Love is all you need. These immortal words from the Beatles have been sung billions of times (and I feel like that number is conservative!). But is it true; is love all that we need?
Well, on the surface of things it’s obviously not true. Love is an abstract concept and as such it cannot provide our needs for food, water, shelter, and clothing.
But love can and does provide much of our emotional needs and can, in certain ways and at certain times, provide for our spiritual needs.
So maybe a more correct line would be “Love is a really important thing you need.” But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
What Is Love?
To continue our musical theme, love is, as the Boston famously put it, “more than a feeling.” I like to think of love as a choice, an intentional action which can lead to a lifestyle and not as a fleeting emotional pull toward someone or something.
But, still, what is it? We’ve categorized it as an intentional action, a choice…but what is it?
Here’s where the Apostle Paul helps us. In Philippians 2.3-4 he give us the best definition of love I’ve ever read (though, for full disclosure’s sake, he doesn’t use the word “love” in this passage).
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Paul’s implication is clear, love is an action that is aimed at the interests of others, not at the interests of the self. Love is supposed to be others-focused. It’s supposed to be sacrificial and communal. It’s supposed to result from humility and not selfishness.
Love is, simply put, placing the interests of others before our own.
Geez, could anything be harder?!?
1 Corinthians 13 and Love
Paul gives us lots of information about love in the famous words of 1 Corinthians 13.1-8a.
Love is patient, love is 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. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
I know, I know. This passage usually conjures up images of mushy wedding services or vow renewals. And that’s fine. There are no interests we should put first more often than those of our spouses!
But the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13 make it clear that what Paul means by love here is the love that is shared within the Christian community and that is to be shared and embodied outwardly to the watching world.
But what does Paul actually teach us about love here? Love is about placing the interests of others before our own. That’s what he means when he says it’s patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, and not proud. That’s what he means by saying love doesn’t dishonor others or that it isn’t selfish.
Love being defined as putting the interests of others first is seen in that it’s not easily angered, that it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, and that it delights in truth and not evil. A love that puts the interests of others first is protective, trusting, hopeful, perseverant, and unfailing.
That’s the kind of love I want to experience from others! And as I learn to put the interest of others first, that’s the kind of love I’ll show them as well!
How to Be More Loving
But here’s the rub: How do we become more loving? How do we put the interests of others before our own?
Well, there’s lots of sound advice out there.
- Think carefully about how to love those closest to you. Consider how they would want to be loved instead of simply loving them the way you want to be loved.
- Learn from other people who love well. Read the biographies of people who consistently put the interests of others first, no matter the cost. Spend more time with your friends who love well. Consider getting a mentor to help you do a better job of loving others.
- Just try really hard. Work hard at putting the interests of others first, even when you don’t want to.
- Do what Jesus did. He loved people, so you should too.
- Pray about it. Ask God to help you.
Love as an Aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit
But since love is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5, maybe we should seek Paul’s advice there.
In Galatians 5.16 Paul says to “walk by the Spirit” and in 5.18 he says be “led by the Spirit.” These very similar concepts are set in contrast to the notion of succumbing to the desires of the flesh.
But how? How do we walk by the Spirit? How can we be led by the Spirit? How can we not fall prey to the desires of the flesh?
- Firstly, we must pray. Prayer should be the start of any pursuit of living a Spirit-synced way of life. We must ask God to make us aware of the leading of the Spirit. In my limited experience and based on the advice of people I deeply trust, the more we pray to be led by the Spirit, the more and more we’re likely to notice him showing up in our lives, guiding and directing us.
- Secondly, we must stop indulging the flesh at every turn. Maybe one reason why we don’t experience the fullness of the Spirit in our lives is that we’re so distracted by our flesh. And with regard to this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit — love: putting the interests of others before our own — our flesh desires our own interests at all costs. Maybe we should learn to take stock every once in a while by taking a deep look at ourselves and our motivations. Perhaps as we listen less and less to our flesh, then we will hear the Spirit more and more.
- Thirdly, we should look at the life of Jesus. Who in the history of the world was more in tune with the Spirit than Jesus? No one, that’s who! So as we read about Jesus’ earthly life, we’ll notice him putting the interests of others first. Then we should go out an imitate him!
- Fourthly, obedience, obedience, obedience. One of the hardest things Jesus ever said was this: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14.15). Thanks for that Jesus! But he’s right. Love is demonstrated by actions. And our love for Jesus should be shown by obeying his commands. And what were they, what were his commands? Love God with all we’ve got, love others as ourselves, and make disciples. Pretty simple to say but pretty difficult to live out! Oh, and it’s no surprise at all that immediately following John 14.15 is a long discussion by Jesus of the Spirit. Obeying Jesus and experiencing the Spirit go hand in hand.
- Fifthly, do this with others. The Christian life was never intended to be lived in isolation. (Neither was human life for that matter!) So why do we try to do things like live a Spirit-synced way of life in our own power? That’s just setting us up for failure. Instead, call together your friends who follow Jesus, your small group, your missional community, your Sunday School class, your family, whomever, and commit together to pursue the Spirit together. Then check in on one another. Tell stories about how the Spirit is moving you to put the interests of others first. Hold each other accountable. Pray for one another. And, above all, love one another because walking with the Spirit is tough because the pull of the flesh is so strong!
What do you think? When you think about love as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, what comes to mind? And how can we stay synced up with the Spirit? Let me know in the comments below.