John Lennon said he wrote songs like “All You Need is Love” because he was a revolutionary, a radical. “My art is dedicated to change.” Changing how we view generosity works the same way. We have to become radical.
To refresh our memory, last week we cited Iris Murdoch’s cautionary note: at crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is already over. Look at giving for example. Privacy and pleasures ensure we first spend on ourselves. Then we give whatever is left over. Won’t work. When asked to give, we’ve already spent our choices.
Time for a better frame. Love. Lennon got that right.
“All You Need is Love” was supposedly written after producers of Our World (the world’s first live global satellite television link) asked Lennon for a message everyone everywhere would understand. He felt it was love. On June 25, 1967, The Beatles performed the song on Our World. Over 400 million people in 25 countries watched.
Love is a message we understand because it’s radical. The Latin radicalis means “related to the roots.” Love is at the root of the Christian tradition. The Christian faith is rooted in the ultimate source of reality—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob revealed in the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Christ. God is love (1 John 4:8).
But what is love?
Love is giving and receiving. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always inclined to love, to generously give of themselves and receive in community. Love is also the enjoyment of another and the desire to expand the circle. In the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Spirit decide to expand the circle of joy by having the Son, Jesus, get married.
The gospel is the story of God’s intention for his Son to “marry us.” We are designed to be Jesus’ bride. This is why Christ began his public ministry at a wedding and, later, compared the kingdom of heaven “to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matthew 22:2). The gospel is the story of love, the wedding of divinity and humanity.
But what does this have to do with generosity?
As the bride, our love is reciprocating—receiving and giving. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We love “because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). The depth to which we experience God’s love determines the breadth of our generosity.
This is why the Apostle Paul pictures conversion to Jesus as “betrothal” (II Corinthians 11:2). Believers are married to Jesus. We are his bride. In the ancient Near East, betrothed couples were considered married but living apart to prove their faithfulness. The modern equivalent is engagement. Kathy and I got engaged because we loved each other. We wanted to give of ourselves. It wasn’t arduous. We aren’t stingy with each other.
This is why Malachi said God’s people, when stingy, are cheating God. James described them as adulteresses (James 4:4). Only a cheating wife can be called an adulteress. We are Jesus’ wife. A wife giving 2.6 percent of herself to her husband is a cheating wife.
This is why God loves a hilarious giver (II Corinthians 9:7). The Greek hilarós means “to be won over, already inclined.” Generous acts occur when we have been won over by the love of God and are already inclined to be generous. Real generosity is less about income, more about inclinations. It’s less a decision, more a disposition. As we experience God’s love, we are inclined to give joyfully and generously.
It’s that simple. All you need is love.
This isn’t simplistic thinking. Einstein felt that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Love is as simple, or radical, as it gets. Jesus’ love is total, 100 percent agape (unconditional), eros (sensual), and phileo (familial). In eternity, we consummate our love. Engaged couples “pant” to consummate their love. That’s what Jesus longs for in his bride. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, O Lord” (Psalm 42:1).
Religious “Nones” seem to long for this. They now represent 32 percent of millennials in the US. There are indicators they are looking for a faith that is rooted in love that includes “eros,” or marital love. There are also indications that millennials might be moving toward the simple life. Love is as simple as you can get. Augustine recognized this. He too was radical. In his Sermon on 1 John 4:4-12, he said, “Love, and do as you will.” He understood this to mean love, and do as you please. This is the central quest in the Bible. Receive God’s love and delight in giving ourselves to others.
To view this beautifully compelling love, see the new Will Smith film, Collateral Beauty, scheduled for release on December 16th. Smith plays a grieving man who has lost his daughter. He writes letters to love, time, and death. They start showing up… as people.
Keira Knightly plays Love. She pleads with Smith: “Don’t try to do [life] without me. I am the reason for everything. If you can accept that, then maybe you get to live again.” She closes with a promise. Love can be found: “Just look for it. I promise you, it’s there. There’s so much more at stake here than you even understand.”
Same goes for generosity. There’s more to it than most understand. It is rooted in love. It is experienced as Jesus’ bride. Scripture pictures several prototype brides. They frolic in God’s love. We’ll frolic with them next week.