This is all very well as a platitude on a plaque hung over the kitchen sink or in the bathroom to remind the children what actions they are expected to mimic during the day, but what on earth does it mean? The next verse speaks loftily of laying down one's life for one's friend (not enemy, interestingly enough, though that is a different expostulation), but as that deals only in death and we have a great deal of living to do in the mean time, how do we then live? How exactly did Jesus love us?
While contemplating the conundrum by my fire this morning, I was startled to realize after a moment's reflection that there was a seemingly simple answer. While He lived on earth (past tense), He loved us sacrificially, certainly. Totally, surely. Unreservedly, yes. But also wisely. And discriminatingly. Not against our best interests. And thus I ran against the Fruit of His very Spirit (undisputably not past tense) as a barge runs against its home dock: He must love us with joy, peacefully, patiently, with kindness and goodness, with gentleness, faithfully, and with self-control.
This led me instantly to a second list, as if the first dock turned out to be only a hand offering to guide me in to my true mooring. In this list love is even more clearly defined.
Does not boast
Is not proud
Is not rude (!)
Not easily angered
Keeps no record of wrong
Does not delight in evil
But rejoices with the truth
Love always protects
And so the barge appears to rest, comfortably, with a contented knowledge that its cargo is fathomable and useful and uncomplicated.
That satisfied mooring is where I began my typing this morning. But by copying down my ideas I was made further acquainted with their subtleties and quite suddenly I find that the barge has not nosed into dock at all but has rather struck some sunken piling and is in danger of taking on water rapidly:
Jesus, while on earth, was arguably, by our standards, rude. He also got angry. He was not what we would call kind to the pharisees, and not really what we would term patient with them either. By allowing most of His disciples to be eventually martyred, we would question His "always protecting," and by losing Judas to the dark side we would wonder about the preserving and never-failing aspects. Was His love always attended with what we would call peacefulness? Gentleness? Often. But not always.
It is therefore my forlorn duty to understand that our understanding of these straight-forward concepts is not straight-forward at all. If Jesus did it, that is the standard, and the standard is gold. If we object, our objections are dross. And so, at the end of 500 words on the subject, I find I have only written a confused preface to a poor pamphlet with question marks for content. I must go back to the library of the Spirit and ferret out what He means by patience, kindnesses, protection, and peace.
After I have done that, perhaps my life will be a better plaqued-platitude for the instruction of my children than anything I could hang on the bathroom wall.