All You Need is Love

Love is the universal language, right? I suspect everyone would agree that it is what we need most. Love. It conquers all. Men will know us by our … love. The most important thing for a child’s development is … love. By a show of hands we could call this meeting to a close, all agreed. Except, we’re so bad at it. If we know the answer, why can’t we solve the problem? Maybe because we don’t actually understand what love really is.

To understand love, we can turn to Romans 13, or 1 Corinthians 13, both of which address deep love. In Romans Paul shows that true love is demonstrated by obedience to the Law of God. We cannot commit adultery, kill, steal or covet if we love God and love those around us. Such love will guard us from breaking the commandments. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul expands on all the things love will and will not do: It’s patient and kind, it doesn’t envy, it doesn’t boast, it doesn’t get prideful, it doesn’t think the worst of people. It seeks good for those around us, even our enemies.

In 1 John, the book’s whole emphasis is on love. We must abide in love, which demonstrates we abide in Christ. This is demonstrated in that we love other Christians (our brothers). Ultimately, though, the love of God is defined by John in that we keep God’s commandments, and His commandments are not a burden to us (1 John 5:3).

These statements from Paul and John relate back to the teachings of Jesus. He taught that if we love God, we will keep His commandments. One commandment is to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who loved Jesus, loved God. Those who rejected Jesus as Lord, rejected God and had no love.

Perhaps this is why our world lacks true love. It has rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. Since we need love, we turn to the imitation and counterfeit love. We turn to winsome, self-gratifying love. This is charity, good deed doing, hugging and expressing nice sentiments.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Except that it is the superficial love of a world devoid of the real thing. The divorce rate is high. Couples who once professed love for each other end up on the edge (if not over it) of hating each other. The phrase is, we fell out of love.

This is a sign of the rot that is in us from birth: Sin. The symptom is unfaithfulness. Because of it, we leave our first love and give ourselves to emotional (if not physical) prostitution. Spiritually we do this by seeking another word from God apart from the Bible. Or we start elevating a pastor or Christian celebrity above Christ. In essence, we deny Christ. Some deny Christ on the cross, claiming He was never crucified, or that he died as a man–with the spirit of God no longer on him, or that His death wasn’t payment for sin, but an example of sacrifice. All of this pulls us away from the truth, and away from real love.

The Bible has a couple of terms for love: Agape and Phileo. Agape love is an action. It is the love personified by Jesus on the Cross, paying the penalty for His enemies while they spit upon Him. It is a love that we’re called to as Christians toward God first and toward other Christians and all those around us. Phileo is a brotherly affectionate love. It is the bond between David and Jonathan. It joins with agape in providing the feeling.

We like feeling. TobyMac has a song, “Feel it” in which he declares “That’s. How. I. Know.” Unfortunately, that’s not found in the Bible. 1 John doesn’t have a verse that says, “by this will you know that you are saved, you’ll feel it.

We know we’re of God because we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s first. In obedience, we love all those around us, particularly Christians, as we would love ourselves. Don’t misunderstand that last part. God isn’t slipping in a “You gotta learn to love yourself, child!” It means that we would provide for ourselves, seeking safety, food and shelter, so we should do the same to all those around us. Even our enemies.

But, if we seek the welfare of those around us, but do not love Jesus Christ, our love is self-centered and odious. If we sacrifice our lives in service for others, but we’re not loving God and abiding in Him, we’re like a banging gong.

All we need is love. God is love. So, really, all we need is God. And He has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ whom we should love above all others, obeying all He said.

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Real Love & Envy Part 3

I remember a time when a friend of mine was visiting and a carnival set up near our house. This friend had a few brothers and we were all pretty close in age. For some reason, he was the only one who came to visit. We wanted to go to the carnival, but thought that perhaps it would cause his brothers to feel left-out. My friend’s comment was, “I think they’ll be happy for me.”

I won’t leave you in suspense, we didn’t end up going. But for some reason, that event has stuck in my mind. I’ve thought about it many times over the years. It happens to line up with the third earmark of love: It does not envy!

If there’s a human out there who got past the patient/long-suffering and kind benchmarks with flying colors, this one might sting.

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Okay, it’ll smart.

Smart

Seriously, it’s something that is worse than a plague. I’ll illustrate with another pop culture reference: I Am Legend. Before it was a Will Smith action/horror movie, it was a 70s apocalyptic movie called The Omega Man, starring none other than Charlton Heston.

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Before that … okay, it was a book by Richard Mattheson in which a plague swept the world, turning everyone into zombie/vampires … except THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (the title of the first movie with Vincent Price). The end of the movie

*Spoilers ahead!!**

finds that the healthy protagonist is the problem, killing off the “normal” vampires during the day, unseen by them. The twist is that the vampires have learned to live with their illness, and the one man who doesn’t have their sickness is actually the scourge of humanity.

Envy is just like the plague and we’re all like the vampires. We all have envy. It’s a sign of the flesh. Unless you’re born without a sin nature, you envy. That’s the default.

Politics operates on this principle. One group pits everyone against the 1%, another group entices people with promises of a booming economy that will give them easy pay.

Advertisers use envy ALL THE TIME. This product will make you more attractive than your friends. This drink will give you the good time that everyone else is having. This phone will give you the family life everyone else has already discovered!

Envy. It drives politics and the economy.

But it doesn’t fuel love. In fact, it’s the opposite of love. Here’s what Matthew Henry says:

Charity suppresses envy: It envieth not; it is not grieved at the good of others; neither at their gifts nor at their good qualities, their honours not their estates. If we love our neighbour we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it. This is the proper effect of kindness and benevolence: envy is the effect of ill-will. The prosperity of those to whom we wish well can never grieve us; and the mind which is bent on doing good to all can never will ill to any.

Unfortunately, we’re pulled into envy so fast. If a friend gets a promotion at work, we’re happy for them … but we might start to wonder why we haven’t had that success. We might compare ourselves to that friend and start thinking they didn’t really deserve that promotion, that wife, that life.

In other words, we start to put ourselves in the place of God, deciding what should or shouldn’t be.

The world is full of this sort of thing. We make our own destiny! We alter the course of history! And, to the extent that our personal responsibility to do our work affects the lives of those around us, that’s true.

The Christian view, however, is that God is in supreme control. He ordains all things, including the promotions, firings, economy booms and great depressions. He rains down on the righteous and the unrighteous. He has in mind the discipline for all whom He calls to Himself. Christians trust that His will is perfect and all things will work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

In light of such a belief, we have no reason to envy. We should rejoice at everyone’s good fortune, even if they don’t appear to deserve it. Because, guess what? none of us deserve what we’re getting. We’re all equally deserving of God’s wrath. Yet, He’s patient, kind and merciful to us. Gracious, even, giving us what we don’t deserve.

Perfect love doesn’t envy. All of us need to pray for God to put that love in us, then test ourselves to see if we have accepted that gift from Him. Have we stood up on those lame legs, believing that He has healed them?

He’s commanded us to love one another. With pure love. To quote a Peter Furler song, get up, get off your seat, move your feet, just do what He said!

Can I Really Love Myself?

One of the more common statements that everyone wants to believe is, “You need to learn to love yourself!” Or, a variation, “You need to learn to forgive yourself.”

The idea is pleasing because everyone gets down on themselves, or feels depressed about some mistake or foolish thing …. But can we really love ourselves? Isn’t that sort of what “Honest John” Foulfellow said to Pinocchio? “You need to live a little,” “You deserve a break!” Isn’t all that just an expression meant to convey “you really need to burn that conscience right out of you.”

What is love, anyway?

According to the Bible, love is defined by sacrifice. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. By this we know love, that God laid down his life for us… both written by the apostle of Love, John.

Can I “lay down my life” for myself? Can I sacrifice for myself?

Typically, we might have a responsibility for money, which we shrug off, sacrificing duty to indulge ourselves. Or, we might have a choice of providing for a friend, or indulging ourselves …

I don’t think we can really sacrifice for ourselves.

There is an example, however, of preserving yourself so that you can be of the most help to others: Lifeguard training.

Odd as it may sound, if a lifeguard is rescuing someone near a pier, and the waves are pushing them toward a large, wooden beam, the lifeguard is to keep the victim between himself and the beam. Why? Because the victim’s bruises and broken bones can be mended when the lifeguard safely gets him to the shore. Getting him to the shore is far less likely if the lifeguard is pummeled unconscious and they both need rescue.

I think we need to watch out for instances where we throw ourselves in the path of large beams, thinking we’re saving some poor victim from another problem, but we’re making ourselves incapable of further assistance.

That’s not really “loving ourselves,” it’s just maintaining our usefulness.

Jesus often turned the crowds away, or went to a solitary place to refresh His spirit in communion with God the Father. While it might seem selfish, or that he’s just “loving himself,” it was actually needed because He was fully man. He needed rest so He could continue his rescue mission.

Wisdom is knowing the difference between self-indulgence and self-preservation for the greater good.

What do you think? Is “loving ourselves” good advice for Christians, or is it just a justification for indulging the self-life?