What The World Needs Now
Series by Dean B.
“Dean has been a member of the body of Christ for more than 60 years. He has taught Bible classes for every age group from pre-school through adult, has served as a deacon at three congregations, and has twice served as an interim pulpit minister. He is a retired aerospace executive and has a PhD in electrical engineering.”
Part 1 - Love, Sweet Love
What do you think that the world needs most right now? A vaccine? Justice? Peace? An end to global warming? While those are all critically important, I believe that both for the short term and the long term what the world needs most is love.
In 1965 (I was just finishing my first year of graduate school) people were worried, even fearful, and anxious about the future, very much as we are today. There was of course no pandemic to face, but the US was only a little more than two years from the Cuban Missile crisis, which we believed had brought us to the very brink of a nuclear war and which left the country very much on edge, and two years from the shock of the Kennedy assassination. Soldiers were being sent into combat in Viet Nam, beginning that national nightmare. Civil rights protests and associated turmoil and violence were growing. Society exploded in the summer of 1965 in the Watts Riots in Los Angeles which went on for six days and resulted in 1000 buildings being burned and 34 deaths.
In that setting, a song was released which struck a chord in the hearts of many people dealing with uncertainty, doubt, loss, and even fear. The song was titled “What the World Needs Now” and its opening lyrics were:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some but for everyone
That song jumped into the top ten and stayed there for some time because it spoke to a fundamental need that we have as individuals and as a community both to be loved and to express that love in actions toward others. At that time what the world desperately needed was love and there most certainly was too little of it. I think that is clearly the case today as well,
For followers of Christ, even if our world was in less difficult circumstances than it is, love is an imperative. In the New Testament we are urged time after time to love – to love God and to love Jesus to be sure, but even more often to show that love to one another, to our neighbors, and even to our enemies. In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus is recorded as telling a Jewish teacher that the most important commandment of the Law was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”, which was probably what they expected to hear. But Jesus also said that there was a second commandment of equal importance to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus also shocked his followers by telling them “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies…” and in John 13:34-35 he taught us “…Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So we see our obligation as Christians to extend our love for the benefit of everyone we encounter and as a testimony to the presence of Christ in our lives.
The apostle Paul also taught us about love, especially in the well-known passages of I Corinthians, chapter 13. Paul tells us that what we have to sustain us and those around us in the difficulties of life are faith, hope, and love – and that by far the greatest of these is love.
But I would suggest that as critical as love is, and as much as we and the entire world need it in our lives, the evidence is that loving is often difficult for us. It appears to me that even a cursory look at our world will show that just as in the words of the song there is often too little love – in our personal lives, in the community of Christians, and certainly in society in general. Why is this the case? What can we or should we do about it? How can we embrace and more clearly mirror the love of God? In this short series we will look at some of the aspects being loving and some of the barriers that get in our way.
Part 2 - Overcoming Rudeness
Do you know what rudeness has in common with a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in an obscenity case? The court held that gross obscenity is hard to define, but we know it when we see it and it is bad for us! That is also true of rudeness.
Rudeness Gets In The Way of Love.
One of the greatest barriers to showing love for others is rudeness. Being rude displays our lack of concern for those we encounter and it glaringly displays our self-absorption and our failure to imitate Jesus. It also makes us not very lovable in return.
Rudeness is perhaps hard to strictly define. It reminds me of a 1964 Supreme Court opinion dealing with the matter of “hard-core pornography”. Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote concerning illegal pornography “I shall not attempt to further define the kinds of material… But I know it when I see it.” I think we know rudeness when we see it, and it is all around us and likely even creeps into our own lives at times.
When I was a young man “etiquette” books were popular. They purported to tell you how to behave in any social setting so that people would not think you rude or uncultured. We have long abandoned most of the trivial details associated with formaal “etiquette”, but perhaps we have also wrongly abandoned the underlying idea of behaving thoughtfully and kindly toward others.
I remember being taught about what people referred to as “common courtesy” – by which was meant simply consistently considering the feeling of others in our speech and actions. Sometimes I think we have drifted away from the idea of considering the feelings of others. Our society encourages us to be frank, to stand up for ourselves, to confront issues head-on, to demand our rights. It seems that everything is supposed to be about me – what I want, what I feel. But I think that leads us all too often to be rude to others.
As Christians we need to be sensitive to the effect of our words and actions on others. Being rude shouts “you do not matter”. How can we encourage others and show the example of Christ in our lives (in short how can we say we are loving) by being rude?
We often have disagreements or conflicts - some minor, some major – with people. If we allow ourselves to become rude and insulting in those disagreements, how does that help to persuade them to see things our way, and more importantly how does that show the love of God? Maybe we need to more carefully watch our language and behavior when we have disagreements.
Rudeness can show up in many forms. Even a small act such as littering is really being rude to others by spoiling their environment. Rudeness often appears when we just do not care about the other person or their feelings. But how is that attitude showing love? If we love others, why would we want to hurt their feelings, or devalue their worth, or spoil their small pleasures in life? Perhaps we need to think more about what love demands of us in our relationships and get rudeness out of the way.
The apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians, chapter 9, that he had “..become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some.” Perhaps we cannot become all things to all men, but I bet that if we try we can become less rude and give others a better example of what it means to love. Remember, we know rudeness when we see it and so does everyone watching us.
What the world needs now is love, and rudeness has no part in love.
Part 3 - Selfishness Gets In The Way
“You need not worry much about what other people think of you – the truth is they are not thinking of you, they are thinking of themselves just like you are.” (Attributed in similar forms to a number of people). Is this what the world needs now – more selfishness?
Selfishness Gets In The Way of Love
We spoke about rudeness getting in the way of love because rudeness says “I do not care about your feelings or problems.” Selfishness is a close kin to rudeness because it says “I only care about myself. Your feelings, problems, and well-being are of no interest to me and no obligation of mine.”
The sentiment that “you need not worry much about what other people think of you – the truth is they are not thinking of you, they are thinking of themselves just like you are” has been attributed in similar form to people as varied as Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, and Eleanor Roosevelt over a span of more than two hundred years. That illustrates how pervasive selfishness is among humans.
Selfishness can be driven by a desire for material goods, by a desire for self-importance and pre-eminence in society, or by a disinterest in the welfare of anyone but ourselves. Selfishness can drive us to lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want (often because we somehow think we “deserve” good things and are entitled to them even if that imposes a great burden on someone else). It can cause us to do things like hoard supplies in an emergency with not a single thought about the needs of others. Selfishness shows itself in our unwillingness to sacrifice for others in any way. That attitude is so unlike our role model Jesus, who sacrificed heaven itself for us. It is totally in opposition to the command from Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself.
In the business world, affairs are usually a “zero-sum game” – that is, for someone to win someone else must lose, and the competition is often cut-throat. In our lives however, the Bible tells us that it is definitely not a zero-sum game and the more we give, the more we get.
Even in preschool toddlers are taught that they need to share. How often in life have we been reminded about the golden rule? Yet selfishness creeps into our lives as what seems like a nearly universal defect in human beings. For Christians it must not be so. We have an obligation to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and do good to every person (especially to our brothers and sisters). To love means to battle against our selfish tendencies and to genuinely care about, and sacrifice for, others.
How can we be selfish and deny our help and comfort to others if we love them? How can love be disinterested in the welfare of others or wish anything but the best for them? How can we discriminate against people if we love them? And if we wish the best for others, don’t we have an obligation to try to make that best come true for them?
What the world needs now is love that leads us to reject our selfish nature.
Part 4 - The Irritation Explosion
It used to be that a public tantrum or “meltdown” was something that a two-year old had (much to the dismay of his/her mother!). Now nearly every day we see on the news or social media an adult having a very public explosion of temper. Is that what the world needs now – more episodes of uncontrolled anger? Do we think that makes for better people and a better world?
The “Irritation Explosion”
In 1980 a prominent minister wrote a little book on the topic of being more loving. In it he coined the phase “the irritation explosion” to describe what he saw as an alarming increase in the frequency at which people were losing their tempers and becoming almost uncontrollably angry as a result of the various irritations and frustrations of daily life. Thinking back on the 1980s, I wonder what this minister would think of society today?
Nearly every day the news and various social media outlets show clips of people exploding in anger. They verbally abuse others with loud, profane, offensive, insulting language. Often they resort to threats of violence or even actually assault others, sometimes even with a firearm. Road rage used to involve yelling, now it often deteriorates into ramming or shooting. What motivates people to behave in that manner? Surely love is not guiding from their lives.
We have lots of terms for describing losing our tempers. We “fly off the handle”, have a “meltdown”, “go postal” (remember that phrase?), “blow our top”, or just “lose it”. All of those are apt descriptions of a state in which we are out of control due to anger. We all probably have that experience once in a while, some of us more often and more violently than others. What causes us to behave in such an unloving and unhelpful way? Why do so many people seem to be angry all of the time and ready to explode at anything?
I think we most often become angry due to frustration, uncertainty, self-centeredness, or a feeling of an entitlement being denied. There is plenty of frustration and uncertainty in our world, and if we are not vigilant those issues can cause us to walk around with a chip on our shoulder primed to boil over and to lash out at those around us.
Anger is not always inappropriate. Jesus himself expressed anger at times, and there are moments when we may have good reason to be angry at injustices or wrongs, especially if we need to defend others. Generally however anger is not the right answer to our problems. In James, chapter 1: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” The writer could have added that anger in our lives is almost never a response that comes from love. How can we be offensively, even violently, angry with someone that we truly love and whose interests we put on at least an equal footing with our own?
In the business world, matters are usually a “zero-sum game” – that is, for someone to win someone else must lose, and the competition is often cut-throat. For Christian lives however, the Bible tells us that it is definitely not a zero-sum game and in fact the more we give, the more we get.
How often as children (and even as adults) were we admonished about the golden rule? Yet selfishness creeps into our lives as what seems like a nearly universal defect in human beings. For Christians it must not be so. We have an obligation to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and do good to every person (especially to our brothers and sisters). To love means to battle against our selfish tendencies and to genuinely care about, and sacrifice for, others.
So what is the answer to the “irritation explosion”? I believe that for our part it starts with a realization that God loves us and that he expects us to put aside our frustrations and demands for entitlements to demonstrate that love to those around us. In every case when we are on the edge of losing our temper we need to be able to stop long enough to ask ourselves “how will this explosion bring me closer to God, or how will it make the object of my anger a better person?” If we find ourselves the target of someone’s wrath, we need to stop and consider how to de-escalate this situation so that we demonstrate God’s love at work in us and our genuine concern for the other party. Remember the old adage about counting to ten before losing your temper? That is actually sound advice if it gives us time to consider how our actions will speak about our Christian commitment.
Controlling our anger and helping others to control their anger is very hard to do, but it is what the world needs now and it is what love demands.