A Primer on Love

Love One Another

3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34) 4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34) 5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35) 6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12) 7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17) 8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10) 11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8) 54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11) 55. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23) 56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7) 57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11) 58. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12) 59. “…Love one another.” (II John 5) 49. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8) 35. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12) 36. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9) “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)

Love is the foundation of every outward thought or action for the Christian. In stark contrast with the culture around us which preaches “love yourself,” Jesus summed up all Scripture with two commands: love God supremely and love other completely. We therefore cannot pursue any course of action together as the people of God unless it is rooted in and exemplifies mutual love. Preaching is done in love. The coffee bar is an act of love done lovingly. Rebuking one another must be motivated by love and seek the result of an enhanced shared affection. Worship together is an act of love for God and for each other, following Paul’s word of “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.” (Ephesians 5:19). Shared love is the first and most necessary marker of a healthy church.

At the same time, the absence of love is a the most consistent indicator of a sick church. When members avoid one another in the narthex or whole families refuse to speak to each other for long stretches because of mutual disdain or some long-remembered sins, the entire body can suffer. We mar the body by having clans and cliques within us, allowing people who would claim the name of Christ-lovers to express their hatred for one another in how and where they worship. This kind of illness can start at the time. Does your church or denominational staff show Christ’s love toward one another? When staff members do not spend time together or chew the fat, when staff meetings are endurance trials, when pastors stop talking to each other or elders refuse to forgive one another and seek one another’s good, you have a broken body.

Love is also proof of our salvation. John wrote, “If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.” (1 John 3:14) Do you want to know if you are saved? Ask yourself: do I love my brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you want to know if you are truly part of the church? Wonder aloud: do I act in love and feel love toward other Christians? Love is a necessary indicator of our being in Christ and having Christ in us.

At the same time, Christian love shows the world the Gospel. Jesus said, “your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35) Jesus made an easy way for Christians to show the world how different Christianity is from the rest of the normal behaviors of the world, and that is in the uniquely self-sacrificial love that Christians will offer to one another every day. The more that we subsume our selfish desires and kill our selfish sins in pursuit of active and heart-felt love, the more we show the world the reality of Jesus’ love for us. The first fruit of the Spirit is love, so as we seek to live a Spirit-led life that models Jesus, we must begin with love.

This is not to say that every action a church does will appear loving to a culture that has a rather squishy definition of love. Love in our broader culture tends to mean that which makes other people feel good, rather than genuine concern for or affection for another person. Like the pushy boyfriend who insists “if you love me, you will sleep with me,” the world around us insists to the church “if you love me, you will stop pointing out my sins.” Any love that is not rooted in truth is a false love ; truly, it is hatred. If we refuse to give our children medicine because they do not like the tastes or hate the feel of a needle, then we do not love our children but rather show that we love ourselves more than our children; we care more about the fact that they like us in a given moment than the good that we ought to do for them by giving them their medicine. “Love” that seeks self-adoration or happiness alone is not real love; it is undisclosed condescension. Therefore he church loves with integrity and truth, and that love can sometimes come across as “tough” love, as my mother would say when she made me eat my vegetables.

To love one another, fellow Christian, we must understand what we mean by love, what love reveals to each other and to the world, and some practical applications from Scripture on how to love one another.

Love is…

We rightly tend to answer this sentence with the familiar “kind, patient, etc.” out of 1 Corinthians. Paul’s list is the most comprehensive set of descriptors for real love that we can find in one verse. We do well to read and live this verse in worship and at weddings, for we need the constant reminder of how love acts in our various relationships. The list works as a positive and a negative — love is patient means that our impatience is not loving, however we may try to dress up our impatience. Love is kind means that unkindness is never loving and that kindness does not mean pulling punches when truth is necessary.

We will cover the full list of these attributes below, but before we do, we need to address a much more fundamental question: what is love itself, exactly? Saying “love is patient” is describing attributes, and though a set of attributes can get us close to the truth, we can only define something by arriving at its most fundamental attributes. You might describe me by saying “gregarious, overweight, and nice,” but this kind of list never arrives at my core essence, which is “human.” What is the core attribute or set of attribute for love?

In other words, what is the essence of love?

This question is the most fundamental question for answering the pragmatic question of “how do we love one another?” If we define love as the world does, which is principally as a feeling or affinity, then we will have to find ways to force ourselves to feel better about other people, to “fall in love” with them as we might a new friend or girlfriend. But then we find ourselves drowning in frustration as we realize that we do not feel a natural affinity for a great number of people. Some of us — curmudgeons like me — do not feel love for many people at all in our natural state. We arise some days wondering why the earth isn’t empty and the roads deserted because people are loud, noisy, polluting, sinful, hateful, obnoxious, and superfluous for our happiness (except for the people I like or love). Forcing ourselves to love one another on days like that — if love is a feeling — is simply impossible. We’re better off locking ourselves in our rooms for the day, as some do, and binging television until tomorrow comes and we hopefully arise with a better attitude.

What a miserable reality, if love is just a feeling! We cannot force feelings, try as we might. Any parent knows this — just try to make your kids feel like cleaning or doing the dishes! Our feelings are fleeting and change with the hour. Too many marriages end because they began with one feeling of love and ended with another of hate. Couples come for counseling wondering, “why don’t I feel in love with my spouse anymore?” They try to re-kindle the flame, to feel the love they felt when they first said “I do” or first slept together. They find that they cannot reproduce those feelings, so they give up and try to find those feelings with someone else. Relationships rooted in love are always doomed to fail.

So it is with the church: if love is merely a feeling, then we are dead in the water as churches because our feelings toward one another and toward the church as a whole change all the time. When we hear a good sermon, have a meal made for us in time of need, have a great worship “experience,” or receive a kind word, we feel great affinity toward the church and feel like we belong. When we have a small group fall apart, have someone wrong us, encounter programming that does not live up to our expectations, or see the church make some decision we despise, we feel on the outs and soon leave. If church is a collection of feelings, the pastor takes on the role of chief feelings-manager, which is something akin to Head Cat Herder. Many pastors have burned out because of the constant “I feel like…” about their preaching or leadership, statements rooted in personal experience and not some objective standard of truth. It is impossible for Pastors to make parishes love them and maintain that love without depleting one’s emotional reserves and softening the gospel to make people feel better than worse every Sunday.

We need a biblical correction; love is not first a feeling. What is love, at its core?

1.Love is Action

When early English translators wanted to free Scripture from the inaccessible high church Latin by bringing it into the vernacular, they encounter significant disagreement over the word “love.” For some love was too base, too feelings-oriented, to describe the Greek agape. Some — like the translators of the King James’ Bible, preferred to rely on “charity” as a descriptor of the noun form of love. Thus have in 1 Corinthians that “charity is patient…” rather than the more familiar “love is patient.” Charity is not a poor translation, and as a translation of the noun form of love — as a disposition — charity works very well. We will return to the idea of love as a disposition.

For William Tyndale, though, charity was insufficient because charity cannot be used as both a noun and a verb. For Tyndale, love was the most all-encompassing translation for the variety of ways that love is commanded and expressed in Scripture. Most importantly, love can be used as a noun and a verb: we cannot say, “I charity you,” but we can say, “I love you.”

When the Bible issues the command “love one another,” it is the verbal form of love. We are being commanded to an action. We are not merely repeating words or building emotions. We are acting out a set of behaviors that reveal and reinforce love. Paul writes:

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.”

(1 John 3:18–20)

We show the truth of our love — the reality of our affections and commanded love from Jesus — in what we do. Love is action.

When we consider the oft-repeated command, then, to “love one another,” we must first think of how we act in loving ways toward one another. What you actually do for other Christians that is loving? Do you actively find out how people are doing in their lives and seek to make their lives better in a meaningful way? Do you speak words of love toward other people? Do you intervene with care when someone is sick or in need? Does your church take care of the poor people in your midst or those who have lost jobs?

Christ is our model of love in action. He said “Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34). Note carefully the many ways he loved his disciples and followers: he fed them, healed them, taught them, counselled them, challenged them, rebuked them, encouraged them, prayed for them, comforted them, brought them into his life, and walked alongside them through extreme difficulty. Above all, he gave his life for them. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)

When Peter sinned against him by denying him three times, Jesus affirmed his future leadership of the church and brought him back into his full confidence. He addressed their felt needs — when they were scared by storms, he silenced the wind and the waves; when Peters faith wavered on the water, he held out his hand and saved his disciple. When his mother suffered at the foot of his cross, he matcher her with his beloved disciple and set them both in a relationship of care. He saw through the woman at the well, saw to her real need, and offered a needed but gentle rebuke to her licentious lifestyle. In all he did, he lived a life of love, but he did not sacrifice truth or righteousness for love’s sake. He acted out love as the church ought: true love, tough love, constant love, and persistent love.

All of the one-anothers that are action-based can be viewed as variations on this first command. If we properly love one another, then we will live one another up and seek one another’s good. These are restatements or clarifications of the ways that we are to love one another, and they all are in agreement with each other and with this first basic command. They are acted-out love. Every one-another we examine from here on is summed up in this: love one another.

Do you live love in your congregation and with other Christians? We are commanded by Jesus to love our neighbors and our enemies, but if we cannot figure out how to live out love amongst other Christians, how would we dare to try to love the world! If we who share the same Lord, baptism, Spirit, and Gospel cannot find ways to love, how can we ever begin to act in love toward the world around us? Therefore I say: love one another in what you do. Live lives of live in your families and churches. Be people whose time on this earth is measured by the ways in which you loved other people, starting with the people of God around you.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.” (1 John 3:18–19)

2. Love is Disposition

Knowing which actions are loving and when to act requires a constant disposition of love. This is the translation of love as “charity” that is prevalent in many translations. Charity is a constantly benevolent attitude overflowing from the blessings we receive in Christ. When we are filled by the Spirit, we experience love and thus view others through the lens of love. We see people as Christ saw them and love them as he loved them. Charity removes our own desires and needs from our behaviors toward other people, choosing to replace those with a desire for the good of others.

1 Corinthians 13:13 comes at the end of Paul’s lengthy clarification of the spiritual gifts. All of the gifts have present purpose but not future in heaven. Prophecy and tongues, he says, have value now but will not last into eternity. We will not need tongues at the feet of Christ. We will not need to heal anyone in heaven. We will not need to prophecy for eternal future is laid before us. We will not need encouragement or words of knowledge. Instead, “three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.”

What kind of love will we experience in heaven? It will be active love, yes, but not the kind of active love we often experience now. We will not need to mourn with those who mourn or comfort the brokenhearted, for in heaven there will not be any weeping or broken hearts. We will, though, view one another through perfected eyes of love. We will have a constant disposition of love. We will experience the heart of God for ourselves and then see within God’s love for us the way he wants us to love others. The disposition of love is eternal.

Fix in your mind each day a compassionate view toward your fellow believers. Experience the many blessings that you have in Christ and desire to see those blessings in the lives of other Christians. Look at the church around you — whether in the narthex or the grocery store — and seek their good. Think kind thoughts that lead to empathy when they are suffering or co-laboring when they need help. In this way you will establish a disposition of love that frames our actions and cultivates a heart of love for others.

3. Love is a Feeling

Peter wrote, “Love each other deeply with all your heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) We can love each other deeply because we were cleansed from our sins when we first obeyed the gospel, he says, so we are free to be brothers and sisters in Christ. This love is not merely action or disposition, but is a felt love, a real emotional love that works in tandem with and is the fruit of our actions and dispositions.

We must admit that it is impossible to force a feeling. We cannot go to bed tonight and think “tomorrow I will feel better about this person,” as though wishful thinking shapes our attitudes while our heads rest on our pillows. Love — the part of it that is a feeling — cannot be cajoled into existence. We cannot squeeze our eyes shut and sing songs of love while thinking about someone we hate in hopes of opening our eyes with hearts floating over our head. If we feel revolted or disgusted by someone, we are going to continue feeling that way until we change our actions and dispositions to begin learning how to love someone.

The idea of learning to love — that is, practicing love until we begin to experience affection — is anathema in our culture. We get married on the predicate of felt love, get divorced because we no longer feel love, and get all bent out of shape when the next person we fall in love with ends up not being eternally perfect as well. We expect feelings to just happen and then pursue our feelings. Scripture teaches quite the opposite: feelings follow habits. “I love your law,” as David repeats, does not happen just because David opened up the Torah and was like “wowza.” “I love your law” happens when David meditates on the law day and night and keeps it ever on his lips. In the same way, my felt love for my wife vacillates with my attention and care for her: my actions and disposition for my wife result in my feelings toward her growing and maturing.

Do you ever wonder how people in arrange marriages make it? I have known couples who met for a day — even a few hours — before spending a lifetime together. They had to learn how to love one another and to carry the disposition of love toward one another. They did not instantly feel the love that we Americans demand before we engage in our relationships. Amazing, then, that not millions but billions of humans throughout history have maintained such relationships and learned to love despite starting out so (to our western eyes) so ignominiously. The feeling of love can be learned by living love and setting our minds on love.

So, as I consider the people in my congregation for whom I have no natural affinity, I work all the harder to experience the feeling of love toward them as I act in love and set my mind to loving them. I do not ignore the people that I do not necessarily like right away: I find what is lovable in them and find affinity with them as I minister to them. I mourn as they mourn and rejoice as they rejoice. As I do so, I bypass my natural proclivities and being to truly feel love toward even the sheep I would consider most unlovable.

Time, action, and disposition can create affection. Love others from the heart by working toward these feelings, not assuming them.

Attributes of Love

Earlier in 1 Corinthians we read the attributes of a disposition of love. All of these attributes guide our actions and serve as a measuring stick for the way we live out our love. If we do not have these attributes as part of our disposition as we act, then we cannot say we are loving! That is why Paul writes, “if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but If didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2–3) In other words, we can pretend to do the most loving things in the world, but if they are not done with a disposition of love toward the objects of our affection, then we have done nothing. We are treading water or running in place. We are not loving, but acting like we are loving.

The marks of a loving disposition (and thus the marks of loving action) are as follows:

Patient — a loving disposition views others as being naturally flawed and prone to error. Loving others requires bearing with their brokenness, even when their brokenness inconveniences me or costs me some of my resources. Loving actions do not cajole someone onto my timetable. Inasmuch as I might try to help someone operate on a better schedule or make good changes to their lives, I am doing so to help them, not to make my life more convenient. At the same time, my patience is not the same thing as my becoming a useless martyr — that is, someone who sacrifices himself simply to enable another person’s bad habits. My patience must has a purpose, that is, to bring the lost soul to Christ and see Him transform the sinner to a saint. Patient actions reveal that this work happens on God’s clock.

Kind — loving actions done unkindly might as well not happen at all. Like parenting that embitters a child through cruelty or legalism, loving actions done in a mean or debasing manner can ruin even the best-intended actions. Embittering child-rearing pushes children away from Christ; demeaning “love” belittles the recipients of love and pushes them away from Christ as well. It is possible to help the poor in a demeaning manner, for example, or talk town to young believers in a way that turns them away from the church. Kindness does not mean, however, that I allow for lies or false teaching to spread among the people of God because I am too afraid of seeming “mean” by intervening when necessary. Kindness is never the enemy of real truth. Kindness only comes into tension when “truthiness” refuses to face genuine truth in the Word and Spirit. It is not unkind to say “that is wrong teaching,” or “that is not what the Bible teaches.” It is unkind to accompany that sentence with, “…idiot.”

Not Jealous — There is godly jealousy. A husband is jealous for his wife, and she for him. God is jealous for his people, so much so that he calls himself a Jealous God. But this jealousy is a burning desire to keep what is rightfully and righteously given. My wife has given herself to me and I to her, so we must burn with righteous anger when others would separate us; God had given himself as the Lord to his people and had taken the people of Israel for his majestic kingdom, so he had every right to be jealous for their faith. Pastors are just as jealous as Paul is for the church (2 Corinthians 11:2)

The jealousy of this passage, though, is not that kind of right and righteous jealousy. This is the jealousy of covetousness, the kind that early church leaders had to constantly rebuke their own people for. This is the jealousy of wealth or status, of comfort or family. A loving disposition cannot at the same time covet someone else’s goods or family. If I love my brother, I cannot desire to steal his wife from him or have his money, otherwise I will become a man of two minds, trying to fill myself with love for a person when I really hate them and all they have accomplished. I cannot act with genuine love toward a person of whom I am jealous, because secretly — even unconsciously — I am devising schemes to become like that person or to take their possessions. The same can be said of power or status within a church: I cannot claim to love my elders or leaders if I am conniving to steal their power and take control of this board or that committee. I simply cannot love someone without first viewing them through the eyes of Christ, and Christ was jealous for nothing. He instead offered all he had for others, even his life. He who was God discarded his power while on Earth and did not consider equality with God worth grasping while here. He was the richest man who has ever lived, but his wealth was all unrevealed, stored up for him in eternity. He envied no one and coveted nothing. His acts of love were pure selflessness, and it is to him that we look for the standard of love that is not jealous for things or people but jealous only for the Lord and his glory.

Not Boastful — Paul wrote “Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples. As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:12–14) There is a kind of religiousity that is all show. This false religion is out there in the narthex talking up their faith and all that God is doing through them and them alone. They want others to feel jealous of them, not for Christ, and to feel bad because they are not experiencing the religious life that they are experiencing. This is religious boasting of the Pharisees, and it always results in legalism as these supposedly Spirit-filled people begin to enforce their quasi-religious rules on others so they can experience what they claim to experience and conform to their vision of Christianity. Any boasting that we do in our faith cannot be loving because our faith is not dependent on ourselves. We only have the cross to boast about; everything else is passing dross. Boasting corrupts our “loving” actions into selfish endeavors. If we boast, we show we do not love.

Not Proud — Boasting is merely the outcome of a proud heart. Christians cannot be proud. Our faith demands that we admit constant sin and separation from God. Our Word tells us that we could not earn our way to God’s favor. The life we live, we live in Christ. The gifts we have are from the Spirit. The work we do was prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We do not have anything to hold up to God to say “here this is, and I made it.” We only have what we have given, and that we have only to return it to the Lord. We are deposits in the dust waiting to be drawn back into the maker who gave us breath. Love cannot have pride. How many of our churches show off their acts of love on social media! How many selfies corrupt the otherwise pure loving actions of Christians on mission across the globe! How many professional videos have been made to boast in what we do for the broken! We must not boast save in the Cross, and we cannot be proud of anything but Christ working in us for his glory. Love rooted in pride results in very good-looking social-media-savvy Christians promoting their good deeds to the world abroad as a way of self-promotion. This is neither evangelism nor service; this is love made a slave to self-image. This is loving acts becoming a Brand and having Brand awareness and media penetration and likes and clicks and retweets and oh come on. If you love someone, act in love. If you act in love, do not corrupt your loving act by letting random strangers everywhere know how good you are. This is pride.

Not Rude — You would think that the attribute of kindness would preclude rudeness, but some people believe that they are being kind in their rudeness. Their demands for answers at, say, a fast food restaurant are covered by a veneer of “this is how it is supposed to work, and I am right, so I am not really being rude.” Rather than realizing that the low-wage earning fast food employee you are berating just wants enough money to get through the week or even the day, you think that the person needs to hear what you have to say for his or her life to be made complete. We dress up our rudeness with an appeal to “truth,” calling it “real talk.” Rudeness is simply rude. We see it, hear it, and smell it. Rudeness elevates our understanding of truth over the compassion we are to have for man, even for our enemies. What work God must do in me to make me not be rude to my enemies! We cannot do a loving action rudely. We cannot claim to have a loving disposition toward others if we are rude to everyone around us. Watch your tongue, James says, because one well cannot be salty and fresh. If you are rude, you are not loving.

Not Demanding its Own Way — Frequently we design an ideal world in our minds and then go about dressing our pursuits in the guise of love. We want this house, that job, this family, that car, this respect, that admiration; we engage the world on our terms, viewing people as means to our desired ends. Love always views people as ends. “Love your neighbor as yourself” means that the kinds of planning for our own good that goes on in our minds ought to go on in our minds for others as well. We must plan for the good of others, thinking of their life stories and how we can insert ourselves into those narratives as sources of love and goodness. In doing so we must break ourselves of our patterns and lifestyle requirements, never assuming things must be done in a certain way or that our way is necessarily the right way. Just because we’ve “always done it that way,” does not mean our way is the right or most loving way. Love sees our choices through the eyes of others and changes our ways to conform both me and the one I love into the image of Christ. Indeed, if love demands any way, it is the via dolorosa, the way of the cross. Love demands I give all to bless all in whatever manner God desires.

Not Irritable — As an irritable person, I can tell you that I have ruined many a loving intention with hunger-induced anger or the frustration that things are not going as I had planned. I make plans on how I want to love others only to have them ruined and rather than respond to these changes with patience, I grow weary and annoyed. I give up. Irritability reveals my wicked self-absorbed disposition. I am focused on how I want to do whatever it is I think is loving, rather than having a heart of love for others that outflows into various actions. Irritability reveals that we are demanding our own way, even if we don’t say it.

Keeps No Record of Being Wronged — many churchgoers believe that they can act lovingly toward people who have hurt them without every reconciling their pain with their love; they try to be kind and warm and smiling through very deep pain. Keeping no record of wrong is not martyrdom like we discussed above; it is recognition that the holiest congregations are still gatherings of debased sinners saved by grace and grace alone; we will hurt each other. It is only a matter of time. We can only succeed at erasing the record of wrong by constantly preaching the Gospel to one another and to ourselves. We can only act in love when we see that the Gospel thus frees us from anger and fear to love others as they are where they are. Love does not take the place of pain; love and healing instead are both sourced in the gospel of Jesus. The Cross alone wipes the record of wrong, not our increased love or frantic efforts to make amends by being nice.

Not Rejoice About Injustice — Love cannot be happy when sinners rejoice in sin. We cannot celebreate as a drunk sucks down beer after beer. We cannot be happy if a young man “got laid” and “became a man.” We live in a culture that celebrate perpetual childhood as people in their 20’s and beyond live online lives and mark their days with wasted opportunity, drinks drunk, and random sexual encounters. Love does not high-five someone for sleeping with an attractive stranger. Love is not happy when a fight breaks out or someone decks someone else over something stupid and petty. Loving parents do not enable their kids to “be safe” in their indulgences. Love holds fast to truth and righteousness in the face of mounting opposition. Love will frequently come across as stiff, boring, and unloving. Supporting injustice or enabling others in their moral failures is not love; it is vicarious participation in sin.

At the same time, love demands a stand for righteousness against injustice. Moral laxity or isolation can infect congregations seemingly overnight. Rejoicing in isolation is the same thing as rejoicing in injustice, for we are basically saying as congregations “let the world burn, provided we are not affected.” The congregation bursts from the four walls with disciple-making disciples in order to heal, confront, rebuke, speak truth to, and above all give the Gospel to a dying world. Isolated congregations are dead churches waiting to close; they rejoice in their own injustice by shutting out the people who need them the most. We cannot love another and stand idly by while we waste away in our faith. A disposition of love demands I prompt my brothers and sisters in Christ toward good deeds of love as well. Otherwise I am rejoicing in their silent injustices.

Rejoices Whenever the Truth Wins Out — There is nothing sweeter to behold in the people of God that reconciliation based on truth. When arguments cease and people make good on God’s plans for peace and charity with his people, he is honored and we all can rejoice! When truth wins, when long-unsettled hurts come to light or people finally seek reconciliation, we all are glad. When truth wins in all other ways we are encouraged: when a falsehood is put to death or a liar corrected, when false teachings are confronted and rumors brought to a close. The truth, even hard truth, is always praiseworthy, even if it is bitter or difficult to swallow. Within our congregations, if we are not people of truth, then we cannot be people of love. If I see my brother’s sins and fail to speak, I am not loving my brother or the people he is hurting. If I see my sister sharing gossip and fail to intervene, I am not loving her or the people she is gossiping about. If I see leader taking others astray, I fail to love when I fail to intervene. Whole communities are brought down by what dare not be said, and countless churches fail before leadership will speak the truth. This can be especially hard about pastors, leaders, or programs that are simply not working well. Saying, “this is not going well,” can be the hardest and most loving truth that a church or any people in a relationship need to hear. It is the first step toward change and healing.

Never Gives Up — An easy tendency for people doing loving things for others is to set a timetable of response for that love. As with patience, never giving up requires that we view people as ends themselves, with the gospel as their goal, rather than people as pieces to a change-machine of our own making. Giving up occurs when change does not happen on our timetable. Within churches, giving up happens all the time when people do not get what they want out of a church and simply leave. So many people leave their supposed communities of faith — their bodies of Christ — for petty reasons, and do so unannounced and without conversation. They show that they did not love but wanted to be loved and feel served. They did not love the church for what it was but for what they hoped it would be. Giving up on a congregation should never be done so trivially, but it happens every Sunday in every church in America. How can we say we truly love someone if our loves is rooted in our image of that person, not in who that person truly is? Same with a church.

Never Loses Faith — Faith, being assurance of what we hope and the unseen salvation (and God) we has received, is integral to love. We cannot love others in the body of Christ if we do not believe in Christ because we cannot know what gospel love is without knowing Christ. We may think that we love others, but without Christ genuine forgiving, self-sacrificial, non-yielding, sometimes-harsh love cannot occur. The first fruit of the Spirit is love, and without the Spirit we will find our own reserves of love running dry rather quickly. Trying to remain in the body of Christ without Christ as head and Lord is like trying to swim in a pool without water: there is no substance to you actions and you will only get hurt. If you are losing your faith, love requires you tell others and dive deeply into the loving body of Christ who can build up your faith.

Always Hopeful — Hope of the type Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 is not wistful or lottery-ticket hope. It is hope rooted in truth: what other kind of hope could exist into eternity? Hope in Christ is the assured hope, the possessed hope of people who know an outcome and are living today as if that outcome will be realized tomorrow. This is not the hope of my child wanting a pony. This is the hope of my child wanting dinner, knowing that it will be provided. We have hope. We are a people of hope. We build one another up in the assured hope of heaven, not in the fanciful hope that tomorrow will be better than today. We cannot love others with fanciful hope, because we might just fail them and show our love to be contingent on a lie. But we can always love others in Christ, relying on the gospel for the assurance of our hope.

Endures through Every Circumstance — One of the most loving actions we can ever have toward another person is maintaining a constant presence with a disposition of love through dark times. Presence — even silent presence — saturated in love is an act of grace itself. We believe this because we believe that wherever we go as Christians, we have Christ in us and the Spirit working through us. We literally bring God in the room with us, in one sense, wherever we go. This is not to say God is not in the room already with a sick person or grieving family, but God has chosen in his wisdom and grace to use Christians as the vehicle of his grace to the sick and dying around us. A disposition of love allows us to be with someone without necessarily trying to fix someone. The patience of a loving disposition gives us endurance through suffering that often lasts far longer than we expect.

The disposition of love is the sum of all of these attributes; these attributes then serve as the guide for our actions. Then as we feel feelings of love, we can guide these feelings by all of these attributes. They are the measurement by which we know if our love is genuine or selfish, Christ-like or made-up. Inasmuch as we would be like Jesus, we must love others according to 1 Corinthians 13.

How to Love One Another

Love is action, disposition, and feeling. Love bears the attributes of 1 Corinthians 13. So how do we actually love one another? What ought we spend our time doing?

The rest of the one-anothers are much more pragmatic, for the most part, as they outline specific behaviors and types of actions to pursue in the course of loving one another. Rather than post a list here of “how-to’s,” then, I encourage you to continue read for more one-anothers. It is important to note, though, that no book, however long, can encapsulate the many ways that Christians ought to love one another in everyday life; even the 60 or so one-anothers in Scripture only scratch the surface of the millions of ways that we can express and act out our love for fellow believers.

I will never forget the Monday I got a call from a dear woman at our church who asked, “do you like pie?” Which is like asking Winnie the Poo if he likes honey and condensed milk. Duh. Soon I had a warm pie sitting on my desk, a pie that I attacked with a fork and chased with a large glass of milk. I felt supremely loved! Yet I cannot find the Scripture that says “bake your fellow believers fresh pie,” or the one that says “wash one another’s cars randomly” or “help one another move furniture” or “walk one another’s pets while on vacation or when someone has to work late.” Acted love is expansive, growing in scope and frequency as we act on our loving dispositions and cultivated feelings.

In the New Testament, between Christ, the disciples, and the church, we see numerous examples love that are not individual spelled out in the one-anothers. We do not get a command “share one another’s belongings freely and sell your goods to support one another,” but we see this ethos at work in Acts. We do not hear “feed one another,” but we see Christ feeding his followers and the early believers ensuring the widows received proper food. These kinds of loving acts are natural outworkings of hearts full of love. Trying to capture these “how-to” moments in exhaustive commands or one-anothers would be impossible and, more importantly, counterproductive. Love follows its own self-sacrificial paths, responding uniquely to each situation and relationship, informing decisions in response to any number of different needs. We cannot memorize a list of loving acts. Rather, we respond with loving actions as our hearts are heavy-laden with compassionate love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Love one another!



Pastor, FACWS.org — Boards: Boards: MonarchNC.org envisionatlanta.org saalliance.org — MDiv SEBTS, BA Duke

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