Greater love hath no man than this that a man laid down his life for his friends.  This statement is simply wrong.  Let’s try “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his neighbor.”  Even this is at best, incomplete.

My neighbour might be my brother.  That’s easy.  I can lay down my life for my brother.  There are so many organ donors out there who give a kidney for their sibling.  I’m sure many of these same people would be ready to die for their family.  It’s an incredible love and incredible sacrifice for a loved one.  This is true love.

But is it the greatest love…

My neighbour might be my friend.  I have a few close friends.  These friends are as good as brothers.  Looking past them, there are many situational friends who are in my current context.  It is to be seen if they last a lifetime.  I can envision sacrificing quite a bit for these friends.  This is partially out of care for them and partially out of a lack for caring much about my own life.  I want my life to serve some useful purpose, so if saving a friend is that purpose, so be it.  Is this love?  I suppose somewhere in there is love, but it is mixed in with a desire to serve a purpose greater than myself.  Laying down your life for a casual friend is a great sign of love.

But is it the greatest love…

My neighbour might be someone I respect.  We all have a desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves.  Whether that something is your nation, your opposition to injustice, your religion, or even your God.  This is love to that cause. Laying down one’s life to save someone who is serving that cause, is again a great sign of respect for that person.  Is it love?  Let’s say that we do in fact love them enough to die for them, it is a great love that motivates us to die for someone we respect.

But is it the greatest love…

My neighbour might just be someone I don’t know but who asks us to die for them.  For the most part, we don’t know our neighbours.  Sometimes, these neighbours might show up at our front door, asking us for help.  If that help costs our lives, that’s an amazing love for a total stranger.  We can hardly donate money, now we are going to donate ourselves to this person.  And for what, pity?  Definitely not respect.  It takes a great love to die for someone we don’t respect, but who asks for our lives.

But is it the greatest love…

My neighbour might be my enemy who is all of a sudden in need. An enemy who comes humbly to us after inflicting so much pain.  Can we actually die for someone such as this?  The humility before us could serve as an ego boost.  We might consent out of a need to serve some purpose greater, such as a God who asks us to die for such people who repent and seek forgiveness.  This is truly a great love.

But is it the greatest love…

No, the greatest love has got to be dying for your enemy, the same enemy that sent you to your death, the same enemy who spat on you as you died, the same enemy who believes you are worth nothing, shows you no respect, shows your cause no respect, threatens your family, and laughs when you tell them you love them.  The greatest love has got to be a love that is so overpowering that all of the hate, humiliation and pain inflicted by your enemy is washed clean by this love.  This is a death not to serve a greater purpose, but a love of the enemy alone.

I just spent the last 10 minutes angry at the two workers at the gas station who ripped me off.  The amount was insignificant.  The lack of respect they showed for me is what bothered me.  I contemplated driving back and yelling, reporting them, angry at the city, angry at corruption, etc….  It never occurred to me to forgive them until I realized how angry I was becoming.  And then I realized, did God ask me to be willing to die for these two guys?  The two that were probably laughing at me as I drove away?  And die for them, not because God asked me to, but because I loved them?

Whether you believe Jesus death actually saved you, you have to admit, for someone to die out of love for an enemy such as this, is an amazing, and awe-inspiring love.   We know it was love for them because He did not say, “God, I am doing this for you, ”  He did not die for God, though He was sent by God, and served God’s purpose.  He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  He said this as his blood poured out for them.  He said this in defense of the same men who spat on Him, beat him, humiliated Him, chose a murderous criminal over Him, and killed Him.

The greatest love…the most painful love.