‘All you need is love,
All you need is love,
All you need is love,
Love is all you need’
So the Beatles sang, and so the theory goes. But what exactly do we mean when we say ‘All you need is love’? Do we mean that we simply need to show love, or is it just that we need to be the recipients of love? The answer of course is both, we need to love and be loved which begs the question as to how successful we actually are in these twin endeavours.
On one famous occasion Jesus summarised God’s law with these words: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ [Matthew 22:37-39]. We could, perhaps, paraphrase Jesus’ words like this: All you need to do is love. Whilst some may question our need to love God, most perhaps would agree that we should, ideally ‘Do unto others as [we] would have them do unto [us]’. The problem however is that , however much we might like to agree with such a notion, nobody is wholly successful in living in such a way. If then we want to get into God’s good books we had better not rely on how well we love others, for not even the kindest person that ever there was measures up to the standard of love that God demands of us. As such we have all failed to keep God’s law.
So what is the answer if the love we show to others is not enough? What if we need more than the love we have to give? The answer I would suggest is this: that all we need is love to be shown to us by one who is truly loving.
The focus of the third Sunday in Advent is love. but what is love and where is it found?
When we talk of love, more often than not we tend to focus our thinking on the one who is being loved rather than on the one who is doing the loving. That is, when we say that somebody is well loved, we tend to be making a comment about how wonderful that person is perceived to be rather than how wonderful it is that such an individual is shown love in the way that they are by another.
This is largely because we live in a world where love and acceptance have to be earned and, as a result, too many of us feel burdened with a need to promote ourselves in an attempt to be constantly admired by others. The truth though is that, in a world where there are far too many who do not know what it is to be loved at all, none of us need universal adoration. Neither are we happier or healthier when we are constantly striving to convince others that we are somehow worthy of their love.
We need to learn that, rather than being admired by strangers on account of our striving to be somebody we’re not, it is better to be loved by somebody who knows what we’re really like and continues to love us just the same. Because love that is conditional on performance is not real love at all and having to constantly portray ourselves as better than we really are gets in the way of receiving the unconditional love that we all so long for and thus deprives us of the joy of knowing true love and acceptance.
For us to be truly loved, therefore, we need someone who is truly loving, one who, by loving us enables us to become more lovely. We do not improve by being constantly criticised for what we fail to achieve and having acceptance denied us until we perform better. On the contrary, it is only by being accepted that we are motivated to grow into the human beings that we would like to be.
So we and those with whom we live alongside, need to be kinder to one another. We need to stop insisting that we must all be more than we actually are. But as I have already suggested none of us are up to the task of giving such unconditional love.
If then we can not find such a love in ourselves, where might we find it? 1 Corinthians 13, a passage frequently read at weddings, gives us some pointers:
‘Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7]
True love, then, is patient towards those whose behaviour requires patience to be shown and is kind towards those who do not deserve kindness. True love bears what is uncomfortable to carry, hopes for what is not currently present and endures what has to be endured.
Only Jesus loves like this. And his perfect love was such that it endured even a cross. [Hebrews 12:2]
As somebody who is far from perfect, Jesus’ love is the kind of love I need. I believe that God loves me, not because I am lovely but because he is loving. I believe the glorious truth that, in Christ, I am accepted by God and, as a result of the indwelling Holy Spirit, I consider that there is hope that I might yet become the person that I am called by him to be, someone who is a lot more like Jesus than I currently am. Only then will I be fully able to love as God demands.
Because, whilst it is true that we all, created as we are in the image of God, have some capacity to love as God does, we are nonetheless, because of our fallen nature, unable to love as fully as we ought. My selfishness and pride invariably creep in and spoil anything of merit that I may achieve. I am grateful therefore to be married to a wife who graciously puts up with me the way she does.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that, just as a good Father is pleased with his child’s efforts to please him, so God delights in my efforts to try to please him. Furthermore, as the good Father I consider him to be, I believe he withholds none of his love when my efforts fall short of the mark. Even so, this does not change the fact that I ought to be more loving than I actually am. But if I am to have a perfect love for anyone else, a love that is not in the least dependent on the merits of the one I show love towards, a love that bears, hopes and endures as God has had to bear, hope and endure with me, it will require a love that originates from somewhere other than within myself. It will need a love that originates from the source of all love, namely from God himself, the one who IS love. [1 John 4:16].
The scriptures remind us, ‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ [1 John 4:10-11]. That is, Christ died for me, not because of my merits but because of my need, not because of his obligation but because of his kindness. Only by understanding this and realising my dependence on the one who showed me the love, the one who, though perfect, died in my place for my imperfections, can I hope to show genuine love towards others.
Even so, I ought to love, because, as the scriptures go on to say, ‘beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’. [1 John 4:10-11]. Not in order that I might be loved, but rather on account of my being loved already. This is, of course, something that I sadly still fail to do the way I should but, even so, the promise remains ‘that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ [Philippians 1:6]
How then can we love others more? By first resting in the love that God has shown to us. ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’, [2 Corinthians 12:10]. Just as those who realise how much God has forgiven them know what it is to love him more, [Luke 7:47], so too those who recognise the depths to which God has loved them can begin to truly love others, not on account of their merits, but on account of their need.
Earlier I said that not even the kindest person that ever there was measures up to the standard of love that God asks of them. Of course there was one – and his name was Jesus. So I am grateful that ‘love came down at Christmas’, that Christ Jesus, came into the world to save, not those who deserved to be saved, but sinners – like me. I am grateful that I am well loved by Jesus. I am grateful that God’s love is patient and kind, that his love does not envy or boast. I am thankful that his love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
And above all I am grateful that God’s love will continue, throughout Advent, on through Christmas and the New Year. I am grateful that, come what may, God’s love never ends. [1 Corinthians 13:8].
All I need is his love – and his love is all I need.
Other related blogs:
To read Advent 2022: Part One: Hope’, click here
To read ‘Advent 2022: Part Two: Peace’, click here
To read ‘Rest Assured’, click here
To read ‘Good Friday 2022’, click here
To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here
To read ‘I’ll miss this when I’m gone’, click here
To read ‘Everything is Alright’, click here
To read ‘Order out of chaos’, click here
To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here
To read, ‘But this I know’, click here
To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.
To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here
To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here
To read ‘Covid -19. Does it suggest we really did have the experience but miss the meaning?’, click here. This is a slightly adapted version of “T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’.
To read ‘The “Already” and the “Not Yet”’, click here
To read ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac – Law or Gospel?’, click here
To read ‘on being confronted by the law’, click here
To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it Rhubarb?’, click here
To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here
To read ‘Real Power’, click here