Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Barbie Fischer finds her energy in helping people be restored to God, to themselves and their communities. She is often found goofing off with the two teens she mentors, facilitating restorative justice workshop with her organization Restorative Encounters or hanging out with her church family at Ambler (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church. Barbie is communication manager and administration coordinator for Franconia Conference. This piece originally ran on the Mennonite Church USA Menno Snapshots blog.
I never quite understood what he meant, especially since our English dictionaries define love as a feeling. As a Christian though, I was always instructed to look to the Bible for answers and that is where I finally found insights that helped me understand my father’s statement.
While in the English language we use one word, love, to define a host of things, in the Bible there are different words for love that may help us better understand its true meaning. Many are familiar with the New Testament Greek words used for love: phileo (φιλέω), often thought of as a friendship or to be fond of someone or something; and agape (ἀγάπη, ης, ἡ), defined as love, goodwill, esteem. Both of these depict the motivation behind the love, but do not seem to shed much light on the true meaning of what love is.
In the Old Testament there are also a number of Hebrew words that are translated as love. The main one being ahava (אהבה). The three root letters in ahava tell us more about the meaning of love as they make up two root words: hay from the letters hey (ה) and vet (ב), which means to give, and then the letter aleph (א) modifies this word making it אהב, which means I give.
Wherever we look in Scripture and find love, we find giving. The ultimate example being in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world he gave His only son,” or John 15:13 where there is no greater love than giving your life for another. In Leviticus 19:34 we are commanded to love the foreigner living among us by giving to them as we give to ourselves. This is repeated by Jesus when he is asked what the greatest commandment is and replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22: 37-39).
So we are to give all of ourselves to the Lord and then we are to also give to our neighbors as we would ourselves. This makes me wonder who these neighbors are.
Throughout the New Testament we see that Jesus intends this word neighbor to mean any other person, irrespective of race or religion, with whom we live or whom we meet. This is clearly brought out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 and Mark 12:30-33). This commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is reiterated numerous times in the New Testament (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
People from church? Friends? What are these people like? How many of them are different from you? How often do we really love our neighbors? Or perhaps, a better way to phrase it is, how often do we give to our neighbors? What if we don’t really know these people?
I live up the block from a home for mentally impaired adults. Honestly, at first I found a few of them frightening. There is an older lady who stands and stares, even if you try to say hello or smile at her. She will follow you with her eyes, just staring with a cold, blank expression. I do not know her name, although I have asked. She never speaks to me, yet she is my neighbor and I am called to love her. So whenever I see her, I greet her with a smile and a hello. If time permits, I attempt to ask questions.
This went on for years, until one morning she spoke! Since she first spoke to me, we continue to speak. Through our interactions, I have pieced parts of her story together. And while this woman once frightened me, I have come to love her, to care for her and to give what I can to her.
I’ll be honest: I did not like this neighbor at first. I did not understand her. Yet God led me to love her. I gave of myself and my resources, and that has led to a deeper connection between us, a deeper love.
As my father said, love is a choice. We choose to love people and things. We choose to invest, to give of our time and resources. And the more we invest, the deeper the connection can become.
As we walk through our days, may our eyes be opened to who God has for us to love today. And when that opportunity presents itself, may we always choose love.
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