“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6
Love. Everyone agrees that it is a wonderful thing, but as the old song says, “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Indeed, a great deal of what is wrong in the world stems from a failure to love well. Why is that so? On paper we all agree that loving well is important, but when it come down to it, how many of us have dedicated our lives to it?
Psychologist Eric Fromm made this observation: "Almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power—almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving."
I would add to Fromm’s thoughts that when it comes to the topic of love we are often more consumed with getting it than giving it. Our focus tends to be on how others should be loving us well and how they are so often failing to do so. Or we focus on our failure to be lovable and work harder to try to obtain the love we so desperately desire.
We sacrifice large amounts of time, talent, and treasure in an effort to obtain love, but only those who are truly wise sacrifice those things to give love.
For those who follow Jesus, loving well is not an option. He commanded us to "'love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matt. 22:37–39).
And the love we are commanded to give is not limited to those who are lovable, for Jesus also taught: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43–45).
Our lives, therefore, must be dedicated to learning and growing in our ability to love our Lord, our family, our friends, and our neighbors, as well as those who frustrate, annoy, or even do harm to us. Only as we do this will we be an accurate reflection of our Father in heaven.
How does our Father love? He gives. “For God so loved the world that he gave . . .” (John 3:16). And what did he give? His dearly beloved Son. God gave his son that we might have life and have it to the full.
Seminary professor Carl Hock once unpacked the concept of love this way: “We may define love as the voluntary giving of oneself for the benefit of another person so that the will of God can be fulfilled in that person’s life.”
At core, love is a motive. Something that comes from a heart that intends to be a part of seeing God’s very best plan accomplished in the life of another. It is what pushes us to do or say something that considers the needs of the other person more important than our own.
And here’s why we fail to love:
Our hearts have many motives and our hearts can be deceitful. We can think that we are motivated by love, but in reality we may be driven by our own needs. We may think we are doing a good deed out of love, but in reality it is to be noticed and appreciated. We may tell ourselves that we are giving to someone out of love, but in reality it is because we are afraid to say no. We may hold back the truth in order to be seen as nice and convince ourselves that we are a kind and loving person.
If we are to know and live out the beauty, wonder, power, and creativity of genuine love we must first begin by examining our own hearts. Seeing and admitting our self-centered motives is the first step forward in the art of loving well. As we receive forgiveness for our failure to love and accept the love God has for us, then we can be truly set free to love others well. As we are filled with God’s love we become springs of water overflowing to a dry and thirsty world. We are set free to live a life that counts.