Throughout my adult life, one profound belief has consistently dominated my thoughts: that real love stands as the most crucial force in our world. Writing directly about this topic has always seemed a daunting task, as I’ve felt unable to do it justice. Nevertheless, its significance is undeniable, and I am compelled to make the attempt, even if I may not convey it perfectly.
There exists nothing more vital than love. Love is an essential element for the well-being of individuals. It resides at the core 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.
In the realm of orthodox Christian faith, love assumes a central role. 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 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).
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 think the greek word agape, often described as “sacrificial love” comes closest to how I define love. People often think “sacrificial love” means that this sort of love has to “hurt” and devalues the person who is loved. This is far from the truth. Rather this sort of love is all about how valuable the person being loved is, and it doesn’t need to “hurt”. I think a more generous 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
A Renewable, Exponential Resource
As a new convert to Christianity I had this 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”
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. Do we deeply understand that it’s God’s love, not our righteousness, that has us in His family? Are we humble? Do “sinners”, “unGodly”, people who are broken or discarded by our society feel welcome and comfortable at our church? They should. After all, these were the people Jesus loved unconditionally, and who enjoyed hanging out with Jesus. Do we care for people that no one else does because there will be no “return” of that investment? We should live this way.
- Gentle and Lowly by Dane Orthlund
- The Mark of a Christian by Francis Schaeffer
- Love Within Limits – Lewis Smedes
- The Christian Ethic of Love by Norman Geisler
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