Loving another person can be like waking up to find you’ve been sleeping on your arm, and it’s dead. It won’t respond. You can heave it around, but it just flops: a flaccid weight. You try to touch the alarm button on the bedside clock radio, but all you do is knock the clock radio to the floor. Your fingers are incapable of any fine movement at all. (This must be what Parkinson’s is like?) If you’ve never experienced the sensation, get a stocking, or one of those snake-like cloth tubes which you put under the door to stop drafts. Fill it with sand, and tie it to your shoulder. Or a long sock, and tie that to your elbow. Try to perform precise movements, like move a book on a table. Difficult, isn’t it?

When your arm is dead like this, you shake your arm about (and do the hokey-pokey), trying to get the blood flowing. After a minute the feeling starts to come back. It may even start to feel mildly painful; you try to let it lie there and just let your blood flow through the limb again. After a while you try moving again: now you’ve got the sensation of pins-and-needles. Then that sensation too disappears, and you can use your arm again.

So how does this relate to “loving our neighbour”? At our home group tonight we were talking about the place of the law in Christian life, particularly about the “Golden Rule”: “love your neighbour as yourself.” Love is the combination of intent, decision and desire (mind, will and heart) which results in action: doing what is best for ourselves or another.

God, being perfect in love, also expresses that love both between His Persons and towards His creation: specifically, to us humans. When God tells us to love others, it’s not a test, meaning that if we love people enough (or love enough people), we’ll get to Heaven. As loving others is an attribute of God, so Christians – who have become citizens of God’s kingdom, and are being made new by God’s Spirit – are to love others. To do so is not foreign to Christians; rather, it is a call to be who we are: children of God. Adopted children, but children nonetheless.

The letters of the apostle Paul that we have in the Bible show that many churches had various problems. Many of them are the same type of problems that churches have today. Paul would deal with these problems using the same method: he would start by recounting the Gospel, and base his ethical teaching on that. In the Gospel, God has given us everything we need; so we are to work to become who we already are.

And it is work. All of us have our strengths and weaknesses; some parts of life are easier for us than others; some aspects are more difficult to change, or express. Although love is an attribute of God, that’s not to say that Calvary was easy. It was necessary if God was going to save us. And God’s love dictated that, as Calvary was necessary for our salvation, He had to do it.

Living the Christian life is made more difficult because we’re in the middle of an internal war. Of all creatures, only the Christian is a hybrid, the citizen of a new country, heaven, with its legal and rightful authority, but living with the desires of the old, the kingdom of darkness, still kicking and screaming in their death throes.

Love, both the inclination and its manifestation, may feel profoundly unnatural at first — we’re not used to it — but with time and exercise, it will become a more natural part of our lives.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2006.