Love reigns supreme in the New Testament. It is one of the central focuses of the gospel message. In the Gospel of John, we read of Jesus giving a new commandment to His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Christians love this command to love. It is a beautiful thing to love, and everybody also likes to be loved and wants to belong. We are hard-wired this way. It is in our DNA.
Yet many people find it hard to love due to past hurts and disappointments. Perhaps they have been rebuffed, played out, rejected or shamed. As a result, they carry an emotional baggage. For fear of a repeat experience, they close themselves up. They retreat and hide behind a shield of aloofness and indifference to protect themselves. You may not care to admit, but we all suffer from such fear to varying degrees. This is the reason we tend to be more guarded as we grow older.
To love and be loved, one must be willing to be vulnerable to a certain extent. It is impossible to love without vulnerability. However, vulnerability – to be honest with your feelings and to bare your soul - can be frightening. It requires courage and risk-taking because your love may not be reciprocated. Worse things can potentially happen.
Brene Brown, a researcher on courage, vulnerability and shame, and a bestselling author made this insightful comment: “To love is to be vulnerable… Many people are not willing to take that risk. They would rather never love than to know the hurt or grief, and that’s a huge price to pay.”
That is a tragic way to live. Without vulnerability and the courage to take the necessary risks, one cannot enjoy an emotionally-healthy life with meaningful connection and deep relationship with other people. It is a pity.
Christians living in this way unwittingly fall into the devil’s trap. There is no such thing as lone rangers in the Kingdom of God. We all are connected one with another. We are members of the body of Christ. Christians that do not participate in body life will falter in their faith sooner or later.
One of the most poignant statements in the bible is this: He (Jesus) was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him (John 1:10-11). Did God know beforehand that His Son, Jesus, would be rejected? Of course, He knew. Nevertheless, God and His Son took the risk to reach out to humanity with their love. They were prepared to be rejected and hurt. This is the price of love.
Even Jesus’ closest 12 disciples abandoned Him toward the end. Judas Iscariot betrayed Him for a paltry thirty pieces of silver. Ironically, it was the price paid for the restitution of a slave, who had been killed. That is rubbing salt to the wound. In His moment of deep anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, they could not even tarry with Him in prayer. They fled when He was arrested. At the cross where He was crucified, only John was there. Jesus’ sacrificial love for His disciples was not reciprocated. Jesus must be disappointed.
The apostle, Paul, also experienced unrequited love with the Corinthians – “If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” Paul had planted the Corinthian church during his second missionary journey. He had invested so much of his time and energy in them. The least they could do was to show him the due respect and gratefulness, but he received neither. Instead, he got the opposite. It broke his heart.
Under the influence of some false apostles, the Corinthians turned against Paul. They compared Paul with these “super-apostles,” whom they considered to be superior to Paul (2 Corinthians 10-11). In their opinion, these “super-apostles” were slick, charismatic and eloquent while Paul lacked physical presence and oratory skills. This is not unlike the modern church where people gravitate toward slickness rather than substance.
Paul was forced to defend his ministry. It must have been very painful for the apostle. Sometimes, he appealed to their sensibility, but other times he was direct and blunt. He was clearly frustrated with the Corinthians in his second letter to them.
In his defence, Paul did not shun from his pastoral duties. He pointed out their faults squarely, including believing in a “different gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4). This is tough love. In doing all this, Paul was running the risk of further rounds of accusations from the Corinthians. Among other things, they had already accused him of dealing craftily and deceitfully with them and taking advantage of them (2 Corinthians 12:16-17). It was an extremely painful and almost impossible situation for Paul. However, Paul was willing to be honest, open and vulnerable. This is the price of love. Listen to his plea. “If I love you more, am I to be loved less?”
Christian leadership is servant-leadership as exemplified by Jesus and Paul. One key ingredient for good Christian leadership is to love no matter what. It is never easy. You invest your time and energy in people and tasks, but you will never know whether you may be disappointed - sometimes, deeply disappointed. Motivated by self-centredness, envy, etcetera, and sometimes for no good reasons, people may backstab you and falsely accused you. Often, you will be sure to face ungratefulness and unfounded criticism.
Nevertheless, be willing to love. To love means to be vulnerable. Be vulnerable, nevertheless.
C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves has this to say about love and vulnerability: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Pastors Leslie & Adeline Chua