Love as a Way of Living

The New Testament boldly declares that “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and that we as human beings love because “We have first been loved.” Jesus, drawing on the Old Testament, stated that the two great commandments are to love God and our neighbor. Paul completed his beautiful hymn in 1 Corinthians 13 with the conclusion that love is the greatest of the trilogy of faith, hope, and love. Our Christian faith rests on the foundation of the God who so loved the world that this loving God made possible our reconciliation through Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Without question the word “love” sums up and depicts the essence of our Christian faith. Nonetheless, most Christians struggle in a world often filled with problems, difficulties, suffering, pain, crime, war, and hatred with how to believe, understand, and live by this high standard of love. To love in the face of anger and hatred, fear and dread, cruelty and injustice, misunderstanding and rejection often seems not only difficult but elusive, if not impossible. Even Christians are at times afraid to practice love for fear of ridicule, opposition, or being seen as weak, compromising, inferior, or uncourageous. Some are bold to assert that the ethic of love is unrealistic and “dated” for the modern world.

I believe that we cannot—must not—give way to this negative philosophy. Everyone longs to be loved and accepted. Without experiencing love, a person is incomplete, empty. Christians have a responsibility to define, understand, interpret, practice, and live authentically the way of love. As we mature, we are challenged to determine whom and what we love and how we will respond to the love we experience from others. Our understanding of love or, better stated, our response to love affects our very being—our selfhood. The awareness of the love our parents had for us; the love of a spouse, child, or friend; the love of grandparents or grandchildren; the love of teachers, coaches, ministers, or priests affects our attitude toward ourselves and life itself.

The awareness that God created life out of love and that the divine love came uniquely into our world through the life, ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ can open our minds and enlarge our perspective of the nature of God. The God revealed in the Scriptures is not a distant, unmoved being but a God who established a community with the nation Israel out of love and entered humanity through Christ who suffered and died out of amazing grace. Our identity with this God binds us to this suffering love way of life. Having experienced such personal love from God, we in turn seek to love even as we have been loved.

I do not believe it is easy, but Jesus has challenged us to move to a higher way. Jesus’ way casts a beam of light into our dark and uncertain path and provides direction, guidance, hope, encouragement, assurance, and companionship. To walk in the way of love is to be assured that the One who laid down his life in love will guide us in following the path that leads to life and life everlasting.

In his book, Agape and Eros, Anders Nygren affirms that God is Agape and that this loving God came to us in his Son. Only at the cross do we really see revealed the depth of God’s love. At the cross, God’s “heart” of pure love has been revealed, Nygren notes, and then he draws the following conclusion:

And this Divine love has likewise set its seal upon everything in the world, which derives from a Divine dispensation. Everything in creation obeys the law of love. There is no tree that bears fruit for its own use; the sun does not shine for itself. It is only man and the devil who in everything seek their own. So far from self-love being a natural ordinance of God in nature, it is a devilish perversion. That which on all things only seeks its own, is thereby closed against God. But when through faith man becomes open to God, the love from on high obtains a free course to and through him. He becomes a “tube,” which by faith receives everything from God’s love and then allows the Divine love to stream out over the world. God’s love has made a new way for itself down to lost humanity. Once for all, and in a decisive manner, this has come to pass through Christ. He came to us in the form of a servant and in humiliation, yet His majesty has not thereby grown less. He has rather revealed it in still greater glory. His majesty is the sacrificial, self-giving majesty of love.*

Nygren reminds us that we do not live for ourselves nor serve ourselves but follow the “law of love,” arising out of God’s nature, which directs us to become an instrument through which God’s love is transmitted to the world. As a part of God’s creation, Christians strive not to be self-serving but to find ways to share this self-giving love with others. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross revealed the nature of God’s love and the model for how we are to live. The cross revealed the kind of love we are challenged to emulate. The fact that this love has been revealed supremely at the cross is a clear indication of the high cost it demands of those who follow Jesus. As a way of living, this sacrificial love will not be an easy path but will be the avenue of true discipleship.

*Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros (London: S.P.C.K., 1957), 740–41.

This post originally appeared in the Preface of Love as a Way of Living by William Powell Tuck.

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