Lots of definitions for love exist, but we might define it as “a deep affection that seeks to improve the lives of others.” We might add that it means making someone else’s life better regardless of the cost or the consequences. It requires genuineness, commitment, and sacrifice.
Demonstrating a love for one another touches upon many different things. Paul indicates that it includes humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance (Ephesians 4:2-3). He identified it as the cardinal virtue for the Christian (1 Corinthians 13). Peter says that kindness, humility, and generosity stem from love (1 Peter 3:8-9). John says that it cannot be considered mere words, but must be lived out (1 John 3:18).
John also says that the one who does not love his brother has given evidence that he belongs to the devil (1 John 3:10). This lack of love can take the form of any number of things, including indifference, callousness, exclusion, or elitism. Seeking to exalt self at the expense of another is the very antithesis of love.
Quotations from early Christians reveal how much they thought about the needs of others. The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr (100–165) wrote, “We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies” (First Apology 14). If there were ever a message needed by our fractured society today, it’s this.
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–c. 215) said that Christians showed generosity toward others even when it proved difficult. He says the Christian, “impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain” (Miscellanies 7.12). Unfortunately, many Christians today will give and serve as long as it doesn’t make them too uncomfortable or inconvenience them too much.
The way Christians loved one another got the attention of their neighbors. Tertullian (c. 155–c. 240) wrote that the Romans would say of Christians, “See how they love one another!” (Apology 39). Even the Roman emperor took notice. Julian the Apostate (331-363) wrote, “it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us” (Letters 22). For Julian, the fact that Christians (whom he called “godless Galileans”) gave so charitably to others was nothing short of scandalous. In the same letter, Julian stressed the need not to allow them to be outdone in good works by the Christians (cf. Romans 12:10).
God’s people demonstrated a remarkable ability to help others in need. We have the same opportunities to do so today. Although we live in a different time and culture, with a different level of technological sophistication, the basic needs of the human condition remain. We have no shortage of opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ to a hurting world.