25 Love

Two different words out of the original Greek of the New Testament both get translated as “love.” The resulting confusion steals some of the clarity of Jesus’ teaching.

With apologies to scholars ... entry numbers from a concordance book provide a handy alternative to reproducing the Greek characters. In a concordance that I happen to use, one of the Greek words we render as “love” is entry #5368. This “love” is intense fondness—the emotional state of relishing and the superlative of “like.” I can use this word to say I love my family, and I can just as accurately use it to say I love the films of Bill Murray.

The other word that gets rendered as “love,” the one Jesus tended to use in his commands, is entry #25. This type of love is more of a moral state than an emotional one. To “love” in this way means to regard the object of love as being inherently worthy.

When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor,” the word he used was 25 love. We are more accustomed to thinking of 5368 love. Therefore, we read the command as saying, “Have tender and gushy feelings for your neighbor.” We try to cultivate these feelings, often fail, confess our inadequacy, and leave the matter there.

A better translation might be “serve.” This is not a great translation, in part because it is possible to serve someone out of a sense of personal low worth (which is false) rather than a sense of the other person’s high worth. Nevertheless, try this substitution, if only as an approximation, just to land closer to what Jesus originally said.

When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor,” read this as “Serve your neighbor.”

In John 13:34, when Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you”—just after he finished washing the disciples’ feet—try reading this instead as saying, “Now serve one another as I have just served you.”

Be the Billboard

The Ten Commandments are a gift. “Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god,” says Psalm 16:4. The commandments begin with a command against false gods, seeking to spare us these sorrows. And so the commandments proceed from there.

There is a danger of regifting. That is, there is a danger of rejecting the gift by passing it to another. In the meeting on Mount Sinai, God gave the commandments and a human being received them. The most zealous proponents for the Ten Commandments risk assuming God’s role in this encounter—devoting energy to “giving” the commandments by pressing them on others with prominent public displays.

Deuteronomy 6:6 says, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” This is how we receive the commandments. This is how we receive the gift. The most persuasive billboard on behalf of God’s instruction is a person who is becoming more free to love, more free to share joy, because of the way that he or she holds and treasures this instruction, along with the additional gift of grace.

Whispers

Going forward with anything that’s on your heart to do or pursue will require you to pay a price in terms of effort, time, money, commitment, exposure—or all of these at once.

The most insidious inner voice keeping people from bringing out the potential within them often is not the voice that screams you must not do this thing, but instead the seemingly rational voice that says, “You know, right now just isn’t the right time. Maybe later.”

That caution is not always wrong. But that caution is also what the voice of fear sounds like when it dresses up like rationality. Art and joy are lost to true-sounding whispers as much as they are lost to ferocious roars.

Here are four such whispers, along with thoughts on why these inner objections likely are not true at all:

1. I’m too tired.

In other words: “I am worn out from all I have going on. I can’t take on another thing right now.” There are various responses to this.

First, are you resting? Are you remembering to set apart a day within each week? Do you ever make it a point just to lie still, alone, with no media and no fussing about one more chore before you lie down? Because you have so much going on, your feelings and experiences outrace your ability to process them. Therefore, pause, catch up, and see what comes to your awareness as your capacity clears.

Second, are you doing the right kind of stuff? Are you spending time on the joyful and exhilarating stuff that gives life to who you are? Pursuing the special possibility that is on your heart will add to energy rather than depleting it. Perhaps you feel weary not because you’re so busy, but because you’re not busy enough with the right pursuit.

Third (this one is just for parents), do you remember what it was like when a child became part of your life for the first time? You previously had no place in your attention for a child, but then the child came, and capacities flowered open that you never knew you had. Add something to your life that is new, beautiful, and daring, and see if your capacities don’t flower again in the same way.

2. I don’t have enough money.

What if you are better off without it? Money is not necessarily a blessing.

When we have excess, it is so easy to spend that excess on comforts and indulgences that seem enjoyable at first, but ultimately turn into habits or obligations that steal us away from our art.

Money can also make it easy to avoid the straight path. We face challenges in the pursuit of a calling, and the response a challenge needs often is not the expensive way, but the difficult way. The solution might involve reconciling with a person you really don’t want to talk to; it might involve making a big request that will leave you feeling vulnerable; it might involve doing something in an unusual way that people who claim to know better will not understand. Money makes it possible and tempting to avoid all of these difficulties, purchasing elaborate work-arounds that bypass discomfort and growth.

Don’t misunderstand: To do the thing that has been given to you to do, you might have to raise some money and you might have write some checks. But the way of the spirit often is the creative and frugal way, in which scant resources find surprising leverage for those who believe enough to proceed.

3. I am hurt.

It could be that you have suffered. It could be that you have unfinished business or unresolved pain. You might be thinking you need to wait for healing, and you might be right. However, what if the opposite is true? Your art might be the very means by which your healing will accelerate. Try to suit up and take the field, even in your condition, just to see what you can do. The chance to realize what you are called to in this world is a serious matter. It is serious enough that, in many cases, we take the field hurt. In those cases where the forces of emotion and circumstance are overwhelmingly arrayed against you, standing up to make just slight progress represents a profound and holy victory.

4. I don’t have time.

God is the creator of time. In the Bible, the only miracle of Jesus mentioned in all four gospels is the feeding of five thousand using several loaves and a couple of fishes. This picture of the nature of God’s provision is so important that each of the four books about Jesus’ life and teaching took care to stress it. What this picture shows is how God multiplies the effectiveness of scant resources, taking what is seemingly not enough and making it abundant. The principle arguably applies to money that is directed toward what God gave you to pursue, and it applies to time that is directed toward the same end.

Therefore, give the Lord some time that he can multiply. The way to do this is to treat the time you do decide to give as sacred. If it is one hour per day given to your art or the pursuit of your joy, then try not to waver from that daily commitment. Do nothing during that sacred hour except to advance that purpose placed on your heart by your creator. Depending on what this purpose is, the time might be spent working, studying, planning, or making phone calls. Sometimes it will be spent praying. Do not spend it on indulging fears, including the whispered ones. Act as though the fears aren’t there. If you like, say to your fear: I’ll go back to being afraid after my hour is done.

A device that has helped me to observe this sacred time is a digital kitchen timer. Once I set the timer and press “Start” to begin timing down the hour, I know that I have clocked in. If I am inclined to make excuses or to do something that squanders this time, I can put off this distraction or temptation until the timer beeps. I know that I am not strong enough to be diligent about my art all of the time, but I am able to pretend I possess this level of focus for at least the span of one hour in a day.

Take It Up

A great fifth-commandment moment just happened in the room beneath me. My wife and our daughter butted heads.

DAUGHTER: I don’t get why you’re in charge of me!!

WIFE: Take it up with God.

The comeback has sound basis in theology. There is a reason why the fifth commandment, the commandment to honor our parents, is part of the set of commandments about loving God rather than the set of commandments about loving people. Yes, your parents are people. But they are also the starting points of the particular, significant life you were given to experience in this world, the life chosen for you by God.

Live Richly

On the first day of a new year, on the cusp of the future, it is fitting to ask: What do you remember? What have been the richest times of your years so far, the good memories that easily come to mind?

We all want to live richly, to live life the right way. We know that this material life is short, and somehow represents an opportunity that we don’t want to squander.

I remember vacations. As I ask myself what is best out of my memories of life so far, vacations with my wife and kids are among the first things that come to mind. It’s not the places we’ve been, because some of the best memories occurred in years when we didn’t leave our home state. Instead, vacations are rich because they are the special times when my family and I have fled every other obligation for the sake of spending time together.

I also remember the gospels. In late 2006 and early 2007, I was brand new to Christian faith, and I wanted to understand everything I could about who Jesus was and what he said and did. I cleared time in the mornings for slowly reading the gospels, pausing to pray and reflect over every detail I didn’t understand (which was quite a lot). The entire study took months, some of the richest months I’ve known.

Every good thing comes from the Father, says James 1:17. As you take note of the experiences of your life that have been good enough to leave lasting good memories, what you are recognizing are the times when God was touching you, richly blessing you, drawing very close.

Seeing this casts a different light on the concept of new year’s resolutions. How do I really live a good life, and spend my time well? The best moments of my life seem to have come not because I resolved for something good to occur, but because I cleared my schedule. To be sure, goals and disciplines are vital—make a worthy resolution this year, and work to keep it. However, there is something even greater than our goals and disciplines, something not to be overlooked. I find that my own richest moments occur not when I bear down, but when I open up.