In 1969, the Beatles released their classic "All You Need is Love." The chorus is simple:
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
While certainly catchy, revelatory it is not. Love, after all, is the never-old-yet-never-new theme of the ages. Everyone, in every place, in every culture, seems to have some opinion - usually expressed in hyperbole - about love. I'm sure you do, too.
But I have to ask myself, after so many years, stories, movies, and songs about love, is our generation able to understand, define, characterize, seek, obtain, grow, nurture, cultivate love better than any other? You would think we would have figured it out by now.
But au contraire, that is not our generation. For all the fascinations and fixations on love, we can't seem to get to the heart of the matter. The heart keeps on aching. The breakups keep on breaking. The feelings of euphoria rise, and then crash and burn. The memories that once warmed now sear and cut. You say you'll learn from it, grow from it, be better for it - but you don't really. Instead, after all the failure, the soul is left calloused, decrepit, cold.
So, let's back up a bit, and ask the pedantic, but necessary question, "What is love?" We cannot seek what we cannot define. Think about it. Really. How would you define love?
Was this your answer? "God is love" (1 John 4:8).
That's the Bible's answer. Short and sweet. And you may even agree. But now let's go into the implications. Since God is love, if you don't know God, you can't know love. Moreover, "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Thus, if you don't know the love of God, it is impossible for you to love.
Now before I lose you, hear this: when the Bible says "love" it's not talking about the ridiculous flings, the cheap romance, the lusty novels, the perversion on the screen. It's not talking about the one-night stands, the sex, or even the happily-ever-afters. It's not talking about the passionate promises, the feeling of belonging, the experience of completion. That's how the carnal world defines love, but love it is not. The immorality in the bedroom, the redefinition of 'marriage', the ubiquitous broken hearts, the failed promises, and the impurity of the family, are proof enough that despite all its lofty songs and rhetoric, the world cannot be trusted to define "love." Apparently if all you need is love, nobody's got it.
No. Love is not what the world says it is. So let us examine the Scriptures, and heed the truth that God, the Origin and Source of love, Himself reveals. In 1 John 4:10, it says, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Three short points:
1. Even when we did not love God, God loved us.
The Original Lover is God. We did not prompt Him to respond to us by loving Him. No, He initiated and reach down to us "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8). His love was an unprompted, a benevolent, a magnanimous love. He is the Original Lover.
2. God loved us and sent His Son.
How did God love us? Not in broken promises and fuzzy feelings, but in a gift, the most precious gift — His Son. "He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16), the Son whom He loved before eternity past, whom He honored and treasured. His Son, God the Son, is He in "whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). His Son is the King of all kings, and the Lord of all lords. His Son is "before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17), the Preeminent, Preexistent One before and above all creation. This is God's Son, and He gave Him to us.
3. In love, God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
But why did God give His precious Son to us? For what purpose was He sent? To die as a substitute, in our place, for our sins. Jesus lived a life of righteousness; we lived a life of sin. Jesus deserved eternal glory; we deserved condemnation. We hated Him and His righteousness; He loved us to the utmost, despite our wickedness.
As a propitiation, that is a substitutionary sacrifice, Jesus Christ took upon Himself the wrath of God for all our transgressions that we had done against God. He bore the suffering we deserved, and gave Himself a ransom for many, that we would be forgiven and washed of our sin through His blood. And not only that, but in exchange for our guilt, Jesus Christ gave His perfect righteousness, so that all who believe would be before God as if they had lived His perfect life. God "made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). (A fuller discussion of 1 John 4:10 can be found here).
Now we're back to where we started: what is love? God is love. And God has demonstrated His love in the selfless, other-oriented, gracious, wonderful gift of His Son. This is the love that sent Jesus Christ to die for the sins of the world, for while we were yet sinners — rebels, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, dead in our transgressions – God loved us and sent Christ to suffer in our place for our sin. Beholding this glorious love awakens the sinner to the glory of Jesus Christ. This is agape love, God's love, Christ love, divine love.
This love, this biblical love, is not the love of the world that takes and gratifies the self, that gives to get, that cheats and lies to gain. This is not the spineless love that compromises truth for false peace. This is not the sentimental, passive love that tolerates sin. This is not the fleeting feelings of passion that come one moment and are gone the next. This is not familiar love, or love by association, or natural attraction.
This love, this biblical love, is a love that acts, that does, that works, that lasts out of grace. This biblical love is transcendent and good. This love is the love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is the love that builds others up, rejoices in their triumphs, and lasts forever. This is the love that gives selflessly without expecting any good in return. This is the love that pours out, fills up, runs over, and overflows. This love, this Christ love. This love is perfect love.
Now, let's be honest. If this, then, is love, can any mere man attain to such lofty heights? Have we ever truly sacrificed without gain? What gift have we given without some expectation of thanks? What act of service have we done without thirsting forappreciation? Have we ever loved to give not to get, to bless not to take, to bless not to get ahead? What heart can claim to be so pure and holy? And yet the Scripture says, without a biblical Christ-like love, all spiritual gifts, knowledge, fervor, and religious deeds amount to nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-4). Without this love, every good deeds turns in on itself and becomes corrupt. Without this love, there can be no true grace, no true sacrifice, no true service.
Where then does that leave us? In utter helplessness. It is impossible for man to love in this way by his own strength. Feel your wretchedness, O man.
Apart from God, we cannot love. If we do not know God, we cannot love. So then, we have come full circle. To love, you must know God. You must know God and His love. You must know what He has done for you through His Son. Only then, will you overflow in love.
And make no mistake, His love is the only love you need.
*Thanks to JK for your editing help!