It's Valentine's season again. Strange, how in our popular culture the word “love” can be used in such a trivial way, but then also be used to refer to the deepest of relationships.
“I love my wife!”
“I love hamburgers!”
“I love my husband!”
“I love the movie Nacho Libre!”
No wonder it’s so easy for us to miss the type of love God calls us to express toward, not just our favorite people, but toward all people. Let's face it. Real love is rare.
So radical is the love that God commands us to have for others, it includes loving our enemies and persecutors (Matthew 5: 43-48) and loving without expectation of receiving love in return (Luke 6: 27-36). But the most challenging call to love is the great commandment love God with all of our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22: 34-40).
Love God, Love Others
To truly love, we must first know God. Love starts with God and ends with God because God is love. We see this in 1 John 4: 7-8 when he writes: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God is not physically love, but it is one of his attributes. All God does is out of love. He cannot and does not do wrong. His display of love the purest and truest there is. He loves perfectly. And because we are made in God’s image, we can love.
Love isn’t something that is derived from within us. It is radical. It is supernatural. For the kind of love that God calls us to–the love that loves our neighbor as much as we love ourselves– that must come from Him. We cannot love like that without first being born of God. God’s common grace allows for all men made in His image to love, but there is a love that is set apart for the Christian. And it is also God’s enabling Spirit that allows us to love God. We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
This should cause us to pause. If we are enabled by His Spirit to love and if this love is set apart, we should be seeking to express it and to know it. Our love for each other has great implications. Jesus says that, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:35). This command to love is important. It isn’t a haphazard imperative to be tossed. God never says, “if you feel like loving, then love.” Perhaps it's most challenging because to display love in such a practical way that causes even non-Christians to recognize that it’s supernatural would mean death to self.
No, we can’t do it on our own. But with God, we can love radically: “for the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Christ died so we might live for him and we die to our flesh as we learn to love others in both practical and non-practical ways. We have to move past how we feel about a situation or a person and ask God to give us a genuine love for others.
Motivated by a love for God that began because He first loved us, we can actively pursue loving others both in practical ways and through expression. Practically speaking, this means putting others above ourselves, our perceived needs, and our wants. That will look differently for each person, so a ‘must do’ list won’t work. However, we’ll know if we’re sacrificially loving others because it’s going to be a little painful. We may experience loss of time, sleep, money, energy, whatever it is, we will feel it. And that person who is being extended love will also know it.
Through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit puts within the people of God a conviction to love people and make sure they know that they are loved. We fail miserably at this when we try to love in our own strength. We will never love God or anyone with our whole hearts. I fail at this because my flesh fights for me to be selfish and self-focused. Like Paul, when I want to do good, sin is right there with me (Romans 7:21). I don’t always want to love, but I can choose to. I thank Jesus who died on the cross for my half-hearted love. He loved perfectly in my place. And by God’s grace, I will grow in loving others.
Trillia Newbell is a freelance journalist and writer. She writes on faith and family for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, and serves as the managing editor for Women of God Magazine and Lead Editor of Karis, the Women’s Channel of CBMW. She guests post frequently at The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. Her love and primary role is that of a wife and mother. She lives in Tennessee with her husband Thern and their two children. You can learn more about her via her site www.trillianewbell.com and follow her on twitter:@trillianewbell.