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"Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end..." John 13.1

"Love" the word is elastic - it has to be, such is the range of interpretations it must cover. Other languages can be more specific. Greek distinguishes between romantic attraction (eros), worldly affection (philia), and spiritual devotion (agape). Gaelic has at least two words for love: "gaol" agus "gradh". English used to have more. Famously the oft-quoted trilogy "faith, hope and love" is rendered "faith, hope and charity" in the Authorised Version of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13. 13). But "charity" now means something else. A case of distorted emphasis? Sin mar a tha e.

Love is... nebulous. From "the love that dare not speak its name" to the subject of too many songs to number, love gives expression to our deepest longings - whatever those may be. That said, love as we know it is often conditional and time limited: people declare undying love, yet reserve the right to review their commitment if feelings change, or if they feel let down by the object of their affection. We might call that "contractual" love: binding until one or other of the parties involved (or both) decide(s) to break the contract.

The "love" that God expresses in the Bible is different. "God is love" proclaims the apostle John in the fourth chapter of the first of his letters in the New Testament. At his last meal with the disciples, the so-called Last Supper, Jesus gave expression to these words by wrapping a towel around his waist and washing those disciples' feet - a menial task normally reserved for slaves. It was a powerful gesture loaded with meaning. Love, as defined by God, is unconditional, both in its duration and its willingness to serve rather than indulge.

On another occasion (Matthew 22.37) Jesus summaries the Law as a summons to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. In so saying Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6. 5 from the Old Testament. Then he adds "and love your neighbour as yourself". This extra phrase is not to be comparative (50; 50 neighbour; self). Rather it is a command to put one's neighbour in one's own stead. Nothing delights a parent more than seeing their children being kind to each other. As children of God, how shall we delight our heavenly Father in our godly love for one another today?

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