Thursday, June 21, 2012

As I Have Loved You

The scriptures tell us that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son' (John 3:16). This divine gift made possible the resurrection of mankind and the salvation of the faithful. We are taught by the Savior that we may 'come unto him' and be perfected, allowing us to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father, if we will exercise faith, repent, be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and endure to the end.

As a part of our baptismal covenant we make with God, we promise to be willing to keep his commandments. It was this topic that brought an inquiring lawyer to Christ in Matthew 22. 'Master,' he asked, 'which is the great commandment in the law?'

Jesus answered, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets' (Matthew 22:36-40).

Love of God is a natural result of obedience and sincere seeking. Christ taught, 'If ye love me, keep my commandments' (John 14:15) . As we pray and study the scriptures our desires change, our behaviors follow, and we learn to love God and the fruits of obedience.

Our obligation to our fellow man can sometimes seem much more complicated, despite being extremely well outlined in scripture. Consider this familiar passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:38-45).

Other scriptures invite us to 'forgive men their trespasses', 'judge not' and treat others how we would like to be treated. Christ explained our obligation to our fellow man this way:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:34-35).

Though we understand the principle generally, we all fail from time to time in our efforts to love one another as broadly and as genuinely as the Lord requires of us. Each of us behaves at times as though loving others is just one of the ways we should treat others instead of the only way.

The truth is that God has never given us permission to get angry at a bad driver, make fun of another person's mistake or roll our eyes at the lady holding up the grocery store line with a big stack of coupons. We are not called to keep order in the universe through micromanaging, controlling or intimidating others to do what we want. Nor is the Lord pleased when we are harsh, critical, sarcastic, patronizing, scolding or negative in any way to our brothers and sisters with whom we share our time on earth.

Even the best intentions cannot justify these behaviors. Elder H. Burke Peterson once explained it this way, referring to criticism specifically:

I personally have a hard time with people who say they believe in constructive criticism. My experience does not lead me to believe there is such a thing. My point of view is that criticism has a connotation that does not come from above. I think it is important to note that correction is different from criticism. The Lord discussed correction in his revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He emphasized that any corrections are to be performed when 'moved upon by the Holy Ghost.' If we are inspired to chastise, however, the Lord insists that there be 'an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.'

Criticism is more judgment-oriented than correction, and most of us do not have sufficient knowledge to be critical of others--especially of a spouse and children who are still growing and developing as we are ('Eternal Companions:Advice from LDS Counselors and Educators on Building a Forever Marriage', 4).

So the Lord warns us that it is the 'nature and disposition of almost all men', and it's not a stretch to include many women here also, to 'exercise unrighteous dominion' at every opportunity. That reminder of our natural shortcomings is followed by this profound doctrine referenced by Elder Peterson:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-- Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy (D&C 121:39-43).

These verses teach us again that we we should treat those around us with kindness, gentleness, meekness and sincerity-- or, in other words, with love. This is the second great commandment behind loving God.

Loving others doesn't mean the world will seem like springtime all the time. Sometimes love means correcting or teaching those for whom we have stewardship just as God chastises those whom he loves. Sometimes love means we will ache as we allow our loved ones use their agency, especially when mistakes seem to us like they could have been avoided or prevented.

Sometimes our loved ones may not appreciate how we show our love or may feel that we cannot love them without also accepting their wrong or sinful behaviors. We don't ever have to compromise gospel standards to have love for those who may not share the same ideals-- it is God who gives us love, after all. If we have genuine love for others, we will love them as Christ loves us. We will be patient and kind. We will disagree and even correct, where appropriate, without becoming hostile.

What matters in the end is whether we have been striving to keep the commandments to love God and love our fellow man. As we dedicate our hearts, minds and strength to this effort, let us consider how well we love those around us. Can our spouse feel our love by the way we treat them? Do we allow love to guide our parenting instead of our own preferences, convenience and comfort? Do our coworkers enjoy being around us because of the way they are treated? Are those we do not yet know pleased to meet us because of the way we make them feel?

God gave his Only Begotten because he loves us. His gift makes it possible to inherit all that he has. He asks in return that we strive to be like him-- to love others as he loves them, not as only one way we can treat them but as the only way. As we obey the command to love our fellow man, we will also find that our love of God will increase and we will become true disciples.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

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