I would like to tell you a true story that revolutionized my understanding of God, the “good news,” and my relationships. In fact it has been so life-changing, that I felt the Lord command me not to speak anywhere new, that I do not share this story!
Simply put, there is nothing I deem more important than this message in order to have intimate, and yes, unshakeable relationships that come from God Himself.
In 1987 I was in a patent office in Düsseldorf Germany for a fairly important business meeting. My German at the time was weak, which was all for the good because I was in a rather desperate place. Up to this particular day I had walked with the Lord for about 15 years, and had gained a greater understanding of God’s love. But I was still struggling in many areas. I had heard a gospel that basically said, “Jesus laid His life down for His friends,” but frankly this wasn’t doing me much good. Not for the state of turmoil I was in. I was feeling like my expectations had become my greatest enemy, and every time they weren’t lived up to I became part of the problem.
As I sat there in this patent office, a certain verse out of the Bible kept cycling through my consciousness, “Perfect love casts out fear.” ¹ When I finally became aware of it (you know, kind of like the moment you finally become conscious of a melody which was continually playing in your mind), my awareness took the form of, “That’s interesting – love casts out fear.” But suddenly I felt inwardly rebuked, “NO! Love creates fear. Perfect love casts out fear!”
It then came to be that “perfect” love was explained to me, right there, in the parable of a patent. Now I don’t know if you know anything about patent law, but in general a couple of things are required to get a patent on a new idea, device, or process. The first thing is to describe what is called, “the state of the art.” This is the prior art of something, or that which is already known about it. This makes the existence of something “as good as it gets,” or perhaps more accurately, “as good as it has gotten.” Next, comes a description of what the patent applicant thinks he has that’s new, something never done or practiced before. This is called the “abstract”. Finally the clincher is the reduction to practice, or the “demonstration” of what is new.
Now there’s more, but at this point my mind was racing! I had to ask for a pen so I could write as fast as I could. What I was understanding was that previous to the Cross there was a “state of the art” love that was understood, and like patent law, was “as good as it gets.” Jesus described it as, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ² Paul too spoke of it, saying, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man (i.e. for a friend) some would even dare to die.” ³
But then I was reminded of the whole of Paul’s message. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth (demonstrated) His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”, and again, “if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
I was blown away. Jesus is God’s love patent, and He demonstrated a love that was previously not known until He came and died for His enemies. This means I was qualified! I was qualified not because I “deserved” His love. Jesus gave Himself to me on my most ignorant, weakest and sinful worst day. He extended love and forgiveness to me when I was the one putting Him on the cross!
Suddenly the gospel – and it’s relational implications – was opened up to me in a whole new way.
Now I had never seen anything like this before, and I had to ask the question, “How is that possible????” Then I heard His voice again, “The day I said I love you, I nailed my expectations to the tree.” My mind was still racing. This time it came to rest at another passage from the Bible, “And you, being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;” (4)
In that patent office, Jesus finally went on to say, “… And if you are going to love like I love, you too are going to have to nail your expectations to the tree.”
A Redemptive Love, not a Reactive love
From what you have written, my friend, I’m guessing that you have mostly seen, and have been on the receiving end of the kind of love that’s only good for friends. Sadly what has been calling itself “church” is full of it. It is the kind of love that is based on – even reactive to – the perceived value of its object. But as demonstrated by Jesus, there is another kind of love, and it is based on the value 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.” – “This is how we know what love is, Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for each other.” (5)
Now obviously it gets really tricky when we have to love others on our worst days, especially the worst days of those we claim to love. It’s those days that no one really feels like they deserve love, or are able to give it. But for me this has become the most important understanding of taking up my cross daily. Because of what He did for me, I don’t have to be alienated from those I disagree with. His love empowers me to be lovingly redemptive toward them. It is capable of loving those who are bad, and making them good if they can believe it. And it is capable of opening up door to walk in true intimacy with them.
Are we up for it? Without this kind of love my friend, the family of God is bankrupt.
(1) 1 John 4:18 (2) John 13:38 (3) Romans 5:7 (4) Col. 2:14 (5) 1 John 3:16