The Need for Love Today
The Moody Theological Seminary—Michigan 2016 Commencement Address
© Eric C. Redmond, 2016
Grammy Award winner Stevie Wonder, on his Songs in the Key of Life album, explores the highs and lows that make up life. It includes memorable hits like “Sir Duke,” “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” and the socio-economic critique, “Village Ghetto Land.” The 21-song, 2-volume Motown set won record of the year in 1976, was 57th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Albums of all Time list in 2005, and was voted Top Album of All Time by Yahoo’s Music Playlist Blog in 2008.
One of the most famous works on the album is the first song, “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” You might be familiar with it first two stanzas:
Good morn or evening friends / Here’s your friendly announcer
I have serious news to pass on to everybody
What I’m about to say / Could mean the world’s disaster
Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain
It’s that Love’s in need of love today
Don’t delay / Send yours in right away
Hate’s goin’ round / Breaking many hearts
Stop it please / Before it’s gone too far
The force of evil plans / To make you its possession
And it will if we let it / Destroy everybody
We all must take Precautionary measures
If love and peace you treasure / Then you’ll hear me when I say
Oh that / Love’s in need of love today.
Wonder presents a rather novel thesis in the song. The status of love between and among people is at the point of critical need, such that it could end the world as we know if we do not turn to morn over the situation right now. Hatred in the world and “the force of evil” plans to destroy everything, already breaking the hearts of many. Everyone must take precautionary measures by sending “Love” all of the love you and I can so that we can rescue our world. Wonder ends his urgent call by saying, “Just give the world love.”
As we have continued to enjoy this melody for the last 40 years, it would seem that no one took the responsibility to lead the way to strengthen the place of love in the world. The force of evil led us through two gulf wars, and the increases in global terrorism and human trafficking. Many more hearts are breaking daily, as evidenced by the climb of the divorce rate in the west, the number of children in foster care systems, the increase of absentee fatherhood, and the rise of a millennial generation that rejects commitments to a relationship largely because they have not seen a so-called committed relationship work, or because they were harmed by the guise of one in their growing-up years.
The rhetoric of our public discourse continues to degrade into personal slurs like “Lucifer in the flesh” rather than offering respectful disagreement over conflicting ideas. Even the disappearance of cards that say “I’m sorry” from the racks of greeting card displays shows that mending fences is passé. Instead of mending, it is easier to block people from a social media page, or to cloak hate in group posts, texts, and emails while saying everything except the name of one’s object of scorn. Yes, our world is in greater need of love today than in a previous day. Before hate wins in your home, your town, your nation, and your world, someone needs to step up to the plate, accept Stevie Wonder’s challenge, and show us the way of love.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the congregation of Corinth 1900 years before Wonder recorded Songs in the Key of Life, the hatred in their world had spilled into their baptismal pool. Divisions and disregard for the religious health of their fellow members clouded their judgments on small matters. So great was their apathy that they called for curtailing sex in marriage – (?) – while they applauded an adulterous affair among their members. Yet rather than suggest that congregants take their ills to the municipal courtroom (or court of public opinion), the Apostle Paul told this church that the number one thing they needed to do is love—but not with just any love, but with the acts and feelings that are the love of Christ.
As graduates of MTS, certainly you are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 and its placement in the middle of the discussion on the role of supernatural gifts within the local assembly. Even you who are not seminarians or church goers are familiar with lines of the chapter that have become part of American cultural literacy: “Love never fails,” and “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13 is a popular piece for readings at weddings. The literati among us also know Jonathan Edward’s classic, Charity and Its Fruits, with its final chapter, “Heaven is a World of Love,” is an exemplary Puritan exposition of this very passage.
What is not so popular or familiar, however, is the character of the love Paul reveals to his hearers. This love excels all of the supernatural gifts within the congregation of Corinth, and of every congregation. This love also excels all concepts of love we promote in the world—from the puppy-love of two children who first begin to notice that “Yuck!” affection for the girl or boy in class, to the one-night stand of two colleagues, to the 1960’s anti-war slogan, “Make love not war.” It is far greater than the new parental love that removes the word “No” from teaching children ethical parameters, and offers much more than the marriage alternative now codified in Obergefell. v. Hodges. Paul’s love is more than gaining warm tingly feelings, making people happy on the inside, or keeping you from being alone when you come home from work. Warm-fuzzies and recreational partnerships will no more address evils in the world than will building an Iron Curtain-like fence along America’s southern border; every day Evil tells us where we can take the warm-fuzzy fences of our lusts and our visions of Presidential grandeur.
No, what Paul proposes is much greater, and more powerful than any wall, dropping of bombs, or embargo, and it is more powerful that the hope most people have of finally experiencing “real love” one day. This love has an enduring quality: It “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” in verse 8. It doesn’t throw in the towel when caring for a love one’s terminal disease curbs our fun for years on end. It doesn’t drop out of parenting when nothing will bring a wayward or rebellious child to reform or reconciliation. It envisions a brighter future for the addicted spouse when there are no promises of light at the end of the tunnel. It has hope for the daughter who has become a cutter and thrown away her full-ride to college, and continues to act on that hope because the daughter’s turnaround is within the realm of “all things.” Our world needs this enduring love.
This love is more excellent than operating in self-serving passions. It is beyond thinking firstly of one’s own personal comforts, one’s own desires, and one’s own promotion. Instead verses 4 – 7 tell us this love is “patient and kind,” which means love acts with patience and kindness consistently. This “love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” Real love does not smart-off at me in the store because a worker does not like me changing my order as a customer (as someone did to me recently). It does not curse at teachers who are authorities in their classrooms, neither does it try to get in the last word in every argument, and it certainly does not plan to “go up one side and down the other” of a person, or do-in or undo anyone. This love and rudeness in any form cannot coexist in the same person. This love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing,” which includes not laughing at, minimizing, taking advantage of, or ignoring the wrongful treatment of any person. Instead, Paul says this love “rejoices with the truth.”
Love intends to conquer base passions and decrease self so that the church can be the very presence of Love on earth. This is who we are to be—not simply believers intent on having nice friendships, a few prayers, and time of study. The goal of all of our shepherding, preaching, teaching, counseling, singing, praying, fellowshipping, and meeting together for business matters is that we love one another, and that our love so displays the power of Christ in lives that the world takes notice of our uniqueness in society and comes to us to seek this love—love that comes only from calling on the name of the Lord.
When we see that love is more than feeling, and is selfless actions for the greatest good of others, it puts personal, social, and all moral evils into perspective. The Black Lives Matter movement is an issue of love: Lethal use of force would not have a twinge of prejudicial association, and protests would not devolve into attacks on law enforcement, because all sides would be looking for selfless solutions with endurance and hope rather than acting out of impatience and fear. The Flint water crisis is a matter of love: We need officials who do not cover up wrongdoing for the sakes of their jobs, but who, instead, consider what is kind towards its citizenry and make sure their own happiness rests in being truthful.
Even a man being knocked out in a Chicago street, robbed of his possessions while down, and then run over by a taxi while people watch and do nothing is a matter of love—not simply of sympathetic feelings toward one who is down, but it is someone having the courage to step up in the situation at risk of life, fending off pilferers, and identifying the culprits. The ethos that denigrates righteous reporting as “snitching” is the getaway driver for moral evil, and only will stop the car in the face of the lawman known as Love.
This is so, because love not only is about selfless acts and feeling toward others. Love is about a person, for Paul is personifying love. Love cannot be patient or kind; people are patient and kind. So if real love—the love you long to experience, the love that should characterize every Christian worker and every member of a church, the love that should be the evaluation grid of our ministries at the end of each day, and the love that is stronger than legislation (for even where structural justice is needed, its legislation cannot change hearts)—if real love sat in our pews Sunday to Sunday, it would have all the features of the actions of love. It would show the world what it means to stand in the very presence of God the Father for all of eternity, for, as Paul says, through love we will “see face-to-face” rather than “through a glass darkly,” and through love we will “know fully even as [we are] fully known.” The only person who has shown that love daily in full measure is Jesus.
Jesus is patient toward our sin and kind toward transgressors. Jesus did not envy people’s accomplishments or looks, or boast of his divine abilities to the detriment and shame of others.
Jesus was not arrogant or rude when people accused his momma of being a whore and spat on him—things that would have been causes for fights for the rest of us. Rejection by his own people did not make him irritable or resentful for leaving his glory in heaven to come down to them.
The narrative of Jesus’ life cuts through wrongdoing in the temple and made Zacchaeus pay back stolen money fourfold—something many white-collar crooks in the modern world need to do. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). Jesus rejoiced in the truth.
Surely when he went to the cross to die in the place of our sinfulness before God, experienced and satisfied the very wrath of God in our place, and then got up from the grave by defeating death with his righteousness, he bore for us all things, he believed for us all things, he endured for us all things, and he hoped in us all things.
You sir, you ma’am who came to celebrate a graduate, should put your hope for experiencing real love in Jesus. Only he has the power to forgive you of your lack of acts of love, and to overcome eternal death for you so you can enjoy real love in this life and the life to come. Only his love working in you can transform the pride that rules your marriage into meekness so that his love also can create the bedroom experience—the love—you really want nightly, or sustain you in a marriage when selfless sexual love is absent. Only by knowing the fullness of his love can we let go of bitterness over dashed hopes and hatred of those who have abused and misused us unjustly, and find a life of joy and peace. Ask your graduate to show you the way to this real love that comes only through knowing the Christ.
Yes, the world is in need of love today.
It needs love to permeate everything within the church so that we can mend hearts and keep evil at bay.
Don’t delay; send yours in right away.
Love is the heart-fixer;
Love is the hate-stopper;
Love is the hope-giver;
Love is the evil-defeater.
MTS 2016 graduates, go love the people you serve with the actions and feelings of our Savior.
Make sure you, and your ministry, just give the world Jesus.
 Wonder, Stevie. 1976. Songs in the Key of Life, vol. 1 & 2 vol. 1 & 2. Los Angeles, CA: Motown.
 See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/us/politics/out-of-office-ex-speaker-john-boehner-gleefully-releases-mute-button.html?_r=0, accessed April 30, 2016.
 1 Cor 7:1-5.
 See http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-bartender-death-lawsuit-0421-20160420-story.html, accessed April 30, 2016.
 1 Cor 13:12.