“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

December, 2017

Earlier this year, I was involved in an online discussion about the Christian approach to love. One person wrote, “John 13:34 reads, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ . . . This commandment directs us to not be judgmental of others, not to try to dominate, purify, or compete. It instead directs us to treat others with the same love that we wish to receive, with the same love that God gives to us.”

I replied, “Along the same lines, 1 John 4:7 says, ‘Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.’ I notice that it doesn’t say anything about loving people who look like us or loving people who think like us, it just says that if we love, it’s a sign that we know God. The very next verse says, ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ And this isn't about squishy feelings of ‘love,’ it’s about love in action. God loved us first and proved it (vs. 10). Powerful and convicting words: Love with your actions or else.”

But someone else warned me not to “. . . throw out the baby with the bath water here.” She went on to write, “Yes, Jesus’ life (and death) was love in action, but I don’t think that negates the God-given power of squishy love as well. When we serve the multifaceted needs of people in our action love, we need to remember that God is also a God of Squishy Good, such as Glorious Beauty and Majesty, inspiring Awe, Worship, and yes, Love. God . . . equipped us So That we could stand in awe in the presence of true beauty even on earth and be overwhelmed in the presence of true love ... without lifting a finger. I would hesitate to relegate all of that to child’s play, unless of course it is of the Children of God.”

Of course, she was right and I needed to clarify my point. I replied, “I didn’t mean to denigrate emotional love but God’s love expressed on the cross, or the love we’re called to, is very different from the ‘squishy’ love of two teenagers gazing into one another’s eyes . . . or the ‘love’ of pop songs. [I]t also has a component of sacrifice, of doing without something I want so that [someone I love] can have what [he or] she needs. . . .

“. . . Both the Bible/Torah and the Qur’an say that God says something and it becomes real. Is that an act of love? Did God love the universe into being? Perhaps. Certainly the Bible says God created the world for our use and enjoyment, and God continues to keep the Sun burning and the rivers flowing so we can live. Is that an act of love? Of course. It shows that God isn’t simply sitting up in Heaven admiring us and having ‘squishy’ feelings. . . . It’s important to understand that aspect of God’s love but it’s at least equally important to understand the aspect that compelled Christ to go to the cross.”

She replied, “. . . I personally love the idea that God loved the world into being; love in action.” I do too. It’s a wonderful image, isn’t it? Creation as an act of love. God’s love is expressed by God meeting our needs, both physical and spiritual. Jesus told his disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt. 10:29-31 ESV). He said this in the context of impending persecution (vs. 16-25) to let them know God wouldn’t abandon them. And God doesn’t abandon us either.

And yet, we know that there are people who don’t have enough to eat or warm clothing or adequate shelter. And that’s where our work begins. On the first Christmas, without most people realizing it, God gave the world the greatest gift, the gift of eternal life (Rom. 6:23). God gave us everything so that we can live. If we see others in need, our response to them and to God must be to love and give as God loved and gave. This Christmas season, I pray that we will share the gift of God’s love with everyone we meet.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:10-12 ESV.)

Copyright © 2017 by David Phelps