A popular 1967 Beatles song was titled “All You Need is Love.” The lyrics were “All you need is love… it’s easy.” It is easy when our love is simply an expression of what we want to do. But when our love is a true expression of love, real outgoing concern—the kind of love that Christ prayed we would have for each other—that takes effort. It goes against our natural tendencies of protecting and nurturing self to put God and others above our own needs, yet it is exactly this kind of love that God expects from us.
Love: a nature, not an idea
There are many types of love, and many definitions or ideas about love, but love must be defined by its source. We are told in 1 John 4:8 who that source is; “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
“...love summarizes and epitomizes the ultimate nature of God,” says Don Hooser in a Good News article entitled “Love: the Ground from Which Spiritual Fruit Springs.” You can’t understand love apart from God. God defines and reveals the concept by His words and actions. We don’t learn about God because we know what love is; we learn about love because we know who God is. Love isn’t some human contrived concept we idealize; love is a nature that we must take on.
God’s nature, codified
In 1 John 5:3 we read, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”The word “keep” means to attend to carefully, take care of, guard, observe, preserve. Note how in Matthew 5:21-30 Jesus Christ clarifies “keeping” the commandments given in Exodus 20:13-14 “You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery.” Jesus Christ “magnified” the law. He moved the definitions beyond simply the constraints of physical activity into the mind and heart. Logically, if love defines God’s nature and the commandments define love, God’s commandments define His nature.
A man well versed in scriptural law, who was trying to test Jesus, asked Him which was the great [most important] commandment in the law. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:36-37). This is the answer the lawyer probably expected, since Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, a passage known as the Shema (after the first Hebrew word in it), which had become the Jewish confession of faith that was recited twice daily by the pious. But Jesus then went beyond what was specifically asked saying, “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This was not a “new” commandment, since Jesus was quoting Leviticus 19:18. But it seems the Jews had not coupled it with Deuteronomy 6:5 as another “great” commandment. Jesus raised “love your neighbor” to a much higher level of importance (GN).
In John 15:13, we read, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Notice here that the “greater love” is primarily directed toward man. Do you find it easier to get angry or upset with man, or with God? Do you find it easier to admire God or man? It is perhaps “harder” to show love toward flawed people, especially those that have or will hurt you; but again, God sets the example; “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
It is usually easier to feel lovingly toward God than toward man. God does no wrong and loved us first (1 John 4:19). Because we are so driven by feeling, it can be easier to act on love toward God. When the Bible speaks of love, note that love has more to do with what we do than what we think or feel. For example, consider the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12, usually paraphrased as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Consider the love of the Father. Imagine that your child or dearest loved one came and told you they needed to help someone. But you knew that the people they were going to help would treat him miserably, and torture and kill him. Would you allow it? The thought of losing a child is horrifying. Yet God allowed all this for the sake of the very type of people that would kill His Son, because He loves us so dearly.
Consider the love of Jesus Christ. Imagine that you are offered two opportunities:
1) All of the finest things in life, a good home in a quiet beautiful town, plus unlimited wealth and power to carry out whatever you desire.
2) Spending the remainder of your life taking care of people in a tribal village in an impoverished country hostile toward you where they’d probably beat and kill you.
Jesus Christ gave up everything He had going for Him to save us because He loves us so dearly. It is God’s nature to show an abundance of love toward indifferent, flawed, or even hostile individuals. We need to take on that nature daily. “Don’t forget every day to pray, ‘Father... more than anything... help us to grow in Your love so that we do not fail’”(GN).
Love must be sustained
For those of us who have received God’s Spirit, “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5, NIV). We begin with a little love, but God helps us to keep growing until we have a lot of love. In fact, the previous verses outline the step-by-step growth process made possible by God’s love and Spirit (verses 1-5).
By His Spirit, God offers us a continual supply of His limitless love. He continually fills our wells so that we have plenty to give to other thirsty people. Christ’s example of love and sacrifice was so profound that the promise of salvation that flowed through Him would flow through those who believed in Him (John 7:38).
God will keep His love flowing into us as long as it keeps flowing out from us. It must flow back to God—a grateful, reciprocal, responsive love for God—and it must flow out in love and service to other people. “The more you give it away, the more you will have. And the more you love others, the more you will be loved” (GN).