envelopes, donate old winter coats… all for this love.

But if love is giving and receiving — the way Jesus gives his love to us and we back to him — do we allow ourselves to receive love from those we’re doing loving acts for? In the pure transaction called love, there is a vulnerability assumed. We say we can give love, but we don’t really allow the chance to receive love well.

I’ve witnessed charity after charity in which loving church folks stand on one side of a counter and lovingly serve those on the other side without ever really getting to know them, to ask the deeper question, to understand who they are…

It’s not because they have nothing to give back; it’s that we don’t want to receive what they do have to give. Because receiving it means we first have to relinquish our distance, comfort and control.

When we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable in those relationships, we’re not really loving as Jesus loves us and calls us to love one another. Thomas Merton writes:

“The vocation of charity is a call not only to love but be loved. The man who does not care at all whether or not he is loved is ultimately unconcerned about the welfare of the other and society.”

If we don’t allow ourselves to receive love, we cannot truly understand God’s love for us. It’s only when we deconstruct the walls around our hearts that we can experience love. This is why we call it surrendering to God: We give up control over our hearts, which is the only way to be open to the love that God — or anyone else — has for us.

When we are open to love, we stop controlling love. We see how we belong to and depend on each as God intends it: In him. This is what it means when we hear “…those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.” 1 John 4.16.

Love is a two-way street, and Jesus didn’t call us to control or commodify love. To love is to give love freely, but also to care enough for the other to be loved by them.

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Christopher Kostyn Passante is pastor at Mount Nittany Church in State College. Join him each weekday for devotion and prayer on “Going Deeper,” on Facebook: Mt Nittany Church or contact him at cpassante@susumc.org.


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