“Love is all we need.”
This sounds really nice, and it’s very easy (and safe) to agree with. In fact, it may be one of the last assertions a person can easily launch into a diverse crowd of Americans with reasonable expectation of applause. We all know we need love, and in its distilled form (the form most often popularized in hit songs, Hallmark cards, and most modern-day protests on college campuses), it never offended anybody. Such love asks nothing of us except that we offer the same in return.
But love in that form never did anything to permanently change the world.
This sentiment–that love is the only thing we need, our sole orientation toward the world–is a very popular idea these days. And why not? It’s the safest possible posture in a world that is increasingly intolerant and individualistic in its philosophies. It provides a lowest-common-denominator for connection without confrontation.
This idea seems as popular among (especially young) Christians as anyone else. But is it true? If love is all we need and all we offer the world, are we living as followers of Christ should live?
If we want to live fully and honestly, leave the world looking a little different from the way we found it, and–let’s be honest–follow the model of Jesus’ life in this world, love is not enough.
Certainly the safest, simplest brand of love is not enough to generate true change. But even in its most active and self-sacrificial forms, love by itself does not make for a complete picture of what we have to offer the world. And it’s not all the world needs from us.
We should always live and relate to the world in love. I’m not suggesting love isn’t necessary or powerful–we must always offer love; should be known for it (John 13:35). But love is not all we should give. Love works best when combined with other powerful ingredients, catalysts that bring forth love’s full potential. Even in small ways, we’ve all witnessed what can happen when love dances with courage, vision, commitment, anger, justice, wisdom, foresight, determination, hard choices, and a willingness to do something about it. And we all long to see more of it.
Consider some of the most effectively loving people you and I know, who have offered this world way more than love.
Consider Martin Luther King, Jr, whose engine was love but who would not have gone far without the fuel of a deep and unwavering commitment to justice. Who did not simply open his arms and say the world was OK as it was, but who challenged and resisted in pursuit of his vision for a better world.
Consider Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in whom love activated a willingness to get her hands dirty and to take action without thought for reward. She defied the status quo in a culture that sometimes welcomed her work and sometimes met it with rejection and even violence.
I think of Billy Graham, whose love for the world has always been accompanied by a clear and unashamed proclamation of truth and the courage to ask the world to make a decision.
I think of the marvelous folks at International Justice Mission, who arm themselves with justice, an unflinching acknowledgment of reality, and willingness to confront evil in its most predatory form. They sometimes risk their lives to hold others accountable to the law.
I think of Christians in circumstances that do not allow for neutral expressions of love to define their relationships with others. Consider Gao Zhisheng, whose love is wrapped in the courage and determination to confront his nation’s government and demand the rights to which he and others are entitled. Without disobedience and defiance toward oppressive powers, he would not endure persecution and prison–and his love would not accomplish much.
I think of Bishop Desmond Tutu and William Wilberforce and Harriet Tubman and so many more who have not only loved but fought for freedom and demanded that the world change in response.
I think of all those who offer the world their own stories of God’s faithfulness, risking ridicule and dismissal in the name of a love that would stay small, caged in their own hearts, if they did not also have a revolutionary spirit and the courage to speak.
The Bible tells us we live in a world far more complex than even the tangle we can see. Ephesians 6 tells us we engage the spiritual realm when we seek to follow Jesus. This passage also tells us what we need to bring with us to that battle: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and the message of reconciliation with God through Jesus. None of these is a replacement for love, but all of them are necessary for love to do its very best work.
We are called to live in the same world that violently rejected Jesus, his love, his righteousness, his countercultural ways, and the rest of what he offered. And he left us with this message: “Love each other in the same way I have loved you…If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:11-18). Many of us have bought the idea that if people don’t like us or are offended by our beliefs or lifestyle, we’re doing something wrong and we must make ourselves more attractive. But we won’t be popular with everyone–it just isn’t going to happen. And if Jesus himself is offensive to some, we will be too if we follow him. Should we deliberately make ourselves offensive? No. Disregard our impact on others? Never. Forget love? No, we must always find our bearings through love. We cannot abandon love in favor of anything else. But love is not all we have to offer. In limiting ourselves to love alone, we fail the world and abandon our calling. If we really love our neighbors, we will meet them with love honed by justice, righteousness, faith, truth, courage, action, and other traits forged by the very Spirit of God within us.
© 2014 Amy Simpson.