As time marches inexorably forward, month giving way to month, and year to new year, the needs of the world seem to remain much the same as they ever have. As Solomon observed, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9; ESV).” This is perhaps why the resolutions individuals make from year to year concerning self-improvement seem to bear a striking similarity to the resolutions that were made in years prior.
One thing the world can perpetually use more of, for it seems to be perpetually lacking in our civic discourse, is love, especially as expressed in kindness, patience and gentleness. Unfortunately, the practice of these virtues does not seem to be high on a list of communal priorities. When the need for civility is raised, there is a certain element of the population who will defend their incivility, even going so far as to explain why patience and gentleness are wrongheaded and misguided. Some imagine other perceived needs as being so urgent as to make good manners and polite conversation undesirable and counterproductive. Or, they imagine that those with whom they are engaging are so unworthy of patience or gentleness, by reason of simply being so wrong, that an absence of love is reasonable. As a result, people continue to treat other people badly and uncivilly.
Even amongst those who claim to be followers of Christ, there is sometimes a perception that loving behavior is a secondary virtue, or a secondary goal, subsidiary to other causes and to be pursued only after other needs have been met. But this is exactly backwards.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus taught us that it was, “Love.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” and relatedly, “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).”
When preparing His disciples for His departure, He commanded them, “love one another,” clarifying, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35; ESV).”
The love practiced by Jesus, and taught by Jesus, is described in the Scriptures as follows: “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 (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).” Likewise, reminding us concerning the way in which we were taught about Christ and what it means to follow Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:20-23), the Bible instructs us, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32; ESV).”
We can’t love like Christ without gentleness, patience, and kindness: virtues which we are to show to the deserving and the undeserving alike, regardless of the situation (cf. Matthew 5:43-48).
In addition to all the other things the Bible says about love, and the importance thereof, we should add one more passage. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God, warned the church, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)” No matter what else we accomplish, if we don’t have love, we have failed as God’s servants and have failed to gain the reward.
Which means that if we somehow managed to solve all the problems of the world, but failed to have love, we will have solved nothing. If we defeat all our political opponents, silence all our opposition, arrange society just the way we would like, fix the economy, solve world hunger, and made sure the weather was always just perfect … but we never learn to love one another … not only would we still be miserable and unhappy, we would also be spiritually lost and bereft of a right relationship with God.
As we enter the new year, what the world needs, and therefore what we need to cultivate in ourselves, is the love of Christ.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.