The Beatles’ message to the world was “Love is all you need”, and certainly in Scripture, the virtue of love is regarded as supreme (1 Cor 13:13). In fact, in the Bible, love is a catch-all term for morality, summarising the law.
But with the mainstream use of slogans like “Love is love” bandied around today, what does the concept of love even mean? How do we know what love is? What does it look like? Furthermore, is love really all that we need?
In a special edition of our podcast, we bring you the audio from our first live event of our 2023 series on “A virtuous life”. CCL Director Chase Kuhn kicked off the series by exploring the virtue of love.
Links referred to:
- Watch: Is love really all you need?
- Our Wednesday 7 June events with David VanDrunen:
- “The glory of true humility” (academic lecture) with David VanDrunen (Wed 7 June 5:00pm)
- “Virtue in an age of virtue signalling: Christian character in a characterless society” with David VanDrunen (Wed 7 June 7:30pm)
- Support the work of the Centre
- Contact the Centre about your ethical questions
Runtime: 53:29 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Chase Kuhn: The Beatles’ message to the world was “Love is all you need”, and certainly in Scripture, the virtue of love is regarded as supreme (1 Cor 13:13). In fact, in the Bible, love is a catch-all term for morality, summarising the law.
But with the mainstream use of slogans like “Love is love” bandied around today, what does the concept of love even mean? How do we know what love is? What does it look like? Furthermore, is love really all that we need?
In a special edition of our podcast, we bring you the audio from our first live event of our 2023 series on “A virtuous life”. I kicked off the series by exploring the virtue of love.
As with other podcasts from our live events, we’ve included the first two sections, leaving off the question and answer time. If you’d like to participate in the question and answer time in the future, we’d love to have you attend our event.
I hope you enjoy what you hear and that you find it beneficial to your own Christian life.
Caitlin Ogg: Hi everyone! For the sake of time, we’re going to jump into it and get our night started.
Good evening and welcome to the first Centre for Christian Living event of 2023. It’s a great honour to have you all here tonight. I’m Caitlin and I’ll be your MC. I’m a student here at Moore College, but I also have the privilege of being part of the Centre for Christian Living.
The Centre for Christian Living is a centre at Moore College that exists to bring biblical ethics to everyday life and issues. This year, we’ve dedicated our four live events to exploring “A virtuous life”. In the Apostle Peter’s second letter, he encourages believers to make every effort to supplement their faith with virtue (2 Pet 1:5). Perhaps chief among the virtues is love. So we begin our series this evening with the question, “Is love really all you need?”
Before introducing our speaker, we’ll begin by hearing from 2 Peter 1:2-9, the text that shaped our series for this year:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So in response to what I’ve just read and in anticipation of all we’ll be hearing tonight, I ask you to join me in prayer.
Lord, we thank you that you have saved us—that you have shown us what we need and given us knowledge of your own glory and your excellence, and granted us everything that we need to become partakers of the divine nature. Father, tonight, as we explore the truth of love, as we’re challenged with what love is and what a virtuous love is, would you open our hearts? Would you change us so that we might continue to live for your glory and continue to increase these qualities in our lives?
We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our speaker this evening is our very own Director of the Centre for Christian Living, Dr Chase Kuhn. In addition to directing the Centre, Chase also teaches theology and ethics here at Moore College. He and his family attend St Paul’s Anglican Church in Canterbury.
We’ll begin by hearing a presentation from Chase on the topic of love. Afterwards, Chase and I will have a conversation to think through the practicalities and the implications of what he’s spoken to us about. Then finally, we’ll finish our evening with a time for Q&A.
Now let’s get to our first part of the night with Chase giving us a talk. Thank you, Chase.
Part 1: Is love really all you need?
Chase Kuhn: Good evening, everyone. It’s really nice to be with you this year and great to be here considering this topic. It’s a privilege for me to present again in this context, and I’m very glad to see you all tonight.
Tonight, we’re considering the topic, “Is love really all you need?” Of course, we’re riffing on The Beatles there. In fact, all of our headings tonight—they may date me; I don’t think any of them are from this millennium—but all of them are popular song titles. I want to know which one gets stuck in your head the most as you read through it. They’ve been stuck in my head all day, and Karen was upset with me because as she was helping put together these things, each of them were flashing in her own mind as well, and looping in her head. So enjoy! That’s a little gift from me to you.
Speaking of gifts, hopefully you’ve been able to pick up one of our mugs that we have for the Centre, a fridge magnet, and if you’ve got a handout, that would be helpful for you this evening.
What is love?
When pausing to consider the moral life, even the good life, we immediately need orientation. This may be most apparent in the contemporary phrase, “Love is love”. People in broader society wish to be allowed to choose for themselves what is the good life. So when it comes to love, they want to be loved as they desire.
Of course, this relates to sexuality: that phrase featured broadly in the Australian debates around same-sex marriage and around what sexuality ought to be permissible in society. But I think it relates to so much more. Here we need to make an important distinction: having things on one’s own terms and what, in fact, is good are two separate matters. Ever since the dawn of time, we’ve been permitted to choose our own way, even against what’s best for us. Original sin was a denial of the good, choosing a false reality. Such is the nature of how we explore love; “love is love” is not an accurate way of talking about love. What we realise is that love is in no way self-evident.
This is known not in theory, of course, but also in practice. You know what love isn’t because you’ve experienced it. Haddaway’s 1993 hit song “What is love?” captures this experience well:
What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
I give you my love, but you don’t care.
So what is right and what is wrong?
Give me a sign.
What is love?1
Lyrics like these show us that we know that not everything we think is love is received as love. Indeed, “love” can hurt.
What we see is that love needs a definition. Thankfully and wonderfully for us as Christians, we’ve been given one. We really believe love has been shown to us. The Apostle John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16), and in the next chapter, he wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
We know what love is because God has shown us that he is the God of love. He is love. His love has been made manifest among us when he sent his Son for us. We’ll see just how monumental this is.
(Just so you know, I was trying to explain to Caitlin earlier about how I think the night’s going to work: we move from a trajectory of “problem” towards kind of a climax in seeing love in God, and then work back out towards practicalities. For the students here, it’s a chiasm of sorts. Just enjoy it!)
All is full of love
You’ll be given love.
You’ll be taken care of.
You’ll be given love.
You’ll have to trust it.
Maybe not from the sources you have poured yours.
Maybe not from the directions you are staring at.
Twist your head around.
It’s all around you.
All is full of love.
All around you.2
Before looking more closely at God’s love, which is the ultimate standard of love, it is important for us to see that love is all around us, as Björk said. Indeed, there are expressions of love that all humans pursue as the best forms of relationships. In other words, we’re universally agreed that love is something good. It’s something we desire and deeply want.
But we don’t universally recognise what truly virtuous love is. My aim is to persuade you on what I believe is a theological explanation of what virtuous love looks like. We are called to a virtuous life as Christians, and even as we’re aspiring to a good, moral life, we want to know what love is in that deep down characteristic for our lives.
Jonathan Edwards provided a detailed exploration of love in relation to true virtue.3 He distinguished between love for beings versus love for the loveliness (i.e. lovely characteristics) of beings. He argued that virtue is found in goodwill towards beings, rather than in love for their features, like moral excellence. In this way, we can begin to appreciate that though there may be many expressions of love, not all are truly virtuous. (I’ll return to this in a moment to help us see just how this pays off for us—that we can love something for what it is, or we can love something because of the kinds of things that it has.)
In an attempt to try to capture what I think Edwards was arguing, consider with me what Jesus illustrated in his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48; cf. Luke 6:27-36)
This teaching is not easy. In fact, if we just skim over it, we think, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before, I’ve heard that before.” But consider for a moment the implications of what Jesus is saying to you: you need to love your enemies just as you would love your brother or sister, or your friend, or the person you came with to this talk. You need to love them like that. It’s quite overwhelming!
Jesus tells us we need to love like his Father does. This love is indiscriminate, directed towards beings generally, not to particular parties only. In other words, we can’t be choosy with whom we love, and if I’m being honest with you right now, I am choosy. I like to think of myself as virtuous, but I am actually pretty choosy about who I like to love and how I like to love them. Loving your family and friends is easy; Jesus says even the pagans do that. But loving all people, including your enemies? That’s hard. But it’s godly.
Bring me a higher love
This brings us to our next point of consideration: we need (and should want) a higher love. In his 1986 hit song, “Bring me a higher love,” Steve Winwood ponders something more:
Think about it. There must be higher love,
down in the heart or in the stars above.
Without it, life is wasted time.4
In other words, he wants something more. I suspect most people want something more. Love can easily disappoint us. But we know that love is good, and Winwood’s hunch is correct: there is a higher love.
We’ve already spoken of this briefly a moment ago, but it is worth revisiting Jonathan Edward’s identification of truly virtuous love. Truly virtuous love looks like goodwill toward being in general. In other words, it’s love for a being just because it is, not because of what lovely characteristics it possesses. This love is unconditional. Another way you could think about it is loving something for its sake, rather than what you can get from it or appreciate in it.
Here we see how wonderful God’s love for us is. If God’s love for us was conditioned upon our moral features, we would not be wanted as we don’t possess any qualities warranting God’s affection. But God’s love is for his creation generally. He gives life and sustains it. He shows love towards all generally in an ongoing way of provision, giving the sun and rain to even the evil and the unjust. He doesn’t discriminate in that way; he lovingly provides.
But for those whom God has chosen to save, his love is seen in even clearer magnificence. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:7-8:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So God showed us love when we were unlovely. His love for us was not for our lovely features. It wasn’t for our moral excellence. It was because of his goodwill and his pleasure in our well-being.
Here is where things get exciting: as God loves us, we are transformed. We’re renewed in our minds to love the Lord. Our hearts are tuned toward the ultimate good, the lover of our souls, the very giver of life. In addition, as we love him, we change more and more. We become lovely ourselves. Augustine captured this well:
But our soul, my brethren, is unlovely by reason of iniquity: by loving God it becomes lovely. What a love must that be that makes the lover beautiful! But God is always lovely, never unlovely, never changeable. Who is always lovely first loved us; and what were we when He loved us but foul and unlovely? But not to leave us foul; no, but to change us, and of unlovely make us lovely. How shall we become lovely? By loving Him who is always lovely. As the love increases in you, so the loveliness increases: for love is itself the beauty of the soul.5
If you want to trend upwards and see morality increasing and the good life excelling in your life, then love God more. In doing so, more and more, you will be transformed into a lovely man or woman. That’s special: what wonder that the lover is made lovely by loving. God never becomes lovelier than he is in his love. But he turns our hearts to him and we change.
I believe that it was for this reason that Jesus gave his followers the command to love. The command directs us to love one another, but this is an expression of our love for God. So as we love each other, we love the Lord. Jesus said in John’s Gospel,
In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. (John 14:20-21)
In other words, our knowing of God—our inclusion in his love—is experienced as we express the love that we’ve known in Jesus. We’re told in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us”. So we’re commanded to love, because in loving, we know love and experience love in a way that transforms us to be more like God himself—more lovely.
What’s love got to do with it?
So what’s love got to do with it? This helps us to frame the greatest commandment and the chief virtue as love. Tina Turner considered the dynamics of relationships, asking,
What’s love got to do with it?
What’s love but a secondhand emotion?6
Here, I’m proposing that we consider love morally. What’s love got to do with it? Everything. Jesus us tells us that the greatest command is
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37, 39-40)
Everything hangs on love: love for God and love for neighbour. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14 that love is the fulfillment of the law. In other words, true righteousness is love—love to God and love to neighbour.
In a similar way, love is the chief virtue—that is, first and foremost, almost a summary virtue like a summary command. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, that great chapter on love, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). Love always remains. When faith and hope cease—when faith becomes sight and hope is realised—love will remain forever.
So when we think about living the good life, we see that love is essential. But this love is the love we’ve been shown, not the love of our own choosing.
This is where we need to see the power of the gospel at work. Even though we’re commanded to love many times over, and we’re indeed exhorted to pursue the virtue of love, true love acts and is without compulsion. We will obey, if you will, the command to love gladly. We will embody love willingly, from our hearts.
This was Jesus’ challenge to us to “remain in him”. The challenge is not to try harder; instead, it’s to grow into the true love that you already possess. We remain, or “abide”, by loving. Our love flows out of the life we have in Jesus. This life is what we enjoy in the power of the Spirit of God as he transforms and indwells us.
All you need is love
This brings us to the point that all you need is love. I think the Beatles were (sort of) on to something:
All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.7
It’s crucial to see that this is not the love of our own choosing or even the love of our own making; it’s the love we’ve been shown by God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit—the love that has overflowed to us from the fullness of God’s being.
The love we’re called to is unconditioned by lovely features (desirability) and instead, it’s generally goodwill to all. It’s a disposition built upon grace. When we see that we’ve been loved so wonderfully—so fully—we are free. We’re free to love others genuinely. We can love without need from them, or justification of their worth of that love. Instead, we can love them simply because they are—because they belong to the Lord and because he’s given them to us. Keeping them in existence is an act of his own love. We can seek their good—most chiefly, their good purposes ordered unto God. They were made by him and for him, and that shapes up the kind of love that we show.
This is the difference gospel grace makes. It’s the reason that Edwards says we can’t truly love without reference to God. We need the gospel to free us for this kind of love. We must be shown it and we must be liberated by it. We love only once we’ve known the love he’s shown to us first. So now, being transformed by the renewal of our minds, as Paul says in Romans 12:2, we can genuinely love as he encourages us in Romans 12:9: “Let love be genuine”.
Think about the typical kind of fears that capture our hearts: before we encounter grace, we are consumed by all kinds of social fears, among other things. This manifests itself in our lives by things like envy, rivalry, bitterness, jealousy, malice and hatred. Because of these things, we do things like slander, gossip, dishonor our parents, and so on. If you really want to drill down into that, I think that comes back to a particular kind of social insecurity. We don’t really know what love looks like, and in not knowing true love, we are searching after something to help stabilise us.
But in the gospel, we don’t need to compete. There is no better or worse; there is only what we have in Christ. There is no need for self-justification because we’re already justified in Jesus. There is no fear because perfect love casts out fear. Knowing love from God, we’re truly free to love.
What is perhaps most challenging is that this love is supposed to be genuine, as Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:9. In fact, Paul challenges Timothy with these words: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). This means that love is not something we should do begrudgingly: “I guess I’ll love them because I have to.” No: in Christ, our affections are changed. Our love should be genuine. Our love is not part of a checklist to tick off. It’s not just going through the motions. In fact, genuineness is the very distinguishing mark of an action carried forward virtuously.
We know the difference between the kind of act that is done out of duty and the kind of act that is done out of care. Duty would see me, for example, doing something nice for my wife because I feel obliged to. But how would she feel if I give her a gift out of duty? “Here you go. I did it. Hope you feel loved.” There’s a real difference there than to something carried forward in sincere love. What’s more, the virtuous act is caring for them for their sake, rather than ours. It’s not about doing the thing or being that way towards them in order to get; it’s about their interest. It’s especially about seeing them unto the Lord—seeing them cared for unto that chief end—seeing them loved in a way that brings them to their highest good. So we must love all without concern for what makes them loveable or lovely, but instead, as they are.
I’ve found it very difficult as I’ve been processing this. I really struggle with this, because I can perform a good or right thing in the wrong way. It’s important for us to recognise this.
As we pursue love, we pursue God in the first instance. Our love will be virtuous when we seek to love God first and foremost. When you find this difficult, as I do (and I really do!), or even when you feel virtuous (and we all like to think we’re virtuous; I think I’m a pretty good guy and I think I love people pretty well), just pause there. If you’re sinking in despair under the weight of needing to love, or if you’re soaring in self-appreciation for how wonderful you are, think back to this: cast your mind once more to love of God shown to us in Christ. Really meditate on that afresh.
What love! We were unlovely, and for the only reason of his benevolence, God showed kindness, care and love to us. Every day, a world lives in denial of this God, and yet he still sends rain and sunshine (cf Matt 5:45), he gives breath in lungs and allows people to continue to be.
What’s more, though, for us in Jesus, he gives us his Son. So when you feel the weight of loving the world, remember that God has already loved the world—so much, that he gave his Son. It’s all of grace: God has been kind to us—loving to us—because he is the perfection of love, and he invites us to know him in his love and to send out the love that we’ve known to each other.
Let me pray for us before we head into our next section this evening.
It is overwhelming at points to think about just how difficult it can be love all, especially when we’ve known hurt, especially when we’ve known brokenness or sadness, and especially where there’s been fear.
We pray, Father, that you would transform us in gospel grace—that, as we have known this deep love—this love that is higher, wider and deeper than we can ever appreciate in Christ—we pray, Father, that we would know something of it and show something of it in our lives—lives that are marked out by this transformation of our minds, this renewal that your Spirit brings to us, freeing us from all the social positioning that we feel we need to do, all the attempts at upward mobility in this life or anything else, and remembering that all of our lives are found in Jesus. Resting in that place, may we show love freely to all, especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ, appreciating, Lord, that you have loved us so wonderfully.
All praise, glory and honour to you in the name of Jesus your Son. Amen.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I’d like to bring to your attention a few bits of news from the Centre for Christian Living. First, we’re starting a new initiative in our podcast where we want to hear from and interact with listeners like you. Many of you have burning ethical questions or scenarios you’d like advice about. We’d love to hear from you! Send us your issues and listen out for an answer in our upcoming episodes, where we’ll begin to feature a short segment on your ethical challenges. You can send them to us through our contact page on our website.
Second, I want to invite you to some very special events in June. As we continue through this year’s series on “A virtuous life”, we’re privileged to have an international guest speaker for our June events. Professor David VanDrunen of Westminster Seminary in California will speak at two events in one evening. On the evening of 7 June, we’ll begin from 5-6 pm with a public lecture on “The glory of true humility”. Then after a dinner break (when in-person guests are welcome to roam King St for some delicious eats), we’ll come back for our CCL series event from 7:30-9:00 pm on the topic of “Virtue in an age of virtue signalling”.
I really hope you’ll prioritise joining us in person or on the livestream. As a reminder, we host these events on Wednesday nights so that church Bible Study groups can participate together. We’d love to have you or your whole group join us. The events continue to be by donation, so come whether you can give or not. All the details can be found under the events tab on our website: ccl.moore.edu.au.
Now let’s get back to our program.
Part 2: Discussing practicalities
CO: Thank you so much for sharing, Chase. I asked Chase earlier today, when we were discussing tonight, what was something that he’s learned about love afresh in his time. I think I was really struck again by the simple truth of what love is: it always takes us straight back to God and the love that’s been shown to us. It’s funny to learn that again and be struck by God’s amazing love, because, really, as you’ve said, that is the love that really drives everything else that we do.
I hope you guys are feeling the weight of God’s love and also that questions are swarming in your mind to help you dig deeper into this. Don’t forget about the Q&A that will happen after this section.
The aim of this next section is to dive deep into thinking about the practicalities of love. Chase, you talked a lot about seeking this genuine love. I wonder if maybe some of you guys are thinking, “Am I showing genuine love? What does genuine love actually look like? Have I been receiving genuine love?” For our time here, Chase, I was thinking it would be helpful to work through some categories of seeking that genuine love and what that looks like. We’d love to gain your wisdom on that.
Does the Christian virtue of love obliterate the notion of self-love?
CO: The first topic category that I’d love to touch on is the idea of self-love. Self-love is something that I think has really been a marker for society recently: “Do what you need to do to make sure that you’re loved by yourself, because people won’t love you. People will fail in the way that they love you, so you need to love yourself.” I’m wondering does this idea of love that we’ve been talking about tonight—this idea of virtuous love—obliterate self-love for the Christian? What do you think? [Laughter]
CK: That’s a great question. Self-love has been around for a while. In its worst forms, it sees a low self-esteem as something equal with sin and therefore, if we could just esteem ourselves better, we can work over our sin problem. I think the worst form of self-love is a kind of self-help, which I’m very opposed to. I think the Bible is very opposed to it. Where we find our help is in gospel grace and the kinds of renewal that God gives to us, not the renewal we find in ourselves. I think self-love can easily be justification for trying to get what I want in my life, or to feel a bit more secure.
I’m actually really about people taking care of themselves. I think taking care of ourselves is a really important part of stewarding what God has given to us. But I’m nervous about self-love that tries to just be a self-esteem enhancement program, and therefore becomes me being actualised through certain kinds of activities that, I think, can equally be distorted away from loving others. So I might choose not to love others because I have my own self projects that I’m invested in, when actually what Jesus calls us to is not self-betterment, but self-denial: he says, “If anybody wants to come after me”, what do you do? You “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23). If you want to find your life, you’re going to lose it; if you lose your life, you’re going to find it (Matt 10:39). I think that’s radical. But it’s also liberating: I don’t have to better myself. I can entrust myself to the God who is all-loving and good, through and through. He is willing to give me everything I need for security, peace and health.
How do you work out what is self-denial, and whether that self-denial is right?
CO: So how does that work itself out? When you’re faced with that moment of needing to make a decision, how do you work out what is self-denial? Also, how do you work out whether that self-denial is right? Sometimes there are moments when I think we can tell ourselves, “You just have to deny yourself and love this person right now.” I’m trying to think of a scenario: for example, running around like a headless chook, trying to do something for someone, because they really need it done, and that’s going to be best for them. But at what point do you need to ask yourself, “Okay, well, is this self-denial or is this actually not right love?”
CK: Yeah, that’s helpful. In a world like the one that we live in—one plagued with sin—we can often find ourselves being exploited. I think most of us have our guards up because we don’t want to be naïve, and be used and abused in ways that we’re taken advantage of because of our willingness to give and serve.
But at the same time, we think about Jesus, who went all the way to the cross: he gave himself completely unto death, even. I think there’s actually no shame in that: there’s hope for people who will willingly expend themselves in the interest of others.
Now, I don’t think this is limitless just to get worldly gains for people. The way that Edwards, Augustine and others want to frame our love is a loving others unto the Lord. So our giving of ourselves is in service of them growing up into the Lord and knowing the love of the Lord in their lives. Therefore I think that frames up boundaries.
I also think that another thing for us personally is that we’re finite. Part of our own self-love is actually, in its truest sense, recognising that we have limitations. We can’t save the world. So our love is not a saving love; our love is pointing to the Saviour and showing people the Saviour in our love.
That’s not very concrete in terms of an example or a scenario, but I think that’s the principle I would want to operate on.
CO: How would you work those principles out? I like to switch my phone off at night time. There’s been plenty of moments when I’ve had emergency phone calls in the past, which have been great for those moments when I’ve been able to help. But at the moment in my life now, I think, “I’m finite and I’m going to switch my phone off so that people can’t reach me.” Is that a denial that’s good, because I’m finite? Or is that not bettering the other person who might need me in those moments?
CK: Yeah, and I guess that’s an emergency situation: to be there for somebody, there may be others ways they can communicate with you. You can also use the “Do not disturb” function on your phone. There are ways that we are more reachable now because of technology.
But I think technology ends up fooling us into thinking that we are infinite—that we have infinite access to information, that we can process all of that information, that we’re responsible for all that information, and we’re responsible for everybody in our contact list—more people than we know than our friend groups on social media—whatever it may be. We can’t be that responsible for all those people. So sometimes some wisdom in drawing boundaries might actually enable you to better love people in more meaningful ways at other points. I think it comes down to wisdom—of understanding what your limited resources are that you could be spending.
Let me give you a more practical example: if I have money, should I use my money in loving service to others? The answer is probably, “Yes, I should!” But does that mean I should go empty my bank account right now? That would be a really quick moment of love, wouldn’t it: it wouldn’t last very long. I can tell you right now, it would be very, very momentary love! So in one sense, the kind of wisdom that gets applied to us is that as we love people, it’s a willingness to care for them for them, rather than, “If I do this, I will benefit from it”—even if I’ll benefit from it in just appreciating something in them that I’ve bestowed on them. It’s actually just for their sake unto the Lord.
So balancing that out in, say, how we spend our finances is a really important thing to think through.
How do I work out whether how I’m loving is virtuous?
CO: Moving away from the self a bit more and thinking about how we love ourselves, you’ve talked about moments when we’re soaring or sinking, what about those moments when we’re soaring and it’s easy to love? In our own minds, how do we work through the principles to reflect on whether we’re seeking a virtuous, genuine love, or is there something behind that love? For example, my family: it’s quite easy to love my family. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but for me, I can go spend time with my brother and be happy with that. The way I will choose to love him—cooking him dinner or hanging out with him—how do I work out whether I’m being virtuous in this love?
CK: Yeah. I think the key word you gave before was “reflection”: as you’re loving somebody, it’s really important for us to be reflective on our relationships. In other words, I find it really easy to get into the groove of relationships. Anybody who has been in a family relationship knows that you develop habits, patterns and routines. You might have the same meal every Tuesday night. You might know that your job is to do this, and somebody else’s job is to do that. In one sense, that’s organisation of society. Fantastic! But are you just going through the motions? Are you fooled into thinking that’s love?
One of the things I didn’t put into my talk is that it’s very easy for us to be deceived about what love actually is. Again, Edwards, in a different piece of writing, says, “The rarer and the more precious the jewel, the more copies there are.”8 If I walk out into the garden and find a rock, very few people will say, “You should make a replica” and somebody might really want it. Whereas, if you take someone’s diamond ring and you make a copy of that, that’s more desirable to copy, because it’s more valuable. Love is the most valuable. Therefore if Satan’s going to upset us, what better way than to give us false love—false showings of love?
Are we thinking we’re loving when actually all we’re doing is going through the motions? Or am I doing something or being a certain way because it’s giving me something, rather than me just seeking to give and see that person unto the Lord?
The most practical step may be with somebody with whom you’re in close relationship and find easy to love: think about “What have I been doing as gestures of love?” or “How have I been conducting myself with this person in terms of my character?” and “What would be one thing that I think would see them move forward in appreciating the Lord?” and “How might I do something to that end without any expectation of return?” Think of the most genuine kind of love you can show that isn’t interested in you, but is actually interested in them growing up in Christ. How might you love them that way?
I suspect for many of us, it’s been a while since we’ve reflected on that kind of thing. If we’re honest about that, maybe we even need to repent of that. I suspect even after I leave tonight, I’ll probably need to reflect on that in my own family and friendships.
CO: You’re saying, then, to genuinely love someone is to completely put that person first, thinking of their betterment. But I feel like sometimes—and this may be the confusing thing about love and loving when it’s easy—we do benefit from that love. So even if, as you have talked about, as we love others, we’ll grow in our own love and become better in God’s love … I’m thinking about times when it’s easy to love these people: you will just gain that better enjoyment of being in their presence. Is that a wrong thing?
CK: No, I think we end up getting the consequence of so much delight. I think there is a real delight in seeing people growing up into the Lord, knowing his love and benefitting from it. There is also a delight in us just being able to show forward that kind of love to others. So I actually think that’s very enriching, rewarding and satisfying.
I guess it’s not a bad thing to be enjoying that. But if I’m doing it just for what I get out of it, that’s the misguided motive. I’m thinking about Philippians 2:1-11, where you consider the needs of others even above your own, and you give yourself in that kind of sacrificial service and find yourself in one heart and mind—that is, taking the mind of Christ, who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”, etcetera (Phil 2:6). He took on human form and was faithful all the way unto death. That’s our model. It’s not because we’re going to be saviours, but because our saviour has given us life like that, and has promised us true love and knowing true love in that life.
How do I love in a way that is not like a duty?
CO: Moving now from the soaring to the sinking, with soaring, we are to reflect and ask ourselves some questions, like “What am I, perhaps, gaining from this love?”, for the moment when you’re sinking, your love becomes more like a duty. We use that phrase “I have to love this person now because Jesus has commanded me to love.” What do we do?
CK: Yeah. I think the answer is not think about why they’re lovely, because they may not be lovely, nor is it to think about the kind of things that you should muster in yourself to show the right kind of affection to them. But again, it’s to reflect back on the love you’ve received and known, so that in whatever you’re finding difficult, however unlovely you find them, remember that from God’s eyes, we were far worse. Whatever may be annoying or relationally difficult now, our care to them is as a precious creature of God whom God has loved and continues to love every day, in spite of anything else. So our call, then, is to show them love in a way that honours the Lord. It may feel like duty at times, but the more we reflect on the love we’ve received, the more we can think, “Yeah, I am free to do this.”
I think a similar thing comes through when we think about forgiveness: “Forgive as you’ve been forgiven” (cf Eph 4:32). I find it hard to forgive some people. But when I remember what I’ve been forgiven, it puts it in perspective. We’re talking about eternally weighty sins versus petty, sometimes even significant, but in comparison, much smaller than the offence I’ve caused God.
CO: What if that doesn’t change? Will it change the more we reflect on God and his love? Because we’re sinful, we will always slip back into that language of duty and that language of “I have to love”. Is reflecting on God’s love enough?
CK: I think it is, because I think God’s love is immeasurable. If I’m thinking about Romans 12, for example, the call to us there is “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2), which is our spiritual or our reasonable act of worship. So we offer ourselves to God in the transformation and renewal of our minds, appreciating, therefore, gospel grace and how that impacts our relationships. So I have to keep being renewed in my mind for me to relate better. That’s a prayerful exercise. That’s a meditative exercise on the word of God. Then it’s asking the Lord to help me to show forth the love that is, in one sense, a gift from him. It’s not something that comes from me, in one sense; it’s something I’ve known and then can show forth.
CO: Do you reckon maybe a helpful way of doing it is you pick a hard person in your life, whether you already have a hard person, or the next time a person comes up and you realise, “Oh, I’m thinking about duty more than I’m thinking about genuine love”. Then you use the moment to go, “Okay, I’m going to pray. I’m going to come back to God. I’m going think about how he loved me even when I was a sinner”, and then continue in that process and go, “Okay, that’s helped me love them in this moment”. But I’m going to come back to that and I’m going to keep on reflecting on that, and I’m going to pray for more opportunities, maybe, to love this person, and not just say, “This is a once-off time I’ve loved them well”, but maybe actually think about a movement in relationship with this person?
CK: Yeah. I think I’m less concerned about where you’re going, in terms the relationship moving somewhere, as much as I’m concerned about general goodwill towards somebody. Do I have goodwill towards them irrespective of what’s going to be coming from them?
So if my love is towards their transformation, that may never happen. Which means it’s not just a quick, “I love you so that you get fixed” thing; it’s actually “I just have goodwill towards you. Forever: I have to have goodwill towards you.”
I don’t mean that that means you have to stay in problematic relationships the same way. I don’t mean that at all. Sometimes goodwill may mean distance: that might actually be the best way of loving. But I do think that goodwill is the key.
CO: Very interesting!
How do I love strangers?
CO: The last category is loving the stranger: thinking about the checkout person who’s doing my groceries, the barista or the person who’s taking my money for my coffee, what does genuine love look like for these people? Even, as you said, God is upholding them in his love and through his goodness.
CK: Yeah. I think this is a really hard question, because we often feel pressure to 1. Either evangelise every single person we ever meet, and every time we don’t do that, we feel like we’ve failed, or 2. To give some prophetic word of blessing on their lives, somehow, to make them feel especially loved, or if you’re an American, you know, these grand gestures of positivity—big hand waves and hugs to strangers you don’t know.
I actually think that, again, it comes back to goodwill: what does it mean for me to want the best for this person—the best being what God has purposed them for? It may be a momentary, passing relationship of a transaction at a checkout counter, which shows a particular kind of respect for that person as a man or woman in the image of God. I may not have a deep conversation, but I can show them the kind of kindness that I’ve known. I can show them a particular kind of gracious generosity. I don’t even mean necessarily a monetary generosity as much as I just mean a generosity of spirit towards them. I can show a real interest in them as a person, rather than what they can give to me. I can show them that kind of love in passing, and I think that makes a remarkable difference to people.
I also think that that frees us, too, from too high expectations—that I have to be a friend of every single person I ever meet, which just overloads us. I think one really important principle for us for our practice of love is to remember that proximity matters. The love you have for someone in Tibet or the love that you have for someone in Papua New Guinea, or even someone in Paramatta, for that matter, depending on where you live in the city, will be very different to the love you have for the person in the flat next to you. There’s a proximity issue that then provides opportunity for expression of love. Sometimes a passing interaction may not actually give you the kind of proximity and opportunity to give deeper, more meaningful expressions of love, but you can still express really goodwill towards that person.
CO: And the hope is the desire of being lovely—loving—all of the time, whether it be just in that moment where you pass by someone.
CK: Yeah, a real consistency of character that demonstrates “I’m not going to regard you just because of your characteristics; I’m going to regard you as best as I can with goodwill, because that’s how God has treated his creation in his benevolence.”
CO: Well, thank you, Chase. I’ll just give you guys some announcements.
Partnering with the Centre for Christian Living financially: hopefully you guys would have seen and noticed that a lot has changed in the way that we run the Centre for Christian Living in no longer asking for money for you to come and attend these events. This makes it a lot easier for every day people and everyone to come along to this, and get the resources that we’re hoping to send out into our world.
This means we don’t charge anything, but we would love donations to help the Centre for Christian Living to keep on doing what they need to do so that you guys can come along to these events and get it for free, but also be inviting people out to keep on getting these resources.
So we would be grateful for those who give a donation to attend this evening or in the future. If you’d like to find out more about what it means to support us and how to support us, visit our website: ccl.moore.edu.au.
Lastly, I would just like to let you know about the PTC courses here at Moore College. The Preliminary Theological Certificate has been running for more than 75 years. It has more than 18 subjects online that you can engage with, either as an individual or in a group, and it aims to build your understanding and appreciation of the biblical, theological and historical foundations of the Christian faith.
You can sign up to an individual unit, where you can learn things like “Introduction to the Bible” and see how the Bible fits together into a storyline. Or you could study more specific texts like the Book of Ephesians.
Once again, you can find out more by visiting the website moore.edu.au/ptc.
That actually brings us to an end. I hope tonight has been enriching for you, that it’s been challenging, and that it’s encouraged you to think more about pure, genuine love, and to think back to the love that you have received from God. All together, we hope to see you at the next event with Professor VanDrunen. So keep that in your diaries.
Thank you for joining us tonight! We really appreciate it.
CK: To benefit from more resources from the Centre for Christian Living, please visit ccl.moore.edu.au, where you’ll find a host of resources, including past podcast episodes, videos from our live events and articles published through the Centre. We’d love for you to subscribe to our podcast and for you to leave us a review so more people can discover our resources.
On our website, we also have an opportunity for you to make a tax deductible donation to support the ongoing work of the Centre.
We always benefit from receiving questions and feedback from our listeners, so if you’d like to get in touch, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, I would like to thank Moore College for its support of the Centre for Christian Living, and to thank to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for her work in editing and transcribing the episodes. The music for our podcast was generously provided by James West.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Haddaway, Nestor. “What is love?”. Lyrics by Junior Torello. Music by Dee Dee Halligan. The Album. Warner Chappell Music. 1993, track 1.
2 Guðmundsdóttir, Björk. “All is full of love”. Music and lyrics by Björk. Homogenic. One Little Indian, 1997, track 10.
3 Jonathan Edwards, “A Dissertation Concerning the Nature of True Virtue,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 1, rev by Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974/2009).
4 Winwood, Steve. “Higher love”. Written by Steve Winwood and Will Jennings. Back in the High Life. Island, 1986, track 1.
5 Augustine, “Homilies on the First Epistle of John” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Translated by H Browne. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Translation of In Epistolam Joannis Ad Parthos Tractatus Decem, 407.
6 Turner, Tina. “What’s love got to do with it?”. Written by Graham Lyle and Terry Britten. Private Dancer. Capitol Records, 1984, track 2.
7 The Beatles. “All you need is love”. Written by John Lennon. All You Need is Love. Parlophone, 1967 track 1.
8 Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1961/2007), p. 73.