Reflections on Tangible Love

Emily is an Interserve Partner, currently preparing to serve long term in a very difficult part of Asia. She hasn’t left yet, but her journey began a long time ago. Here she reflects on Jesus’ call to make His love tangible in the world, and on the people and challenges she’s met along the way.

When I think of the concept of ’tangible love’ I think of my Nan. She passed away a couple of years ago. What I remember most about her was how her life was characterised by a quiet, joyful, servant heart. Even until her last waking moments, she was knitting little booties for the neonatal intensive care unit. She knitted hundreds of those little booties and toys for the babies. She even made tiny hospital gowns for the premature babies. She never got up on her soapbox to ‘go tell the world’ (though she did need one to reach the wool for those booties), yet her motivation for doing these things was never hidden. Unlike her tea (white, no sugar, three dunks of the tea bag please) her faith was strong. Her faith was simple yet deep. She had Jesus and that’s all she needed. She loved Him. Her servant heart and gentle character spoke volumes about God’s love to me and those who knew her.

Nan’s life displayed tangible love. In thinking about tangible love, two prevailing thoughts come to mind.

Tangible love is made possible because Christ first loved us
Nan’s seemingly endless and unconditional love for others was a reflection of Jesus’ love for her. It wasn’t until I made a personal decision to follow Christ with my whole life, and experienced this love that conquers all, that I understood how one could make love tangible without expecting something in return. Now, I know that the source and strength to make love tangible is a response to the love God has lavished on us: that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Moreover, I have found that as I grow in my faith and walk closer with the Lord that it grows more natural to live a life characterised by tangible love. My prayer echoes Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess 3:12).

Christ’s love compels us
There was a time when Christ’s love was so tangible it was overwhelming. There was a little old lady in a hospital in Kolkata, India. She looked downcast when I walked in the room. She had lost all her fingers as a result of leprosy. I was filled with compassion for her, a love that was not my own, but Christ’s love.

I wrestled in my mind for a moment, then I looked into her eyes and took her fingerless hands in mine. It was the first time I had touched a person with leprosy. Although I didn’t know a word of her language, as she told her story our hearts connected and her eyes welled with tears. Love was tangible in that room.

I was compelled to reach out that day and take her hand. That day, 2 Corinthians 5:14–15 took on new meaning for me: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

Tangible love accepts risk and sacrifice
Tangible love is an expression of agape love, which by definition is unconditional and self-sacrificial.

Whenever we love in tangible ways, there is some sort of sacrifice, whether it is time or money that could have been spent in other ways. However, for those called to serve the Lord overseas, counting the cost of following Jesus can be much more. For some it can mean losing your life because of and while loving in tangible ways. This became the story for Tom (surname withheld) in Central Asia. His wife, Libby, has also counted the cost, yet in the midst of her loss continues to live her life as a living sacrifice for God’s glory.

As my husband and I prepare for serving the Lord overseas we have grappled with the concept of risk and sacrifice. We have chosen to leave our well-paying jobs and comfortable home to live in one of the poorest and least developed nations in Asia. In fact, when my passion started to come alive for this country, it was home to the fourth most persecuted church in the world. It was this church’s ‘counting the cost of following Jesus’, this acceptance of risk and possible sacrifice that enlivened my heart to pray for this nation. I admired this faith that had counted the cost, and this people’s conclusion that choosing to love Jesus was worth it. I desired that my faith would grow strong like theirs and that one day I could serve the Lord alongside them.

Perfect love casts out fear
People ask me whether I have thought about the sacrifices we have made in our decision to serve in a developing nation or whether we fear for our safety or health. In this journey we have considered many potential situations and our response to them. We are also aware that our decisions affect others, and that our families are also making sacrifices over which they have no control. When we are faced with these questions, we choose to follow Jesus and His plans for us. When we focus on Him and his love for all people, our fear of risk subsides because “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) and “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

We know that we can trust Him because of what we have already seen Him do. We have seen Him protect us, direct our paths and do the impossible in our lives. He is faithful. We remember that God does not promise that we will be ‘safe’, but He is good and promises that He will be with us (Is 41:10, Matt 28:20, Heb 13:5). We know that our eternity is secure in Him. We have come to peace in our decision to follow Jesus and to make His love tangible among the neediest people in the world. We pray that our families will be filled with the same peace, and that they also fix their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Tangible love points to Jesus
Demonstrating Christ’s love is not possible in our own strength. Rather, tangible love is Christ loving through us. It is a sustainable love because its source is eternal. Christ’s love never spoils, fades or runs dry. Tangible love isn’t motivated by trying to earn approval, favour or forgiveness from God. Nor does it expect to be loved in return. We love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19).

As I reflect on tangible love, my desire is that my whole life is lived as a living sacrifice to the Lord in response to God’s great mercy and reflecting His love (Rom 12:1). May the way that we live out our lives be a beacon, a lighthouse, that points to Jesus wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we are in. This, to me, is tangible love.