As we begin a new calendar year, many people will be making New Year’s resolutions. These are things they want to change about themselves or their behaviours in the next twelve months. Some can be realistic, while other New Year’s resolutions can seem utterly impossible.
I find it fascination to see how long New Year’s resolutions will last. While we can make these resolutions with the best of intentions, we can easily fall back into the same habits and patterns of behaviour. Nothing really changes. If we are to fulfil whatever New Year’s resolution we might make, we need sustained, intentional focus on what we want to change.
As we read 1 Peter 1:22-25, the New Testament reading for New Year’s Eve, we hear the Apostle Peter encouraging God’s people and followers of Jesus to ‘love each other deeply from the heart’ (v22 NLT). Anyone who is familiar with the teachings of Jesus will know that Peter is relaying Jesus’ message that the greatest command is to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength and to love others like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). The new command Jesus gave his followers was like it: to love one another like he loves us (John 13:34; 15:12,17). Peter passes on this same message by encouraging his readers to grow in their love for each other beyond shallow expressions of love into deep, heart-felt, sincere love.
I talk a lot about practicing Christ-like love because I believe that learning to love like Jesus is at the heart of his call to follow him as his disciples. Too often our attempts to love are tainted with a degree of self-interest. We tend to consider how things will benefit us, what will we get out of them, or what they will cost us. Instead of a worldly kind of love which prioritizes what we get or how we feel, the love of Christ which Peter is talking about focusses on the other. Its orientation is towards others and what we can give to them, not ourselves and what we get from them. This kind of love is willing to do what is in the best interests of the other, no matter what it might cost us. It is willing to sacrifice everything for the other so they can know what Christ-like love is all about.
This is the love that God extends to us in Jesus. God’s love is seen in the gift of his Son to us at Christmas, which we continue to celebrate as we end one calendar year and start another. We see God’s love in the way Jesus welcomed the outsiders, healed the sick, restored broken people and forgave sinners. Ultimately, we encounter the perfect and infinite love of God in the death of Jesus. Jesus points us towards this love when he says, ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13 NLT). The Apostle John says the same thing when he writes, ‘We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us’ (1 John 3:16). Jesus then shows us that the love God has for us is stronger than death as he is raised to new life in his resurrection. The love God has for us in Jesus is so different from worldly versions of love. It is deep and strong and it lasts for ever.
Can you imagine how life might be different this year if we resolved to listen to what Peter is saying to us, and to ‘love one another deeply, from the heart’ (v22 NLT)? Instead of thinking about what we want for ourselves, or what suits us, how might our lives be different if we resolved together to prioritise others, no matter what the cost? How might our congregation operate differently if we thought more about what we could give to each other rather than what we can get from each other, if the needs of others outweighed our own, if we looked more towards what would help others encounter Jesus’ love in us rather than what is convenient or comfortable for us?
If we were to resolve to do this, we could only keep this resolution by relying on God’s grace for everything we need. Attempts to keep New Year’s resolutions often fail because it’s easy to revert back to what is comfortable, convenient or familiar. To be able to keep our resolution to ‘love one another deeply, from the heart’ would mean that we will need to rely totally on God doing this in us through his Holy Spirit. Any attempts to love others in a Christ-like way will fail when we rely on ourselves. When we are connected with God’s grace and love to us in Jesus, we will grow in his love which gives us the capacity and ability to love others in the same way. It will continue to grow in us as God plants, nourishes and feeds his word of grace and love in us through the Scriptures. As we remain in Christ and as Jesus remains in us, then God’s love will grow in us to produce the fruit he is looking for (John 15:1-17). Any resolution to love others in a Christ-like way will come from God’s love for us in Jesus, will grow from his sacrificial love for us, and will be sustained by that same love.
Can you imagine how this year might look differently if our one resolution was to ‘love each other deeply, from the heart’? How might that look? What changes might that bring about? In the busyness of congregational life, what might need to change and what changes might it bring if this was our one resolution?
There will be countless opportunities this year for us to ‘love one another deeply, from the heart.’ I hope and pray that as we enter 2019 that God’s Holy Spirit will be at work in us and among us, growing our faith in the deep and enduring love of God for us in Jesus, and he will graciously give us everything we need to love one another deeply, from the heart.