The Problem of Love

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I have been studying these verses recently and thinking about the command to love one another and how that can actually happen.

  • Romans 13:9—The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
  • Galatians 5:15—The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • John 14:34-35—Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
  • 1 John 3:11,16—This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

The problem is that a command doesn’t generate the ability to fulfill the command. People can tell you over and over again to love each other, but telling you to do something doesn’t make it possible for you to accomplish it.

Lack of Love

Doug Coupland writes about this “problem of love” in his book Life After God: “Now here is my secret—that I need God, that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving, I need God to help me be kind, as I no longer seem to be capable of kindness, I need God to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.” To add to the problem, when Jesus and Paul make love the fulfillment of the law it really points out our failure. Summing up the law in the command to love just consolidates our failures to one big failure: our lack of love. The gospel has something to say about this “problem of love”: God has loved us in a way that has given us life. The atoning death of Jesus provides the means by which we enter a relationship in which love is received and expressed. With that as the context of the commands to love, the commands are viewed not as the “ought” of compulsion but the “transformation” of internal constraint. To those who encountered the source of love, the commandment to love can be read with hope and joy, because love is not alien to our experience.

An Abundance of Love

God’s love for us transforms us. The more we bask in God’s affection, the more the reality of God’s acceptance of us seeps into our hearts, the more we might love others as ourselves. This seems to be the logic behind Jesus’ statement: love one another as God has loved you. We have been given an overabundance—a surplus—of love. And out of that love, we can love others out of the overflow of God’s affection for us. Our inability to love others (our failure to keep God’s perfect law) can point us to the God who accomplished perfect love, self-denial, and self-sacrifice. The command can be a moment to encounter God’s love for us and for God to enable us to participate in his love for others.