What’s love got to do with it? What’s love but a second-hand emotion? —Tina Turner.
The Russian cobbler was so poor, he and his wife shared a single coat, and it was tattered and threadbare. In his pocket was their life’s savings—three kopeks. A farmer owed him another five, and so, he had braved the winter day to collect it, because with that he would have enough to buy a sheepskin from which he could fashion a new coat. But the farmer, living in a fine home with fat cattle in his barn, had claimed that he was too broke to pay up.
Cold and angry, the cobbler was trudging home when he spotted a man, a naked man, a stranger huddled up in a ball at the entrance to a shrine. The cobbler was suspicious at first, then afraid—a naked man out in freezing weather could only be up to no good! It would be a mistake to get involved, he reasoned.
But then came another thought, a compassionate thought: How can you pass such a man by? Have you no love in you?! Help this man!
The cobbler went to the stranger, removed his coat and wrapped him in it. He helped the man to his feet, got him walking, asked him why he was there. The stranger seemed to have no place to go, so the cobbler took him home. He knew he would catch it from his wife, showing up with no sheepskin and a hungry stranger, but in his heart, he knew that God was pleased.
His wife pitched a fit, just as he’d known she would. Her first fear was that her husband had spent their money on Vodka and dragged home a drunken friend. He showed her the money, unspent, and related the story of finding the stranger and having compassion on him. His wife was unmoved—they had only enough food for a single meal! They were poor! What could they do for such a man!
“My wife, is there nothing of God within you?” her husband pleaded. And at that moment, her heart, too, was filled with compassion. She prepared them a meal. She found clothing for the stranger. Together, she and her husband, poor as they were, took care of the man and made room for him in their home.
And so begins this fable, What Men Live By, written long ago by the great Russian author, Leo Tolstoy. In showing love to a stranger, God reveals to the cobbler and his wife some essential truths about life.
We crave so many things. We need so many things. Our natural instincts tend inward, so we shower ourselves with self-love. Life is short! You’re worth it! But is self-gratification what makes us live?
This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. —1 John 3:16-18, The Message
Jesus taught and lived sacrificial, servanthood love. Love is not an emotion. Love is not a sexual response. Love is an act of selfless devotion to another person. We only experience life to its fullest when we lay aside our personal concerns and turn our hearts outward, loving others selflessly and generously. A life lived in service of oneself is spiritually dead. A life lived in loving service to others is blessed.
What God revealed to the cobbler, his wife and the stranger was this: “All men live, not by reason of any care they have for themselves, but by the love for them that is in other people.”