I’m working on a post about how Christianity completely transformed the world. In my other writing obsession, I’ve been writing my way through the Bible since April 2014, one of the best things I’ve ever done. God’s word is a bottomless well of profundity that gets more profound to me every day. Having come to this part of the well on love, I realized it is the reason that wherever Christianity goes it transforms (however imperfectly in a fallen world). Nothing of merely human origins can do what it has done and can do, and that’s only one of the many reasons Christianity is the Truth. Some thoughts on love:

This is one of the most well-known and poetically beautiful chapters in the entire Bible, and certainly the most beautiful of Paul’s letters. This thing he calls “the most excellent way” is the simple yet often misunderstood word, love. There are several words for love in Greek, and Paul uses the one many Christians are familiar with, agapé-ἀγάπη, properly, love which centers in moral preference. This is the kind of love God is, and that to which we are called. This love is all about the other, not about us; not rooted in our feelings, but in our choice to put someone else’s above our own. We’ll see what this means in practice, but ultimately the ability to love in this way comes from God alone, as the Apostle John says, “We love because he first loved us.” How did he love us? By sending his Son to die the most shameful death imaginable for us to save us from his own wrath against our sin. We who trust in him are now compelled to love; there is no choice in choosing to love.

This love is transforming; it is efficacious, or effective in working for the good in the one loved. We are first transformed by God’s love, completely unmerited, and then we can love others who often don’t merit it because it is a moral choice. We don’t always have to love in spite of, but now we can because God loved us in spite of our sin and rebellion against him. It is a love rooted in sacrifice, first his for us, then us for others. Needless to say this kind of love is not easy, and can be very hard. We’ll see what this means, how Paul describes it in practice, but it is often making the choice we don’t want to make. Indeed, the choice we more naturally would never make. Born sinners obsessed with self don’t do this kind of love naturally, which is why it was and is so radically transformative. It turned the ancient world upside down, and its blessings continue to go wherever it is imperfectly lived out today.

Paul starts with three contrasts to show the importance, or primacy, of love: if he does these things, but has not love, it follows that he is and has nothing. In other words, the greatest of spiritual achievements are worth nothing if we don’t have love. The three contrasts are:

  1. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels
  2. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains
  3. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast

Even if I have all this, but have not love:

  1. I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
  2. I am nothing.
  3. I gain nothing.

It would be difficult to say more emphatically how necessary and important love is than this. But now we need to know exactly what love is, how to do it, so we don’t become a bunch of noisy nothing! Let’s list Paul’s description of what love is:

  • Patient
  • Kind
  • It does not envy
  • It does not boast
  • It is not proud
  • It does not dishonor others
  • It is not self-seeking
  • It is not easily angered
  • It keeps no record of wrongs
  • It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
  • It always protects
  • Always trusts
  • Always hopes
  • Always perseveres
  • It never fails

Piece of cake! As we contemplate this list the first thing we realize is how terrible we are at loving! If we’re honest. The bar seems impossibly high. Especially keeping no record of wrongs. This has got to be the most natural thing for self-centered sinners not to do. How many relationship would be saved, and harmony served, if we would just not keep a record of wrongs? The answer is obvious.

The reason Christianity has been, and is, so transformative, is because love, as mentioned above, is rooted in something beyond itself. In other words, love is not an end in and of itself. Love isn’t merely utilitarian, if you do this then that will happen. In fact, it isn’t utilitarian at all because we notice that Paul never talks about what love will accomplish. For example, if we just keep no record of wrongs, then by golly, that person will love me back and we’ll live happily every after. If true love is not self-seeking, then we don’t love with an expectation of what we’ll get out of it. Such “love” isn’t love at all. The purest love is unilateral because its obligation isn’t really to the other person, but to God himself. Therefore, we leave the results to God. Very freeing, that. But if we live that list, however imperfectly, it will have, can’t help but have, its effect.

Further, the love Christianity teaches, and makes possible, is a love as big, bigger in fact, than the universe itself, because it is rooted in God himself. And this root is fundamentally action, which is why love is fundamentally a verb. Paul says in Romans 5:8 that God demonstrated his love for us by dying for us when we were still sinners. True love is not conditional, which is what makes it so hard. If only the other person would make loving them easier, then I would certainly love them! That’s funny, but how we all naturally think.

The beauty of Christian love, and why it’s completely unique, is that the whole of God’s revelation to man can be summed by our Savior’s response to the question of what the greatest commandment is:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The love of God is perfectly balanced, perfectly contextualized in God, ourselves, and then our neighbors. It can never fail.

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