Love and Glory - Lay down your life
“Do you love me?” asks Jesus of Peter (see John 21). “Do you love me?” asks Jesus of us – and how do we answer? Do we love Jesus? and how do we love him? It is not an airy-fairy answer Jesus is looking for; neither is it purely spiritual love that he asks of us. Peter is told very practically – feed my sheep. The response to Peter’s love of Jesus, however limited that love may have been at the time, is one of ‘go and do’. So, I ask again: do we love Jesus – and how do we express that love? A guide to love can be found in various passages of the Bible – the Sermon on the Mount (love your enemies…); 1 Corinthians 13 and others. A very practical guide is found in the Gospels, as we look at Jesus’ own ministry. That doesn’t mean we can only love Jesus if we go around miraculously healing people; it means, far more, looking at how Jesus related to others, and following him, as far as possible, in our own context. How do we love Jesus? by how we love others. Peter was told very specifically to ‘feed my sheep’. In honouring that command, in following it through, Peter may have discovered his love for Jesus growing as much as the time spent in prayer, vital though that also is. Peter’s love grew so that the disciple who denied he knew his Master, at the end was killed for Him.
At the moment, it seems likely that very few of us will be asked to express our love that far; yet, in another way, each of us is called to express our love for Jesus in exactly that manner. Not that many of us will literally be asked to die for our faith; but we are asked to lay down our lives for Jesus, for that commitment to be the primary commitment of all, the commitment through which all our other commitments are lived out. Peter, at the end of the gospel, may not have been ready for that ultimate sacrifice; it was presumably why he denied Jesus in the first place. He had been willing to, he said he was prepared to die with Jesus – but, when he came to it, he couldn’t. That didn’t mean he didn’t love Jesus, or that he wasn’t committed to Jesus, though. Peter’s journey, whatever it was and wherever it took him, seemingly developed and deepened his love for Jesus, so that, in the end, he was able to lay down his life for Jesus – both in the work he did after the Resurrection, and in his death.
Of course, this leaves one major element out. In between that denial and that death, Peter received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is this gift that propels Peter and the others out, speaking in many languages. It is the Spirit that enables Peter to explain what is happening, in that speech which takes up most of Acts chapter 2. It must have been the Spirit which guided Peter as he fed Jesus’ sheep, even if he didn’t always get that right. The gift of the Spirit doesn’t make us perfect, it is there to guide and help us in our relationship with God, to help us deepen our love of God and neighbour. For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, humility …. The Spirit guided Peter in his relationship with Gentiles (see Acts chapter 10), and it is still with us to guide us today.
It is very easy, though, to say ‘God told me this’ or ‘the Spirit is guiding me to this’, and rather more complicated to actually discern whether or not this is God’s guiding. The fruit of the Spirit is one way we can do this; as Jesus says Matthew 7 (verse 15 onwards), we will recognise people by their fruit. It is worth approaching this whole subject with a certain humility, an awareness that we are seeking God’s glory, not our own; God’s kingdom, not our own, even if the two can often be quite mixed up in our motives. Yet, maybe that is one reason the Spirit is with us – to help us increasingly seek God’s glory, and help us lessen our desire for own.
But what exactly is God’s glory? Human glory tends to involve much adulation and riches; it is tempting to assume that God’s glory is similar. That we must approach God from a distance, keeping far away; that God can only be given glory if it is surrounded by riches. Yet I do not think that God’s glory is like that. Read through John 17, where Jesus talks of his glory: glory that comes because he completed the work given him by his Father; glory that he has because the Father loved Jesus. It seems to me – and you should read the passage and draw your own conclusions – that God’s glory is based on love; it is the glory of love, not distance; it is glory that comes from doing God’s work. Glory, moreover, that gives to the other and reflects back (see John 17:1). Glory that doesn’t take and diminish the other, as worldly glory tends to, but enhances both; glory that doesn’t diminish us we give God the glory, but catches us up with it. Glory that can only increase as we come to love God more and more.