A friend recently posed a question to me: “How can we be commanded to love? Isn’t that kind of a conflict of interests, with love being spontaneous and all.” So I decided to take advantage of the shiny new blog and answer him here.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another “
Jesus commands loving one another. Read that again. Jesus commands loving one another. Foremost, the command presupposes free will. If we can choose to love, we must be able to choose not to love too. So we’ve ruled out a deterministic universe (Thank goodness). But, even if one interprets love as an action, as something you do, there’s a problem there. Love doesn’t work like brushing your teeth, or handing me a sandwich. It doesn’t work like any number of examples you can think of. It is deeply personal. It is sacrificial, both figurative and literally.
First, I suppose, we should begin by gathering a working definition of love. It must be Christologically (Christ) centered; after all Jesus said to use him as the model for true love. And it must be kenotic (Give to the point that we literally cannot give any more. Think of Jesus on the cross). Therefore I think a working definition may be proposed as we “identify ourselves” with the persecuted and “immerse ourselves in the world of change, struggle and conflict as the Word did for us, for the sake of the world’s own betterment.” That seems like a good start. Sure it’s got lots of holes, but it’ll serve for the purposes of our short study. Besides, short of a complex systematic theological study it will have to do. Love is total giving for the sake of the other.
Second, even with a definition established we’re no closer to solving the problem of a commandment to love. If love is giving for the sake of the other, can that be commanded and still be love? I think that it can.
A commanded self-sacrificing is no less sacrificial. The end result is still the same. The problem comes from how one defines “love.” If one defines it as affection, then no. No, it cannot be commanded. However, if one defines it as we have, as sacrificial giving for the sake of the other then there is no problem. It doesn’t matter how you got to the sacrificial giving. The only prerequisite is that it must be sacrificial.
When faced with real life, it really isn’t that easy. Everything is easier when dealt with on paper, in concept form. Real life is messy. The devil lives in the details for good reason. When it comes to sacrificing you’re always forced to make decisions of priorities. There are competing “goods.” You’ve children to protect, but you’re commanded to give to the point of kenosis. Who do you put first? Why? I know someone whose mother chose to take in an alcoholic in to live with them when he and his brother were just kids. I’m not saying I agree with that, but where is the line? You’re a battered spouse; at what point is your giving enabling rather than being truly loving? If we get off the extremes for a minute, your spouse comes to you and says they’re feeling neglected but you’re genuinely giving ALL that you have. What do you do?
I don’t have the answer to these questions.
 Tanner, Kathryn, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 63. Yes I am aware of the other non-theological directions this could point us.
 I realize how problematic this is. I keep picturing a bloodied wife on the kitchen floor saying “I can change him. I just need to give more.” I’m writing a blog so it cannot be too long and it would take me 100 pages to unpack “identify ourselves” with the persecuted and “immerse ourselves in the world of change, struggle and conflict as the Word did for us, for the sake of the world’s own betterment.” Cut me some slack :-).
 Insert your own situation at home where you’ve got two genuinely good things competing for your attention, but you’ve only got enough time/energy to love on one of them.