I knew instantly that I had to read Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus, by Paul E. Miller. “Learning to love like Jesus,” has become a painful thematic in my life. Painful, in that there have been many personal crises that have demonstrated how much I need to learn on this topic. Perhaps it is common that Type A personalities spend much of their later years learning to shift their focus from projects to people, from giving orders to showing compassion. It’s a slow and halting process.
Growing up as I did within the Reformed faith, spirituality was too often measured by how much one knew. Catechisms, confessions of faith, and systematic theology were the measure of a man. Only later did I come to realize that the biblical bottom-line of spiritual maturity is always measured in relational terms. “Who ever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). Correct doctrine, deep encounters with the Holy Spirit, faithful practice of the spiritual disciplines lead to one end: learning to love like Jesus. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).
Paul Miller is a frequent speaker at conferences and leads seminars on how to lead evangelistic Bible studies with friends and neighbors. His book examines how Jesus treated people he encountered. What unfolds is an embodied portrait of love in action. Passage after passage of the Gospels is gently opened up with masterful inductive analysis. Well-known stories about Jesus take on a fresh relational dynamic as Miller explains through Jesus’ eyes, emotions, and actions what it means to love someone. Jesus’ love becomes a tactile reality.
I am the headmaster of a school. The job is both highly political and relational. Daily interactions involve Board members, faculty, parents, and students. Recently, I saw a parent in my office concerned about the excessive homework load. I addressed the problem with managerial efficiency, but failed to empathize with the trauma being felt by the family of the child burdened by homework. I looked past the person to the problem.
Not so Jesus. “Jesus looks at people.” “Love begins,” Miller explains, “with looking.” In analyzing the parable of the Good Samaritan, he writes, “The Samaritan sees a person. The priest and the Levite see a problem. They are too distracted, preoccupied, or agenda-driven to identify with him.” It’s true. We look away when the urban beggar walks past our car stopped at the traffic light. “We might have to pay if we look too closely and care too deeply.” Have you ever associated love with looking?
This book is not a Leo Buscaglia recipe for relational bliss or a Deborah Tannen checklist for effective communication. “Jesus’ life doesn’t give us a love formula,” Miller writes. “Religion and pop psychology often reduce love to specific behaviors, thus simplifying love so we don’t have to work at it. We like clarity. ‘Just tell me what to do.’ But Jesus deals with people as they are.” Miller paints a portrait of love illustrating how we are to treat our spouses, neighbors and enemies. Wisdom runs deep on every page.
“Love is not efficient. Look, feel, and then help. We don’t need to figure out what’s wrong with people, that’s God’s job. Our job is to try to understand. The better we think we are, the less we can love. Compassion begins by looking at the other person. Reconciliation begins by looking at yourself.”
I finished this book very sobered. It has been a stated goal of mine to have engraved on my tombstone: HE FINALLY LEARNED TO LOVE. After getting a sense of how Jesus embodied love, I thought it might be more realistic to engrave the words: GOOD TRY. BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME. For here is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, emotionally drained and physically tired, and as he faces the betrayal by his friend, Judas, his arrest by the soldiers, Peter’s assault on the servant’s ear, Jesus performs what Miller calls a “ballet of love —protecting, defending, touching, healing, rebuking—one move rapidly following the other, while those around him are pretending, running, striking, betraying, and murdering.” It is truly a staggering display of love under pressure.
While this book will make one aware of how little we love like Jesus, it will not leave you feeling helpless. For God never commands what he does not also enable. For in the power of Jesus’ indwelling, we can learn to “walk as Jesus did.”