“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12)
A number of years ago, I was having a visit with a friend whom I had known for over three decades. During this get-together – I was sitting bedside, next to her in the nursing home where she now resided. I suspected it would be one of my last conversations with her, as she was quite ill. The chatter was mostly light, as we reflected on the activities we had shared together. We laughed, enjoying each recollection that came to memory. Then she reminded me that there had been a time when she was angry with me over something I had done. Surprised that I didn’t remember, she giggled a little because supposedly she called me stupid at the time. Sharing my reaction on that occasion, she stated that before we parted that day – I asked her if she didn’t love me anymore. She was amazed that I had no recall of her response . . . but she certainly did. She apparently said, “Yes I do love you, but then I love a lot of stupid people.” That was the blessing of my friend Sally, because you always knew where you stood with her.
During the month of February, especially as Valentine’s Day draws near – we find ourselves celebrating love. When we think about this day – our mind goes to flowers, candy, and other heart-filled expressions of romantic love. However, love comes in many forms. My friend Sally loved me, even when she thought I was stupid and told me so. In the 1970 film adaptation of the novel, Love Story – author Erich Segal brought fame to the oft-repeated catchphrase – “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” The line has been criticized and perhaps unfairly mocked for suggesting that apologies are unnecessary in a loving relationship. However, in my opinion, the author got it wrong. There is always room for an apology, especially when one is seeking forgiveness. One of Jesus disciples put it this way: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). We cover sin by acknowledging it and then extending the forgiveness God gives us to others. To “cover” sin is to forgive it, and the absolute best example of a love like that is Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf.
I was recently involved in a discussion about what God expects of us. Someone said that if we could just follow The Ten Commandments, we would be doing what God wants. I replied that Jesus made it even more simple when in an attempt to try to trick Him – one of the Pharisees, considered to be an expert in the Law, asked Him what was the greatest commandment. “Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). If you love God with all your heart and soul you are especially obeying the first four Commandments, and if you love your neighbor as yourself – you will be obeying the last six. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the entirety of God’s law.
When we prayerfully consider Jesus’ words and the fact that all the rules and laws in Scripture can actually be summarized by these two commandments, we understand just how challenging it is for us to keep God’s directives and how often we fail to do so. This hopefully leads us to a recognition that we can never be righteous before God on our own accord. As Christians, we can only strive to “love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). As we receive the loving gift of His Son, unworthy as we are, we are able to show love to others who might not otherwise be deserving in our eyes. Jesus loves fully without any limits, conditions or restrictions. He doesn’t expect anything in return except our reciprocal love, of course. As we extend it in His direction, He gives us the ability to offer love to people we don’t have to, or sometimes don’t even want to. Jesus said that the loving actions of His followers would be the way to point the world to Him (John 13:35). In doing so, we demonstrate that we are able to love unconditionally to the end. That, my friends, is the true essence of love . . . regardless.
REFLECTION: Consider some occasions in your life when you were difficult to love because you were rebellious or perhaps downright stupid. Who were the persons who offered their love to you during those times? Did you seek or feel God’s love during those periods of struggle? Think of a specific person or type of individual you are finding difficult to love? In what ways might you extend unconditional love to them?