I can sum up what I’ve learned in my second year of college in one word: love.
I’ve always been a romantic. Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays, even though it’s a Hallmark holiday, because I love the idea of love. Yet over the past two semesters, I’ve had to take a hard look at love. As one half of a long-distance relationship, I’ve had to wrestle with how to love someone else from 500 miles away. I’ve also had to wrestle with telling the truth in love in relationships closer to home.
By His grace, God has allowed me to experience sacrificial love from my church family, my biological family, and my friends. From my pastor’s family giving me rides to church without a second thought, to my mom’s single-day ten-hour drive on I-95 to settle my nerves about my new apartment, to my best friend taking me to the ER despite her essay due the next day, to the couple at my church providing a place for my boyfriend to stay when he visited, people in my life have selflessly put their lives on hold to help me. On top of all of that, my boyfriend and I have been studying 1 John together. I guess you could say love has been on my heart recently.
In all seriousness, I’ve found that the world loves to talk about love. The world says love is an emotion, easy and effortless. The world says that to love someone, you must accept them as they are. The world says when the feeling leaves, love has ended, and it’s time to move on.
The Word has something to say about love, too. The Word says that love isn’t an emotion; instead, it’s patient, selfless, and enduring action (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The Word does not separate love and truth (Ephesians 4:15); in love we are both told the truth about our sin and rescued from it. Unlike the world’s transient love, the Word’s love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:8).
To understand this radical, eternal, persistent love, we don’t need to look any further than the cross. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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” (1 John 4:9-10).
Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross isn’t an example of love: it’s the definition.
If Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross defines love, the world’s “you-do-you” love is no love at all. Jesus had to die on the cross precisely because our perfectly holy and righteous God cannot accept us as we are. Left to our own devices, we are dead in our trespasses, alienated from God (Ephesians 2:1-3). In love, Christ reconciled us to God by bearing the punishment for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 John 3:5). This love does not say, “You are perfect just as you are.” It says, “You are dead in your trespasses and sins, but do not be afraid: I will not leave you there.”
This is the love we should show to others. Because of the cross, we know love, and because of the cross, we walk in love. John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18). In chapter 4, he writes more concisely that “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). The imperative follows the indicative. We know love, therefore we love God by loving His people and obeying His commandments (1 John 5:2-3).
Love is not repeating the words “I love you,” and it’s not easy or comfortable. It’s hard work, requiring patience, kindness, and a willingness to reject falsehood and love truth. When we love others, we put them first, even to the point of laying down our lives for them, because that is exactly what Christ did for us (John 15:13).
If this command to love others leaves you feeling overwhelmed, you’re absolutely right. To love one another is an overwhelming command: love is so all-encompassing that it fulfills the entire law (Romans 13:10). But the love with which you are called to love others is the love you have already been given. God loves us so much that He took us from ungrateful, wayward sinners, completely dead in our trespasses, and called us His children (1 John 3:1). From this radical, life-changing love, we draw the ability to love others.