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In 2012 a Gallup poll ranked countries with the most and least emotions, with one country coming out as least positive people on earth.
A BBC correspondent in who lived there wrote about her experiences . Part way through her story she writes:
I got pregnant. Ten weeks of morning sickness ensued, turning my daily commute into a 45-minute gauntlet. One morning the nausea finally got the better of me just as I had stepped onto a packed train. Worried I was going to faint, I crouched to the floor, holding my head in my hands. And so I remained, completely ignored, for the full 15 minutes it took to reach my station. Nobody offered me a seat or asked me if I was okay. For the first time [this country] had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable – completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. [These people], I felt, had let me down.
As I sat recovering on the platform I wondered if this was part of the story behind those Gallup poll results. By this time a follow-up to the original survey had been published and according to the figures, [This country] had apparently cheered up quite a lot (after a government campaign to make people feel happier). But all I could see was a massive compassion deficit. Or were my fellow passengers that day just unusually uncaring?
A friend said later that day “Oh no, I am not surprised at all”. “My sister is seven months pregnant and she fell down a packed escalator the other day and had to crawl to the nearest railing to heave herself up. Nobody helped.”
“We are programmed to think only about ourselves,” he exclaimed.
While it is easy to point to the dysfunctional way others live in another part of the world, I’m sure that many of us here today can remember situations when we felt unloved, either from a friend, a neighbour, family, from strangers, or from our community or society in general.
But thankfully, many of us can point to situations when we have been loved by others. It might be through presents or words of encouragement when there are no disasters in our lives. Or it might be when things go wrong and we experience the love of people coming around us to help us out in different ways – whether practically, or in sympathy, or in encouragement, and so on.
But where does love come as a priority in our lives?
Love God and others
The most important commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God:
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40, NLT)
This week, without taking away from the first of these two commandments, I’d like us to focus on the second, loving our neighbour as ourselves – loving others.
What priority does love have in our lives?
Love is crucial to life. So much so, that the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that it is far more important than other aspects of Christian living.
But what has first priority in our lives? God, church, work, family, ambition, plans for the future (our bucket list), others, God? How is our Christianity balanced? What has top priority?
Some people are more concerned with doing the right thing, but without a care or thought for how it affects other. For them, they are concerned that their truth or their cause comes first. People are secondary. They don’t care if people are hurt or killed, in their cause of truth.
For some, people come first, before God. They don’t just love others, but they do so at the expense of loving God. People are more important to God, instead of people being important because God says that they are and because God says we should love them.
But for others, love comes first – love of God and love of others. This is how our priority in our Chrisitan lives ought to be balanced.
Love ought to come first
In 1 Corinthians 13, the passage often read at weddings, Paul shows that no matter what we do, if it is not accompanied by love it does not count.
“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NLT)
Love ought to come first, above doctrinal orthodoxy, campaigning for the truth, worship, martyrdom, and whatever otherwise noble things we could do for God or others. If they do not have love as their motivation, they may help others, but they don’t count towards our eternal reward from God.
All you need is love?
The Beatles sang “All you need is love”. While on the one hand that is true, that if there was love abounding in the world, there would be no more war, no more trafficking, no more crime, no more oppression, no more injustice… On the other hand, it isn’t that simple – what the Beatles didn’t realise is that we’re not all capable of loving as we should. In order to love as we should, we need to have Christ in our lives, we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to love, we need to walk in the Spirit.
Yes, we need love, but we can’t say that ‘all’ we need is love, because we need more than love on its own, we need to be to be renewed, to be reconciled to God the Father by faith in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross in our place, to receive the Holy Spirit to renew us, to walk in the Spirit in order to produce the fruit of the Spirit, and then and only then will we be able to see true love become a reality that would change lives, that would change the world.
We need God’s love and his power working in us, in order for us to be able to love other as we ought to.
If we want to see the world changed the way the Beatles envisioned, we shouldn’t buy into their simplistic formula that presupposes that we naturally have the power, the ability, the desire, to love others and to be able to change the world. We should turn to God through faith in Jesus, instead, and then and only then can we have a realistic hope of seeing the world changed, one heart at a time.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NLT)
“We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:19–20, NLT)
Yes, all we need is love. But no, we can’t do it on our own – we need to turn to God first, to receive the forgiveness from Jesus death on the cross, as well as the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live the lives we ought to have lived.