Bottlenose dolphins imitate each other in order to learn to hunt, and it is said that Japanese monkeys began washing potatoes after seeing humans washing them. We too imitate each other, be it to acquire language, traditions, skills or any other kind of behavior. But as Disciples of Christ we are called to do a special kind of imitating. One that does not only involves observing and replicating behavior of a perfect being, but one that requires a departure of self and being born anew to restore God’s image in us. C.S. Lewis puts it like this in Mere Christianity, “the son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” In today’s post, we will talk about the characteristic of love and the several behaviors it entails, behaviors which we should strive to imitate, or better said, adopt into our lives. We will be looking at Biblical models and our everyday, modern day people who are fellow Christian disciples not only by name but by action.
Love as a Behavior
The mark that distinguishes a disciple of Jesus from others is the mark of love. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). However, the love Jesus speaks about and shows us through his life is not merely a quiet, secret abstract feeling—it is a behavior. No matter how much our hearts and intentions are “filled” with love, if there is no visible action, if there is no fruit, then it cannot be called love. Like any other behavior then, love is imitable.
There are 4 forms of behavior we can consider as love. The first one is receiving. Often times we think love is all about giving, but the first step to love is knowing how to receive. Receiving asks for humility; it is an acknowledgement of need and weakness. Without knowing how to receive, it is easy to become condescending and prideful when giving. Usefulness becomes mistaken with honor and worth, when true worth is supposed to be found in Christ and not in one’s own deeds or other men’s words. From the Bible: When Nicodemus, an important Pharisee, approached Jesus with questions, he left his social status and pride aside and went with a listening heart to receive Jesus’ teaching (John 3:1-21) From our world: When deacon Young went to Peru in a mission team, he went with the intention of teaching basic engineering and helping out the hope zones. When he arrived there, he experienced the difficulties of not knowing the language. He received the aid of translators, he received the patient smiles of the natives, and he received the blessings and prayers of everyone there.
The second behavior, is one we are familiar more with: serving. A servant focuses more on the needs of others than his own. We are to serve not only the poor and needy but the people right next to us, and not once in a while for a volunteering program, but every day. Can you imagine? If everyone served each other every day instead of their own selves, there would be no lack, no hate. From the Bible: Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is the iconic image of servitude. Note that it was not only those who were poor, blind, lame, and sick whom he served but also the people who were close to him and followed him. He washed their feet to give them a clearer idea and example of what servitude entails, but he also cared for their everyday need of food and water (John 13:1-17; Matt.14.13-21). From our world: Esther was only a twelve year old when she met a rowdy boy with a broken home at her school. One day, everyone was tasked with washing their own indoor slippers. The boy refused to do them, but Esther took on to herself to wash it for him.
Thirdly, love is forgiving. Jesus commanded us to love your enemies and forgive them. There is nothing remarkable about loving back those who love you already or forgiving someone once or twice; anyone can do that. But loving those who do not love you, those who might even hate you, and forgiving them again and again, perhaps for the same things, is a sign of holiness. As the saying goes, to err is human; to forgive, divine. From the Bible: Jesus died on the cross for sinners who could not stop sinning. The words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) are words of a superior being, who could love despite the hate that surrounded him. From our world: Ruth was bullied during the beginning of her middle school years. At the end of it, however, one of the bullies, fell apart from her group. Worried that she might be lonely, instead of being resentful of the past, Ruth befriended her, and even now they are good friends.
Finally, love is sharing. By sharing, we mainly mean the proclaiming of the gospel of salvation. This is not a treasure that diminishes as we give out, but one that increases and expands the more we share. When we truly love, we begin to naturally wish to share anything good we possess. When we share, however, it is essential to let the joy of the good news take over while being considerate about other people’s feelings. It usually happens that we become either too self-conscious or overly imposing when evangelizing. From the Bible: The moment Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds sharing the good news. After seeing the baby with their own eyes, the shepherds rushed to the city and spread the word and glorified God. (Luke 2:8-20) From our world: There is a mother in Congo, who every time she gets on a taxi, brings up the subject of Jesus. She is not afraid of the driver’s reaction, and she does not judge nor force her opinion on them; she simply asks intelligent questions and listens to theirs. There are no insignificant actions when it comes to love. Maybe compared to Bible characters, the loves of the people of our world seem smaller, less impactful, but they are in no way less meaningful than them. We may be weak, afraid of being taken advantage of, confused, but with the guidance of the Jesus and the Spirit, and the power of God, love can be enacted, no matter in what scale or time. Thomas A Kempis, a man who wrote a whole book regarding the imitation of Christ, said, “Without love, the outward work is of no value; but whatever is done out of love, be it never so little, is wholly fruitful. For God regards the greatness of the love that prompts a man, rather than the greatness of his achievement.” They say that married couples start to not only act but look alike over the years, because they live every day watching over each other and picking up behaviors and expressions. Just like this, let us love Christ and become more like him, loving God and loving others in heart and action.