Understanding Christlike love, how it is supposed to be felt, given, and expressed, is not easy. Love is learned. It is complicated, yet simple. Let’s take a glimpse at this celestial trait.
Figuring out love
Many years ago, when I was still new to Facebook, I saw a question posed by a woman in an article. She asked, “How do I know if someone really loves me?” I responded to her by telling her that when she came up with a foolproof answer to that question she should submit her answer to the patent office, because she would become a very rich woman.
The problem we face with love in this life is that the love we all experience is mortal love. It is imperfect and often tainted with motives and habits that are not pure. Is it any wonder that there are those who don’t trust love? How do you convince someone who has been abused under the guise of being loved, that love is trustworthy or safe? How do you teach love to someone who has been used and lied to daily by someone also claiming to love them more than anyone else? Is it any wonder that one of the greatest sources of material for bards, poets, and story tellers is love in one form or another?
Love in mortality is complicated. We see so much of duplicity, deceit, falsehood, and abuse in mortal love that sometimes we scarce can recognize it for the “ideal” we claim it to be. But we also see glimpses of pure love in this life. We see someone give their life for another without any thought to what they are giving up to help the other person. Parents sacrifice for their children or family members, often for many years at a stretch. There is no recompense, no praise, recognition, nor accolades heaped upon them, just quiet and devoted service.
There is no one definition of love that everyone accepts, for we were all raised with a different flavor of what love is or isn’t. Our perception of what love is differs within the same family from sibling to sibling. With this kind of disparity between each definition of love, how do we learn what it is, what it can be, and about the power this emotion can grant the possessor and its recipients?
Fortunately, we have some examples of perfect love to draw upon to help us better understand what it is, what it requires of someone to recognize it, and what is needed to claim we really have experienced love in its pure form. Many of the thoughts in this piece come from the following article. Until I tried to write this article I never realized how much I had already started thinking about what love is as it appears in other things I have already written.
Disclaimer: This is a huge subject, so I don’t pretend that I have all the answers or that I am even correct in my assumptions. This is meant to be a starting place to think about love and the opportunities it brings with it when we experience pure love.
Most love in the scriptures and in the writings of the modern prophets are examples of how love is used, how to recognize it, or how to emulate it. The definition of love is more elusive. I’m not really sure one can define a character trait as all encompassing as love in a single paragraph. Jesus does tell us in John 15:13
13 Greater hath no man than this, that a man lay down his for his .
Many have agonized over this example of love. We certainly don’t have to die in order to love someone, but he did say that there is no greater love than the willingness to die for someone else. But even that willingness has to be filtered for the motives behind the action. Let’s go back to the beginning of this chapter and see what Jesus said before verse 13. (Please note that whatever other doctrines may be addressed in these verses, they are not my focus. I am looking only at how love is discussed here.)
1 I am the true , and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every in me that beareth not he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
The relationship between Christ and our Father is one of such complete devotion and dedication that they perform all things as if there is only one will, that of the Father’s. Christ represents the Father to us in all things, for if our Father was able to personally show us the love Christ does through his atoning sacrifice and his life of service, He would have done it. God has given us Christ as our life blood, and our only path back to Him for Christ loves us just as our Father loves us. When we do good in any capacity with a clean heart – meaning with good motives – we “bear fruit” for God.
Love is the celestial standard for behavior. If we want to feel comfortable living among celestial beings we must learn to love as they do. God makes no bones about the fact that ALL good things come from Him. When we also make the effort to do good and to look after the welfare of others as He does, that is what Christ refers to as bearing fruit. When verse two says that “every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit,” he is saying that God teaches us how to improve being and doing good so our capability to do more and do it better improves. Evidently love is something that must be learned, practiced, and perfected, just like any trait we wish to incorporate into our life.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the , ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without ye can do nothing.
6 If a man not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
These four verses focus on our need to “abide” in Christ as he abides in the Father. Think about how a vine’s branch interacts with the trunk of the plant. All of the branch’s nourishment comes from the trunk. All of its ability to produce what it was designed to make comes from what it receives from the trunk of the plant. By itself the branch can do nothing. If cut from the plant the branch withers and dies and is only good for burning.
We need to start by recognizing that Christ is the plant and we are the branches. Without him we cannot produce anything that will be worthwhile and bear the kind of fruit God is looking for. And what God is looking for is for us to learn from Christ how to love as a celestial citizen loves, unconditionally, and without limits. Only Christ can show us how this is to be done, for he has already set for us the perfect example. We must be willing to rely on Christ every bit as much as a branch must rely on the trunk of the plant. It is imperative that we recognize that without Christ we are nothing and will never amount to anything, just as a branch is nothing without it’s plant.
7 If ye in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father , that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
9 As the Father hath me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
How can the words of Christ abide in us as verse seven states? When we study the scriptures and read Christ’s words, which every prophet conveys to anyone who will read their words, we derive spiritual nourishment and strength from them. The words of Christ are all we have in front of us. We must feast upon them as if our very lives depend upon their consumption, for our lives do depend on it.
Verse eight teaches us an important lesson. No one in the eternities glorifies themselves. Glory is given, not produced or taken. When we emulate God’s goodness by doing goodness just for the sake of being good, we glorify God, meaning we reproduce Godly behaviors and celebrate who He is. This is a profound way to express our love for and respect for who and what God is to us. By doing good as we learn how to do good, we multiply God’s works in the universe. This is one of His most prized sources of glory, because it comes unbidden from His own children. The good He does for us is being returned in kind out of our love for Him. This is how we “continue … in [his] love.”
10 If ye my commandments, ye shall abide in my ; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
Christ said in John 14:15 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” In John 15:10 he tells us that keeping his commandments is how we abide in him and in his love for us. This is how we get the nourishment we need to become more like Christ, for his nourishment is the spiritual growth we experience as we study the scriptures (his words) and practice doing good like he did, and does. Love is learned by our acts of service to each other. Service is not easy. We have to learn wisdom to become good at doing good. Our attitudes must be purified, and our selfish natures must be subdued. Learning to love requires a lot of change in our lives.
11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your might be full.
This verse tells us why Jesus has given us his commandments. His goal is that the joy he has experienced in serving God’s children and in obeying our Father has made his joy full. When we learn to do the things he has taught us to do then our joy will also become full. This is the celestial standard, to seek the welfare of others over our own welfare.
We can seek after the welfare of others before seeking after our own needs knowing that others will also be seeking our welfare, hence no one is neglected, no one is forgotten or cast aside. In the celestial society, the Zion society, the welfare of all is the focus of all, not just a few. All of us look after the poor and the needy. Even the poor and the needy do what they can for others. This is sort of an oxymoron since in a Zion society there are no poor and needy. There aren’t any because no one allows anyone to go without what they need. Love and compassion towards others become the focus of the whole community. Can you even imagine living in a society where no one is allowed to be turned out, starved, made to suffer in any way or left wanting? Now try to visualize Christ living this celestial ideal in ancient Israel where he was completely alone in his way of thinking and behaving. No wonder people couldn’t figure him out.
12 This is my commandment, That ye one another, as I have you.
13 Greater hath no man than this, that a man lay down his for his .
I think the important lesson in these two verses is that Christ didn’t just die for each of us, he also lived for each of us. His whole life was laid down on the altar of sacrifice for our welfare. His was a complete life of sacrifice. How could there be any greater love than to live and die for the eternal happiness of someone else? We don’t have his capacity to be perfect in this life, but we have our own capacity that we haven’t yet reached. And Christ promises us that he will enlarge our capacity and increase our abilities when we keep his commandments and serve one another in love. I am referring to love unsullied by taints like seeking for recognition, gain, or advantage. This is love that is selfless and motivated by kindness and concern for someone else’s welfare.
14 Ye are my , if ye do whatsoever I you.
15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you ; for all things that I have of my Father I have made unto you.
When we seek to learn to love as Christ loves, we keep his commandments. In return, Christ promises that he sees us as his friends, not someone to be commanded or treated like hired servants, but friends. God treats Christ as His friend, and Christ, in turn, treats those who seek to emulate him as friends as well.
It is important to remember that God has promised everything in the universe to Christ when our mortal experience is over and the judgment is complete. And Christ, in return has promised that he will share everything the Father gives him with his friends, those who keep his commandments. Those friends are the ones who have abided in Christ and relied upon him every bit as much as a branch relies on the life it derives from the plant that sprouted it.
Fruits and love
John 15 is just a few verses in length. How much is there in those few verses to learn about love and the importance of bearing the fruit of righteous living? We can look in all the Standard Works to find hundreds of examples of the prophets teaching us of Christ’s perfect love for us, and how people can learn to love each other in a Christlike way. In every example the prophets give us we will see that Christlike love is unsullied by the very things that cause us to distrust love here in mortality. God’s love is pure and undefiled in any way. It is love for love’s sake.
When we are called to fulfill responsibilities in the Church we are given the opportunity to form relationships with others, to do good in new ways that may not have been open to us before. These are all ways we can glorify God, because we are doing good as He would do it in our situation. We can just exist and live day to day, or we can seek as a branch yearns for life from the plant that sprouted it, the life that can only come through Christ and his atoning sacrifice. The more we learn to abide in his love for us, as he abides in the love of our Father, the more we will learn to love as he loves.
Learning to love as Christ is not an easy process, nor is it a step by step process. But when we choose to serve others and seek to purify our motives and seek to learn to love without restraint, we bear the fruit John 15 talks about, because we are learning to behave as God behaves. We are glorifying God through our righteousness.
Here is a talk given by D. Todd Christofferson that directly addresses some of what we covered in this article. Great talk.
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print a PDF copy of the article.
Understanding Christlike Love