The greatest single need in every human being is to love and to be loved. Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ of Nazareth showed us what love really involves and how each of us could come to express it.
Songs are sung about Jesus: “Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters.” Religious campaign slogans are founded on his name: “Christ is the answer!” Motion pictures are based on his life; even many atheists consider him a great teacher.
The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth lives on in spite of a Western world enmeshed in an orgy of earthly pursuits. Who is the unusual individual who lived two thousand years ago and who has had such a profound impact on Western man’s religious and social systems?
Even those who avoid any commitment to organized religion find in Jesus’ teaching and personality many unusual qualities. Perhaps the most outstanding attribute of his teaching was a new and exciting concept of love which he expounded to the people of his age. That concept lives in the books of the New Testament.
In our day of man’s inhumanity to man and general lawlessness Jesus’ message is of central importance to each one of us. He explained why human beings tend to be inhuman. He also explained what code of human behavior would bring the joy, happiness and fulfillment we all desire.
Many outstanding individuals have recognized that the incredible wrongs in various societies are caused, in part, by the influences to which man’s nature is susceptible. Many philosophical systems and political ideologies have been con-structed to short-circuit the “baser aspects” of man’s nature.
The republican form of government was born with the express purpose of circumventing man’s inhuman rule over other human beings. Many of the American founding fathers, for example, were deeply concerned with the lacks in human nature. Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) was particularly suspicious of human nature. The English philosophers John Locke (1632-1704) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) devoted much of their philosophical speculation to the problem of how to have strong government without despotism. The French Revolution of 1789 was romanticized as a triumph of human reason over governmental despotism. Theoretically, Marxism and its political counterpart, Communism, seek to change human nature for the better.
Many psychologists, sociologists and behaviorists are concerned with the problem of man’s nature. Several years ago, B.F. Skinner, American behaviorist, recommends “biological engineering” in order to direct humans into doing that which is beneficent. The late psychologist, Abraham Maslow, talked of the need for “self-actualized” people. In his “Third Force” psychology, he studied mentally healthy people in order to discover why they behaved as they did. After a lifetime of work, Maslow concluded that love, especially in early life, is a central need of all human beings.
Still, as is quite obvious, humanity has failed to develop love-oriented people on a vast scale. Communism in practice has not exactly proven a boon to humanity.
Representative government is only preserved by exterior forces, the checks and balances which keep groups from acquiring despotic power. Yet within the structure itself, there is confusion, inequality and man’s characteristic inhumanity to man. No revolution or new government in all history has produced anything even resembling the kind of utopian conditions man would like to live under.
Today, we are “realists.” That is, we accept a condition in which war, bigotry, stealing, mental unhappiness and a host of other ills are very much a part of the fabric of life. Internally, humans are still by and large human, with all that the word implies. It is as though a vital ingredient was missing from the recipe for love-oriented humans or a piece had vanished from the perfection puzzle. We just don’t seem to be able to do much with human inhumanity.
At best, human nature appears to be an odd combination of contradictory behavior patterns. A Bahutu tribesman may love his children but butcher a Watusi’s offspring because of years of Watusi suppression.
A common citizen may respect his friend’s property but pilfer from the local department store. A man may jump into a pool to save his neighbor’s drowning wife, even at the risk of his own life, but he might also steal his neighbor’s wife by having an affair with her.
All such “non-love” situations have been multiplied by the millions and have resulted in a collective world that kill, steals, hates and is generally filled with man’s cruelty to man. In spite of all our efforts, we have been unable to develop loving human beings and a society that is moving steadily into a condition which could broadly be defined as living under a concept of full love.
This is why the carpenter from Galilee introduced a new concept of love to revolutionize human thinking. He explained why the world exists in an unhealthy condition: People lack the complete expression of love. Rulers, for example, lord it over and oppress their subjects. Jesus gave the formula which could result in the formation of a basically love-oriented human being and society.
As a result of the failure of the greatest minds and the most sophisticated political systems to bring us the kind of human beings we want, the event which occurred almost 2,000 years ago looms very important. At that time, this most unusual individual, Jesus Christ appeared on the scene. Born as a carpenter’s son in a town called Bethlehem. Jesus was a scion of the ancient kingly line which had ruled the nation of Judah.
Jesus possessed one characteristic which made him the unique figure of history. One of his disciples, John, quoted Jesus’ own words, words which describe the essence of this singular characteristic: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35). You should study chapters 13-17 for Christ’s full exposition of love.
Jesus showed how the characteristics of a total and pure love could be understood both by example and through legal principles. The nature of Jesus’ function was central to both aspects. As a human, he was an example of what a full-love personality could be. Secondly, he verbally made the love concept clear to his intimate circle of disciples. The Gospels contain the essence of that explanation.
This carpenter from Galilee showed how it was possible for inhuman beings to have themselves made over into the same kind of love-personality that he was. On a grand scale, this could create a society, if not “perfect,” at least definitely heading into “perfection,” rather than always hovering on the abyss of disintegration and chaos.
Jesus expressed in his own life the very personality and nature of total love. For example, he possessed complete concern for others. To make this concept clear, he used the famous example of the prodigal son. It demonstrated the compassion with which the nature of Jesus was endowed. Here is a portion of the account as it appears in the J.B. Philips translation:
“Once there was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the property that will come to me.’ So he divided up his estate between the two of them. Before very long, the younger son collected all his belongings and went off to a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in the wildest extravagance.
“Then he came to his senses and cried aloud, ‘Why, dozens of my father’s hired men have got more food than they can eat and here am I dying of hunger! I will get up and go back to my father, and I will say to him: “Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don’t deserve to be called your son any more. Please take me on as one of your hired men.”
“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still some distance off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:12-20).
Concern, which the above example shows, is one aspect of the concept of love. There is also another important and related facet of love: restricting one’s actions to those acts which will produce the greatest good and happiness for all. Jesus showed that humans would have to restrict their own antisocial actions if they expected others to do so.
A human could not expect to steal, murder, take someone else’s mate and still have the victim love him. Though Jesus counseled turning the other cheek, he made it clear that no society could continue to function when true love was absent. The easiest way to explain the meaning of this vital part of the “way of love” is to point out that there are two broad applications of love. One part has to do with love toward other humans. It is a sort of law against the excesses of human nature, the very problem of humanity.
Although love is best understood by action and example, it can be broken down into abstract points and stated legally. In short, love toward humans may be stated as: (1) Honor your parents, (2) Don’t steal, (3) Don’t lie. (4) Don’t commit adultery. (5) Don’t murder. (6) Don’t covet. Stated positively in one principle, these points mean: have concern and respect for others in every aspect of their lives. Or as Christ put it, the second great commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Obviously, if these precepts are kept in their full intent, killing, hatred, war, stealing and a full spectrum of man’s baser actions would disappear. No doubt the reader will recognize the above points as the last six of the Ten Commandments found in the Bible in the book of Exodus.
There is, however, a second broad aspect of love. It has to do with the reference point around which an individual human life is centered. A human must have a goal in order to accomplish. Even the person who accomplishes nothing has a goal; his goal is simply to accomplish nothing. A few examples will explain.
A young man may have a burning desire to become a movie actor. This becomes the reference point which determines what he eats, how he dresses, how he acts, who he wants to meet. The word “star” presupposes, at least to some degree, a particular life-style. It may include an almost overwhelming desire for fame and stardom.
Therefore, in the extreme, all this boy’s life activities will center around the concept “actor.” The word actor can now easily assume the proportion of “god. The boy does everything for “actor” as an ancient Babylonian might have done for his or her idol. In fact, the word idol has been used in reference to the concept of actor or actress.
On the other side of the spectrum may be the traditional American tramp. His “god” is the cheap wine and the life-style that “tramp” presupposes. The wino would figuratively sell his soul for a bottle. He may or may not be miserable. But he is hooked by his life-style; it has become his “god.”
And to varying degrees, every human has a “god.” It can be a literal idol as the manifestation of some tribal religion; it can be a nation, a family, money, success or a combination of all of them. But every human must have a reference point or points in his life that assume proportions of such magnitude that they qualify for the term “god.” They come in all shapes and sizes. To some people, “god” may simply be to “do one’s own thing.” This is the organizing principle around which all of that person’s life activities revolve.
Jesus came to reveal a different reference point. He pointed out that it was impossible to be a complete love-oriented individual without the right reference point. In order to be a person who possesses the fullest expression of love, Jesus said it is necessary to have contact with the being whose personality is total love. That being is God. Jesus said that God was his Father.
Jesus told his disciples, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5: 19). The implication is clear. No human can have true love unless he loves the true God. Jesus at one time said the greatest commandment is to love God with all one’s being. This vital part of love is legally summed up in the first four precepts of the Ten Commandments: 1) Have no other gods before the true God, 2) Make no idols, 3) Don’t take God’s name in vain 4) Keeps God’s Sabbath.
It is not the purpose of this article to explain the significance of each of these laws as they relate to the concept of love. However, some brief explanation regarding one of the four laws will illustrate the concept.
For example, the weekly Sabbath reminds a person of his relationship to his God. Thus, when a person ceases from his labor and normal activities on that day, it stamps into his mind the reality of God’s existence.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” is a fact of human psychology. Since God cannot be seen, the very keeping of the Sabbath is manifestation of his presence in the life of an individual.
The four commandments have one motivating principle: to wed the mind of the human to his God and to keep out any spiritual impurities which would weaken and crack that binding.
Jesus Christ of Nazareth expressed love as no individual had ever done before. He was the very personification of love. “If you keep my commandments,” Jesus said, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15: 10). Jesus also accomplished one more very out-standing task. He showed that a love-filled mind is available to every human being. He expressed this idea in the following terms: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you (in the person of Jesus), and will be in you (upon conversion)” John 14: 15-17).
The commandments Jesus kept came from his father, who originated them, and himself lives by them. In fact, the living laws of human conduct Jesus expounded merely describe and legalize the way his own mind and his Father’s mind would function in a given situation.
Christ revealed that the Father is prepared to make available his Holy Spirit to combat the no-love elements of the human mind. That is why the apostle Paul, one of many human beings who received this spirit, could say. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ lives in me (via God’s Holy Spirit): and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
That same Holy Spirit is available to any human who desires it and is willing to accept the need to live in accordance with its requirements.