What the world needs now
by Karen Gleason –
What’s on your mind this Valentine’s Day—or, more appropriately, what’s in your heart? Who’s in your heart?
This Valentine’s Day, maybe there’s a reader like me: I don’t want to hear about how I am unique and cherished by my Creator, as true and wonderful as that is. In my human condition, alone on another Valentine’s Day, this assurance may reassure the mind but it doesn’t warm my heart and spirit.
When I was young, I didn’t feel complete unless I was “in love”—overwhelmed by emotion. I would fall asleep each night with thoughts of my beloved. Yes, I was in love, and seeking something in return for my feelings.
As it turns out, I was not exactly a winner at romance roulette, and never did get what I was looking for. Today, as a busy single mom, I struggle with the whole idea of LOVE.
Daily I pray for the strength and grace to show—and yes, often to feel—love for my teenage daughter.
Meanwhile, she, too, wrangles with the concept of love. In her MySpace introduction, she wrote: “I try to think of the unthinkable…I don’t believe that people really love; I think God is the only love and that people can only understand what the world passes off as “love.”
So, as imperfect humans, where and how can we find the illusive experience of love?
Defining “love”—the basics
Is it possible to briefly define Christian love? How is it different than the “love” that the world celebrates?
Simply stated, Christian love is based upon the divine love of God—made manifest in the person of Jesus—while worldly love is secular; really it’s the sacred and the profane. Christian love reaches out—it’s all about others—and worldly love is all about the self and gratifying one’s desires. Certainly Valentine’s Day is about wooing the object of one’s desire.
Agape is one of several Greek words meaning love. This word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, thoughtful love. At the time of Plato—before Christianity—classical Greek philosophers used this word to denote love of a spouse or family or even affection for a particular activity. In contrast, philia described an affection denoting brotherhood of generally a non-sexual affection, and eros, an affection of a sexual nature. Finally, the word storge described the needy child-to-parent love.
In the English language, our one word, love, is used for all the preceding states—with the emphasis in our society on eros, or erotic, love. Again, this is what Valentine’s Day primarily celebrates.
Over the years agape love became identified with Christian love or charity (1 Cor. 13:1-8) or even God himself (1 John 4:8). The New Testament provides examples of agape that include brotherly/sisterly love, love of one’s spouse or children, and the love of God for all humankind.
Jesus—God in the flesh—provided the definitive teaching on agape. He said, ‘“Love (agape) 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.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-41).
At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love (agape) your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”
In Works of Love (1847), Soren Kierkegaard, a Christian, claimed that Christianity is unique because love is a requirement.
The 2nd century theologian, Tertullian, remarked how Christian love attracted pagan notice: “What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. ‘Only look’ they say, ‘look how they love one another.'” (Apology 39).
Such guidance seems counter-intuitive: Won’t I just make myself miserable if I love my enemies, if I care for those who don’t care for me?
Paradoxically, the opposite is true. Adopting this lifestyle—which is a conscious decision not based on “feelings”—brings contentment and peace in any circumstances, and a fulfillment that can’t really be explained; it must be experienced.
The love checklist
Most of us have heard—many times—Paul’s description of love, but it’s worth reviewing periodically and using as a personal checklist. “Love (agape) is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” 1 Cor. 13:4-8a).
It’s a tough standard, isn’t it?
The Bible’s agape love, then, is not the romantic or even the friendship love that dominates our culture. Agape is the perfect love that God has for us—that he demonstrated when he sacrificed his son.
The website Answers.com posed the question: “As Christians, how do you believe that we can show that agape love to one another?” Visitors to the website selected the following, from Dan, as the best answer: “Jesus taught this unconditional love but most do not like what he is saying to them. He asked us to love everyone all of the time. His ‘turn the other cheek,’ ‘love your neighbor as your self,’ ‘love your enemy’ and ‘pray for those who persecute you,’ along with his ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ advice for us was intended to be used as a formula for dealing with others. A formula for a happy life if you will. If you follow his formula you quickly realize that no one is excluded from the love he asked us to have for our brothers. He asks us to see all of our brothers and sisters as beloved parts of God. Many use Christianity as a sorting tool to separate themselves from the other parts of God. How logical is this? To find fault with anyone is seeing some part of God as unacceptable. How likely is that?”
The Golden Rule
In Matthew 7:12 Jesus provides the Biblical definition for love: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” In considering all the commandments, Paul, in Romans 13:8-10, says, ‘“and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Christian love, then, is about giving to others what you would want if you were in their situation—without expecting anything in return. It is a steadfast commitment to act on someone else’s behalf. It is respect for others, mercy and “charity.”
The King James translators often used the word “charity” for the agape love of God as well as the English word “love,” reinforcing the idea that agape is a selfless, giving love. As Christians, we have the ultimate role model—God’s love is unselfish and unconditional, as witnessed in the priceless gift of his son.
How do we do this?
Can we even come close? Since our baser, “human” nature is most often at odds with our altruistic spiritual nature, we have to make the choice to practice this love. It’s a lifestyle choice—we decide to follow God’s most important commandments: first, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and second, to love our neighbors as ourselves. The danger is in looking for something in return—that expectation negates the Golden Rule.
This lifestyle also demands that we love ALL our neighbors, not just the ones who look and act like us.
Hmmm—the pursuit of a life based on Christian love—this will stretch us in ways we never imagined. How much more profound is this than the sentimental platitudes and simple formulas of how most people express love…
Meanwhile, enjoy Valentine’s Day. Experience the joy of loving without any worries of being loved in return.
What the World Needs Now is Love
What the world needs now,
Is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now,
Is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some but for everyone.
Lord, we don’t need another mountain,
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb,
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross,
Enough to last ’til the end of time.
Lord, we don’t ned another meadow,
There are cornfields and wheatfields enough to grow,
There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine,
Oh listen Lord, if you want to know…oh…
What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
Just for fun…express your love
From the book Ways to Say I Love You by Stephen
Arterburn, Carl Dreizler and Jan Dargatz, published by
Inspirational Press, here are a few ideas on how you can
show your feelings to the people in your life.
Just say it!
There are some simple activities that will remind those
around you that they are loved:
• Give simple, inexpensive gifts on unexpected days.
• Send someone a fax that says, “I love you.”
• Pray with them.
• Send a greeting card for no specific reason.
• Greet them with a smile and a hug every day.
• Stay home with your loved one an extra night in the week.
• Learn how to say “I love you” in sign language.
• Walk up, put your arms around someone you love and say, “I love you.”
Watching the sun rise or set—in a contemplative state of mind—
can be a quietly profound experience. When we share this with
someone we love, we can take the time to say the things we
often take for granted, and really listen to the responses.
For sunset, some ideas are: How was your day? Thank the person
for something he or she did for you that day. Share something
for which you are grateful to God. Ask what their favorite part
of the day was. Tell them how much they mean to you. Say,
“I love you.” Invite them to watch the sunset with you tomorrow night, too.
For early risers, at sunrise, reflect on the promises of the new day.
Listen to the new day beginning. Finally, start the day by saying, “I love you.” Few things can ruin any day that begins with these three words.