In order to live, we have basic needs: food, water, shelter, air, etc. There's one on the list that gets neglected because we think we can go without it: LOVE.
Are You Sure Love Is Necessary?
When human beings are first created, God says, "It is not good for a human to be alone." (Genesis 2:18) And as great as dogs are as companions, God searched through all of the animals and found no suitable companion among them. So he made more humans, in God's own likeness, God formed man & woman. What is God's likeness? "God is love." God is Three-In-One, Trinity. Relationship. In that likeness, we human beings are made. The perfect image of that Love in the flesh is Jesus Christ. Jesus knew that we weren't made to live alone, but in love, so he gathered close friends, disciples and taught them to do the same. We need Love, God's Love. It is part of our God-given nature, the way we were originally created to be. Even though hunger, thirst, safety and oxygen often seem more urgent, what's the point of surviving if you don't have love?
Denzel Washington and The Apostle Paul
It went viral this past week, Denzel Washington's address to the graduates of Dillard University. In it, he gave some pretty good advice, but one thing in particular stood out to me:
In this text, tweet, twerk world that you've grown up in, remember that just because you're doing a lot more, doesn't mean you're getting a lot more done. - Denzel Washington, 2015
Most of us, stay pretty busy doing a lot of things, with little time to add much else. In one of the most quoted scriptures on the subject of Love, The Apostle Paul says something similar about doing things. All those things you do can be empty or meaningless:
Paul makes it clear that love is "the most excellent way" of living. In fact, living without it is no life at all.
First, I think we need to clarify what Love is. With the word "love," it is often a Princess Bride type of moment: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Is it a feeling? Is it an action? Is it a belief or a thought? Are there different degrees of it: infatuation, attraction, etc.? In many ways, it is hard for all of us to conceive the same concept of love. We use the word a lot, but often, I'm not sure we are all saying the same thing.
In this particular instance, we are talking about the Greek word used in the new testament: AGAPE, God's love. It may at times look similar to other loves we see because romantic love and family/brotherly love have similar characteristics. There are two main passages of scripture I use to define love. One I've already partly quoted above: 1 Corinthians 13. In it, Paul defines what it looks like for the church to share God's love. It was a way to bring the church together in unity even though they all had different gifts/talents/abilities/roles/positions. Love is their higher calling, a deeper purpose and meaning.
The other is Jesus' words in John 15:13,
No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.
Not many of us get the chance to actually physically die for our friends. Some do, but not all. So I don't think Jesus wants us to go around looking for ways to die for each other, but he is giving us himself as an example. Our sacrifice of love is not one time on a cross in physical death, but daily taking up the cross to love generously. It is sacrificing our selfishness, and finding ways to live selflessly.
Because there is such a diverse understanding and implementation of the word "love," I wonder if in the church, we shouldn't use a special word to talk of Agape, God's Love. Let's call it, Grace.
I was born and raised United Methodist. If there is one word I hear used over and over again to describe God's love in Jesus Christ, it is Grace. In fact, when I was 10 years old, my grandmother had me memorize Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and not by works, so that no one may boast." Emphasizing reliance on Grace is great! But sometimes we get confused on what that means.
Sure, God's love is a free gift that you didn't, nor could you earn, but that doesn't mean you do nothing. Too often, that's what I see and hear. People claim God's love and grace as a "get out of hell free card," which it is not intended to be. One may sit waiting for God to do something, when it's perfectly within her/his means and ability to do something of their own (empowered by God's love). Or, one may keep doing harmful things, things they know aren't right, and claim grace saying, "God will forgive me." Yes, but you're making a mockery of God's love.
Grace Is Meant To Be Responded To
God's love, Grace, is intense. It is overwhelming. When Paul writes "Love is Patient," he's not just telling you to be patient and wait. He's inviting you to think about how Patient God is with you. All of your wandering (and wondering). All of your failures, your doubts, your brokenness, your fears, your lies, your mistakes. All of the things that you've done wrong, or have been done to you. Through all of it, God is patiently loving you with open arms. Longing for you to see His Grace. That is a patience that we can only hope to achieve in a lifetime. God longs to be your first love, THE love of all loves. Sure, you may not believe it, but God loves you anyway. You may have seen Christians fail at it, badly, but still God showers us with Grace and Love. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:8, "Love never fails." And the Psalmist many times says, "God's steadfast love endures forever." It is the one constant truth you can rely upon for eternity. That's why you need it so badly, and life without it is not much of a life at all.
This concept of love is overwhelming. It's more than an emotion or action or thought. It is all of that rolled together. It inspires crazy things (just Google "crazy things people do for love" and see the stories). Love inspired God to leave the perfection and power of heaven to become human like and me, just so there could be more love. Radical Love suspends our logical thinking, and I'm glad it did for God too. I have Life because of it.
Grace compels a response. Grace is not opposed to Effort. It is opposed to Earning. When you love someone, you show it. You show it whether or not they love you back. You show it, even if there is little chance of receiving it back. Do the same with Grace, God's love. It's not like you will run out. Love will even inspire you to love enemies (I think Jesus said something about that too).
Do The Right Things
Grace is not an excuse to not show effort. In fact, God's grace is so transformative, it should produce the most effort you've ever put into anything. You do a lot of things in the day. Some are substantial, others are trivial. Do they all lead to Love? Is your life busy, yet empty? Maybe you're missing the one thing you really need: Love. Let Grace grow in your heart and life. Let the knowledge of God's love in Christ Jesus overwhelm your being. Respond to it and show it. Let it increase more and more, not because you earned it, but because God's love never ends. Love first, then see what happens.
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.