How Does Love of Others Change Us?
Article by Stephen Post (2013)
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Recent research on the science of love, defined in this article as “when the happiness, security, and well-being of another person is as real or more to you than your own,” suggests strong positive emotional, social, and physical benefits for those who love others. There appears to be a correlation between loving others and deeper friendships, better health, and a more meaningful life.

This research supports what Christianity has been insisting for centuries: those who are centered outside themselves and love others live more meaningful and joyful lives. Pastors can use this research to to encourage partnerships in the community and spur congregants to carry out concrete acts of love in their communities and workplaces.

“Creative love is thus our purpose in life and constitutes the image of God within us.”

-Stephen Post

What to Consider

  • Is there a relationship between loving others and living a meaning-filled life? How have you seen or not seen this connection in your life experiences?
  • Can you think of a time when you loved others in concrete ways? Can you think of a time when others have loved you in concrete ways? What were the short term and long term effects of these experiences?
  • What is the relationship between the love of God and loving others?
  • The article’s author weaves together strands from Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism in his discussion and definition of love. What is the relationship between a Christian understanding of love and how love is understood in other religions? What are some similarities? What are some differences? How much should the definition of love found in other religions influence our understanding of love as Christians?

How to Go Deeper

  • Read Luke 10:25-37 and, in light of this research on love, consider the story of the Good Samaritan–specifically, the ways that the loving act of the Samaritan may have produced hope and joy within both the Samaritan and the hurt man. Offer analogous examples of acts of love in your community and invite congregants to imagine ways to concretely love others in their lives.
  • Read Psalm 139. Using another definition of love from the article–as “a Creative Presence underlying all of reality”–make connections between the intimate way God loves us (as found in this psalm) and the act of loving others. 1 John 4:19 or similar scriptures might be useful for making these connections. Challenge congregants to contemplate how they have experienced God’s love and how that might be channeled into concrete acts of love for others.
  • Using parts of the Old Testament Law (such as Leviticus 19:9-18 or Exodus 20:1-20), consider the emphasis  on loving one’s neighbor in the Old Testament Israelite community. Then, compare the Law to the teachings of Jesus (such as Matthew 5-7 or Luke 6) in regards to loving others and explore the contextual differences that might have lead to the different ways people were instructed to love others. Share this research and offer some concrete ideas about ways to love others in your community. If possible, split congregants into small groups to generate their own ideas.

Relevant Scriptures

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

“Our Guiding Questions: Calling & Creative Love”

“Why You Should Love Thy Coworker”

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

4 Comments

  1. Reed Metcalf February 17, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    While I think I agree with much of what Dr. Post has written in this article, I find his lack of citations–scientific, biblical, and otherwise–highly problematic for his article. Again, much of what he has to say “sounds” right, but there is little to no data from scientific studies or biblical texts cited to support his arguments. I would be wary of citing this article in either a paper or sermon. Having encountered Dr. Post in person, I do trust him, but science is all about data backing up claims–and for that matter, so is exegesis and preaching!

  2. JarrodCraw May 24, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    I think it’s good to think through the idea that love really does mean loving a neighbor AS YOURSELF. This article supports this idea with the phrase that we see someone else’s happiness, security, etc…as real as…our own. I love to see how these ideas reflect things that Jesus told us to do.

  3. aidenkang May 27, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    In rereading this article, I really appreciated Dr. Post’s take on the different manifestations of love – “Love manifests itself in different ways, all of which are necessary and useful. If love is the hub of a wheel, its spokes point outwards according to the needs of the beloved. There are at least ten modulations or forms that love takes. Celebration is love affirming the lives and achievements of others; Helping is love lifting burdens for others; Forgiveness is love in response to contrition; Carefrontation (confrontation being such a limited word) is love standing against destructive behaviors; Humor is love uplifting and reframing in mirthful lightness; Respect is love “looking twice” (re-spectare) at the views of others; Attentive listening is love focused on the other’s narrative without distraction or interruption; Compassion is love aware of suffering and responding to it with depth; Loyalty is love sticking with others in their hard times; Creativity is love making gifts for others.”

  4. aidenkang May 27, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    In terms of other religions, outside of the three Abrahamic faiths, I don’t know if they’re grounded in love as it is XTianity. Having lived in Thailand for 3 years, Buddhism for sure is not grounded on the notion of love.

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