Valentine’s Day is coming up and it seems we’re too much like Charlie Brown, opening our mail boxes, counting our Valentines, wondering who loves us. Jesus (Yeshua) taught that we need to be more concerned with who we love instead of who loves us.
One place where we find Yeshua’s’ teaching about love is in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:43-45. Here’s what the Messiah said, “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ teaching was radically different than what was understood in that first century culture and in our culture as well. Here’s why:
First, the Hebrew Scriptures taught that we were to be selective in love. That’s why Yeshua says You have heard it was said, Love your neighbor. That last phrase comes right from the Law of Moses where it says Do not hate your brother in your heart . . . Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:17-18). To love our neighbors means that we are to love “our brothers, our fellow countryman (our relatives)” We are to love our people. Note that there is no command to hate enemies in this Old Testament passage –it doesn’t even address outsiders let alone our enemies. It’s saying love those within our group. And it makes perfect sense to love those love those within our own communities. We are to love our fellow citizens, the people in our spiritual communities, and our own families.
Second, some of the Bible teachers of Jesus’ day were teaching that we were to be exclusive in love. Yeshua’s words, You have heard it was said, Love your neighbor but hate your enemy refer to a few teachers saying that we are to love our neighbors but to to hate those outside the community. It wasn’t a common teaching, in fact, it can be found written in only two extra-biblical passages, but people did hear it in first century Israel. At Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, they taught “love the sons of light but hate the sons of darkness.” And one ancient Bible teacher said, “love all of these (in your community), but hate the secterians, apostates, and the informers.” In other words, love the insiders but hate all outsiders. I don’t think most of us would do this openly—we just find ways to cover it up. Like we might say of someone we can’t stand, I love him in the Lord. Or, as I learned from a former student of mine who came from the Southern United States, that at her congregation you could say all kinds of evil about a person and express true hatred, but then finish it off with, “Bless her heart” and everything would be considered fine.
Finally, Yeshua the Messiah taught that we should be impartial in love. We’re to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” We are to love those inside our communities and those outside. Those who get along with us and those who don’t. Those who seek our good and those who seek our harm. The reason is that this will emulate God’s love. That’s what it means to be sons of your Father in heaven. Sons tend to look like their fathers. For example, not too long ago one of my sons was visiting from out of town. He went to a Chicago park with a friend where a former student of mine, who had never seen him before, walked up to my son, and asked, “Are you a Rydelnik?” Poor boy, he looks a lot like me.
So we are to look like our Father in the way we love people and here’s what God’s love looks like:
God’s love is unconditional. John wrote in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God never waits for someone to be worthy of His love, He just loves people. I’m grateful because I did not love Him but He loved me.
God’s love is sacrificial. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16). This doesn’t refer to just the world of believers but to all people. God sacrificed the one who was most precious to Him for the whole world.
God’s love takes the initiative. In Romans 5:8 it says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Messiah died for us.” God doesn’t wait to see our appreciation, our interest, or even our obedience before extending love to us.
At Valentine’s Day, and every day, let’s remember not to love like Charlie Brown but like the God who gave us His Son, the Messiah Yeshua, not because we deserved Him but just because God loved us.