A-Z of Paul: Love
What had swept Paul off his feet and turned his life on its head was a realisation that the Christian gospel was true: Jesus was not only messiah but Son of God, the final and complete revelation of the Father’s glory, a glory revealed as love. This is why Christians can dare to hope that they might one day love God and one another as Jesus has loved us, because ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us’ (Rom 5:5). Paul is overwhelmed by seeing that the love of God revealed in Christ is the most powerful reality there is, the most real thing. Nothing can prevail against it, whether past, present or future, whether physical or spiritual, whether powers or heights or depths, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31-39).
Love is not a new law imposed from without. It is, certainly, a word in which the whole law is fulfilled (Gal 5:14) but it is a new kind of law, something bubbling up urgently inside us (2 Cor 5:14) , the first fruit of the Spirit in us (Gal 5:22). To know Christ’s love surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19). The Spirit we have received is a Spirit of power, love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7).
In spite of such profound statements Paul is not starry-eyed or unrealistic about love. He knows that God’s love has been revealed in the suffering and death of Jesus. In his first recorded reference to it he speaks of ‘the labour of love’ (1 Thess 1:3). The truth is to be lived out in love, in many very practical ways of loving and supporting the neighbour (Romans 12-16; 2 Corinthians 8-10). The supreme and most ordinary example of human love, that of husband and wife, is itself a mystery that reveals something to us of the love Christ has for the Church (Ephesians 5).
Paul is not shy about proclaiming his love for the people who have come to faith through his preaching. So often at the end of his letters he says ‘give my love to X’, ‘give my love to Y’, ‘you know how much we loved you, like a nurse, like a father, like a mother …’ The heart of the gospel is the great truth that ‘God is love’, that God has revealed his love in Jesus Christ, and that the Spirit of God’s love has been given to us so that we can work in it and walk in it. All who come to believe in Jesus belong to a great communion of love, a body held together and given life by the same Spirit of love. Paul says we are to seek to outdo one another only in this matter of love, not allowing ourselves to be overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good (Rom 12:9-21).