Love has been a topic of stories, poems, songs for centuries. Again, going back to the 1960s, an obscure band from Liverpool, England sang quite a few songs about love. Here are a few of their titles,
- All My Loving
- And I Love Her
- Can’t Buy Me Love
- I’m In Love
- Love Me Do
- Love of the Loved
- Love You Too
- PS I Love You
- Real Love
- She Loves You
- Step Inside Love
- Words of Love
And, in the same spirit as Jackie DeShannon’s song…
- All You Need is Love
Well, what the world does need today… is love. But I wonder if we know what we’re saying when we say that. I wonder if we have a firm grasp on the subject when we use popular slogans such as, “love is love” or “love everyone, always.”
Not An Abstraction
You see, Christian love, biblically understood, is anything but abstract. It’s a way of life. It not a mere feeling or emotion, it’s an act of the will. I almost called this devotion, “The Shape of Love,” because love, biblically understood, looks like something. There’s a shape to it.
It can’t be reduced to an abstraction or slogan. And this kind of love is hard. It takes practice because it is a way of life. It is a mindset.
The Great Commandment
Jesus emphasized the priority of love for his followers, indeed for every person, when he gave us the Great Commandment. In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked by an expert in the law, which of the commandments was the greatest. He was trying to test Jesus. But Jesus, being the smartest human to ever live, didn’t take the bait.
Jesus summarized all ten of the commandments by saying these words in Matthew 22:37-40,
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ i 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ j 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
You see, love is the greatest commandment. Love is the purpose of all the commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. And that love looks like something.
What does it look like? It looks like…
- Having no other gods before the Lord our God.
- Not making idols
- Not taking the name of our God in vain
- Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy
- Honoring your father and mother
- Not murdering
- Not committing adultery
- Not stealing
- Not bearing false witness against our neighbor
- Not coveting.
Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments by saying we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all that we are. And we’re to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The Real Meaning of the Commandments
But what do we often do? Well, a lot of times, instead of trying to dig into those commandments to better understand them so we can more faithfully live them out, we oversimplify them and say, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone today or robbed a bank, so I must be ok.”
But then Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount and tells us that not murdering anyone is a good start. However, he says if we have unrighteous anger toward someone, we’ve murdered them in our hearts.
Jesus says, you may not have committed adultery, but if you have lusted after someone, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.
Jesus gives us eyes to see what the commandments really mean. And they mean a whole lot more than we usually give them credit for. Jesus also teaches us that the commandments aren’t merely negative prohibitions against things (“Thou shalt not”).
They also imply positive actions. To not murder means more than not taking someone’s life or hating them in your heart. It also means desiring the best good of others and helping them flourish. It’s to act with reverence toward all living things and to honor the sanctity of life.
That’s just one example of what it means to love God completely and love our neighbor. It’s a way of life and requires a sanctified mindset.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
And it’s immensely practical, not just theoretical. It’s the heart and soul of all who follow Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2,
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The ESV Bible version says we’re to “imitate God.” As God’s children who are dearly loved and forgiven by him, we’re called to imitate God. How? By walking in the way of love.
And Jesus, who is our ultimate model shows us what that love looks like. And the short answer is: it’s a sacrificial love. Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s sacrificial love. That’s real love. That’s Christian love.
But even there it would be fair to say, “that still sort of vague. What does it mean to love sacrificially?” And here the Apostle Paul is very helpful.
Paul loved writing lists. And right before Ephesians 5:1-2, he gave us a list of what sacrificial love looks like when it’s practiced faithfully. And again, Paul is doing the same thing as Jesus by summarizing the Ten Commandments with practical examples. Here’s his list in Ephesians 4:25-32.
What does it mean to walk in the way of love? It means,
- We must put off falsehood
- We must speak truthfully to our neighbor
- We must not sin in our anger
- We must not steal but work so we can help those in need
- We must not say unwholesome things (obscenity, slander, gossip, abusive language) (And I would say that includes writing it on social media.)
- We must use our words to build up others according to their needs and for their benefit
- We must get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander – and every form of malice
- We must be kind, compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you
That’s what walking in the way of love looks like. Want another list? Paul has one for you in the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13. He said love,
- Must be patient
- Must be kind
- Must not envy
- Must not boast
- Must not be proud
- Must not dishonor others
- Must not be self-seeking
- Must not be easily angered
- Must not keep a record of wrongs
- Must not delight in evil
- Must rejoice with the truth
That’s the way of love we’re called to walk in.
So, How Are You Doing?
So, how are y’all doing with all that? Are you faithfully walking in the way of love? Love, as the world understands it, is so much easier when it fits into the title of a song… or a bumper sticker… or a slogan.
But true Christian love is hard in real life.
But here is some good news for you. The good news is that we don’t have to love perfectly to be perfectly and completely loved by God. God has redeemed and reconciled us because he loves us, and when we put our trust in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we become new creatures.
God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and we become people who are able to walk in the way of love as Jesus and Paul and the rest of Scripture describe it. To be sure, we cannot walk in love without the continual power and guidance of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.
But this way of love is what we are each called to. We do participate. God doesn’t do it for us. Furthermore, we won’t live this way by accident. Walking in the way of love takes practice. It’s takes conscious intentionality.
It’s why God has given his people what we call the means of grace. For example, God has given us his church, the fellowship of the saints, prayer, Scripture, worship, fasting, the sacraments, just to name a few. These are means by which we’re able to learn and grow so that we can walk in this way of love.
And the more we experience the true love of God the more we’ll want to love God and others the way we’ve been loved.
But we need a plan. Like a vine needs a trellis to guide it in the right, life-giving direction so it will bear fruit, we need an intentional way of life to help us bear fruit, to help us walk in the way of love.
Make A Plan
This Fall our church we’ll have lots of groups meeting to help you do just that. One of the experiences I’ll be leading is called, “Crafting a Rule of Life,” based on the book by Stephen Macchia. In it, we’ll spend time considering our own unique callings, gifts, temperaments, and seasons of life and how we can cultivate those aspects of who we are to help us become consciously intentional in walking in the way of love.
If you’re interested, I hope you’ll reach out and ask me more about it or look at our website and see all the different offerings we have coming up in the Fall. Each of them will help you learn and grow as a follower of Christ so you can walk in the way of love.
What the world needs now… is love. That’s absolutely true. But the world needs the love of God. And the world needs followers of Jesus Christ who not only love God, but who love others as they have been loved by God.
Thanks be to God.