“…only he who loves can sing.” St. Augustine
Augustine believed that we could know ourselves only if we know God just as we could not know God without knowing ourselves. And that to know a thing we must some way come to love it.
There is the rub—knowing and loving; loving and knowing. Getting to know ourselves and others and coming to love what we learn is scary and messy and joyful. Eugene Peterson reminded us that, “We are immersed in great and marvelous realities—Creation! Salvation! Resurrection!—but when we come up dripping out of the waters of baptism and look around we observe to our surprise that the community of the baptized is made up of people just like us—unfinished, immature, neurotic, stumbling, singing out of tune much of the time, forgetful, and boorish. Is it credible that God would put all these matters of eternal significance into the hands of such as us? Many, having taken a good look at what they see, shake their heads and think not. But this is the perpetual difficulty of living a life of love in the community of the beloved. We had better get used to it.” Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, page 326
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” I John 4:7-8
Love is at the very heart of the Gospel—the centerpiece. It is not a suggestion or words of encouragement nor something left for tomorrow as Scarlett O’Hara famously thought, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy! I’ll think about that tomorrow! After all…tomorrow is another day.” If one waits ‘til tomorrow—tomorrow will never come.
“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalms 118:24
When the Pharisee asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind…And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus taught that these two principles about love are the first and greatest commandments. Matthew 22:37-40
What is Christian love? Where does it originate? What distinguishes Christian love from worldly romantic love and sappy sentimentalism? And how do we know what Christian love looks like given a particular relationship and circumstance? Is love something that just happens to us? How is character shaped through love? Does Scripture offer clear answers to these types of questions?
The Presence of Love in the Heart
Christian love does not originate from within us and cannot grow out of mere labor or willpower, nor is it dependent on feelings. In the New Testament Christian love is described as both a gift and a fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….” (Galatians 5:22-23a). Thankfully its source and strength and power is found only in God.