Long before “What the World Needs Now is Love” was a popular song performed by Jackie DeShannon and written and composed by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, humanity’s greatest need has always been love. The entire narrative of Scripture is one, big, love story. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16 ESV. Every day we’re reminded just how dark and selfish our world is. More than ever before people need to be reminded there is a God Who loves them. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion as to what true love is, in both the Church and the world. This means if we want to finish our mission and fulfill the Gospel commission, we need to know what true love is and how we can love truly.
First, what is true love? Before we can truly love, we must first know what true love is. The modern concept of love is often reduced to nothing more than physical attraction, a rush of romantic hormones, or the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you start liking someone. The problem with this idea is that when the feeling goes away — as feelings often do — we think we must not be in love anymore. However, true love is so much more than that.
One of the best definitions of love is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “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; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends,” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This is very different than the love propagated by the world. The fact is, true love isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come naturally. Selfishness and self-gratification come naturally. In fact, real love often means not doing what comes naturally in order to do what is right. Love is not primarily a feeling but a decision. Too often we stop reading Paul’s description of love at the end of chapter 13. We’ve been conditioned to read the Bible in chapter chunks. However, Paul doesn’t stop at the end of chapter 13, he continues with two words “Pursue love,” 1 Corinthians 14:1 ESV. The Greek word, epidióko, translated for pursue, means “to carry out, to do with effort, to strive toward.” Real love takes work, commitment, and persistence. Don’t believe me? Ask any couple who’s been married longer than a few months. True love pursues.
The ultimate symbol of true, pursuing love is the cross. Jesus decided to leave the comforts of Heaven to pursue you and me. He didn’t go to the cross because He felt like it, but because He loved us. Real love is sacrificial. If it does not cost us anything, then it isn’t love. If you want to know what true love is, look to Christ, “the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” Hebrews 12:2 NIV. What possible joy could Jesus have been missing in Heaven that would require Him to come to Earth and suffer such pain and suffering? The answer is you and me. This is why in preparation of our Southern Union Revitalization Campaign in Cross City, Florida, Gary Edmonds led out in the installation of a new, beautiful, tile floor in the fellowship hall and the foyer of the church. A beautiful cross was created in the tile at the entrance to the sanctuary to remind everyone of God’s sacrificial love. The Cross City Seventh-day Adventist Church wanted to not only provide a beautiful experience for all the people who would be attending the Prophecies of Hope series, presented by Richard Halversen Sr., they wanted people to know their church was built on the foundation of God’s love. Like Paul, “they decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” 1 Corinthians 2:2. But, the image of the cross in the tile was only a reflection of the love and sacrifice in their hearts. Not only do they know what true love is, they know how to love truly.
What does “loving truly” really look like? The night before Jesus sacrificed His life for the world, He rolled up His sleeves, got on His knees, and started washing His disciples’ feet. Afterwards, He looks at His disciples and says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you,” John 13:14-15 ESV. The Church is called to a cross-shaped love bent over for others. We die daily to self so that we might serve others. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:13 ESV. Laying down our life for someone doesn’t necessarily mean taking a bullet for them (although it might), it simply means sacrificing your time, money, and energy in service. Love is taking time to listen to someone and giving them your undivided attention. Love is sacrificing the largest portion of your church budget for local evangelism and mission. To love truly, means laying down our preferences and opinions about worship and church, so that we can reach more people. To love truly, means nailing our agenda and schedule to a cross to serve the community.
The success of the Cross City Revitalization Campaign was a direct result of the dedicated members of this small church, under the leadership of Linton Edmonds, lay pastor, and their commitment to serving their community. One of the ways the church did this was through a weekly Christian 12-Step Recovery Program hosted and started by Nikie Wait and her husband, Harry Wait. Long before we began our revitalization campaign, this church was addressing a relevant need in their community. Every day people everywhere are suffering from addiction, and this church chose to do something about it. Before Jesus ever taught a spiritual lesson or preached a sermon, He met the immediate need of people. This was the purpose of the weekly 12-step meetings started by the Waits. This group became a source of hope and strength for the people in their community. As the Prophecies of Hope series drew closer, they invited everyone from their weekly meeting to come. Because of the relationships and trust that had been established, a couple by the name of Travis and Megan Pierce, as well as their three children, attended every night. On the last Sabbath of the seminar, they were baptized. When the evangelism series ended, six precious individuals went down into the watery grave of baptism. This is what it means to pursue love.
“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow me.’ There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. We are to weep with those that weep and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit,” Maranatha, the Lord is Coming, Ellen G. White, p. 103.
As a Church, we’ve been given a prophetic message of vital truth. But as Paul said, truth and prophecy without love, is just noise. It can do more damage than good. As author and leadership coach John Alan Turner said, “It’s hard to convince people that a God they can’t see loves them when a church they can see doesn’t seem to like them.” As President Theodore Roosevelt said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” When our mission and methods are grounded in love, that’s when people will start paying attention to our message.
How are you serving your community? How are you reaching the marginalized and the hurting?
How are you loving those who are the hardest to love? Are you sharing a wholistic Gospel that not only saves souls from a future hell, but the hell they are currently living in? Are you sharing the Gospel in a relevant way that heals the past, helps in the present, and gives hope for the future? Service is the essence of what true love is and what it means to love truly. When Christ returns, what differentiates the saved from the lost is their love demonstrated in acts of service. “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me,” Matthew 25:35–36 NIV. The saved are not commended for their good theology, but for loving truly. He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Matthew 25:23, not Adventist, Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian. Please don’t misunderstand, our doctrine is important. In John 8:31, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” But remember God’s Word, His Law, is all about love. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” John 13:35. Like this small church in Cross City, Florida, once we know true love, we can begin loving truly, and that’s when we will finish our mission. Just like the song says, “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
is the director of church growth and revitalization at the Southern Union Conference.
Southern Union | April 2023