Love One Another

Exploring love's hierarchy in Christian faith and its transformative power, this sermon emphasizes prioritizing love for God, then extending it to others and self, calling for balance, selflessness, and celestial love that surpasses understanding.

What The World Needs Now

Love is one of the most stand-out attributes of God and is a foundational doctrine to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is also one of the most misunderstood, misapplied, mischaracterized, and misused notions in humanity. Because of what some people call love, and the lack of it, relationships are ruined, fights are fought, friends become enemies, families are ripped apart, and wars are waged.

In fact, the non-stop war which was begun in heaven and continued on this earth is fought because people love differently. As the sword-wielding avenger Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, let’s figure out, exactly, what is this crazy little thing called, “love.”

First off, let’s review one of the greatest statements of Jesus about love as recorded by one of his closest friends, the Apostle John.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Now, with that supernal definition of how God loves His children at a celestial level, let’s descend down and think about how we love each other on our fallen, telestial level. And let’s start with pop music.

Back in 1965, Hal David wrote the words to a tune composed by Burt Bacharach, which was first sung by Jackie deShannon. It peaked at number seven on the Billboard Top 100. As far as I can tell, this particular song has been covered at least 341 different times. Here is the first verse of the song:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some, but for everyone

Truly, what the world needs now, and has always needed, is more love. But what kind of love?

Defining Love

Ancient Greek philosophers said there were at least 10 types of love:

  • Eros (EH-rows) or romantic, intimate love
  • Ludus (loo-DOOS) or playful/flirtatious love
  • Philia (phi-LEE-ah) or friendship love
  • Philautia (phi-lah-TEE-ah) or self-love
  • Storge (STORE-gay) or familial love
  • Pragma (PROG-ma) 0r mature/enduring love
  • Mania (mah-NEE-ah) or obsessive love
  • Xenia (kse-NEE-ah) or hospitality love
  • Meraki (meh-RAY-key) or creative love
  • Agape (uh-GAH-peh) or selfless love
  • Chari (tsch-AH-ree) or covenantal love

Modern philosophers have a number of different theories about love, such as how it matures from the child-creating phase to the child-nurturing phase, and finally into the child-providing phase, where you give unconditional love.

There are also biological explanations of love, psychological explanations, social explanations, and cultural explanations. Furthermore, there are vertical and horizontal structures of love as well as patriarchal, matriarchal, and fraternal hierarchies. There are healthy forms of love as well as extremely unhealthy forms of love.

There have been countless poems, songs, plays, movies, musicals, dances, operas, paintings, sculptures, essays, stories, letters, as well as speeches, sermons, and scriptures written about love.

You would think humanity would be an expert on this topic by now. But of course, we’re not. And we get it wrong really often!

For instance, if I were to ask you, “What is the opposite of love,” perhaps you would say it is hate. But might it also not also be indifference or the lack of love? Or is it fear, as in “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18)? Or is love not a what, but a whom, after all, the scriptures also teach, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Personally, when I’m perplexed over love, I often turn to the writings of Mormon to his son Moroni.

“Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail — but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever.”

If charity is the type of love that Christ shows, that’s a logical equivalency. That means I can safely make some inferences and revise the Apostle Paul’s classic definition of charity in his letter to the saints in Corinth, by replacing the word “charity” with the word “love” or “Christ-like love.” How does this sound?

“Christ-like love suffereth long and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Christ-like love never faileth.”

In other words, the Apostle Paul is inferring that those who choose NOT to love are choosing to be uncharitable, unkind, impatient, envious, proud, inappropriate, unworthy, untruthful, impolite, unbelieving, disparaging, fearful, lazy, and give up before they finish. And if that describes us, in any degree, in any of our relationships, with any of God’s children, including our so-called enemies, we’ve got some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

Knowing is Loving

Personally, I believe it is impossible to love someone unless we first get to know them. Oh, we may have a general feeling of affection or consideration for those we don’t know yet, like the feeling I have for many of you who I don’t know individually, but because we share similar values and beliefs, I feel a type of friendship and familial love to you, the philia (phi-LEE-ah) and the storge (STORE-gay).

But if I didn’t really understand you, know your personality and your character and your experiences and your talents and your struggles, how could I possibly know the best way to prove that I truly love you. I have to understand you first, before I can love you perfectly and treat you in a loving way. And that takes time and effort.

The Telestial Law of Love

Now with that in mind, I’d like to say that the old interpretation of “the golden rule” of treating other people the way YOU want to be treated is limited. I’m pretty sure there is a mistranslation in there somewhere. To me, it sounds like another telestial law that is characterized by immediate gratification and appetite satisfaction. It is based on the telestial notion of reciprocity, where you give me what I want, and I’ll give you what you want. You scratcha my back, and I’ll scratcha yours. Our entire telestial system of economics and government is based on this notion.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by this. I love See’s Candies. If someone really loved me, they would give a box of Dark Chocolates or Nuts & Chews. But if I gave my son the same gift of chocolatey-nutty goodness that I desire, he would likely die, because he has a severe nut allergy. For me that would be a very nice way to leave mortality, but for him, it is a very bad gift. I can’t treat him the way I want to be treated. I have to treat him the way he wants to be treated. I must take my preferences out of the equation. And when I do that, I’m effectively taking a step away from selfishness towards selflessness, a step from the telestial into the terrestrial.

The Terrestrial Law of Love

Now living a terrestrial law of love is easier said than done. In fact, my life’s work has been about trying to help people better understand each other so that we can start to treat each other in better ways. In ways that are decent and honorable. In ways that are characterized by self-control and deferred gratification. When you and I decide to radically change the way we treat others, by treating them the way THEY want to be treated, wonderful things happen, and our relationships are lifted to greater heights.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by this. Personally, I find joy when I retreat into my home office and pour over my books and research in order to create new books and videos. To use another highfalutin Greek love word, I’m a philomath or a lover of learning. And then once I learn something, I like to teach others about it.

My wife, on the other hand, finds joy by creating and nurturing her relationships. While she has a soft spot for our children and grandchildren, she also has a soft spot for many coworkers and friends who view her as a sister or a mother because she loves them the way they need to be loved, especially if they’ve had difficult relationships in the past, and need a healthy, healing relationship. It is wonderful to behold.

You see, I make decisions largely with my head, while she makes them with her heart. I bring orthodoxy or right thinking to life, while she brings the orthopraxy or right acting to life. Alone, I’m a bit skewey; but when I’m coupled to her, she makes up for my many weaknesses and blind spots. If I have any hope of making it to the celestial kingdom, it is because she shows me what to do. In the game of show and tell, I tell, she shows. It works for us. But I think her way is far better, don’t you?

If she wanted to give me a good gift, she would give me access to new educational resources and then leave me alone. Then later, after I’ve digested what I’ve learned, she’ll take the time to sit and listen as I regurgitate my take on what I’ve learned.

Now, if I wanted to give her a good gift, I would give her opportunities to enhance her relationships and make cherish-able memories. Furthermore, I would probably talk less and listen more. And I would stop eating so many chocolates so I don’t die too early. Or maybe that’s why my loved ones give me chocolates. Hmmm.

I can give her those good gifts because I have spent considerable time and effort to understand and appreciate her preferences and her attitudes and her values. I can love her better because I genuinely know her better, and I desperately want to give her what she truly desires.

On President Oaks’ continuum of good, better, and best, treating other people the way they want to be treated is a much better thing to do. Yet, it isn’t the best. To me, it a terrestrial law, a law that is good enough for earning a place to dwell in a Zion-like, millennial city. But it still isn’t good enough for those who want to live the celestial laws of the Celestial Kingdom.

The Celestial Law of Love

What is a celestial law of love? How should we ultimately treat other people? It is very simple. We should treat them the way God would treat them. Remember the new commandment Jesus gave, the one that was even better than the old commandment to love God and your neighbor as yourself?

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

That’s how the celestial kingdom operates, you see. It isn’t about me or mine, or even you and us, it is about obeying, sacrificing, consecrating, sanctifying, and building up the kingdom of God by loving everyone the way He wants them loved.

It is not about satiating our will and our desires, but bringing to pass His will and His desires. I hate to break it to you, but our focus as celestial wanna-bees for the rest of our mortal and immortal lives will be learning how to more perfectly think, feel, and act the way He does.

Why? Because He is the source of all that is good and lovely and praiseworthy. Anything we do is a poor imitation. “None is good, save one, that is, God,” said Jesus (Luke 18:19). When we treat others the way God wants them treated, and distribute His gifts to others, we are finally filling the measure of our creation and will have joy therein.

And the only way we can do that, is if we know the mind and will of the Lord! He is one of the few all-knowing beings I know of (except for 17-year-olds), so why not ask Him? If we honestly let God prevail, He tell you exactly what to do and how to do it.

He will, you know, because He already has. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We have whole volumes of scripture that tell us what He said to our ancestors. We have vast collections of print and media messages that teach us what He has revealed to modern prophets. And we have the Light of Christ and the Gift of the Holy Ghost that can give us very specific hour-by-hour direction in the form of personal revelation. If we cling to the written and static word of God as well as living and ongoing and dynamic word of God, in all of its varieties — such as inspiration — we will be certifiably clinging to the iron rod and necessarily partaking of the fruit of the love of God — as personified by Jesus Christ — and truly love one another as He loves us.

If we recall our scriptures, we see that whenever God has dealt with His children, it is always rooted in love. Sometimes it is tough love, like establishing telestial and terrestrial boundaries and limitations with penalties affixed when we disobey them. That is the parental love we feel from parents who need to step in and correct their children before they run off the roof to test out their homemade wings. But when it comes from God, it is always imbued with more love, mercy, and compassion than we actually deserve. Love is the motive behind everything that God has done and will yet do with us. Naturally, this is what He wants us to emulate as well.

Prioritizing Our Love

Both Moses and Jesus said that the first great commandment taught to the children of the covenant was to love God, and the second one was to love one another as we love ourselves. I hear in these scriptures that there are three entities we need to love: God, Others, and Ourselves. In that order.

Any other order is no good, because if we put ourselves before God, we end up becoming our own gods, with a teeny little “g”, and have no need for others. That’s exactly what the devil — the detestable deceiver — desires. The supremacy and divinity of himself at the expense of everyone else.

So that’s the first vice we have to sacrifice. The vice of selfishness: of loving ourselves too much.

The second great vice is like unto it. Loving other people more than we love God. That sin has many incarnations. For example, it is easy to see it being manifest as part of our present popular pandemic plague of moral relativism. It is where we say there is no such thing as fixed, objective truths; that everyone establishes their own subjective truth and forms their own capricious identities. It’s the “You do you, and I’ll do me” philosophy of man. God isn’t in that particular equation at all.

Can you logically see how this isn’t so great either? If we loved someone more than ourselves, we would probably sacrifice a great deal to build and maintain that relationship. We allow them to “do them” without concern as to how their behavior affects others. We accept them and tolerate anything they do, even if it harms them, yourself, or others. It leads us to spoil, overindulge, and tolerate the intolerable. In essence, we enable those we love to run out into the street and play in the oncoming traffic. It never ends well.

If we’re so focused on pleasing someone else, imagine the personal devastation we’ll feel when that person leaves our lives or leaves mortality. Furthermore, if we play favorites and love someone more than someone else, we might feel obligated to also hate their enemies. Their enemies become our enemies. Naturally, this type of love always leads to loss and division of someone or something. And if I might be so bold, we simply cannot put our relationships with our loved ones above our relationship with God.

Now don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t love ourselves and others, but that we should love God first. Then, He will fill us with a love for others and ourselves that is far more deep, intimate, accurate, meaningful, and charitable than anything we could have generated on our own.

Our mortal and natural ability to love is so limited, so restricted, so unwise, so unperceptive. Without God, we almost always get it wrong more often than we get it right.

If we plead with God for the gift of love, which is a spiritual gift we need every day of our lives, He will fill our hearts with an ever-increasing investiture of divine love, of a love that has existed for eternities, not mere decades. A perfect love that is felt by an all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God. There is no greater love than that! As we start to feel that love, we will feel compelled to pass it on. We can’t bottle it up and keep it to ourselves. This love enables us to finally be able to keep the new commandment Jesus gave, the ultimate, transcendent, and quintessential commandment, to love one another as He loves us.

President Dallin Oaks referenced this idea less than two weeks ago as he gave a devotional speech at BYU called, “Going Forward in the Second Century.” In referencing the Savior’s teachings about the two great commandments, he said,

“The love of neighbor — however important — does not come ahead of love of God and obedience to His commandments. If we truly love God and serve Him as He has taught us, we will love our neighbor as God loves him or her and as He would have us love and serve them.”

Manipulating Loved Ones

Let me go back and expand on something I just mentioned. Some people argue that if you love someone — truly love them — you will allow them to do whatever they want to do and accept them no matter what they choose to do with their life.

I used that argument once as a child. I told my parents, “if you really loved me, you would take me to Disneyland.” One night I even made a point to pray with my door open so that my parents could hear my pitiful prayer, “Please soften the heart of my Dad so that he will take me to Disneyland.” It worked, by the way. But I was living in fantasyland.

As children, and child-like adults, in an attempt to manipulate others, we often say, “If you really loved me, you would do this or that.” Sometimes we even use that approach with Heavenly Father, “If you really loved me, you would grant me this wish, or you wouldn’t have let this bad thing happen.”

Most of the time, we think this way because of our blinding case of short-sightedness. We are so caught up in our piece of the puzzle that we can’t see the big picture. Maturity and experience sometimes helps out with that — and sometimes it makes it worse.

Furthermore, we have been encultured as Christians to avoid conflict at all costs. To turn the other cheek. But I’m not sure that is a divinely approved strategy either. Jesus certainly didn’t back away from standing up to those who opposed the work of God. Sometimes, when moved upon by the Holy Spirit, we should face His adversaries and boldly declare the truth as He would do if He were present.

Balancing the Pendulum

Looking around at our increasingly-dominant pre-millennial culture, perhaps you sense, as do I, that there is a giant pendulum swinging back and forth from one side to the next. On one end of that arc is mercy, a good thing, and on the other is justice, another good thing. Or on one end is freedom, on the other is obedience. Or on one end is individual rights while on the other is collective responsibilities. On one end is grace, at the other end is works. All of these are good things.

This swinging pendulum, while at its apex, almost always dumps out the baby along with the bathwater. Swinging from one extreme to the other is simply not necessary, because in truth we need both. There are opposites in all things (2 Nephi 2:11), including all good things. We must find a way to balance safely between the two. We have to be able to prove two things that are both correct but seem to be contrary to each other. We have to prove the paradox.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been doing that ever since its inception. It has been proving paradoxes. It practices a unique combination of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and Old Testament temples and New Testament chapels. Of formal sacraments and sermons and impromptu testimonies and firesides. Of individual agency and divine inspiration. Of Protestantism and Catholicism. Of Judaism and Christianity.

Of orthodoxy and evangelism. Of the mystical and the secular. Of the authoritarian and democratic. Of the anti-clerical and the priestly. Of the symbolic and the explicit. Of the utopian and the practical. Of the communitarian and individualistic. Of the self-reliant and the philanthropic. Of learning the sacred as well as learning the secular. Of faith and works. Of the living and the dead. Of following the prophet and gaining personal revelation.

It is a very unique organization that constantly tries to find the balance between all good things wherever they are found. It attempts to live in the Goldilocks zone where things are too neither hot or too cold, but just right.

And so it should be in every other aspect of our life, from politics to economics to our interpersonal relationships. We should be constantly striving to find the personal balance between good things that allows us to make forward progress and increase our spiritual momentum. After all, we were created with two feet, so let’s stop hopping around on either the left or the right foot and merrily skip down the covenant path.

What the World Really Needs Now

As we endeavor to temper our personal desires, think about the effect we have on others before we act, give others the gifts they desire, and begin to treat each other the way God wants us to treat each other, which is full of love, compassion, and mercy, as well as tempered justice, inspiring education, and necessary discipline, even an occasional sharp reproof that encourages repentance and is quickly followed up with an increase of love, then we’ll find ourselves loving one another in higher, holier ways.

I’ve reworked Hal David’s lyrics a bit to come up with a new version:

What the world needs now is Christ-like love
It’s the type of love that always comes from above
What we all need now is caring charity
Love that heals all hurt and disparity

What the world needs now is true affection
Not the type of love that demands reciprocation
What the Lord needs now is you and me
To share His love everywhere we may be

What the world needs now is love, pure love
No, not just for some, but for everyone

Sisters and brothers, may we be found everyday on our knees praying for the type of love that surpasses understanding, the love that fills our souls with so much celestial joy and compassion and charity that it displaces the poor telestial and terrestrial counterfeits. True love, celestial love, Christ-like love, never ceases and endureth forever.

Let me conclude with a message from one of our modern apostles of Jesus Christ, Dale Renlund, which he delivered at the general conference held at the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic. His speech was called, Consider the Goodness and  Greatness of God:

“Throughout time, even and especially during difficult times, prophets have encouraged us to remember the greatness of God and to consider what He has done for us as individuals, as families, and as a people. Our Heavenly Father wants us to recall His and His Beloved Son’s goodness, not for Their own gratification but for the influence such remembrance has on us. By considering Their kindness, our perspective and understanding are enlarged. By reflecting on Their compassion, we become more humble, prayerful, and steadfast.”

May we, as children of God, when we feel like we are unloved or unappreciated or unvalued or unknown, take a step back, fall on our knees, and pour out our souls to Father and then remember everything He has done, is doing, and will do to show us how much He loves us. And in particular, let us remember how He sent His Beloved Son, His Holy Spirit, His Chosen Prophets, and all the people in this congregation — all of us who just covenanted at the sacrament altar to love you more perfectly.

To help us fulfill this covenant, please invite your ministering brothers and sisters into your life. Invite estranged family members back into your home. Strengthen your friendships and make new friends, looking around at others who are also struggling and hurting. And then love them. Some of them may even love you back. But even if they don’t, keep at it. Even the unloveable are loved by God, and we must love them too.

As we carefully follow His counsel, I believe the love of Christ will completely fill your heart with a love that can’t possibly be contained let alone described. It will be transforming, transfiguring, and translating. And it will lead you directly into heaven, even while you’re still here on earth.

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