What the World Needs Now
In 1965, Jackie DeShannon sang a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. If you know it, it will now be stuck in your head the rest of the day. It was called, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” The title says it all. It was true in 1965, and it’s perhaps even more true today, especially in our politically polarized country.
Love has been a topic of stories, poems, and songs for centuries. Again, going back to the 1960s, an “obscure” band from Liverpool, England sang quite a few songs about love.
And, in the same spirit as Jackie DeShannon’s song, we can add,
Well, what the world does need today is love. But I wonder if we know what we’re saying when we claim that. I wonder if we have a firm grasp on the subject when we use popular slogans such as, “love is love” or “love everyone, always.”
Not An Abstraction
Christian love, biblically understood, is anything but abstract. It’s a way of life. It not a mere feeling or emotion, but an act of the will. I almost called this post, “The Shape of Love,” because love, biblically understood, looks like something. It has a shape to it.
It cannot be reduced to an abstraction or slogan. Furthermore, this kind of love, biblical love, is hard. It takes practice because it is a way of life, and not merely a feeling or emotion. It is a mindset.
The Great Commandment
Jesus emphasized the priority of love for his followers, indeed for every person, when he gave us the Great Commandment. In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked by an expert in the law, which of the commandments was the greatest. He was trying to test Jesus.
But Jesus, being the smartest human to ever live, didn’t take the bait. He summarized all ten of the commandments by saying these words in Matthew 22:37-40,
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
You see, love is the greatest commandment. Love is the purpose of all the commandments – love of God and love of neighbor. And that kind of love looks like something.
What does it look like? It looks like…
Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments by saying we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – with all that we are. And we’re to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The Real Meaning of the Commandments
And so, what do we often do? Well, a lot of times, instead of trying to dig into those commandments to understand them, we oversimplify them and say (or infer) silly things like, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone today or robbed a bank, so I must be ok.”
But then Jesus comes along in the Sermon on the Mount and tells us that not murdering anyone is a good start. However, if we have unrighteous anger toward someone, we’ve murdered them in our hearts. He says, you may not have committed adultery, but if you have lusted after someone, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.
Jesus gives us eyes to see what the commandments really mean. And they mean much more than we usually give them credit for. Moreover, Jesus also teaches us that the commandments aren’t merely negative prohibitions against things (“Thou shalt not”). They also imply positive actions. To not murder means more than not taking someone’s life or hating them in your heart. It also means desiring the best good of others and helping them flourish. It’s to act with reverence toward all living things and to honor the sanctity of life.
That’s just an example of what it means to love God completely and love our neighbor. It’s a way of life and requires a sanctified mindset.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
Biblical love is immensely practical, not just theoretical. It ought to be the heart and soul of all who follow Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2,
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The ESV Bible version says we’re to “imitate God.” As God’s children, who are dearly loved and forgiven by him, we’re called to imitate God. How? By walking in the way of love.
Jesus, who is our ultimate model, shows us what that love looks like. And the short answer is… it’s a sacrificial love. Paul says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s sacrificial love. That’s real love. That’s Christian love.
But even at this point, it would be fair to say, “that description is still sort of vague. What does it mean to love sacrificially?” And here the Apostle Paul is very helpful.
Paul loved writing lists. And right before Ephesians 5:1-2, he gave us a list of what sacrificial love looks like when it’s put into practice. And again, Paul is doing the same thing Jesus did, by summarizing the Ten Commandments with practical examples. Here’s his list in Ephesians 4:25-32.
What does it mean to walk in the way of love? It means…
That’s what walking in the way of love looks like. Want another list? Paul has one for you in the “love chapter” – 1 Corinthians 13. There he wrote that love…
That’s the way of love we’re called to walk in.
So, How Are You Doing?
How are you doing with all that? Are you faithfully walking in the way of love, based on the descriptions of Jesus and Paul? Understood Christianly, love is a bit more than a slogan, isn’t it?
Love, as the world understands it, is so much easier when it fits into the title of a song, or a bumper sticker, or a slogan. But Christian love is hard in real life.
The good news is that we don’t have to love perfectly, to be perfectly and completely loved by God. God has redeemed and reconciled us because he loves us, and when we put our trust in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we become new creatures.
God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and we become people who are able to walk in the way of love, as Scripture describes it. In fact, we are unable to walk in love without the continual power and guidance of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.
But we do participate. God doesn’t do it for us. We won’t love this way by accident. Walking in the way of love takes practice. It takes conscious intentionality.
This is why God has given his people means of grace. For example, God has given us his church, the fellowship of the saints, prayer, Scripture, worship, fasting, the sacraments, just to name a few.
These are means by which we’re able to learn and grow in grace, so that we can walk in his way of love. And the more we experience the true love of God, the more we’ll want to love God and others the way we have been loved.
But we need a plan. Like a vine needs a trellis to guide it in the right life-giving direction, so it will bear fruit, we need an intentional way of life to help us bear fruit… to help us walk in the way of love.
Make A Plan
This consciously intentional way of walking in love will not happen by accident. We need a plan, or a “rule of life” to serve as our trellis or, to change the metaphor, a rail that guide us in godliness.
In fact, this Bible study is part of that plan. Think about and develop ways to employ the means of grace, or spiritual disciplines, to help you move in a godly direction.
It is God’s will that we walk in the way of love. As we saw earlier, what the world needs now is indeed love. That’s absolutely true.
But the world needs the love of God. And that love has a shape to it. There’s content to it. Thus, what the world really needs is followers of Jesus Christ who not only love God, but love others as they have been loved and instructed by God.