‘It’s easy. All you need is love,’ sang The Beatles in 1967. But is it? Is ‘love’ easy? Is ‘love’ all you need for life? Where do you find the love?
It’s not easy to love!
The apostle Paul makes it very clear that ‘love’ is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is not the fruit of a good upbringing or the result of being blessed with certain genes but something that the Spirit alone produces in us. The love that Paul is referring to is radical. Let’s take the second great commandment, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31). Surely, that’s not too difficult, particularly if you have nice neighbours. However, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) to teach us that our neighbour is anyone who comes into our life in need of mercy. Anyone and everyone. Even if they’re my enemy? Yes! The Jew in the story was the Samaritan’s enemy. Jesus said elsewhere, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 6:44). But my enemies don’t deserve my love. No, they don’t, but that doesn’t come into it. If you are in Christ, you have the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). As a son of God (Romans 8:14) you will bear the family likeness and love indiscriminately, just like the Father who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 6:45). You are being conformed to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29). What is the Son like? Romans 5:8 tells us, ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ So no, it’s not easy. Christ shed his blood to give us life and enable us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Love is all you need… but it’s a big all!
John Calvin wrote, ‘It is, therefore, faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.’ In the same way, the love that is the fruit of the Spirit is never ‘alone’. It is a love that is patient and kind, forgiving and polite, humble and generous, and a love that seeks to restore people. In fact, some of the other aspects of the Spirit’s fruit are an outworking of our love. So yes, in one sense love is all you need, but it is a big all!
There is one statement in the Bible that opens our minds to the vastness of love — ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). In case we are in any doubt as to what that means, John spells it out. ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:10). His love encompasses the greatest kindness in that he gave us his Son. It is a love of the deepest humility. God sent his Son to take on flesh and to die. Christ died taking God’s wrath in our place. He was viewed and treated as a vile sinner. It is a love that is so patient and faithful. Despite our dim affection for him and our slow growth, he loves us! How about you? How is your love? Is it a patient love or do people get a couple of strikes and then they’re out? How quickly is your love tank exhausted? Are you loving the unlovable?
Where is the love?
Jesus said, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35). 150 years later, Tertullian wrote of unbelievers looking on at the local church and saying, ‘‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they love one another’ (for they themselves hate one another); ‘and how they are ready to die for each other’ (for they themselves are readier to kill each other).’ Would they say that today of our churches? Do your non-christian family members experience an extraordinary love from you? This is part of honouring your father and mother; that commandment goes way beyond obeying them as a child.
Jesus asked a very searching question of his disciples, ‘What are you doing more than others (i.e. pagans)?’ You might say, ‘If my family are prepared to meet me halfway, I will act in love.’ However, it’s just as well God didn’t have that attitude. We are incapable of meeting him halfway. In fact, we are incapable of making any movement towards him without him first loving us! So where is the love? It starts with you. By God’s Spirit, you can change your own behaviour. You cannot control other people’s behaviour. So love that person who has been unkind to you in the past. Offer to help them if they are in need. Invite them for a meal in your home. Pray for them, sincerely. As you do, you will find your love for them growing. You never know, they might even love you back, but even if they never do, love them anyway!
All we need is… to love God!
So far, nearly everything written in this article has been about love for other people, but perhaps the primary focus of the love that Paul had in mind, ties in with the first and greatest commandment, ‘Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30). You can’t possibly begin to love your neighbour unless you love God.
Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). The fear of the Lord is a massive topic, but while it means more than loving God, it certainly cannot mean less.
Do you love God? I don’t mean, do you love the Bible or doctrine or worship. Do you love him? Do you know him? Do you delight to meet with Jesus who reveals the glory of God in his face? Genuine love for others cannot be learned in any school other than Christ’s school. How do you attend this school? By gazing upon the cross. Isn’t it remarkable that he set his love upon you? Sin-sick you. Doubting you. Disobedient you. Cold hearted even after all these years you. He knew all this, yet he loved you! Meditate upon the wonder. Get to know this Person, and as you do so, his Spirit will conform you more and more into his likeness. As William Rees’ hymn puts it so well, his love is vaster than the ocean!
On the mount of crucifixion
fountains opened deep and wide;
through the floodgates of God’s mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
poured incessant from above,
and heaven’s peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love.