By Jerry Harris
What is the greatest love song of all time? Ask 10 people and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. It’s said music is the language of emotion, and if true, then singing is its spoken word. Our emotions come directly from being made in God’s image because our God is an emotional God—a God who feels. Our God not only feels emotions, but he also invented them . . . and some of the best emotions are called the fruit of the Spirit. That list in Galatians 5 begins with the greatest and highest of all emotions: love.
How many of us consider ourselves good at love? That’s a hard question because love can describe many things and many kinds of relationships. In English we have just that one generic word, love. Hebrew has three words for love; Koine Greek has six. But one word for love rises above them all: agape. It was the word Jesus used to define the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). It was the word he used to teach his followers: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).It was the word they saw in action every day they were with Jesus. It was the word Jesus used nine times in John 15:9-13, 17.
Are we good at that kind of love? Let’s find out. Look up 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, an incredible passage written by Paul. In verses 1-3, he showed us that all the gifts we think make us more spiritual are pretty much nothing compared to love.Then, in verses 4-8a, he listed 15 things that “love is.” Grade yourself 1-5 on each phrase. I gave myself a 26, which is equivalent to 35 percent, which means I fail at agape love. We all do. Jesus alone aces the love test!
So, why command us to do something we are so bad at? Maybe it’s because we need to be reminded that we need a Savior every moment of every day. Maybe it’s because we tend to judge our worth by comparing ourselves to others when we can only rightly compare ourselves to Jesus. Maybe it’s because we can never get enough of that virtue called humility. Maybe it’s because we need to be reminded just how great our Savior is. Maybe we need to step down from our self-righteous perches. Maybe we need to let Jesus have his throne back.
It’s funny that we read those verses (“Love is patient, love is kind . . .”) at weddings when, truth be told, lots of couples are fighting before they make it to the reception. The most beautiful dress, the most beautiful bride and handsome groom, the biggest party, the finest of friends, and the costliest honeymoon can’t make you love like that . . . only Jesus can.
This is a crazy thing about our faith. We aren’t any good at giving Jesus what he wants. On our best day, we’re still terrible at it. But that doesn’t slow down his love for us even a little bit. Why? Because he is good at it! He is patient. He is kind. He doesn’t envy or boast or behave in a prideful manner. He doesn’t dishonor us. He doesn’t seek to promote himself. He isn’t easily angered. He keeps no record of our wrongs. He doesn’t delight in our evil but rejoices when we discover the truth. He will always protect, always trust, always hope, and always persevere. He will never fail and he won’t ever stop. He says, “Abide in my love,” not abide in your own love. There needs to be more of him and less of us.
In John 13, when Jesus was with his disciples at the last supper, he told them about his death . . . that he would die for them in history’s greatest act of agape love. Peter tried to shoplift that truth by declaring that he would die for Jesus. In reply, Jesus said that before morning came, Peter would deny him three times. Later that night, Peter did deny Jesus, and Jesus did what he said he would do: Jesus went to the cross to die for the sins of the world.
Jesus rose three days later and appeared to his disciples several times after that. One of those times was in John 21:15-17. After a miraculous catch of fish and breakfast by the sea, Jesus took a walk with Simon Peter. Jesus’ strongest point was hidden in the original language. The first two times Jesus questioned Peter, Jesus used agape for “love,” and Peter responded with a lesser word, phileo. The third time Jesus dropped down to the lesser word Peter was using. It showed Peter his need for a Savior.
Jesus knows how far we are from the expectation of his command. He knows how desperately we need him to be our Savior. And with all of that—all our fallibility—he entrusts his eternal message to us to save a world he loves enough to die for.
Maybe the greatest love song of all time is this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak, but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.”
There it is, “Yes, Jesus loves me” . . . three times for all the times I’ve denied him, failed him, and abandoned him. What he did was enough . . . enough for me and enough for you.