By Naomi Cassata
Agape love is not a mere suggestion, but a command. “Dear friends, let us love one another” (1 John 4:7). Love is the very DNA of every child of God. When we become Christians, his Spirit abides inside and is shown on the outside. Reading on, “for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Only a true believer can know and operate in the depths of God’s love. He is the source, and we are the streams his love flows through. Children are meant to reflect the one they are begotten of. How much of the Father is seen in your own life? The degree of love you walk in is the same degree others will know you belong to the Father.
John goes on, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (v. 8). To love is to do what we know pleases God, and loving each other is what pleases him most. When we love, we show that we know the Father’s heart and truly belong to him.
In fact the love God commands us to live out is the gauge used to prove on what side we belong: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love go hand in hand. They are characteristics of Christ’s followers.
Without knowledge we will come to our own conclusion of how to love, but we need not—God set it straight from the beginning. If I were to ask my 2-and-a-half year old what the definition of love is, she would stare at me blankly. She regularly hears me tell her I love her. She knows it’s something good because it’s usually followed up with a hug. If I told her to go love her brothers, she would probably give them hugs. That’s the extent of her knowledge; therefore her definition of love is simply a hug, which is a great beginning. In the same way, God tells us he loves us, and then turns us toward our brothers and sisters and tells us to love them likewise. But how do we know we have this love thing right? How do we gauge what is an acceptable form of love to give others?
In many circles love has been watered down to mechanical smiles, tickling of ears, phony friendliness, and never speaking anything that might offend. The description of love has become being “excessively nice” in hopes others will identify that as Christ in us. The problem with this approach is that the depth of our “love” is ankle deep. Fear of offending by anything we do or don’t do prevents any true relationship from forming. Being friendly only on Sunday mornings because that’s what we’re supposed to do leaves others confused the rest of the week. People want authentic relationships. That’s why our understanding of love must be revisited.
Jesus always got straight to the point when it came to the cost of discipleship. He never candy coated the suffering his disciples would face, nor the difficulties we, as Christians, would face in this world. He also made very clear to his followers what the extent of our love for each other must be: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Jesus gave his life for us. We often look at this one-sided. We reason that he laid down his life so we can live happy forgiven lives, forgetting there is a bigger picture. But look back at the previous verse: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12). Jesus was ultimately saying, Look at the sacrifice I made for you, laying down my life for the benefit of your life, even to the point of death; that is the degree of love you are to give to your brothers and sisters. Hold nothing back.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). This is where the term sacrificial love stems from. We die to selfishness, when we do for others what we would naturally do for ourselves. How different our view of love becomes when we see through God’s eyes.
Love Speaks Truth
There is a side to love that is not often spoken of and is quite hard to accept. Love confronts. Love offends. Love can even hurt. But most importantly love always speaks truth. Solomon had this in mind when he said, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). What an oxymoron to be a friend who wounds. Solomon distinguished a friend from an enemy by the degree of their truthfulness rather than compatibility. Oddly that sometimes takes the appearance of a blow. However, Paul reminded the Ephesians to speak “the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15, NASB). Words spoken in correction or confrontation without a spirit of love come across rigid and judgmental. The restoration and healing of the person should always be the underlining motive.
It’s much easier to go with the flow—even though the flow is going in the wrong direction—than to stand alone in the current. No one wants an enemy. Yet we learn that those who shower flattery or refrain from speaking truth when they see error so clearly are the real enemies. Love is pure, authentic, and honest. It does not compromise for the sake of being liked.
Solomon clearly distinguished a friend from an enemy. A friend is a truth bearer and an enemy an ear itcher. Love is faithful to speak truth, even when it hurts.
Not only can love not keep silent, but, pardon my double negative, love cannot do nothing! It stirs when it sees an opportunity arise to demonstrate itself. More pointedly, love always seeks the welfare of others no matter the cost, the inconvenience, or the sacrifice. It is seen in everyday, ordinary ways. I’ll never forget the time when my mom passed an older woman in a parking lot who had gotten sick all over herself. My mom grabbed some wet napkins from inside the store to help clean her. She saw a need and acted. Love gets involved without even being asked.
We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. Two walked by, saw an injured man half-dead, and did nothing. They ignored what was staring them in the face. As the story goes, along came the Samaritan, who saw the very same situation as the previous two but had a completely different response. He, like the other two, was on a trip to somewhere obviously important. Getting involved was not only inconvenient but required the Samaritan to use his own resources for someone he’d never met. Regardless of all the reasons not to help, he acted compassionately. The Samaritan had what the other two didn’t: love. What a beautiful imagery.
Keep on Loving
Love is untouched by fickle feelings, fear of what others think, or self-centeredness. It reacts not because the circumstances are right but, as Paul said, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). It all comes down to Christ in us, provoking us to see the world through his eyes. When we do, the world can see him that much clearer.
Charles Spurgeon wrote in Morning and Evening: “He who dares the most, shall win the most; and if rough be thy path of love, tread it boldly, still loving your neighbors through thick and thin . . . and if they are hard to please, seek not to please them, but to please your Master; and remember if they spurn your love, your Master has not spurned it, and your deed is as acceptable to him as if it had been acceptable to them.”
Love is not always received nor is it always appreciated, and it’s even taken advantage of at times. Nevertheless, we march on. Forgiving. Showing mercy. Speaking truth. Loving.
Naomi Cassata is a wife and mother of four young children living in Hopkinsville, Kentucky (lampformyfeet.com).