“And the Greatest of These Is Love,” Ensign, Mar. 1984, 3
I wish to discuss something for which all of us long, which all of us need, and without which the world can be a lonely and desolate place. I speak of love.
When I was a little boy, we children traded paper hearts at school on Valentine’s Day. At night we dropped them at the doors of our friends, stamping on the porch and then running in the dark to hide.
Almost without exception those valentines had printed on their face, “I love you.” I have since come to know that love is more than a paper heart. Love is of the very essence of life. It is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Yet it is more than the end of the rainbow. Love is at the beginning also, and from it springs the beauty that arches across the sky on a stormy day. Love is the security for which children weep, the yearning of youth, the adhesive that binds marriage, and the lubricant that prevents devastating friction in the home; it is the peace of old age, the sunlight of hope shining through death. How rich are those who enjoy it in their associations with family, friends, church, and neighbors.
I am one who believes that love, like faith, is a gift of God. I agree with the expression, “Love cannot be forced, love cannot be coaxed and teased.” (Pearl Buck, in The Treasure Chest, ed. Charles L. Wallis, New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 165.)
In our youth, we sometimes acquire faulty ideas of love, that it can be imposed or simply created for convenience. I noted the following in a newspaper column some years ago:
“One of the grand errors we tend to make when we are young is supposing that a person is a bundle of qualities, and we add up the individual’s good and bad qualities, like a bookkeeper working on debits and credits.
“If the balance is favorable, we may decide to take the jump (into marriage). … The world is full of unhappy men and women who married because … it seemed to be a good investment.
“Love, however, is not an investment; it is an adventure. And when marriage turns out to be as dull and comfortable as a sound investment, the disgruntled party soon turns elsewhere. …
“Ignorant people are always saying, ‘I wonder what he sees in her [or him],’ not realizing that what he [or she] sees in her [or him] (and what no one else can see) is the secret essence of love.” (Sydney J. Harris, Deseret News.)
I think of two friends from my high school and university years. He was a boy from a country town, plain in appearance, without money or apparent promise. He had grown up on a farm, and if he had any quality that was attractive it was the capacity to work. He carried bologna sandwiches in a brown paper bag for his lunch and swept the school floors to pay his tuition. But with all of his rustic appearance, he had a smile and a personality that seemed to sing of goodness. She was a city girl who had come out of a comfortable home. She would not have won a beauty contest, but she was wholesome in her decency and integrity and attractive in her decorum and dress.
Something wonderful took place between them. They fell in love. Some whispered that there were far more promising boys for her, and a gossip or two noted that perhaps other girls might have interested him. But these two laughed and danced and studied together through their school years. They married when people wondered how they could ever earn enough to stay alive. He struggled through his professional school and came out well in his class. She scrimped and saved and worked and prayed. She encouraged and sustained, and when things were really tough, she said quietly, “Somehow we can make it.” Buoyed by her faith in him, he kept going through these difficult years. Children came, and together they loved them and nourished them and gave them the security that came of their own love for and loyalty to one another. Now many years have passed. Their children are grown, a lasting credit to them, to the Church, and to the communities in which they live.
I remember seeing them on a plane, as I returned from an assignment. I walked down the aisle in the semidarkness of the cabin and saw a woman, white-haired, her head on her husband’s shoulder as she dozed. His hand was clasped warmly about hers. He was awake and recognized me. She awakened, and we talked. They were returning from a convention where he had delivered a paper before a learned society. He said little about it, but she proudly spoke of the honors accorded him.
I wish that I might have caught with a camera the look on her face as she talked of him. Forty-five years earlier people without understanding had asked what they saw in each other, I thought of that as I returned to my seat on the plane. Their friends of those days saw only a farm boy from the country and a smiling girl with freckles on her nose. But these two found in each other love and loyalty, peace and faith in the future.
There was a flowering in them of something divine, planted there by that Father who is our God. In their school days they had lived worthy of that flowering of love. They had lived with virtue and faith, with appreciation and respect for self and one another. In the years of their difficult professional and economic struggles, they had found their greatest earthly strength in their companionship. Now in mature age, they were finding peace and quiet satisfaction together. Beyond all this, they were assured of an eternity of joyful association through priesthood covenants long since made and promises long since given in the House of the Lord.
There are other great and necessary expressions of the gift of love.
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question, tempting him, and saying, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:35–40.)
Who is my neighbor? To answer this, we need only read the moving parable of the good Samaritan, or the word of the Lord concerning the day of judgment when the King shall “say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:34–40.)
The greatest challenge we face in our hurried, self-centered lives is to follow this counsel of the Master. Years ago I read the story of a young woman who went into a rural area as a schoolteacher. Among those in her class was a girl who had failed before and who was failing again. The student could not read. She came from a family without means to take her to a larger city for examination to determine whether she had a problem that could be remedied. Sensing that the difficulty might lie with the girl’s eyes, the young teacher arranged to take the student, at the teacher’s own expense, to have her eyes tested. A deficiency was discovered that could be corrected with glasses. Soon an entire new world opened to the student. For the first time in her life, she saw clearly the words before her. The salary of that country schoolteacher was meager, but out of the little she had, she made an investment that completely changed the life of a failing student, and in doing so she found a new dimension in her own life.
Every returned missionary can recount experiences of losing oneself in the service of others and finding that to be the most rewarding experience of his or her life. Every member of the Church actively involved in service to God and others can recount similar stories, as can devoted parents and marriage partners who have given of their time and means, have loved and sacrificed so greatly that their concern for each other and their children has known almost no bounds.
Love is the only force that can erase the differences between people, that can bridge chasms of bitterness. I recall these lines:
He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
(Edwin Markham, “Outwitted.”)
He who most beautifully taught this everlasting truth was the Son of God, the one perfect exemplar and teacher of love. His coming to earth was an expression of his Father’s love.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16–17.)
The Savior spoke prophetically of that sacrifice and of the love that culminated in his redemptive sacrifice when he declared, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.)
To all of us who would be his disciples, he has given the great commandment, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34.)
If the world is to be improved, the process of love must make a change in the hearts of men. It can do so when we look beyond self to give our love to God and others, and do so with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.
The Lord has declared in modern revelation, “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you.” (D&C 88:67.)
As we look with love and gratitude to God, as we serve him with an eye single to his glory, there goes from us the darkness of sin, the darkness of selfishness, the darkness of pride. There will come an increased love for our Eternal Father and for his Beloved Son, our Savior and our Redeemer. There will come a greater sense of service toward our fellowmen, less of thinking of self and more of reaching out to others.
This principle of love is the basic essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without love of God and love of neighbor there is little else to commend the gospel to us as a way of life.
Paul the Apostle spoke well these words:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not [love], I am nothing. …
“[Love] never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” (1 Cor. 13:1–2, 8.)
The Master taught: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:24.) This remarkable and miraculous process occurs in our own lives as we reach out with love to serve others.
Each of us can, with effort, successfully root the principle of love deep in our being so that we may be nourished by its great power all our lives. For as we tap into the power of love, we will come to understand the great truth written by John: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.” (1 Jn. 4:16.)
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion.
1. Love is the security of children, the yearning of youth, the adhesive that binds marriage, and that which prevents devastating friction in the home; it is the peace of old age, the sunlight of hope shining through death. How rich are those who enjoy it in their associations with family, friends, church, and neighbors.
2. Love is the only force that can erase the differences between people, that can bridge chasms of bitterness. It can do so when we look beyond self to give our love to God and others, and do so with all our heart, soul, and mind.
3. As we look with love and gratitude to God, as we serve him with an eye single to his glory, there goes from us the darkness of sin, the darkness of selfishness, the darkness of pride. There will come an increased love for our Eternal Father and for his Beloved Son, our Savior and our Redeemer. There will come a greater sense of service toward our fellowmen, less of thinking of self and more of reaching out to others.
4. The Son of God is the one perfect exemplar and teacher of love. His coming to earth was an expression of his Father’s love. Love is the basic essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
1. Relate your personal feelings and experiences about the importance of love. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop to the household head concerning love?