There are some people we meet who seem to express love in the same way the sun expresses heat. In fact, every religion ever invented that's based in love is an attempt to spread that expression of love to all people. These “love religions” teach that loving, encouraging, and being kind to everyone is the purpose and goal of life... and it is. They also teach that adherents must imitate these people who express such exemplary love, and why not? We should all strive to imitate such people because it's probably better for us to imitate loving people than following the example of cynical, negative, mean people. And if, as Christians, we follow the example of such loving people, we can take all this to the next level by imitating Jesus' example of love.
Jesus is the ultimate example of love. Jesus' love isn't sexual. It's not even brotherly, familial love. It's limitless, measureless love. Jesus is a walking, talking example of "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind." He's also the perfect example of taking the love we have for God and distributing it to all believers as we meet them.
The thing is though, compared to Jesus, nobody's love burns as hot. Compared to Jesus, our love seems depressingly uninspired. But there must be some sort of way we can work ourselves up to Jesus levels of love. There must be some sort of way we can open ourselves to become conduits that God's love can flow through.
The more subtle preachers will teach us to pray and meditate on grace and in this way, open ourselves to God's love. The less subtle preachers will teach that we don't have enough faith, or enough willpower, or enough guts: if we would only put our shoulder to the wheel and shove we'd be more loving Christians and an example of true love for others. But, the truth is, if we attempt any of these things, we're not going to become more Jesus-like, loving persons. We're just going to become extremely clever hypocrites.
Yes, we should love our children. We should be kind to our husband or wife. We should encourage our neighbors and everyone we meet. We should, if we're going to follow Jesus' example, love even our enemies. If we follow Jesus’ example, we absolutely must unselfishly love our brothers and sisters in the Church. But how does one get a selfish person to be unselfish? A leopard can't change its spots, and we can't not be selfish.
We can teach a selfish person to be unselfish, but that doesn’t change reality. Whatever we do, whether it's giving our life so a brother or sister Christian can live or giving all we have to the poor, we do it all for selfish reasons. But the consequences of selfish, fake love is almost always destructive, especially in the church where we're taught to love selflessly, without any thought to our own needs or wants.
That's why loving each other Jesus-much is as difficult as trying to kiss our own lips. So what can we do? We can give up on following Jesus’ example. Give up on the whole notion that we can love each other Jesus-much. Instead of trying to be like Jesus, when we look at each other, see Jesus in the other person. When we look at each other, we're staring at a person for whom Jesus died. Even our most hated enemy is a person for whom Jesus shed His precious blood and life.
No matter how loving we are, we don’t get bonus points with the Almighty for imitating Jesus. We love each other because we recognize that “this is one for whom Jesus died.
As Jesus says, “Whatever you do to the least of these, your brothers and sisters, you do to Me.” Jesus died for all people, and His Spirit is at work in our brothers and sisters the same as us. When we pray, sing, preach, love, and are kind to each other we aren't doing it so we can show off how much like Jesus we are. No matter how loving we are, we don't get bonus points with the Almighty for imitating Jesus. We love each other because we recognize that "this is one for whom Jesus died."
So, is our love selfish? Yes. Is our love self-destructive? Yes. Will we tie up love in knots and make a mess of things? Yes. Will we destroy ourselves loving each other Jesus-much? Yes. But, that's the point. The opposite of selfishness is self-destruction. "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me," Jesus says. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It's the way of self-destruction because churches are bursting with selfish, self-loving people just like us who need to hear an absolute absolution that washes away the guilt and fear and shame of love rejected, kindness abused, and encouragement unfulfilled.
Churches are littered with people who need someone to love them without limit or measure. They need unqualified, sin-covering love, which looks foolish and immoral to those who are self-loathing and loveless, cynical and mean. There are Christians who’ve never enjoyed the comfort of hearing: "You are a baptized child of God. You are bodied and bloodied. You are loved Jesus-much."
Love doesn't ask "What would Jesus do?" It asks: "Who does Jesus love." And the answer is always: "He loves sinners, just like you."