“We cannot assume love. Love must be demonstrated through active participation in, and service to, the body.” (The Economy of the Soul, pg. 96)
The 80’s rock band Boston had a song entitled, “More than a Feeling.” They were on to something. Love is so much more than a feeling, but we can’t just stop there. Understanding isn’t enough because love is also more than a concept.
I have a friend who has a lot to say about peace, love, and happiness. If you were to sit down and talk to him, he would come off about as loving and peaceful as a well-rounded combination of Buddha, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa. Watching him in action, however, paints a very different picture. This gentleman can be intemperate, judgmental, and prejudice against ideas that don’t reflect his own. He is very kind when things are well, but gets easily frustrated when things don’t go his way or when he’s challenged and can be outright rude. The problem here is that, to this friend, love is merely a concept. He assumes that because he has ideas about love, and because the concept is a clear priority for him in theory, that he is loving.
There are many occasions where we assume that because we know something about a concept, idea, or attitude that we actually know it and therefore live it. Our knowledge of a thing effectively becomes an exemption from practical, everyday application. Romans 12:9 says, “Love must be sincere.” In other words, we cannot live by a facade of love, we must really love. If our love is shallow or hollow and without life and depth then it will be revealed for what it is when it is tested and tried. More than that, the Greek word translated “sincere,” is anipokritos, which also means “unassumed.” We can’t love on autopilot, leaving people to assume they are loved, and assuming we are loving…without any real evidence or fruit. We are commanded to love. The very heart of the Gospel of Christ comes to this, and it will be tested. “It will be tested with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:13-14).
Athletes go to great lengths to push themselves and strengthen their bodies to be successful. Soldiers spend years of their lives devoted to training in order to be effective in battle. Even farmers have strict disciplines in order to raise productive crops. If you are to be successful in following Jesus you must also be devoted to strengthening and deepening your love. You are commanded to love your parents, your kids, your spouse, your neighbor, and even your enemy. Truth is, you can’t do it. You don’t have it in you. You need to be filled and transformed by the love of God in Christ, so devote yourself to learning both to be loved and to love others. It will cost you everything; this is why Jesus said that if you are to follow him you must “deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow.”
It’s not enough to understand the you are to be loving. It doesn’t take much to be cordial with someone in a passing moment. That’s faking it. Love is displayed when we enter someone’s life, when we share our lives with them; real love is not left to be assumed, it is demonstrated intentionally and sacrificially where we use our freedom in Christ, not for our own comfort, but for the good of others. It’s about extending grace rather than being heard. It’s about building up over being right. It’s about offering a hand up rather than a judgment. Look at all Christ gave for you! What justification is there for not laying aside our lives for one another? “As I have loved you, so must you love one another” (John 15:12). What if God loved you the way you love? It’s a great and glorious thing that Jesus didn’t leave us wondering if he meant it when he said, “I love you.”