If there’s one word that is more overused, yet less understood than any other, it’s “love.” What does “love” mean? Is it the butterflies in your stomach when you fall in love (whatever that means)? Is it a feeling of joy about someone else? Is it a noun, a verb, or both? Does it mean to be courageous and tell someone they’re wrong, or does it mean holding our tongue and not “judging” someone?
The Bible uses three words for love: agape, the love that God has for us, an unconditional love; phileo, a brotherly love/affection; and eros, the love between a man and his wife.
For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on the first word: agape. Because this is the love God has for us as Christians, this is the love we ought to have for each other in Christ (John 13:34-35).
The world has many different ideas about love, but the Bible portrays a singular notion of love: Meeting the needs of others, with no regard for the cost to self. Isn’t this what Jesus does?
He had no obligation to come down to Earth, to take on human flesh, but He does, because we needed Him to take on human flesh and be our Savior. It is at great cost to Him, for instead of being embraced and accepted, He was “despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3).” The God of the universe was hated, scorned, persecuted, and ultimately murdered by the very people He came to love and to save. He lives the perfect life, overcomes temptation, securing righteousness for all those who trust in Him. He has no need to prove His love for the Father, or to prove His perfection, but He willingly endures the hardships of human life and perfectly obeys God in our place so that we might be saved. And on the cross, He meets our needs by taking all of our sin, on Himself, so that when we trust Him to be our Lord and Savior, we can be forgiven of our sin and made right with God (Col. 1:20).
As believers in Christ, we have the privilege and responsibility of loving others as God loves us. We have “come to believe in the love God has for us” (1 John. 4:16) and now want to show that love to our fellow believers and to the world around us.
But we must be willing to get our hands dirty, and to become humble and selfless like Jesus if we will show this love. This we cannot do on our own, we need the Spirit to sanctify us and an attitude of humility. Left to ourselves, none of us would show this love. Therefore, we must remember how God saved us, how God brought us out of a life of sin, gave us faith in Christ and called us to follow Him, and be reminded that our job now is to live for His glory.
So with the gospel in view, with a firm grasp of God’s love for us, how do we actually meet the needs of those around us? I’m usually not one for numbered lists, but, it’s a new year, and we’re gonna try some new things here 😉 Here’s three practical steps we can take to meet the needs of others both in the church and outside the church:
1) Build relationships with people. This requires more than a handshake and small talk. At some point, our small talk has to become “big talk.” If we are to meet the needs of others, we have to be intentional (If you didn’t know I was Baptist before, you sure do now) about building meaningful, deep relationships with people. We cannot just settle for knowing their name. We need to know what’s going on in their life, how to pray for them, and to see how we could possibly benefit them for the glory of God and the spread of the gospel.
2) Listen to people. We need to shut up more. Honestly. I know, at least for me, I talk way too much. Going back to the first step, a key factor in building relationships is listening to one another, whether it’s a friend relationship, parent relationship, romantic relationship, etc. If we expect to meet their needs, we have to listen in order to hear them. If we want them to hear us share the gospel, we need to hear them share their story and their heart, at whatever cost to our time or comfort.
3) Rethink your schedule. I’m a busy person. I’m in graduate school, working part-time, while also doing freelance reporting and attempting to help lead a college ministry at church. But if my schedule isn’t flexible and doesn’t allow time to talk to someone in need, or get lunch with a friend, or take extra time to maybe share the gospel with someone, I’m not doing it right. At that point, “busy” becomes “disobedient.” If you are following Jesus, God controls your schedule.
These are simple tasks, but they are not easily done.
Lord, may we trust in your love for us. May we rest in your grace, in the shadow of the cross. May we follow you with joy as we strive to be like you, showing your love to the world. May we be selfless, taking the time to get to know people and to listen to them. May we surrender our schedules to you so that we can be as effective for the kingdom as possible. May we love as you love.
Tomorrow, I’ll publish a post about God’s grace from the beginning of our salvation all the way to its completion. Friday, I’ll publish a post about idolatry. Sunday, we’ll wrap up this series with “Mourn Well.” As always, if you have any questions/comments/concerns/prayer requests, feel free to contact me on here, on Twitter @NealEmbry, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.