“Stop Focusing on Love, You Hippie!”

Heart

I’ve been accused a lot lately of focusing too much on love, supposedly to the exclusion of other biblical themes like holiness, justice, wrath, etc. Well, I do focus a lot on love. In fact, I base everything on it. And I won’t apologize for that.

Love is the central message of the entire New Testament. Love is the very core of the gospel message itself. Jesus and the Apostles focused on love above all else, and so I will do the same. Those other biblical themes that I supposedly exclude are, in fact, subsets of love. We can’t understand those parts until we get first get love right.

Faith and love are ultimately the only things that matter. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s see what the New Testament has to say.

Jesus’ focus on love

The Gospel of Matthew records that a legal expert from the Pharisees posed a question to Jesus. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36). Jesus responded.

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–40)

We see right away that everything in “the law and prophets” (the Old Testament) depends on love. If we don’t have a right understanding of love, we won’t have a right understanding of anything else. This theme is so important that it’s included in all three Synoptic Gospels. The accounts are structured differently, but the punchline in each is the same.

The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29–31)

Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25–28)

In Luke’s version, the questioning doesn’t end there. The legal expert asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke10:29). Jesus responded with a parable, explaining that the lowest of the low, your hated enemy, the one who you believe serves a false god, the one whose name you won’t even pronounce—the Samaritan—this is your neighbor (Luke 10:30–37). These are the kinds of people we must love.

But Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love the neighbors we’d rather hate. He also tells us to love those who actively hate us. We’re even to love the enemies who would harm us. Furthermore, Jesus says that this love of enemies is what defines us as true sons of the Father because this is the kind of love that God shows to everyone.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27–36)

So we’re to love God, and we’re to love people—all people with no exceptions. How we show love to people is pretty straightforward. We do good to them, we bless them, we pray for them, we give to them, and we treat them the way we’d want them to treat us. But how do we show love to God? Jesus explained that too.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:37–40)

We show love to God by showing love to people. We fulfil the first greatest commandment by obeying the second. The two are one and the same. And so, in John’s Gospel, Jesus leaves out the first commandment altogether.

I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)

And Jesus raised the stakes, making it clear that this love may even lead to death.

Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. My commandment is this—to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:9–13)

Paul’s focus on love

As we move to the writings of Paul, we can hardly get away from the emphasis on love in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If someone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know to the degree that he needs to know. But if someone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1–3)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.

Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1–13)

Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong. Everything you do should be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13–14)

In his letter addressed to the Ephesians, Paul ties together the idea of living in love with the idea that we must do so in imitation of God’s love.

Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. (Ephesians 5:1–2)

Just in case his other words hadn’t been clear enough, in his letter to the Galatians Paul makes it explicit. “The only thing that matters is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). And he affirms the idea that love is the summation of the law.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13–14)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul again affirms this singular focus on loving others.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)

And in his first letter to Timothy, Paul summarizes the purpose of their ministry.

But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5–6)

Other Apostles’ focus on love

The anonymous letter to the Hebrews tells us that the whole point of gathering together is “to spur one another on to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

James affirms what Jesus and Paul taught about love of neighbor, calling it “the royal law.”

But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)

And let’s not forget that simple acts of love are at the forefront of James’ definition of religion.

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

Peter affirms the explicit mandate of love above all else.

Above all keep your love for one another fervent, because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

And then we come to the letters of John, where the supremacy of love shines through without restraint.

For this is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

The one who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14)

We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. (1 John 3:16)

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:18–19)

Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment. And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. (1 John 3:23–24)

As we continue through John’s unrelenting emphasis on love, we reach the focal point of all theology—the reason nothing could ever be more important than love—“God is love!”

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7–12)

And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him. By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. We love because he loved us first. (1 John 4:16–19)

Summary of the New Testament’s focus on love

  • “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”
  • “Love never ends.”
  • “The greatest of these is love.”
  • “Everything you do should be done in love.”
  • “The only thing that matters is faith working through love.”
  • “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”
  • “The aim of our instruction is love.”
  • “Above all keep your love for one another fervent.”
  • “This is the gospel message that you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another.”
  • “Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.”
  • “God is love.”
  • “God is love.”

Want to tell me again to stop focusing on love?

(All Scripture references in this post taken from the NET Bible, bold emphases mine.)