There is nothing more foundational to the human experience as is love. It is one of The Basics in life. It is used as the solution to what ails us, it is the general cover-all answer to our problems, and is a word that is thrown about with very little real thought. It really is that basic to us.
As a concept though, it evokes powerful emotion, extreme action, and mind-bending thought. It seems the more we emphasize it the more we realize we don’t understand it. In its application there is nothing more complex, messy, and fraught with danger than “loving” someone. We tend to assume much and generally understand little.
We love “love” and hate it at the same time. We want to give and receive “love” but our experience in both receiving and giving has a history of experience marred by pain and failure. We know well the scars that have “love” as their source.
As Christians we know we must get this right as so much rides on it. It is recorded in John 13:34-35 that Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Paul stated in Ephesians 5 that love in marriage was to be a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church.
Peter, in his first letter, adds some often over-looked principles about real love in 1:22-2:3 and gives us some much needed help in this critical yet messy thing called “love”.
1 Peter 1:22-2:3
1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.
2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,
2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
From these verses we can find at least 6 critical principles we must grasp if we are going to genuinely show and express love to those around us.
1) Love that is genuine is not natural.
Peter states in verse 22 that we were purified so that we could have a sincere or genuine love for others. He goes on in 2:1 to say what we had to be cleansed of, namely, malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. Let’s be honest, that list is what comes naturally to us, not love. That is how we naturally respond to people in life yet those are the very elements within us that prevent us from having an honest, self-sacrificing love for others. The work of the Holy Spirit in us at salvation cleanses us from these things and makes us a new creature but we must continually confess these as sin in our lives and work to rid ourselves of them.
2) Love takes intentional and unceasing effort.
Though we have been cleansed so that we are able to love as Christ loved, Peter urged his readers to “fervently love”. “Fervently” literally means at full stretch or giving full effort. Genuine love requires genuine work. I have heard it said on any number of occasions “a relationship shouldn’t be this hard!” We don’t like to admit it, but we all have very serious issues in our lives that make it extremely hard to love us at times. It IS hard to have relationships because we are all so messed up. If we are to love, we have to keep at it, even when it exhausts us.
3) Love is just as much about what we don’t do as what what we do.
The specific applications of love are as endless as the number of people in this world. There will never be an exhaustive list that we can go to. What we can be sure of though, is this: if we have malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander in our hearts there is no way we can genuinely love. Deal with those issues and the application of love in whatever context will be a whole lot easier to process. There are no right actions without right attitudes. Without the right attitudes even our “loving” actions can be purely self-centered making them not loving at all.
4) Love is a foundational component in our salvation.
Don’t miss this one, as it is huge. Too often as Christians we think only in terms of the vertical context of our salvation. I am a sinner, Jesus died for me, I am reconciled to God, I obey God, I worship God, I have quiet times with God, and I am going to heaven to be with God. So true, yet so incomplete. In fact, it is only a third of what salvation is about. The Gospel is God’s reconciling the world to Himself. Restoring what was broken. Giving life to what has died. Go back and read Genesis chapter 3 and see what redemption is all about. Read Genesis 3 carefully and you will see that not only was mankind’s relationship with God was broken, but mankind’s relationship with mankind was broken, and mankind’s relationship to creation was broken. The full work of the Gospel is too reconcile all of those; man to God, man to man, and ultimately man to creation (see Isaiah 11:5-9). God saved us so that we would once again be able to live in love and harmony with each other. Salvation isn’t just me and God, it is me and you.
5) Love is not static, it is something that grows largely based on my desire for His word and knowledge of salvation.
As with most things, you get out of something what you put into it. Peter says, no commands (the word is an imperative), to long for or crave the purity of God’s word like a baby craves its mothers milk for the purpose of growing in our salvation. Interesting word that word “long”. It is most often translated as “lust”. It is an overwhelming compulsion. I’ll just say it straight out. We probably don’t love the way we should because we don’t have a compulsion to grow in our understanding of what the Bible instructs us concerning Christ’s work in us, His love for us, and His reasons for saving us.
6) Don’t worry about failure, growth is assured.
Where does this come from? Our salvation, the newness of life that springs up within us when we are called by the Gospel to follow Jesus, comes from the imperishable, undying word of God. There is nothing more discouraging than hopelessness. There is nothing more hopeless than believing something is impossible. You can love. I can love. We can grow in our ability to love. It has been guaranteed by the work of Christ in us.