“What the world needs now, is love, sweet love” - Hal David
“All you need is love, love is all you need.” - John Lennon
“God is love” - John the beloved disciple
We live in a world obsessed by love.
Love songs make up the majority of the music we listen to. Love stories make up the bulk of movies we watch and the books we read. Lost love, unrequited love, puppy love: love is in the air! But people are looking for love in all the wrong places.
Those of you following these comments of mine for the past couple of weeks will have noticed that I have been working backward through the first three fruits of the Spirit as outlined by Paul in his letter to the Galatians chapter 5.
So this week you might expect me to launch into the obligatory “there are several words in Greek which all translate to “love” in English”. Nope! If you didn’t know that before, Google is your friend. Just type “agape love” and read several thousand words of explanation! No, this time I’d like to go in a radically different direction and launch into mathematics! Yeah! - tidings of comfort and joy!
By the way, if you are my mathematically inclined friend, please identify yourself as I have been searching for you, lo these many years! At the risk of losing you at this point, dear reader, I promise - no algebra, no geometry or trigonometry is involved, and I will use, at most, three greek letters!
Most of you will be familiar with the concept of an equation.
An equation is just a useful little formula which lets you calculate something you need to know - like the area of a circular ceiling you’d like to paint.
(Hint: A = π r r, where “A” is the area, “π” is a funny never-ending number which is approximately 22 divided by 7, and “r” is the distance from the center of the circle to its edge. I’ve just used one of my allotted greek letters!) An equation describes the relationship between the quantities involved, the bigger the distance from the center to the edge, the more area you'll have and the more paint you will need.
The other concept is much stronger than an equation and is called an “identity”. In an equation you have to say what the boundaries and limitations of the measurements are. But in an identity the statement is always true - no matter what the behavior of the things being measured is. You can always substitute one side of the relationship for the other and it will still remain true!
Trust me, there is a point here.
John the beloved disciple gives us an identity for love. "God is love" (1 John 4:8).
So, anytime you want to say something about “God", you can substitute “love” and have an identically true statement.
Try it! “For LOVE so loved the world, that LOVE gave his only begotten son…”. “In the beginning, LOVE created the heavens and the earth…”.
It works the other way round too - it has to, or it wouldn’t be an identity. “This is my commandment, that you [show] GOD (love) to one another, just as I have [shown] GOD (loved) to you.” John 15:12 So when Paul lists the fruits of the spirit in Galatians, he begins with “love” or “GOD”.
Yeah, yeah!, it has to be the agape kind of love. In case you missed that part of the story, see the Google instructions above.
So what Paul is saying is that when we are transformed into new beings by faith in Jesus, the first thing you [should]/will observe is that you will show the dominant characteristic of GOD which is, love. Love (GOD) leads to joy and joy leads to peace. It seems so obvious when Paul makes his list like that!
However, I did promise you two more greek letters.
John the beloved gives them to us in his Revelation (Rev 1:8). There GOD says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega”. That’s like saying “from A to Z” in our alphabet - the beginning and the end (and everything in between).
So using the identity for GOD - thanks John! - we can say that “love is the beginning, and the end, and everything in between”.
Maybe John Lennon was more correct than he ever could have imagined. Unfortunately it seems he was still looking for love in all the wrong places!
I trust you won’t make that kind of mistake!