On Loving with the Love of Jesus
Love Is a Commission
By James L. Foster
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”—Jesus
How has Jesus loved us? The answer to this question is one we can contemplate but never exhaust, because it is a Love measured by eternity, a Love unnumbered by days. It is a Love given in total freedom, unlike most human loves which are often driven by self-interest. Self, alone, it seems, rather fears most that Love by which it may be redeemed, by which we may be forgiven. However, the Love of God through Jesus Christ ignores our willfulness and becomes for us a royal rod disciplining our selfishness. The Love of Jesus makes real to us the Love of the Creator God, sealing us forever in his all-sufficient atoning grace.
But Jesus Love extends even beyond its expressions of saving grace, though to be freed from the legitimate consequences of our sin is no small thing. It enables new life on a higher plane. It is Christ in us, alive, unbounded, uncontrived, transforming both others and us by his presence in us. It is a Love that calls forth our unspoken dreams and forms within us a hope of it own designing. It is such a Love as opens to us eternal vistas and enables us to touch the Invisible. It is a Love that God alone ordains.
To be conquered by the Love of Jesus is to become aware of new possibilities for our own participation in the Life of God. “Hereby perceive we the Love of God, because he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:16).
Jesus enlarges on his command to love “as I have loved you” as follows: “Greater Love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12). But, we may ask, what kind of love is it that responds to another simply out of a sense of duty? If we are simply obeying the Divine law, what virtue is there in it? Should not Love proceed from heart-desire rather than from legalistic obedience?
The word in question here is “commandment,” translated from the Greek word entole’ by most modern biblical translations. Entole’, however, may be just as legitimately translated as “injunction,” “charge,” “commission,” and “precept.” If, in fact, Jesus had intended to dictate a law demanding strict adherence, he had available two other terms which would not have been given to such ambiguity—“epitage,” a command or mandate given by a person in authority, and the still more concrete dia’tagma, an authoritative edict as in Hebrews 11:23, “By faith Moses was hidden by his parents…and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
In as much as Jesus chose entole’, and given the nature of agape’ Love as a chosen, gifted, way of life, it is reasonable to assume that “charge” or “commission” better conveys his intended meaning. “ This is my charge to you, that you love one another..." or “I commission you to love one another.” The latter term also carries with it a sense of enablement in keeping with the nature of agape’.
What does it mean to be commissioned to love as Jesus has loved us? It means that we are committed to living out the Love of God just as surely as was Jesus. It means that we take up his ministry of Love and that, like Him, we give our lives in Love. To receive Jesus’ commission is to take up his work where he left off, to continue it in the same way, with the same empowerment and, remarkably, with the same identity. It was not just happenstance that his followers early on were called “Christians”—little Christs—in Antioch of Syria.
Contrary to the understanding of many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, we are not so much called to relationship with Jesus as to identity with him. Whereas he was “the light of the world” (John 9:5), we are now “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Whereas initially “all the fullness of the Father” dwelt in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:19), by virtue of the love of Christ we can now be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). It is into Christ we come by believing (John 3:16). And it is the suffering and the joy of Christ, himself, in which we participate (I Peter 4:13). Finally, it is his divine nature of which we partake (I Peter 1:4). In short, what Jesus is commissioning us to is a real and mystical participation in himself, the continuation of his living, loving presence here and now in our physical beings.
This is not a call to give up our uniqueness. We are each unique forms of Jesus. This does not make us less, but rather enlarges our vision of who and how great Jesus is. To the extent that we individually and corporately “faith” into him, to that extent we are him and his expression of himself is enlarged.
Jesus says that “whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do….” (John 14:13). For the first century Hebrew to whom this was originally addressed, a person’s name was held to be virtually identical with his or her identity. Thus, the only way a person might legitimately ask anything “in Jesus name” is by sharing in that identity. When we ask, it is Jesus asking, because we, in our union with him, have taken on his identity. Likewise, when he suffers, we suffer; when he loves, we love; when he rejoices, we rejoice—and vice versa. We are in him, little Christs, and are thereby committed to that same ministry of agape’ Love to which he was committed in his life as Jesus of Nazareth.
The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, stated that “we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the demonstrated presence of the Lord, are metamorphosed (Greek, metamorphu, transfigured) into the same image from one demonstration of his presence to another, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (3:18). God is about the business of restoring his image in us. He is doing it through his first born, Jesus Christ, through whose Love we are called—relentlessly called—to be Love. This is our commission. It is by Love that we were born to be Love, transformed, transfigured, metamorphosed into that expression of God himself we were meant from the beginning to be.