Jesus emphasized the priority of love, and so should we. When asked what was the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses, He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). It doesn’t get any more basic than this.
In Philippians 2:3-8, we are urged to have the “mind of Christ.” Among other things, this means we are to emulate His love — not just the fact that He loved others but also the way He loved them. The prime example of the way He loved, of course, is the cross. Putting our needs ahead of His own desires, He gave up His life for us, even though we were unworthy. And He said that others would know His disciples by the fact that they loved one another as He had loved them (John 13:35).
But notice what we see in Philippians 2:3-8. Of all our needs, what were those for which Jesus made His greatest sacrifice? It was not for our temporal needs; it was to save our souls. Jesus certainly helped a lot of folks physically, as His path brought Him into contact with them. But if we’re going to use Philippians 2 as our example, that is an example of Jesus’ sacrifice in the service of people’s spiritual needs.
Our problem is not that we talk too much about love, but that we talk about it so superficially. We praise Jesus’ love, but we don’t prioritize the same needs that He did. Compared to His love, our love deals in trivia.
Paul is an interesting case study in the lengths that love will go to. He had a tender heart (much more tender, I think, than we often give him credit for), but he had a truly Christ-like concept of taking risks and suffering damage to serve people’s spiritual needs. He desired peaceful relationships as much as anybody, but his love would not let him remain silent when there was something that needed to be said. “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).
Even more than Paul, of course, Jesus is our example. So when we discuss love and sacrifice, are we putting the primary emphasis where Jesus put it? We like to think that we act in love, but how can we talk about loving our neighbors without talking about evangelism? Helping people with their physical and emotional needs is a piece of cake compared to the difficulty of saying what they need to hear spiritually. And if our willingness to say the words our neighbors need to hear is any measure of how much we love them, can we really say that we do? What is the costliest sacrifice any of us have ever made in order to serve someone spiritually? Jesus risked friendship and goodwill — not to mention safety and life itself — in order to get those whom He loved to heaven. Have we adopted the “mind of Christ” about such things? I don’t know about you, but these questions make me very uncomfortable.