Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13, NLT)
It is fitting to end this series on Building Treasure in Heaven by reflecting on love, because as Paul beautifully puts it, love is the greatest of all the virtues. In fact, we can be bold and state that, ultimately, all the virtues are in support of love or are expressions of love. Love is at the heart of the Christian life for the simple fact that God is love and Jesus shows us what love looks like. If there is one virtue that we need to focus on, it is love.
What is Love?
There are two problems with the English word ‘love.’ First, we can love God, love our children, love coffee, love the sunset and love going fast. They don’t all mean the same thing! Second, in English, ‘love’ usually means a feeling, whereas in the Bible, ‘love’ means a feeling but ALSO a decision and a practice. One can practice love without feeling anything. This is important.
As Tim Mackie points out in his video on Biblical love, Jesus’ disciples didn’t consult a dictionary to find out the meaning of love; they looked at Jesus. They saw a man worried that the leaders of Israel were not protecting the people of Israel and drawing them to God. Jesus saw the people as ‘sheep without a shepherd,’ so he lived to show them what love looks like.
The disciples watched Jesus spend three years reaching out to the people in need, completely bypassing the leadership. He healed people who were sick or worried about their loved ones. In many different ways, he taught them the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God. He fed thousands of hungry people. Jesus continually reached out to people on the margins, bringing grace to the rejected: the lepers; people struggling with demons; tax collectors and prostitutes.
The Scandal of Love
Jesus’ care for people was deeply shocking to the religious establishment of his day. He taught the disciples about love with shocking actions. For instance, he got down on his knees like a slave to wash the dirt and filth of the day off of Peter’s feet. Peter couldn’t handle that, but Jesus invited him to look deeper: this is what love looks like. It reaches out and shows mercy, especially when the situation is messy and hard. Love reaches even to the people who hate us and whom we might hate. It is not necessarily a feeling. In fact, we might even be repelled by acts of hard love. But Jesus calls us to love anyway.
Love shows itself in action. To show mercy is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Why? Jesus helps us to understand when he gives us the great commandment: we are called to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. He doesn’t separate these, but makes them one piece. We love God by loving our neighbours, and love our neighbours because we love God.
We Know What Love Looks Like Because God First Loved Us
The New Testament teaches that our love for both God and neighbour is PRECEDED by God’s love for us. God’s love reaches out in Jesus Christ for healing and salvation. God comes to us. We don’t have to go to him. God crosses the great divide between us. In Romans 5:8, Paul writes, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And in 1 John 4:9, the apostle John reflects, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” And of course, John 3:16 reads, “God so loved the world that he send his only begotten Son…”
The point is that when we love, we are most like God. God shows love and mercy to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. That is who he is. At the heart of the universe is a heart beating with love, drawing all things to himself for the purpose of wholeness, healing and restoration. This is salvation. Love is both the greatest vision of all things, as well as the lowliest and simplest act of kindness. When we look at how God works and what God values, we see what love looks like.
Love binds everything together. It is the best way to understand what it means to Build Treasure in Heaven.