Love is the central, animating force in true religion, true Christian living. It is to the moral system what the sun is to the solar system—the warming, illuminating, motivating power for every part. In the natural world every growing tree, flowing stream, passing breeze, floating cloud, falling shower, opening bud, and tossing wave is produced by the force of the sun. So in the spiritual realm every fervent prayer, act of charity, resistance to evil, gentle word, and courageous act is a product of love. It is to the soul what blood is to the body. As the health and vigor of the body depend on the blood, so the health of the soul, the vigor of its righteousness, the bloom and color of its virtues, all depend on the quality and degree of love that pervades the spirit and prompts its movements.
The term “walk” applies to all the movements of the spirit and life; it is the ever-going, never-ceasing locomotion of the moral and mental nature. We walk in our words, attitudes, desires, plans, purposes, prayers, sermons, opinions, and business dealings. Every unfolding of the spirit in an outward act, or an intention to act, is a distinct step in the unceasing march of the soul on its journey through life. Footprints on the ocean shore may be erased by the next wave, but our souls are putting footprints into the passing hours which are indelibly preserved in our history.
To walk in love—to speak, to act, to purpose, with the love of God pervading our every movement—is the best and sublimest form of existence. To do this there must be a thorough abandonment of self-will, self-opinion, and self-desire.
It is so easy for us to indulge in a spirit contrary to Christ’s love under the guise of zeal or some other form of virtue. Let us apply walking in love to our preaching, teaching, exhortation, reproving. For, alas, in all such utterances we may be rigidly orthodox, severely truthful—forgetting that we break the truth the very moment we cease to hold the truth in love. How long it takes us to learn that the exact, strict, doctrinal truth, when separated from the proper spirit which should go with it, becomes the instrument of death. Even the doctrine of holiness may be held and taught in such a spirit as to break the law of holiness. Without love the doctrines of salvation may be presented in a way that is actually harmful; but with love even the doctrine of hell may be presented in such Scriptural unction as will save souls.
Apply this walking in love to prayer. Are not a great many prayers worse than wasted because they are uttered in a sharp, condemnatory, or peevish and ill spirit? Have we not heard prayers which sounded like judging or reprimanding others, or addressed to some individual in the company more than to God? Have we ever uttered a prayer for the gratification of self, or for the commendation or the condemnation of someone present? Let us remember that our prayers will ascend and prevail in heaven only in the same proportion as they have the spirit of heaven in them. That which comes from heaven will return thither. It is the love force in our prayers that makes them effective with God or with men.
If we pray thoughtfully, God will give us an inward light to detect any deviation from the spirit of love. We may be about to utter some word or petition which is unwise or expresses a wrong attitude, and before it escapes our lips the Spirit will lead us to utter something quite different, or to modify our tone of voice and manner of expression. As a result, what would have been wasted words is now anointed and effectual by His gentle touch and illumination. To use either flattery or accusation in our prayers may not be equally offensive to men, but it is equally offensive to God, and in either case poisons our petitions. The thoughtfulness which is needed in prayer is not that of intense intellectuality, but that tranquil kind of thoughtfulness which watches the outgoings of our heart to see that they are in harmony with the Word of God and pleasing in His sight. If this form of walking in love were observed, how many kinds of prayers it would weed out from religious services, and even from some which claim holiness.
Apply this walking in love to our feelings toward of others and our opinions of them. Forming an opinion of someone involves the activity of my moral nature. Prejudice is an opinion formed beforehand, or without knowing the facts in the case, and if my mind walks in love, it will prevent prejudice, for love forms its estimate on the basis of knowledge. In our views of other people, other cultures and customs of living, other kind of congregational meetings, other sorts of service and ministry than those of our own, if our judgments were formed under the guidance of love, how careful they would be, how free from rash denunciation. When our opinions are brought into subjection to truth and soberness in love, they will coincide with the Word of God and reflect the mind of Christ.
Apply this walking in love to matters of business. This not only implies that we transact our affairs honestly, but that such honesty and fair dealing is the outflow of a loving heart which, from its loving nature, prefers and delights in fair dealing. We hear it said that “honesty is the best policy,” but the person that is honest for that reason is, at heart, a thief, for on the same grounds he will steal, if stealing becomes the best policy. To walk in love in buying and selling, in borrowing and lending, in begging and giving, in hiring and being hired, in being masters or servants would constitute an ideal society. Though many will not accept this rule of life, we each have the privilege of building a society that does, and even if we should be the only one, it will be to us just the same as if all the world did.
The Holy Spirit has chosen to feed us with such verses as the following: “we should be holy and without blame before him in love”; “being rooted and grounded in love”; “forbearing one another in love”; “speaking the truth in love”; “the whole body… edifying itself in love”; “being knit together in love”; “esteem them very highly in love”; “walk in love.”
When we look back over our lives, and see the times and places where something other than love has governed our words and actions, they look like salt spots upon which no lovely fruit has grown. We may depend upon it that the only manner of Christian living that will succeed is that which springs from the blessed Author of life. “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.”