By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
How About Love?
I’m predisposed to like Bonnie Raitt. She exudes a kind of old-soul pragmatism I find appealing in its skill to cut to the chase without getting twisted up in superfluous emotions. In fact, a number of her songs are written from the viewpoint of someone so self-contained and experienced petty nonsense flies right by her. Raitt’s 1991 single, “Something to Talk About”—her biggest hit to date—draws on this perspective. Its freewheeling tone and tempo set the song in the voice of a more seasoned lady speaking to a younger or perhaps less worldly man. Evidently they’ve been friends for a while and their relationship has set tongues wagging with suspicion they’re lovers. At first she dismisses the idea. But then she detects there may be some validity to the rumors. The talk makes her buddy nervous, as if he’s concerned it will reveal his hidden desire for her. She welcomes the chance to take their friendship to a more intimate level, however, and tells him, “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about, a little mystery to figure out. How about love?” In one fell swoop, she brings love into her life and defuses the rumors by confirming them. How smart is that?
It’s absurd to imagine we can conduct ourselves in such a way we’ll never become grist for the gossip mill. People talk. And most of the time, their reason for talking has more to do with them than us. They talk to prove how much they know. (“Well, I heard…”) If we can’t prevent being talked about, we can influence what people say by giving them something to talk about. Basically, that’s Jesus’s point in telling us “everyone will know you’re My disciples if you love one another.” When we’re known for our love, what’s said about us is affected in one of two ways. Either people discuss how we love others as ourselves, or if someone suggests otherwise, they and their comments carry no credible weight.
Christ and His disciples work in an atmosphere crackling with gossip and character assassination. This is common in repressive environments like theirs—where everyone issubjected to intense scrutiny by the religious right—as well as among oppressed groups like the Jews living under Caesar’s thumb. People who feel unworthy and powerless grab at anything they can to prove their legitimacy. Knowledge is power; it confers authority—if it’s authentic. Speculation boomerangs on the talker. People stop listening to the gossip and start talking about the gossiper. Jesus explained how to handle talebearers in His Sermon on the Mount: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5.11) Here, He instructs us to be known for love so those who limit their conversation to facts can only speak well of us. “Give ‘em something to talk about,” He says, “a little mystery to figure out. How about love?”
Is anyone more fascinating than one who loves without condition and restraint? A person who’s known for his/her love generates good gossip by raising questions about where so much love comes from and how it’s constantly expressed. Here’s a quick story to illustrate this. A friend whose dating history is rather spotty introduced her new boyfriend to several of us. Beyond being handsome, he was also outgoing, unaffected, and genuinely fond of our girl. He became the hot topic before we could get home to call one another about him. Surely something’s wrong somewhere, we thought, because everything about him seems right. So far, everything indicates we were wrong—not only for talking, but also for doubting—and we still spend more than usual time discussing him. With the cynicism behind us, though, our conversation revolves around what a fine, gentle, loving guy he is. He mystifies us and we feel honored to know him.
When people talk about us, what do they say? It’s worth noting, because it’s a good measure of how well we’ve mastered Jesus’s instructions. It’s often said love is a decision, not an emotion. Yet in light of Christ’s commandments, there’s nothing to decide. Love is what we do. It’s what we’re known for. Choice isn’t an option. We love equally and unilaterally, without selective preference. If we truly seek identification with Jesus, our first order of business is to love as He loves. Deciding we can love some more and others less (or not all) also gives people something to talk about. But what’s said won’t reflect Christ. In John 3.16, Jesus states His impetus for living and dying as one of us: “God loved the world.” As His disciples, we understand each of us comes into this world for the same purpose and reason. God loves the world. We embody and express His love accordingly. Loving everyone, from our closest friends to our worst enemies, we fulfill Christ’s laws of love and squelch false rumors. People won’t have to be told we follow Jesus. They’ll know. That’s something to talk about!
Give ‘em something to talk about. How about love?
(Tomorrow: Noble Attempts)
Postscript: Can’t Resist…
The Raitt tune’s been pounding in my ears the whole time while writing this. Although it’s not about discipleship, the chorus very well could be. For those who need a refresher, here it is.