Love: The Heart of Goodness

Real love is the most powerful and important force in our world. Love is the heart of our connections and communities, possessing the remarkable power to mend fractured relationships and bridge gaps between people. Love not only opens our hearts to others but also serves as a potent catalyst for learning and personal growth. Love is an essential element for the well-being of individuals. Writing about love is a daunting task. I’m unable to do it justice AND the topic is so important I have to try.

In the Christian faith, love is central. It is a defining characteristic of God, as stated in I John 4:16. Jesus declared the greatest commandment to be the love for God and neighbor (Matt 22:37-40). Paul followed up noting all the commandments find their fulfillment in love (Rom 13:8, Gal 5:1). Love becomes the unmistakable mark of a true follower of Jesus (John 13:35) and stands as the singular fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).

How did Christianity go from a fringe and persecuted faith to a national “religion” of the Roman Empire in 300 years? It wasn’t through violence or force. It was through gentle, humble love for “the other”: caring for the sick, the poor, anyone in need. In short, loving the neighbors. Unfortunately, Christians often forget that true power is love, rather than economic, political, or military power which is ultimately impotent.

What is Love?

The word love is used in a variety of ways: a preference for a product, romantic infatuation, deeply caring for a friend or family member, and many other things. In Greek there are four different words that translate into the English word “love”. I believe the Greek word “agape,” often described as “unconditional love,” comes closest to my definition of love. My favorite definition:

Love is willing good toward someone else, independent of what you get in return

I think there are some simple tests to determine if you are being loving in this way:

  • Are you happy to do something good for the person you love anonymously?
  • If someone gets an opportunity that you wanted, can you rejoice and encourage them?

Sometimes agape love is called sacrificial love, which I have come to see is a bad translation. First it can convene a sense that this sort of love necessitates pain. Second, some people perceive this as diminishing the value of the loved person, or places the lover in a superior position. I don’t like the term because a sacrifice isn’t involve at all, love is operating on a completely different plane. The “sacrifice” is merely temporal or material things, existing in “chronos” time. The joy of seeing the person flourish is operating in the realm of eternity, or “kairos” time. Imagine being offered the best experience of your life for a $1 fee, or even $1000. Is that fee a sacrifice? Jim Elliot aptly remarked, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

As a new convert to Christianity I had a vision that God poured love into my heart, and that my job was to let His love flow through me to touch others. My breath prayer for many years has been “Lord so fill me with your love that it overflows onto others”

A Renewable, Exponential Resource

Gentle and Lowly by Dane Orthlund got me thinking about how love is an infinite resource because it comes from God’s nature. Better yet, it grows as it is shared. When you love someone in a true manner, you are passing on the love God put into your heart. As you “use it”, God refills your heart with more love. Now your heart is full and the person you loved has more as well.  If they turn around and love someone, their heart can be refilled by God and the amount of love  grows exponentially. Numerous videos try to capture what happens when people “pay it forward“. People have noted that simple acts of kindness can become viral and even boomerang back.

I have seen how small, simple acts of love change others. I wrote a bit about my “samaritan experiment” in Relational Openness and Delightful Surprises. Maybe the best way to impact the world is in simple acts of love to neighbors. People underestimate the impact of small acts. I plan to write about this later.  For now, check out Hidden Brain’s A Secret Source of Connection.

The Measuring Stick

Given that love is a defining characteristic of God, and seems to be the most important commandment for His followers, it would make sense that love should be the basis of our ethics, the rooting of our decision making process, the heart of our values. When things are unclear “what is loving” can be like a searchlight in the dark.

Jesus said that the rest of the world should judge whether we are his followers by the love we have for each other. I know seeing the love between members of a church led me to become a Jesus follower.

As an ambassador of God (I Cor 5:16-20) our first mission is to demonstrate and tell people about God’s love. Our lives should have integrity, that is we shouldn’t just talk about loving others, but live it out.

Likewise, our church should be judged based on whether we are loving people rather than just caring about Further Reading

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8-10 ESV

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