Why is love so important?
Jesus gave us a wealth of guidance through His teachings but the only specific commandment He gave in the bible is to love (John 13:34-35). In fact, when Jesus was asked which of the Old Testament commandments were the greatest, He responded that those which told you to love God and other people as yourself, summed up the law (Matthew 22:36-40).
The importance of love, as a central part of the Christian walk, is therefore happily unavoidable. Of all things in the bible, and all commandments given, nothing is rated more highly than love (Mark 12:28-31). When compared with faith and hope, it is love which Paul said is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Love is more enduring than prophecy, special knowledge and speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 13:8). Despite spiritual gifts such as these, great faith and good works, such as charity and even martyrdom, without love for others nothing will be gained, except perhaps ungodly pride! For such acts count for nothing unless done out of love for others (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Hence, we are instructed to “Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). But in a world where the use of the word love is often distorted and misused, we need to get back to recognising the type of true love, that God requires from His children.
What is love?
One definition of love, as given in the Webster’s dictionary, is ” A feeling of strong attachment induced by that which delights or commands admiration; preeminent kindness or devotion to another; affection; tenderness; as, the love of brothers and sisters”. However, the world often seems to struggle to demonstrate love and often uses the word to describe emotions which do not line up with the type of love Jesus taught us about.
God is love and we are told that if we do not love, we do not know God (1 John 4:8). As Chrisitians, therefore, it is imperative that we love and we should seek to emulate the unconditional love our Heavenly Father has for us. The type of love God and Jesus have for us was often termed Agape love in the New Testament and has been defined as: “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being”
When seeking to understand love further, in Christian terms, 1 Corinthians 13 is a good place to start:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
and “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
This reinforces the significance of love and also how we can see if we are walking in love in our lives, a type of litmus test for love if you will. As mature Christians, we should seek to ensure that our relationships with others are guided by the type of love expressed in these scripture.
Thus, the attributes we will be required to demonstrate as loving christians are patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, happiness when truth prevails, faithfulness, hope and endurance through all things. That’s pretty clear and shows that even in hard times, we should not discard our attempts to walk in love.
We are also instructed in what to love is not, namely, jealous, boastful, proud, rude, demanding and irritable and it does not find pleasure in wrongdoing. Where these negative attributes are seen in ourselves, we are faced with the challenge of bringing our will more into line with God’s.
Who are we meant to love?
While many of us acknowledge and seek to be loving to those we consider to be friends or family, Christian love is called to do much more than that. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love those we would otherwise call our enemies. Those who do us wrong and even harm us, these are the ones we are called to love too:
But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate…” (Luke 6:27-38)
Basically, we are to try to love everyone! Though we may not love the things they do, we can still love and want to help the person. If God, who is Most Holy, is able to love everyone, and Jesus came to save the lost ( Luke 5:32), then surely, we should try to emulate their graciousness and try to love everyone too.
How to show love
There are the obvious ways of showing love, such as providing for the needs of others (Matthew 25:34-40), but love goes further than charity, as indicated in the passages above, love is also about your heart and your willingness to yield and sacrifice for the sake of others.
Note in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 Paul’s comments:
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely“.
I believe that this passage is referring to ones capacity to love others, as the whole chapter is about love. Thus, a true grasp of love can helps us to grow beyond our sometimes spiritually childish views of love, to demonstrate a type of love that is able to put others before yourself even if you know they would not do the same for you. Though we may not yet fully understand the benefits of walking in love, even if it hurts, while we are here, there is a time when all will be revealed and the fruits of our labour will become evident.
The modern world speaks of fairness and justice, and yet, it is not hard to see that there is much in this world that is unfair and unjust. Typically, the world teaches us that where there is injustice, we are entitled to revenge or retribution, and yet, if we truly follow the teachings of Christ, this is not what we, as His disciples, are to seek for ourselves. Rather, we are taught to give to those who take and to not seek revenge on those who wrong us, rather being told to forgive them and bless them (Luke 6:27-38).
While this may seem like an oddity to many, in truth it contains a wisdom that far exceeds any manmade policy or law. For if we can appreciate that God loves EVERYONE and desires for all to know Him; if we can understand that life is a journey in which our destination should be to be in as close a relationship with Him as we can be; then we can see that those who do things we consider to be wrong, are generally lost or confused.
As children of God and Disciples of Christ, we can use opportunities, where we may be entitled to be offended, to demonstrate the type of love and forgiveness that can stay with a person forever, and perhaps even cause them to consider how you can be full of so much love and peace when treated wrongly.
It may sound like a difficult thing to do, and in truth, any change which requires us to submit our Self is likely to feel like a bit of a wrangle. However, in these cases, the things we are struggling with are generally things we should be eager to cast off as Christians. In reality, they are not worth holding onto as they only serve to cause harm to ourselves and/or others. As you seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and ask God for the strength to make the choices you feel will please Him, making the right choices and changes can become increasingly easy. As you lose sight of your own sense of “self preservation” and act in a way that will instead be a blessing to others, our understanding of how God can work through our willingness to submit ourselves can be increased.
We may feel like defending ourselves is what is best for us, but when we let go and trust God to be our defender, determining to be content in all things as we follow His guidance, we find a peace that passes all understanding as the struggles of life are released into God’s more than capable hands (Philippians 4:5-7).
Truly, when you trust that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) and become determined to walk in love, regardless of the actions and reactions of others, you will begin to shine with the love of God, much needed in an often cold and poorly lit world.