What is Love?
While reading through the book of 1 John on my D-Group's reading plan, the theme of love captured my heart this week. The word love is used in the book of 1 John 46 times. It's as if John is saying love is central to Christianity. He not only commands us to love (1 John 3:11), he in fact uses love as a measurement for someone to determine if they have saving faith in Jesus Christ or not. The entire book is a litmus test of sorts to help us have assurance that we belong to God. Here are a few ways he uses love as a measuring stick.
- "Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." (1 John 2:10-11 ESV)
- "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death." (1 John 3:14 ESV)
- "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:17 ESV)
- "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8 ESV)
- "If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20 ESV)
All of these passages have to do with our love for other people, which flows out of our love for God. The emphasis is clear. If I know Jesus as my savior and Lord, I will love brothers and sisters. Loving others is not an elective as a disciple of Jesus, it's required curriculum.
In God's providence, I'm reading and praying on these things just a few weeks away from a very important election. I'm reading it in the midst of presidential and vice presidential debates on television and the week of social media commentary that follows. I was reading it in the midst of a cultural moment that is really testing, revealing, and displaying people's love towards others.
As I was meditating on these things, I started to ask myself what exactly is love? If it is the evidence of Jesus doing a saving work in our lives. If it is in fact the greatest command of Christ for his followers (Matthew 22:37-39). If it is a requirement for a disciple. What does it look like?
Well, God's word spells it out in 1 Corinthians 13. The famous love passage printed on coffee mugs, sewn into pillows, and recited at weddings. Here's how that passage describes love.
"Love is patient and kind; - to love others is to patiently bear with them, and handle them gently.
love does not envy or boast; - to love others is to be excited rather than envious for their success and not be arrogant towards them in your success.
it is not arrogant or rude. - to love others is not being rude, hurtful, or use cutting sarcasm towards them.
It does not insist on its own way; - to love others is to put their needs and concerns before your own. It's to consider their interests.
it is not irritable or resentful; - to love others is to overlook offenses, and not hold grudges against them.
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. - to love others is to be honest with them and confront their sin so that they may be protected from the destruction it brings.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." - to love others is to keep coming back to the table to forgive them. To be long suffering in extending grace. And to assume the best about their intentions until you can get to the bottom of a conflict.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
This passage shows us that love is more than a feeling. Love is more than a sentiment. It's more than a nice word. When God commands his children to love, he's dealing with the way we speak, act, consider, respond, and do for others. What's more is that kind of love is demanded of us by King Jesus towards our brothers and sisters with zero pre-qualifiers. He's not saying love only some of your brothers and sisters. He's not saying love just those you agree with on everything. He's saying LOVE, period. That's means even in this election season we love those who vote and think differently than us.
What would it look like if disciples were so consumed with God's love for us, that we loved others like this? What if we held those we are discipling accountable to love like this, as we modeled it for them and repented when we didn't. If in the same way we confronted each other for known immorality, we confronted each other over being unloving towards others? Let's be well rounded disciples.
The truth of the gospel is that none of us love like we should. If you read that passage like it is, you would say I can't do that! Nobody can do that. These commands are impossible. You'd be right. We are more sinful than we'd like to admit, and our hearts can be really ugly at times. But the love of God in Christ for us is so much greater. Jesus in his perfect love has paid the price to wash us of all our unloving actions against God and others. His blood cleanses and renews our hearts. The love that Jesus showed to us at our worst is what empowers us to love as He's calling us to. (1 John 4:19) Spend more time this week swimming in the vast love of Jesus for you despite your sin, and let that rule your heart and mind as you engage others in this political season. Focus more on his love from God's word before you engage others, for then we will prayerfully love them as we are called. Meditate more on the gospel this week than the news and your favorite candidate. Disciples of Christ should be most readily identified by their love of the lamb, not donkeys or elephants. The lamb is love, his followers should be loving.
What would it look like if disciples were so consumed with God's love for us, that we loved others like this?
Grace & Peace, Scott Long
Photo by Kate Hliznitsova from Unsplash