“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). We cannot claim to know God without understanding and practicing love. Alexander Strauch captured the urgency of the matter when he said for a Christian the decision is simple and clear you “love or die.”
But, “What is love?” Everyone is for love until you begin to define what it means. Most of our definitions of love are so sentimental they are ultimately meaningless, or they are so selfish they are actually destructive. That’s why for many people “love” is just a throw away word. For others, “love” is the shield behind which they pursue their own selfish ambitions.
The Christian steers clear of such pitfalls, because when we ask, “What is love?” we have an out of this world, perfect definition of love in God Himself, because “God is love.” The Scriptures provide us with a large enough core sample of the vast strata of God’s love so we might understand what authentic, God-like love really is (Rom. 5:8; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10,19; Rom. 8:37-39; John 15:13; Eph. 5:2; Titus 3:4-5; 1 John 3:1). What we find has nothing to do with romantic sentimentalism. It is the discovery of a God whose love never tires of taking the initiative to sacrificially give His best for the well-being of others regardless of who they are or how they respond. This is love in its most meaningful, powerful and authentic form.
This God-like love is to be our constant pursuit. As a child records her growth by making marks on the wall a Christian measures his maturity in Christ by ever-increasing expressions of love. Paul wrote, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all” (1 Thess. 3:12).
God-like love for people must be the compelling force behind our every action and ambition (2 Cor. 5:14). In fact, when love is not our primary motivation even the noblest qualities become hurtful (1 Cor. 8:1; Eph. 4:15). Actually, it is more serious than that. When love ceases to be our primary motivation even the most religious, talented, knowledgeable, and sacrificial life is totally meaningless (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Anything without love is nothing in the eyes of a God who is love.
God’s people have rightly rejoiced at being called, “People of the Book.” With equal fervor we must desire to be identified as “People of love.” Jesus said, “Love one another; as I have loved you … by this all will know that you are My disciples” (John 13:34-35). The most telling sign that God is in us is when His love shows through us.
I spoke to a man recently who was trying to correct his religious co-worker in some point of doctrinal error, yet he didn’t live a life of love at work. Yes, he crushed his religious colleague with air-tight doctrinal arguments, but ultimately his co-worker said something convicting, “I have no doubt you taught me the truth, but I can’t believe you’re the kind of person who really belongs to God” (Matt. 23:3). Love is to be the light that illuminates our every word and action, and where it is missing darkness will reign.
Furthermore, love must be a defining characteristic of our local fellowship of believers. We must grow in love together.
The church in Ephesus had been around for decades. They were finally a strong, stable, sound church. They had arrived, or so it seemed. Then Jesus, with eyes like a flame of fire, peered into their hearts and found a gaping hole—they lost the kind of love they had at the beginning. “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). They got out of balance, and as a result they had “fallen” and were in danger of losing Christ’s presence (Rev. 2:5). The choice for the church then and now is simple: love or die!
Faulty to the core is the view that love and doctrinal soundness cannot exist in the same church. The mantra of God’s church is: We speak the truth, wrapped up in deeds and words of love, so we may grow up in every way into Christ who is our head! (Eph. 4:15). Having doctrinal faithfulness without love is like a husband who tells his wife, “I will not sleep with any other women,” but then never shows his wife love. He is perfectly faithful, but utterly loveless! Is that a sufficient marriage relationship? Never! Nor is it a basis of a proper relationship with God.
Christianity is about the explosive power of a new affection (“first love”). It is a passionate love for Christ because we sense the immensity of His pursuing, energizing grace towards us. When that kind of love begins to wane, a local church begins to look like the hollow hearts in Ephesus.
For those who are falling out of love Jesus’ pleads, “Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5). Use the power of your memory as a stimulus for forward momentum. Remember the time when you served God with such joy and vigor? You thrilled to read His word. Your dreams were filled with reaching the lost. You sang, “Oh how I love Jesus” and meant it! Oh, go back to the place where you departed and do the first works with childlike abandonment.
Growing in love is not just a good idea, it is necessary. When love is lacking Christians will faint and churches will die, but where the love of God is abounding, the God who is love, will be magnified.
“Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:14).