Today, yesterday and as far back as anyone can probably remember, love has been a topic roundly discussed. From Shakespeare to Fitzgerald, from R&B singers to politicians and from toddlers to the elderly, questions of its relevance, positives, negatives and definition have been asked. People born into cultures on opposite ends of the earth have some concept of love and how it should look. Certain groups might say that love is that burning feeling felt inside when looking at someone you care about. Others might suggest that it's just another word for being nice while different circle might say it is the willingness to jump in front of a speeding train for a friend. Some might believe that love is a man-made concept concocted in a quest to find an emotion deeper and less carnal than lust. A lot of attention is directed at what can occasionally be seen as an abstract notion to the point where it can become easy to dismiss along with all the other chatter the world does. That'd be a mistake because love was one of the paramount teachings of Jesus and if He was so focused on it, those of us who call ourselves Christians should be too. Through Jesus, we can learn what true love really is and why it should be practiced unceasingly by all Christians.
What is this love that Christ spoke of? In John 14:15, He told his disciples that if they loved him, they'd keep his commandments. That lets us know that love is an action, not a warm and fluffy feeling. No matter what they felt about Jesus inside, if they didn't actively follow His commandments they didn't love Him. Being sorry about not doing them wouldn't suffice nor jumping in front of a train as penitence either. That goes for all of us alive today. Feeling bad about sinning while continuing to do so or planning to act holy for a day after a weekend of wild partying doesn't make up for anything. If you don't do what Jesus said do, you don't love Him, plain and simple. Emotions on the inside are irrelevant in this situation. Luckily for us God is gracious, forgiving and lovingly gives chance after chance but we must at some point make a decision to totally follow Him so our relationship can grow, making us able to walk in our destiny and be a benefit to those who need us.
Now since we've reconciled within ourselves to do what God says as a way of loving Him, we can now define love because it's better to not know, than have knowledge of and not act. Put simply, 1 John 4:8 lets the world know that God and love are one in the same. Where there is love, there is God. Where there is no God, there is no love. The Holy Ghost brings it into our hearts upon salvation and it's our job to pray and nourish this love with reading of the Word so it becomes real enough in our lives to guide and shape our characters. Sometimes the Bible is referred to as a love letter and that is accurate because it's a letter from God to us. The more of His Word that gets into us, the more we can love because God cannot be separated from what He says. The love that wells up in someone that has spent time with and communed with God is impossible to fake, forge or copy. It's more than being nice. Some of the most hateful people can smile and open doors for strangers while boiling with rage or merely sleeping on the inside. Love isn't always nice but it's never rude. It's not shown in traditional deeds and phrases many are taught as youngsters and done mostly out of habit. Love is conscious and shown through actions done on purpose. We should be so saturated with Him that when people look at us they should be able to see love. One might say, "I don't know what it is but there's something different about you than everyone else." A comment like that doesn't come up from just saying, "I'm a Christian," and then following the rest of the crowd. It comes from God's love exuding from your being. The inquiring mind might wonder at the logic of love supposing to be an action and then its ability to be seen like a coat. An easy comparison is weightlifting. Lifting weights is an action but you can look as someone on the street and see weightlifting all over them because of the time, effort and dedication they put in. It's the same with love. When it becomes part of your daily activities, you're mindful of, and deliberate with it, love will not be able to nor willing hide itself.
Everything that God's gives us isn't supposed to be shared with everybody all the time. Love is. The simple fact that God is love and doesn't turn Himself on and off lets us know to express Him to everyone we come across. Jesus commands his disciples to love each other (John 13:34) and love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We are also told to love others as we do ourselves (Leviticus 18:19, Luke 10:27) and for that to be effectively done self-hate, low self-esteem, pity parties and all other forms of self-loathing must be quickly done away with and become things of the past. It's impossible to love anyone else if you don't love yourself first. It's an order from God therefore not optional. We can't do anything on this Christian walk until we rise from the pit of depression, despair and desolation, realizing that we're the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God chose us, filled us with His Holy Ghost and expects us to walk with our backs straight because He doesn't make mistakes. Hating ourselves is the same as hating Him. You can't share with someone else something you don't even have enough of for yourself. The muscles on a weightlifter don't bulge until there's more than an adequate amount to handle the chores through daily life. It isn't about arrogance or conceit but knowing you are a crucial element in the Body of Christ and being beaten down emotionally hinders the work of the Lord.
Since we now made the decision to start or continue loving ourselves we must next love other Christians as Jesus told his disciples to love each other. A family in which the father constantly ridicules his wife and children, the mother publicly makes off color jokes about the husband and the kids openly say their parents are fools would be called dysfunctional. The same goes for Christians. It's one thing to be derided by people with whom there is no relationship but the hurt is multiplied when it comes from those that are supposed to help you stand. When a Christian can no longer depend on other children of God then there's nowhere else to turn to but the world. Yes, our source needs to be God but the Lord is relational and means for us to be so as well. We all can't be on our own little islands without communicating and relying on each other. Humans naturally are influenced by the people they're in relationship with, so if you find the most comfort among unbelievers, their thought processes, culture and philosophies will began to infiltrate what God has already put in your heart. That's why it's vital for Christians to spend quality time with, affirm and pull up a fellow brother or sister during a fall. Having a circle of Christian friends but cursing the church down the street is no better either because nothing stifles the work of God more than infighting among believers. God's people can't constantly be in a civil war and expect to defeat the enemy. Jesus even tells us that a nation who fights itself is destined for destruction (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:24, Luke 11:17). There are some doctrinal points that might vary from church to church or denomination to denomination but that in no way should stop us from doing what Jesus ordered and loving one another. We don't have to like them, but they're fellow children of God, possess gifts necessary for the Church and have to be treated as such.
Along with loving ourselves and other Christians, we are commanded to love our enemies. This can be very hard to do but doing what God says usually is. The people who hate you, irritate you, gossip about you, lie to you and throw any other sinful dart in your direction have to be responded to in a loving way. Once again, this doesn't mean liking them or handing over self-respect, but it does include abstaining from profanity laced rebukes, verbal threats, rudeness or whatever else an uncrucified flesh can dig up. When someone at work, school or on the street does you wrong, remember they're not the problem. There's a spirit inside of them at war with the Holy Ghost inside of you (Ephesians 6:12). Getting out of character, falling for the bait and doing what the world taught us was expected is jumping obediently through the enemy's hoops. It shows we haven't yet allowed the Holy Ghost take control of our lives. People are watching us and when we react to negativity in a way that isn't Godly, it tells them that our Lord has no power. They wonder how great can He be if His children act like everyone else. We are the only Bible that some will read (2 Corinthians 3:2) and they judge God by our actions so we need to strive to make our heavenly father proud.
In order to love ourselves or anyone else effectively, we need to get to know God better because He is love, which means reading and studying the Bible daily as well as having a constant prayer life. Without doing so we dim the image of God that we're supposed to be. Once learning and practicing love as Jesus intended, we as Christians can finally walk in the power and dominion that has for so long been preached about. Anything less would be relegating our God-given assignments to the back burner and having unbelievers curse Him because of our hypocrisy. Let's not misrepresent Christ and do what needs to be done.