Hollywood typically portrays “true love” as romantic love based on emotion; but Olaf, the animated snowman in Disney’s 2013 movie Frozen, knows better. After Princess Anna confesses that she doesn’t know what love is, Olaf tells her, “That’s okay. I do. Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”
Frozen is the highest grossing animated movie of all time, but what makes it most special isn’t how much money it has made. Frozen is special because of the way the film portrays love and love’s power.
Olaf understands that love has little to do with feelings, true love’s kiss, or happy endings. Love has to do with selflessness and sacrifice. He demonstrates his own capacity for this kind of love when he risks his life to build a fire to keep Anna warm. When Olaf begins to feel the effects of the heat, Anna warns him, “Olaf! You’re melting!” He replies, “Some people are worth melting for.”
In the end, Anna demonstrates that she does understand love as Olaf explains it. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for her sister saves them both and their frozen kingdom as well.
It may be an animated movie and a merchandising powerhouse, but Frozen also shows us how changing our view of love from something we feel to something we do can make all the difference.
In 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul promises to show us “the more excellent way.” This is his entrée into the famous love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. The more excellent way he reveals is love. Though it is often read at weddings, the chapter isn’t meant to help us love our spouses, family, and friends alone. Paul calls us to the same love for all people. This is the love that drove Paul and Christ’s early followers to endure prison, hunger, and all manner of suffering that others might receive the Gospel.
This is the love of Jesus that drove Him to the Cross. We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)—despite our rejection of Him, despite our sin. God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
1 John 4 tells us that God is love. The love of God is what is meant to set Christians apart; it is meant to be our greatest witness. In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Love does not seek its own
Self-sacrificing, active love may come more easily and readily when we also feel emotional love for the recipient of our love. A mother’s love causes her to sacrifice sleep for her newborn. A daughter’s love causes her to give up her free time to help her elderly parents. A husband’s love causes him to nurse his wife during a long illness.
What if every Christian demonstrated that kind of sacrificial love to everyone they met, friend or foe, no matter our feelings? What if we extended radical, unconditional, selfless love to our enemies—not just to that guy in the office who rubs us the wrong way, but to murderers, terrorists, and malevolent dictators? We are supposed to extend the love of God to even these. But we rarely do. Think of the difference a more excellent way could make—not just in this world but for eternity. That kind of love is counterintuitive. It’s rebellious and frightening. It’s no less than revolutionary.
It’s also what’s expected of us, and we must take it seriously.
In this issue, we look at a few PLNU people who are letting radical love do a transformative work in hearts and situations. Before you read their stories, it makes sense to reflect a bit on the more excellent way. We know the words so well that it would be easy to miss the sublime power of their meaning. The words of 1 Corinthians 13 are powerful and revolutionary—brought to life not through our feelings but by the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to act in love.
Love suffers long
The world’s way surrounds us. In the world, we see competition, betrayal, one-upmanship, striving, conflict, and pain. Our culture tells us that the point of life is comfort and happiness and that the right product can secure these pleasures for us. The world’s messages assure us that we need to put our own needs first. In the world, love is supposed to be something that makes us feel good—so when the good feelings are gone, relationships end.
But that is not the more excellent way to love. Feeling good is not the same as doing good. Active love doesn’t depend on the recipient. It depends on the giver. It can, therefore, be unconditional.
In this issue, Anna Stepanek Cox’s article on the modern-day persecution of Christians demonstrates how unexpected, unwarranted love can serve as a dynamic witness for Christ. Loving one’s persecutors may seem extreme, but God’s love for us is equally undeserved and equally extreme.
Love bears all things
Persecution isn’t the only case where love is transformative precisely because it is so difficult. Any situation involving conflict makes extending love both harder and more powerful.
Dr. John Wright, professor of theology and Christian Scriptures, is senior pastor of the Church of the Nazarene, Mid-City English. In his pastoral role, Wright shepherds a diverse flock in a neighborhood that faces many social and economic challenges, sometimes leading to conflict. To operate in such a context with love, Wright must approach conflict in a more excellent, loving way.
“How do you find a middle ground in such social contexts?” Wright asks. The middle ground— standing alongside or in the
midst of conflict as a witness to truth, complexity, and nuance—is difficult but necessary, Wright explains. Sometimes simply
standing with those who are struggling can be a very active form of love.
“Tolerance is not an end in and of itself. Peace is not an end in itself,” he explains. “Rather, how does one stand in non-alignment—sometimes physically—with both sides?”
Wright notes that when the apostle Paul writes “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” (Romans 12:18) we can see that some conflicts will be inevitable. Yet Paul calls us to stand with love; in so doing, we will “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Standing alongside those in conflict, listening, caring—these bear witness to Christ and can create space for resolution.
In this issue, you will read about people like Bob Goff, Dr. Maggie Bailey, and Nate Spoelman (05) who willingly enter into dangerous, conflict-ridden situations to demonstrate the love of Christ. You will read about Dr. Lindsey Lupo’s involvement in a process of deliberative dialogue that aims to show love and respect to parties with differing opinions.
Love never fails
It might seem that the examples in this issue are beyond the average Christian’s experience. But we must not forget the
story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was not a priest or a Levite. He was not a missionary, a lawyer, a professor, or an award recipient. He wasn’t heroic—until he came to a certain point in the road and witnessed someone in need. Even then, besides the innkeeper, it’s possible no one knew what he had done. The Good Samaritan was just traveling along a road when he saw someone he wasn’t supposed to love and decided to love him. He couldn’t possibly have received anything in return. He couldn’t take a tax write-off for his expenses. But the Samaritan loved him anyway. He could have left the man to die and no one would have faulted him. He was a Samaritan; the injured man was a Jew. They were born to be in conflict. But the Samaritan loved him anyway. How do we know he loved the beaten man? We know by what the Good Samaritan did.
And that’s how they ought to know us. That’s how they ought to know we are Christians. By our love. By our actions.
In 1997, Apple revitalized its company with the tagline “Think Different.” As Christians, we, too, can be revitalized by thinking
differently. We can be transformed by the renewing of our minds when we change the way we think about others to the way God thinks.
It seems so simple, almost a pat answer, but it’s far from it. When we put others’ needs before our own, we are doing God’s will, whether we are risking our lives in a nation hostile to Christianity or giving up our place in the grocery line to someone in need.
It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. Olaf said some people are worth melting for. Jesus said all people are worth dying for. When we remember this, what might have once seemed unappealing—suffering or sacrificing (even in small ways)—can become desirable if it is to another’s benefit or to glorify God.
This is the more excellent way.