Love 101 - Part One

Several years ago a woman stopped me after a Bible study class to ask for some advice.  The young woman who was rather new to following Christ asked me for some Scripture texts that could assist her in learning how to love others.  She knows that her Lord instructs her to love and she knows how that instruction is often quite difficult to follow.  I respect her for her honesty with her difficulty and for her desire to improve.

I directed her to the words of John in his first epistle and to the words of the Apostle Paul.          

Am I safe in stating that the young Alaskan mother is not alone in her challenge?  Certainly each man, woman, and child reading these words today struggles to love when the recipients strain his/her capacity. 

In his book Parables from the Back Side, J. Ellsworth Kalas takes a look at the teaching stories of Jesus.  He devotes one chapter to one of Jesus’ characters whom Kalas calls, “The Prodigal Who Stayed At Home.”  You are familiar with the young man who despised his younger brother who ran away in sin.  You also know how the loving father threw a party, an occasion the “Prodigal Who Stayed Home” refused to join. Kalas invites the reader to ponder the reaction of the older brother; and, he tells us why.

We are usually so fascinated with the wonderful stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son that we miss the point Jesus wanted most to make:  What happens to the older brother?  That's a prime question for most of us, because many of us are like this older brother.  We live quite responsible lives, obey the basic laws, are generally moral, and probably work hard.  We especially work hard out in the father's fields - community projects, PTA, service clubs,voter registration drives, half-a-hundred church committees.  We're in a position to sympathize with the older brother.  We understand him.  It may be that we've even said at times that we don't blame him for being angry.  He had good reason to complain. 

Jesus loved this older brother, to be sure.  At no point does he speak harshly of him.  But it's also clear that Jesus was disappointed in him.  There is something very wrong with this older brother, but what is it? (Kalas 79-80)

What is wrong with the Prodigal Who Stayed Home?  Well, he did not follow his father’s example in extending love to his redeemed brother.  The father looked on the younger son and saw a repentant and remorseful child to whom forgiveness and love should be extended.  Conversely, the older brother saw a prostitute-loving, spendthrift to whom nothing should be given.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the followers of The Way in Corinth, he addressed a host of “Prodigals Who Stayed Home.” And, as we see from the context, they even struggled to love those who never ran away to a life a sin.  They had difficulty loving church members whom they saw every week.  Paul gives us a taste . . . they argued over whether Paul or Apollos was greater; they fought over food supplies; they sought recognition for their divinely granted gifts; and, they taught that some members of their body where more important than others.  A clear word of LOVE was desperately needed.

Inspired by God, Paul composed one of the New Testament’s most beautiful expressions of love (See 1 Corinthians 13).  If the Corinthians heeded the words that love takes no part in boasting, their debate over Paul and Apollos and their gift-comparing vanished.  If they listened while the church leader read the scroll, they heard that love is patient, thus providing the remedy to the food fight. 

As you read Paul’s description of love, notice the words that catch your eye.  You will find that those words serve you well as a training ground in maturing in your walk with Christ.  In a men’s Bible study, we followed the advice of our study guide and wrote out verses 4-8 with our names replacing the word “love”.  When I read, “Mark is patient, Mark is kind,” and so forth, I knew quickly my areas of need.  One of our men put a funny look on his face. Then he said, “If others look like this after you read your name in these verses, you know you need lots of help.”

Truth is, you and I are in constant need of lots of help.

For further reading:
Kalas, J. Ellsworth. Parables From the Backside. Abingdon Press, 2000.

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