How Expansive Is Your Love?
THE acorn barnacle is a small, shelled creature that lives in water. Few people give it much thought. However, the barnacle has one remarkable ability: It knows how to stick to things. Its secret? It makes a glue so strong that a film a mere 3/10,000 of an inch (0.00762 mm) thick has a “shear strength” of 7,000 pounds per square inch (493 kg/sq cm)! Anyone who has tried to pry a barnacle from its chosen mooring will testify to the strength of its powerful bonding agent.
Christians are familiar with something similar. Jehovah’s organization on earth is made up of people from all nations, languages, races, and social groups. Yet it is firmly united. Its secret? It, too, has a powerful bonding agent, one much stronger than the glue of the lowly barnacle. The apostle Paul told us what that bonding agent is when he wrote: “Clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:14.
Of course, not everything called love serves to unite. Many wars have been fought in the name of “love of country.” Selfish love may lead to jealousy. “Love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things.” (1 Timothy 6:10) And today’s critical times are due, in part, to the fact that many men are “lovers of themselves.”—2 Timothy 3:1, 2.
What kind of love, then, serves to unite Christians? An unselfish, expansive love.
Where Is the Source of This Love?
This question is answered in three short words penned by the apostle John: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Jehovah’s love is shown by his kindness to us. Everything good that we have comes ultimately from him. “Every good gift and every perfect present is from above.” (James 1:17) This is true of the physical world that we enjoy, and more especially of the spiritual blessings given so abundantly to appreciative Christians.
Jesus Christ drew our attention to a further remarkable manifestation of Jehovah’s love, saying: “He [Jehovah] makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) And Jehovah’s love for mankind as a whole goes beyond providing material blessings, for Jesus explained: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) What more expansive love could there be?
By showing such love for mankind, Jehovah is expressing a love that is firmly rooted in principle. In the Greek language, that love is called a·gaʹpe. Jehovah shows this love toward Christians too. However, his love toward them takes on an additional flavor. When a person responds to God’s love, Jehovah expresses phi·liʹa, a Greek word meaning “friendship” or “affection.” Jesus assures us: “The Father himself has affection for you, because you have had affection for me.”—John 16:27.
Imitate God’s Love
The love that serves as a uniting bond for Christians follows Jehovah’s own magnificent example. As the apostle John said: “We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Such love is the mark of a true Christian and is, indeed, a fruit of God’s holy spirit.—John 13:34, 35; Galatians 5:22.
A Christian’s love must be directed first and foremost toward his heavenly Father. Then, he should show love to fellow humans. (Matthew 22:37-39) Since God’s love is widely embracing, our love for fellow believers, too, must be expansive, ‘widened out.’ Accordingly, the apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians: “Our mouth has been opened to you, Corinthians, our heart has widened out. . . . You, too, widen out.”—2 Corinthians 6:11-13.
How can we imitate Jehovah’s expansive love? Let us consider a few examples.
“Widen Out” Love in the Family
Paul warned that in “the last days” there would be a lack of “natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) Nevertheless, in the Christian family, love should abound, both the love rooted in principle (a·gaʹpe) and the friendly, affectionate type of love (phi·liʹa).—Matthew 10:37; Ephesians 5:28; Titus 2:4.
Showing love is not always easy. Money problems often cause hurt feelings in the family. One marriage mate may sometimes resent the demands made on the time of the other mate. A wife may come to feel that she is being neglected or taken for granted. Many teenagers feel that their parents do not understand them. How can these and similar problems be solved?
Basically, the solution is for everyone concerned to imitate God’s example and “widen out” his love. “You wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as it is becoming in the Lord,” urged Paul. “You husbands, keep on loving your wives and do not be bitterly angry with them. You children, be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. You fathers, do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Colossians 3:18-21.
Prayer for help in manifesting love surely is effective when problems arise. So are good family communication and regular Bible discussion. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) As a basis for such loving communication, many families have found it helpful to use the feature “God’s Word Is Alive” in The Watchtower and the one entitled “Young People Ask” in the Awake! magazine.
Expansive Love in the Congregation
It is sad when parents and children fail to love one another. It is also sad when fellow Christians fail to show love for one another. The apostle John affirms: “He who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.”—1 John 4:20.
Love helps us to hope for the best for our spiritual brothers. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7) We may see our brother struggling with problems—perhaps even ‘reaping what he has sown’ by previous unwise actions. (Galatians 6:7) Nevertheless, love will help us to maintain a positive attitude toward him. We will avoid such thoughts as, ‘I always had my doubts about him.’ Even though our brother may be weak in faith, we can reflect on Jehovah’s patience with weak ones and can try to imitate His loving mercy.—2 Peter 3:9.
The love existing among Jehovah’s servants helps to stabilize young Christians through the difficult teenage years. When a young African girl was asked what had helped her stick to true worship, she commented: “I think it has been not just what I have learned from the Bible but the love I have seen when I attended Christian meetings and how I was accepted that impressed me the most.”
Yes, an expansive love can serve to bond together the congregation. But remember, Jehovah’s love reaches out to all mankind. How can we imitate him in this?
Loving Those We Do Not Know
Jesus highlighted one outstanding way to express love even for people we do not know. He said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses show their love for others when they preach the good news to people who are complete strangers.
Love for mankind in general moves Christians to help strangers in other ways too. Like the Samaritan of Jesus’ parable, they try to be good neighbors, ‘working good toward all,’ often with unexpectedly pleasant results. (Galatians 6:10; Luke 10:29-37) For example, a young girl in Alaska who was sharing in the evangelizing work some 160 miles (260 km) from her home met a financially destitute family whose car had broken down. Upon hearing of their plight, the girl’s father drove 320 miles (520 km) to render aid. This afforded an opportunity to tell the family about Jehovah’s purposes and Kingdom. After studying the Bible, the husband and wife symbolized their dedication to Jehovah. Now they, too, are experiencing the joy of sharing the good news with others.—Acts 20:35.
Can You Love Those Who Hate You?
Christian love goes further than loving strangers, however. Jesus urged his disciples: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.”—Matthew 5:44, 45.
Is it really possible to love those who persecute us? During World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany were brutally beaten and forced to do hard work on meager rations. Obviously, they could not feel much affection and friendliness (phi·liʹa) for their persecutors. Nevertheless, they did show them the same principled love (a·gaʹpe) that Jehovah has shown to all mankind. Thus, when possible, the Witnesses shared with the persecutors the life-giving message of truth. And some of these enemies eventually became Christians.
Many of those who persecute God’s servants do so in ignorance, as did Saul, who later became the apostle Paul. (Galatians 1:13, 14) When we realize that such persecutors are, in a way, victims of Satan’s lying propaganda, we are helped to have a more loving attitude toward them.—2 Corinthians 4:4.
Jehovah, the God of warmth and feeling, takes delight in rewarding those who show expansive love in the family, in the congregation, to strangers, and even to enemies. Such love binds family and congregation members together tightly, even as the glue of a barnacle enables it to cling so firmly to a rock. Moreover, love encourages outsiders to come and share in Christian unity. Do we not have reason, then, to respond appreciatively to God’s love by expanding our love even more? Indeed we do! So let us “go on doing it in fuller measure.”—1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10.