Active Love is Specific
Jesus did not merely love people generally and from a distance. He loved people personally and up close. His love was not a vague feeling for the masses but a tangible love directed at particular people. He loved His family, submitting to His earthly parents as He grew up under their authority (Luke 2:51). He showed love for His mother in His dying moments by entrusting her well-being to His friend and disciple John (John 19:26–27). Jesus loved His disciples to the very end, even as they manifested hard hearts, slow minds, and weak characters. He loved His enemies, not faceless foes in distant lands, but people in the neighborhood who viciously opposed Him, slandered Him, and violently rejected Him (Luke 4:16–30). Jesus loved people with names, stories, and specific needs. He sought to know those names, enter those stories, and meet those needs. He healed a friend’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29–31). In pity, He touched and cleansed a leper. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, and taught the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd.
Love in dreams doesn’t require one to actually enter the life and pain of another. But active love is tangible in its expression. It is directed at real people and seeks to alleviate real needs. It requires us to move beyond feeling for the faceless and nameless and to embrace the other, knowing them, hearing them, and helping them.
Active Love Is Sacrificial
The contemporary self is unabashedly committed to “expressive individualism.” This cultural dogma believes that the truly happy person is the one who is unencumbered, free to pursue his dreams, follow his heart, and live out his deepest desires, throwing off any person or entity that would restrain that pursuit. Happiness is the goal, and self-denial is considered betrayal, the surest way to short-circuit one’s own happiness.
But to truly love, we have to willingly limit our freedoms. Love “does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:5) but considers the needs of others. Love in dreams requires no real death to self, sacrifice of freedoms, or carrying of others’ burdens. However, loving “in deed and in truth” often requires us to jettison our own preferences, comforts, and calendars for the sake of another. In our marriages, families, churches, friendships, and neighborhoods, if we are to truly love, we have to put the good of another above our own. We can’t possibly live out the vision of autonomy and radical individualism and experience the depths of love, because love by its very nature puts constraints on our lives.
Jesus modeled this truth. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). He did not come to do His own will but the will of the Father (John 6:38). He refused to demand His own way, but for the sake of love submitted to the will of the Father and to the eternal good of those He came to save. Jesus gladly took our burdens and bore them at the cross. Christ’s substitutionary death becomes the model of love for the Christian community. Paul exhorts us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). If we are to love our neighbor as Jesus has loved us, we must renounce autonomy and self-absorbed freedom and joyfully receive the constraints and crosses that love introduces. We must welcome the interruptions and inconveniences that sacrificial love requires of us.