This is a fourth of a series on the importance of love in Christian theology and contemporary culture.
In the third post we looked at one verse, Galatians 5:6 where ‘faith working love’ is the only thing that counts.
Staying with Paul, below is just a snapshot of other texts that, together, show how love is absolutely core to his theology and experience, and that the whole fabric of the Christian life is made up of love.
A couple of comments before those texts. In the New Testament, perhaps even more than today in the West, new communities of believers in Jesus were socially revolutionary. No-where else in the ancient world would you have Jews and Gentiles, slave owners and slaves, rich and poor, men and women, not only mixing together but worshiping together on a ‘level playing field’ where all were one in Christ (Gal. 3:28).
Love is the only thing that could hold such communities together then, and it is the only thing that can hold diverse communities together today.
A question: are Christians known, first and foremost as people of radical, other-focused love? Are churches known for being communities of love? Is love the first thing that people associate with followers of Jesus? With you and with me?
If not, why not? And what can be done about it?
Given the importance of love (see below), ‘lovelessness’ is not just an ‘unfortunate reality’ of church life, it is actually heresy in action. It is a denial of the very purpose of salvation and the work of the Spirit. It is a sign of counterfeit faith that is worth nothing at all.
Love in Paul
Love is the goal or purpose of the new covenant ministry of the Spirit
- The purpose of Christian freedom from the flesh is to ‘serve one another in love’ (Gal.5:13).
- The ‘entire law is summed up in a single command, “Love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Gal.5:14, cf Rom.13:8-10).
- The Spirit ‘produces’ love in believers’ lives as they keep in step with him (Gal 5:22-26)
- It is through the Spirit that believers experience God’s love (Rom.5:5).
The love of God has been most supremely demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross (Rom.5:8).
God’s people are loved by God (1 Thes.1:4; 2 Thes.2:13, 16; Rom.1:7; 2 Cor.13:11, 14; Eph.1:4-5, 2:4, 3:17-9, 5:1-2; Col.3:12).
Nothing in all creation will be able to separate them from his love expressed in Jesus (Rom.8:37-9).
Believers are to act in love for each other (1 Thes.4:9; Rom.14:15; 1 Cor.8:1; Eph.4:2, 15-16; Phil.2:1-2; Col.2:2).
In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul teaches that all Christian life and ministry is of no value at all if it is not done in love.
At the close of 1 Corinthians he simply commands ‘Do everything in love’ (1 Cor.16:14).
In Ephesians 5:2 Christians are commanded to ‘walk in the way of love’
In Colossians 3:14 they are to ‘put on love’ on top of a list of other virtues.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul includes himself in the exhortation to ‘put on faith and love’.
Paul often expresses his deep love for his communities (e.g., 1 Thes.2:8; 1 Cor.16:24; 2 Cor.2:4, 11:11; Phil.4:1).
Husbands are to love their wives (Eph.5:25; Col.3:19).
Paul prays that believers’ love would grow (1 Thes.3:12; Phil.1:9)
He is glad to hear of a church’s love (e.g., 1 Thes.3:6; 2 Thes.1:3).
He is thankful when Christ is preached ‘out of love’ (Phil.1:16).
He rejoices when he hears of believers’ love for God’s people (Col.1:4, Philem.1:5, 7)
He prays that the Lord would direct their ‘hearts into God’s love’ (2 Thes.3:5).
Rather than use apostolic authority, he prefers to appeal to Philemon about Onesimus ‘on the basis of love’ (Philem.1.9).
All this is why I like to call Paul ‘the apostle of love’.