All You Need Is Love
Jesus said one characteristic would set his people apart. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). But love for one another isn’t an automatic. It’s a determination, a conviction, a pursuit, a calling. It’s the kind of thing you must set your mind upon, orient your heart toward, stiffen your spine for. Love is what everyone wants. But love, it turns out, isn’t something everyone’s good at. Love for oneself comes naturally. Love for others is learned.
My church meets together every Sunday, as Christians have done for centuries. We gather around for singing and listening, for praying and repenting, for fellowship and the breaking of bread. My church also meets together throughout the week in small groups, which we call Community Groups. Someone’s front door opens and a few saints cross the threshold into a place of openness and honesty before God and one another. Those rooms become the weekly experiments of love.
The apostle John remembered Jesus’ words in his letter of 1 John. He says in 4:7-12,
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. The motivation comes not from the idea of creating a better world, but from the Creator who made the world. Love for one another is not our idea. It’s God’s. It was not launched from the Beatles’ microphone: “love is all you need.” It was woven into the fabric of creation: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” But no matter how many times John Lennon sings “Love, love, love,” we’re not good at it. We find reasons to dislike. We misinterpret glances. We hide in our shells of self-consciousness. For all the trust we have in love as the ultimate goal, our faith in it is as weak as a six-year-old’s front tooth. We wiggle it and upon the slightest movement, abandon the whole thing, fearing the fall-out, even if we know something stronger is coming right behind. We fear what love may do to us, through us, in us. So we hide. We side-step. We dip our toe in, maybe even get up to our knees. But to go head first is a scary proposition.
Since the moment love died in the Garden of Eden, it has been spreading its stench throughout the world. The winds picked it up and brought it on the crest of every storm. We who should be stewards of love, inventing new ways to bring life into one another, instead sit out in the rainfall of the world. Our umbrella is just inside, but we refuse to open it. After all, it feels so far away, better to wait it out by this point. We’re already wet, what’s one more drop?
But this is not the Christian life. The Christian life is a life of bold love. It is walking unmasked into the stench of death with the aroma of Christ. It is not easy. It is often painful. But it is the God-ordained way of the saint. It was Jesus’ path, and he’s calling us from the cross to follow. What are we saying in response? What does the world see?
In his little book, The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer writes the following.
The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture. How, then, is the dying culture going to consider us? Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love on to another.” In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon His authority He gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.
How will the world know is? Not by our doctrine, but by what our doctrine creates. It’s not the gospel message but the gospelled life that projects to the world. Like lightning before the thunder, it is the light of Christ’s love that is seen before the message is heard. And if real, observable love doesn’t exist? Well, why would anyone believe? They can find that kind of life in any old place.
In the dying culture, Christians are to bring the life of love. But too often, we instead carry the knife of backstabbing. We spread the decay of gossip. We channel fears into withheld love. No one has ever seen God, and if we fail to love one another, he’s hidden all the more.
A church, or any group of Christians, can be broken in many ways. We are so fragile. Without the strong hands of the Potter shaping and reshaping our clay hearts, we let small things become big things. We retreat when we should invade. And what is said in those moments can take years of recovery. As we withdraw from the church, we speak something to the watching world, as Schaeffer goes on to say.
I have observed one thing among true Christians in their differences in many countries: what divides and severs true Christian groups and Christians—what leaves a bitterness that can last for twenty, thirty or forty years (or for fifty or sixty years in a sons’ memory)—is not the issue of doctrine or belief which caused the differences in the first place. Invariable it is lack of love—and the bitter things that are said by true Christians in the midst of differences. These stick in the mind like glue. And after time passes and the differences between the Christians or the groups appear less than they did, there are still those bitter, bitter things we said in the midst of what we thought was a good and sufficient objective discussion. It is these things—these unloving attitudes and words—that cause the stench that the world can smell in the church of Jesus Christ among those who are really true Christians.
Real disagreements may arise. Doctrine does matter. What we say about who God is matters. But how we disagree will say something to those watching. If the disagreements we have look like a bitter board meeting, the world will not see the reconciling love of Jesus Christ. They will see instead something more dangerous than a broken relationship. They will see a broken religion. They will see the continued spread of the death found in the world. But it will be worse, because it will be death shrouded in light. It will be like rain on a sunny day—surprising, confusing, misfitting. And they will walk away assuming that though the signs of fair skies were there, it was all a veneer covering the truth behind.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. It’s easy, say the Beatles. But we know it’s not. That’s why we need the love of God made manifest among us, that we might live through him. It turns out we don’t really know how to love at all. But God does, and he abides in us and his love is perfected in us. Are we willing to endure the pain of God’s love? If we are, the world will see it, and the world will be compelled. Like lightning before the thunder, God’s hurricane of love is coming. Are we going to step out of the way? Or will we stare into the eye, bracing for impact?