Christian Love

By J. L. Leifeste

“...obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren...” (1 Peter 1:22)

Love must be a part of Christianity. Any authentic relationship in Christ is built upon the simple foundation of a pure love. God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). This fact requires that love is a part of any desirable relationship with Him.

What is love? The word “love” can mean: desire, goodwill, a healthy affection, to prize someone above others, a genuine concern for someone’s welfare, or a powerful benevolence. We can feel different kinds of love for different people. For instance, there is a type of love when a husband and his wife have physical desires for each other (1 Cor. 7:1-6). God reserves such love to be only between a husband and his wife (Heb. 13:4). There is another type of love shown as we Christians are commanded to have a godly love (goodwill and benevolence) toward everyone (Rom. 13:9). This love toward everyone does not include physical desire (Eph. 5:3-9). So, although love is a necessary part of Christianity, the different kinds of love that we have must be in harmony with God’s word.

The world contains many different religious groups. Some people call themselves “Christians” but hold beliefs opposed to the basic teachings of the New Testament. To follow the simplicity of the New Testament, Christians are people: (1) who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He died for our sins, that He was resurrected from death, and that He returned to heaven; (2) who have repented of their sins; (3) who have confessed their belief in Christ; (4) who have been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins; (5) who strive to the best of their ability to carefully follow the commands and life-pattern of the New Testament. In this article, the word “Christian” will refer to such people.

The New Testament shows the correct associations concerning Christian love.

1. Christians are a family.

An earthly family has a particular relationship. Its members should, and usually do, share a special affection and a unique bond. Christians are children of God (Rom. 8:16-17). This makes us a spiritual family. From this, we have both the privilege and the responsibility to share a particular relationship with our spiritual brothers and sisters. Our special affection and unique bond with them should be just as active, intense, and reliable as with any earthly family. In some cases, even more so. Jesus made this fact clear in Matthew 19:29 when He said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” This is not saying that a Christian must abandon an earthly family (see 1 Tim. 5:8). But there are people who became Christians and, for doing so, were driven away by their earthly families. They, just as all Christians, should increasingly appreciate their spiritual family. And they should be able to rely upon their Christian brothers and sisters.

In Ephesians 2:11-19, we find a wonderful concept. When we become Christians, we are no longer strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. And by the same procedure, we gain a special spiritual kinship to other Christians (see also Gal. 3:26-29). We should never consider our spiritual brothers and sisters as strangers. Christian fellowship is an essential part of our lives if we “walk in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). Having a spiritual family in Christianity gives us great blessings. In it we can we should give (and receive) generosity, kindness, and encouragement. And if members of our earthly family are also Christians, then our blessing is even greater.

It is important to note a few examples of affection in the church during New Testament times. See Rom. 12:13, 16:4; 1 Cor. 16:24; Eph. 1:15-16; Phil. 1:8-11; Col. 1:4, 2:1-2; 1 Thess. 2:7-12; 2 Thess. 1:3; and 2 Tim. 1:16.

2. Christians are one body.

Romans 12:5 says, “so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Christians are more than a spiritually related group of people (“the church”). We are also compared to a physical body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17, 12:12-26). But the actual “body” (the church) is spiritual, and Jesus Christ is its head (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23, 4:4-6, 5:23). As members of the body, we must be guided by Christ. And our concerns and affections should be of only the best intentions for other members of the body (members of the church). This concept of unity, accompanied by love, can be found throughout the New Testament. See 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 3:28; Col. 2:2; and 1 Pet. 3:8, 4:8.

We owe the church (the body of Christ), this most extraordinary, personal, dependable, and fervent love.

3. Christians are beloved of God.

The love of God should be very apparent to Christians (Jn. 3:16-21). The sacrifice of Jesus Christ (the Son of God) demonstrates this overwhelming love (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:4-5; 1 Jn. 4:9). Christ’s love for us (His church) is so special that it is used as an example of the correct relationship between a husband and wife (Eph. 5:22-33). Part of the motive in becoming a Christian is from a belief in God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice. An understanding and appreciation of that love, and sacrifice, should make us totally devoted Christians.

And from a true appreciation, we should make love a driving force in our lives (Eph. 5:1-2). Since Christ is not ashamed of us and loves us so much (Heb. 2:11), how can we have the arrogance to do any less? Are any of us better than the Lord? Of course not! God loves us. Jesus Christ loves us. We must have true Christian love for others.

Without godly love for everyone, and a special, pure affection for our spiritual brothers and sisters, we will be ignoring a principal part of our Christianity (1 Jn. 3:10, 14; 4:16). Not only do we have a responsibility to show Christian love, we should desire to do so.

4. Christians are commanded to love.

In the New Testament, we are given definite statements concerning Christian love. Some of these statements have been shown in the ideas above. However, Christians are commanded to have a genuine love of the kind which will be pleasing to God. And the fact that we are commanded is most important. God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, tells us, “... ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39). These commandments make it evident that love is an active certainty in the life of a true Christian.

To love our neighbor is a basic Christian attitude toward all people: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). See Matt. 19:16-26.

The second command refers to our love for our spiritual family. With authority given by God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, issued a commandment to His disciples to have Christian love for one another (Jn. 15:12). We also are Christ’s disciples. We also must heed this command (1 Jn. 3:23). It is a commandment that true Christians will strive intently to follow. It is emphasized in 1 Jn. 3 and 4: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:14-17); “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20-21). This concept includes the blessings of associating with other Christians: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12:9-10); “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).

There are times, with erring or contentious Christians, when we must exert even more of our Christian affection in showing them the correct path. And we should be aware that some people claim Christianity but believe and teach a different gospel (Gal. 1:6-10). However, above all, it is clear that those who are truly Christians will have a godly love for humanity and a special, godly love for those who are truly Christians. We are commanded to do so.

We have seen four categories concerning Christian love. We should always remember that we are a family, we are one body, we are beloved of God, and we are commanded to have godly love for everyone (with a special kinship for our spiritual brothers and sisters). But knowing these things accomplishes very little if we do not show our Christian love.

Christian love is a sure comfort and a great blessing for us, in both giving and receiving. It is also a powerful example of the truth of the gospel message. The world should be able to see the heart of Christianity by seeing our godly love for all people. And it should be able admire the beauty and security of the faith by seeing our godly love for our spiritual family.

Is hope an essential part of Christianity? Of course it is. Hope is one of the central motives of our faith (Rom. 8:24; 15:4, 13; Col. 1:3-5; Heb. 6:18-19; 1 Pet. 1:3; 3:15). Is faith an essential part of Christianity? It certainly is. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Rom. 4:13-5:3; Heb. 11:6). However, if we have all faith but do not have love, then we are nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Do you have Christian love? Is it obvious to other Christians? Does the world see it?

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).