Monday, April 28, 2014

Love Alone (Monday Morning in the Desert)

Churches that are descended from the Reformation like to use the word "alone" a lot - "faith alone", "grace alone", "Scripture alone", "Christ alone", and "glory to God alone".  During online discussions about the Reformation, I've seen these five "solas" (Latin word for "alone") critiqued in a sarcastic, yet perceptive fashion: If these things are supposed to be "alone", why are there five of them? 

Well, I'm going to muddy the water further through this morning's quote from a modern day Desert Father, Elder George of Mount Athos, by adding another "alone" - "Love alone".  Elder George said:

"Love all your fellow men, even your enemies.  This is the most basic thing.  Always love not only those who love us, but also those who hate us.  Let us forgive them and love them all even if they have done us the greatest evil; then we are truly children of God.  Then our own sins are also forgiven.... Always preach love.  This is the most basic law of God: love and love alone."

(From p. 189 of "Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece" by Herman Middleton).

Elder George's words are directly related to the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43-44).  And, of course, Jesus directly invoked love when he answered the lawyer's question regarding which commandment was the greatest: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matthew 22:37-39).

Those words seem so simple, but are so hard to follow.  Pray for our enemies? It is much easier to curse them.  Love our enemies? It is much easier to retaliate against them.  Love our neighbor? It is much easier to love ourselves. 

Which message sells better in politics? It is much easier for politicians to stand up in front of a cheering crowd and preach hatred of our enemies rather than love of our enemies.  Sometimes, the language and sacraments of Christianity are distorted in order to do so (  In what is perhaps the most famous attack ad in history, the word "love" was distorted through its use in a message implying "vote for me, because the other candidate will start a nuclear war" (

"Love alone" may not be one of the slogans of the Reformation, and it will probably never be a popular political slogan.  But if I were to be given the task of describing the message of Jesus in two words, those might be the two words I would select. 


  1. Jay,

    This is a great post! I have been following you for quite some time on Twitter, and always enjoy reading what you post. This one hits the nail on the head. Imagine what the world could be like if we all followed these instructions!

    God Bless,

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Paula. A world defined by love seems impossible, but with God, of course, all things are possible......

  3. I have nothing against love, but I was surprised by this post.

    Our religion is founded on the principal of hesed (love) and emet (truth), and then Jesus speaks of worship in Spirit and Truth. Of course, the Great Commandment is about love. However, "Love Alone," uncoupled and disconnected from Truth, has obviously led to the rampant abuse of religion that we see all around us today.

    It is true that Luther muddied the water with the "Alones," but now do you want a theology of Love Alone? The Lutheran Church today, especially the ELCA, is experimenting with this theology and the results are obvious. If we remove Truth from the equation, our Faith becomes a Beatles song.

  4. Kathy - good to hear from you.

    Instead of using Hebrew, the better language to look at in this discussion is Greek, since it is the language of the New Testament, as well as the language of the monk from Mount Athos I quoted.

    There is more than one word in Greek which is translated as "love" in English versions of the Bible. One of those words is "agape". "Agape" is used in the following passage:

    "We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:14-16).

    "Speaking the truth in love" - this phrase answers your concerns as to the phrase, "love alone". Love and truth cannot be uncoupled from each other because this use of the word "love" includes truth as a part of its very nature.