In 1963, “Little” Peggy March, who was 15 at the time, released the song, “I will follow Him,” the lyrics of which went, “I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go. There isn’t an ocean too deep, a mountain so high, it can keep me away.” The song hit number 1, making Ms. March the youngest female artist to have such a successful hit.
The words of the song capture a simple truth: genuine love is willing to follow. It follows the object of affection wherever the path leads. An affection which is not willing to follow is indicative that somewhere there is something else which is loved more.
In the Bible, this aspect of love is reflected in the character of Ruth, in the book which bears her name: the eighth book of the Old Testament. Ruth was a Moabite woman who married a man of Israel. When her husband died, Ruth followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel, famously declaring, “where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge (Ruth 1:16).”
While it is common for comics to make fun of mother-in-laws, assuming everyone has antipathy towards the same; clearly for Ruth this was not the case. She left father, mother and homeland because of her affection for Naomi. She was willing to eschew the known comforts of her homeland, suffering poverty in a strange country, because she truly loved Naomi and wanted to follow her and care for her.
Because that’s what love does. It follows.
A wife, compelled by love, will follow her husband into new places and tenuous financial positions, because where he is, that’s where she feels she belongs. A wife who refuses to follow her husband where he leads is confessing the failure of her love. It is love which motivates a husband to follow his wife into old age and poor health. A man who abandons his wife as she gets older or frailer is telling all the world that he simply does not love her enough.
It is this kind of love – a love that follows – that Jesus desires in His disciples.
After Peter had denied Jesus three times, and following the Lord’s resurrection, Jesus had a heart-to-heart talk with his errant apostle.
He asked Peter a simple question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these (John 21:15)?” Three times he asked Peter this question, and three times Peter answered in the affirmative. But each time Peter said yes, Jesus gave him a task to do in His name. That is, Jesus wanted Peter to express that love with actual action. Peter’s love needed to be sufficient to motivate Peter to follow Jesus wherever Jesus might want him to go. Eventually following Jesus was going to require Peter to lose his life (cf. John 21:19).
Do you love Jesus enough to follow Him into death?
If not, you don’t love Him enough.
Jesus taught, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:25-26; ESV)”
If you want to serve Jesus, you have to be willing to follow Him. And it is that act of following which is evidence of the genuine love we have for the Son of God.
The problem many people have is that they often love something more than Jesus. They love themselves. They love their sins. They love their money. They love their pleasures. And they love these things more than they love God. Their actions say as much, for when it comes to making a choice between sin or God, between self or Christ, they choose to self and sin.
The wages of sin is death (cf. Romans 6:23) and the Bible warns, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12; ESV).” Sin leads to everlasting condemnation: eternal separation from God.
Sadly, too many people are willing to follow their love of self and their love of sin all the way to hell. But we should not be surprised. That’s what love does, it follows.
If you would like to learn more about following Jesus, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.