Virtue Signals – Love

Virtue Signals – Love

Wrong Ideas on Love

Continuing our series on Christian Virtues, today we look at LOVE – one of the virtues we should signal to the world to show them we are different because our lives are devoted to Jesus.

I must say I think Love is probably one of the most twisted and distorted words in the English language. We have completely ruined it.

I don’t just like ice cream, I love ice cream. I love the Packers. I love my geese. And I love my wife. Using the same word for all those things definitely should offend my wife Michelle! To most of the world today, love is a feeling, an emotion, an exciting and intoxicating passion for something or someone; and with that definition, a lot of people are sure they’re in love.

It is with that understanding that so many single people are looking for THE ONE to fall in love with, as though they have no control over who they will commit their lives to. That’s the storyline behind many shows that put super-attractive people together on a beach with the premise that they will find true love in just six short weeks.

It’s not just this hyper-sexualized version of romantic love we have made a mess of. How people parent their children often is based on a wrong premise of what loving a child looks like. Many over-parent because they want their kids to know they love them. They protect them from every danger, get them out the consequences of every mistake, and give them everything they ever wanted. In loving them so fully, they rob their children of the experiences they need in order to become responsible adults – all because the world told them what they needed to do if they really loved their kids.

Another distortion of love is found in the popular slogan (and Virtue Signal) “Love is Love.” It means no one can question another person’s definition or selection of who they love. If I happen to fall in love with a hippopotamus, who are you to question me? Love is undefined, uncontrolled, and unaccountable to anybody but me.

But here’s the thing: while the world may have lost its mind when it comes to love, God is the One who defines WHO we should love and HOW we should love.

Love is the Greatest of the Virtues

I know this is the third week of our series and we’re just now talking about Love, but Love is actually the greatest of the virtues. Remember where this series began:

1 Corinthians 13:13 – And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Why does Paul say Love is the greatest of these virtues? He actually gave that answer earlier in the chapter. First Corinthians 13 is known as the Love chapter of the Bible.  If you have your Bible, turn to that chapter. It begins:

1 Corinthians 13:1- 3 – If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

These verses come immediately after Paul has described all the spiritual gifts in the previous chapter. He wants the Corinthian Christians to understand that even if they have all these spiritual gifts – like speaking in tongues, or prophecy, or incredible faith – without the virtue of Love, all these gifts amount to nothing.

This is a challenging passage for a lot of churchgoers who spend a great deal of energy trying to be perfect Christians. You can memorize verses, read and pray every day, shine your shoes for Sunday services, and tithe for years but still fail at the most basic aspect of following Jesus – being a person who loves. Love must be at the core of your character. Otherwise all your efforts to be obedient and righteous count for nothing. Our godliness is worthless apart from Love.

If you have ever known a church person who looked the part of a Christian, knew the Bible, served in leadership, and yet was incredibly ungracious and unloving, then you understand why Paul said what he did. Without Love, all those righteous acts become simple self-righteousness; and from the outside looking in, no one wants to be with that person or worship the God they say they worship.

Who Are We Commanded to Love?

Where did Paul get this idea that Love is the highest and greatest virtue?

The idea wasn’t unique to Paul. He is simply building off the teachings of Jesus, who put Love as the primary identifier of His followers. Jesus had a lot to say about Love, and specifically about who should be the object of our Love. So let’s look at some well-known passages in which Jesus teaches us about Love.

Love the Lord

Mark 12:28-3028 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”

First and most importantly, we should love God. Not like we love ice cream! We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Every fiber of our being should be aimed toward God, seeking to please Him.

Love Your Neighbor

The first command – to love God – makes a lot of sense, but in the very next verse Jesus tells us to extend our Love to our neighbors as well. It’s not too hard to love your sweet older neighbors who always keep their lawns mowed and are quiet and courteous. But everyone seems to have at least one of the other kind of neighbor – the grumpy one – the “your-tree-left-leaves-in-my-yard” kind of complainer. That neighbor is harder to love.

Yet Jesus doesn’t tell us to love only the neighbors who are easy to love. He tells us to love all those we come in contact with. To drive this point home, He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Even he – hated by the Jews – knew that loving his neighbor meant giving to the one in need, even at his own expense.

Love One Another

Next, Jesus gives another command specifically to those who are His followers, to those who will become the Church.

John 13:34-3534 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

There are dozens of these “one another” passages, and each one refers to those within the church family. Jesus is saying that how His followers love one another will make them stand apart from the rest of the world. To state the obvious, simply saying “I love you” is not something anyone would be able to observe. For the world to recognize them by their Love, they would have to take tangible actions to demonstrate their Love.

Love Your Enemies

While Jesus has already told us to love our neighbors, He knew that people always had a little exception clause in their minds for “those people” – the really mean ones. But He does NOT let us skip them!

Matthew 5:43-46 – 43You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven…. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

Jesus raises a good point here. If you are charitable and kind only to those who like you and treat you well, you actually aren’t any different than the run-of-the-mill sinners in Jesus’s day. The followers of Jesus would stand out when they showed Love and kindness to those who every other person in the world would tell them they did NOT have to treat well.

  • Your passive-aggressive boss who makes your life extra challenging.
  • The bully who makes fun of you on Snap Chat.
  • Your sister, who always makes snide remarks about your parenting.

These are the people the world writes off. Or maybe they get aggressive and fight back against them. In the moment, our human nature almost always wants to do that! However, with Love as the greatest virtue and Jesus’s commands to love our enemies, we must find ways to love these people in the midst of their bad behavior.

What Does Christian Love Look Like?

I know loving the unlovable is really hard! Fortunately, since Love is a choice and not an unmanageable emotion, you have control over how you will love those difficult people in your life. If you don’t have any idea how to do it, fortunately Paul gives us a detailed description of what Love looks like as he continues in 1 Corinthians 13:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

  • Love is patient – not in a rush, not on your timetable, no expectations.
  • Love is kind –a basic attitude that this world lacks. Just a smile is alien to some.
  • It does not envy – when good things happen to someone else, you don’t get upset.
  • It does not boast – when bad things happen to someone else, you don’t smugly feel enjoyment.
  • It is not proud – doesn’t tell others how great you are.
  • It is not rude – treats people with respect, no matter how you are feeling.
  • It is not self-seeking – Love is looking out for others’ best interests, not manipulating them for your best interest.
  • It is not easily angered, – thinks the best of others and doesn’t make assumptions.
  • It keeps no record of wrongs – this is the big one; Love doesn’t keep a mental list.
  • Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – wants what is good for others.
  • It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

You can see that Love is a LOT more than a feeling. It’s more than emotion. It’s more than an attitude. Love is a choice to ACT in the best interest of others, and ACT is the key word in that definition.

The Apostle John describes Love as an action in his letter, 1 John.

1 John 3:16-18 – 16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

We can’t just say we love others and will pray for them. We have to be willing to step into situations to demonstrate that we ACTUALLY LOVE them.

As I was chewing on this message, it hit me: Love is the opposite of Selfishness.

  • Love is outward. Selfishness is inward.
  • Love is focused on others’ needs. Selfishness is focused on our own needs.
  • Love is costly. Selfishness says, “I am owed something.”
  • Love is the way of God. Selfishness is the way of our sinful nature.
  • Jesus commands us to love others. The world tells us to love ourselves.


From everything I’ve shared today, I think it’s pretty clear that we all need to continue the pursuit of virtuous Love – Love of God, Love of neighbor, Love of one another, and even Love for our enemies. We must give this Love more than lip service. We must live it out through our actions.

But here’s the thing: it’s impossible, in our own strength, to muster up the willpower to love people (including our enemies) day in and day out. We can talk about it. We can know we are supposed to do it. But when we are tired and worn out and in a bad mood, it becomes impossible.

I don’t want today’s message to set an impossible bar for you. Love as a virtue is not meant to be something you aspire to but can’t attain. Remember that the only way you can live out this Love fully is through connection with God’s Love.

1 John 4:16 God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

If you are struggling to love others well, don’t focus on them; focus on God. Remember all the ways He has been patient with you, all the sins He has forgiven you of, all the times He has protected you and cared for you and helped you when you were down. Allow His Love, flowing through your Spirit, to do the work through you.

Jesus warned that as the last day approaches, the love of many will grow cold. I believe we are seeing that all around us, and it makes it harder for us to love. We want to defend our ways, but we aren’t told to defend. We are told to love – even in the chaos.

If we want to be godly representatives of God to this world, then the most important virtue we must live out is Love. Not the messed up, twisted, distorted version this world passes off as Love, but true laying down of our lives and preferences for others.

Remember: THE Virtue Signal Jesus told us we should be identified by is our Love.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *