Love. When I think about love, I have to admit that my immediate response is an internal shrug.
“Oh, that’s all? Just love?”
Love seems soft. Sentimental. Sappy. Entry-level, ground-floor stuff. Elementary. Something you graduate from and then move on to deeper things.
“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang, and I think, “Is it really?”
The Apostle Paul (who I trust more than the Beatles) basically said the same thing when he wrote that the most comprehensive understanding of divine mysteries and the most beautiful articulation of them are nothing if they are done without love (see 1 Corinthians 13).
Love is great, but aren’t there more powerful things we need to be focusing on? Does love really get the job done?
Love is and love does
That’s the question, really. Is love real? And does it get the job done?
When I look at what the New Testament has to say about love, it’s actually shocking how all-important it becomes.
If we are going to take Jesus and the New Testament apostles seriously, we have to be prepared to say that
- Yes, love is real. It’s the realest thing in the universe, actually.
- And yes, love gets the job done. It’s actually the most powerful force in the universe.
Love is so real and so powerful that the Apostle John can declare, astonishingly without qualification, that “God is love.”
Saying “No” to love
Answering “No” to either of those questions accounts for all the misery in human history.
Adam and Eve, in the garden, said “No” to love, and chose to chase after something that felt more real and more powerful – the knowledge of good and evil that they could control and take for themselves.
Jesus, in the desert, was basically tempted to say “No” to love. The temptations were all ways for Jesus to declare No Confidence in love and trust something else as more real, more powerful than love.
Every time I try to manipulate or coerce someone, I am saying “No” to love. In other words, every time I try to get someone to do something I am saying “No” to love.
I’m embarrassed to say that my preaching used to be 95% trying to get people to do stuff. I didn’t trust love enough to simply proclaim the good news to them.
I was constantly pulling the levers of fear, guilt, and shame to try to get people to be good. (It sounded like grace, though.)
I didn’t trust love enough to really believe the good news myself! I knew it was “nice” of Jesus to die for me and all, but I “knew” I had to pull it together if I wanted life to change.
Saying “Yes” to love
But I’m learning that love is the most real, solid, reliable thing. It’s the most powerful lever I can pull for my own good and the good of others.
I’m learning that Jesus was being deadly serious when he told his disciples his main command was that they love each other as he had loved them.
I’m learning that the measuring stick of discipleship is love.
- “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
- “Above all, love one another deeply.”
- “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
It really is astonishing to me how central love is to the New Testament’s vision of what following Jesus looks like.
Any vision or process of discipleship that doesn’t grapple seriously with how to actually love people isn’t going to bear fruit.
(By the way, this is what I mean when I talk about calibrating grace and truth with people. As we’ve begun to train people in this, we are learning that we are training people to love. This is what Jesus did with people – he loved them.)
Love is the killer app
Love is the unifying principle that makes it all work. Love is the way of Jesus that catalyzes all the other raw material of faith.
Love really is the killer app (which I found out is the title of a well-reviewed book I’ve never read).
I think most of the time we assume love, and inadvertently dismiss it as a reality and practice we need to learn.
But if it really is the most real, most powerful, most important thing (and the only thing Jesus is counting), then it becomes vital that I learn how to actually do it.
Love is the competency that counts.
If love is the capital of heaven, then it is possible to be the smartest, most dedicated, most successful, most well-resourced person in the room and also be the poorest person in the room.
What I am learning is that loving people like Jesus is the basic content of discipleship. I am watching him operate (in the Gospels and in my life), and seeking to extend the love I am receiving from him into the people around me.
Mostly I am discovering how easily I slip into un-love (and a lot of “nice” things we do for each other can be rooted in un-love), but I am slowly learning it.
I’m starting to believe that love really is the killer app. I’m starting to believe that love is the most real, most powerful force in the universe.
I’m starting to believe that love actually never fails.