What do you consider the greatest act of love?
Shouldn’t sacrificing one’s life for another be considered the most loving act any human can do? Jesus said, “‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’” (John 15:13).
Consider the examples of these two English martyrs: Hugh Laverick and John Aprice. They were burned at the stake for heresy in 1556 by the lord of London. Laverick was a 68-year-old painter who had to walk with the aid of a crutch due to a crippled foot. Aprice was blind.
As Laverick approached the platform, he threw away his cane and turned to Aprice to say, “Be of good cheer, my brother; for my lord of London is our Good Physician; he will heal us both shortly—thee of blindness and me of lameness.”
These two heroes of the faith willingly gave up their lives in order to exalt the name of Christ. While some might say it was their sacrificial deaths that was most loving, I believe it was their willingness to make Jesus famous through their martyrdom that was most loving.
Let me explain. If the people of England had mourned the deaths of Laverick and Aprice, but never understood the reason behind it, could we then call their sacrificial deaths a loving act or a true extension of “agape” love?
Put another way, had the people of London only witnessed two weak and disabled men being put to death—not understanding why they died—then might we say that the people of London completely missed the purpose of their deaths, which was to exalt the name of Christ and make His name known?
Laverick and Aprice’s “act” of evangelism seems to be the greatest expression of love. Their sacrifice was the most loving act possible because the town of London witnessed the extreme joy they had in the Lord. And it was this overwhelming joy that enabled the people of London to witness Christ’s afflictions, carried out 15 centuries earlier.
Because of the witness of these two faithful men, Christ’s name was made known to all of London; and, as a result, God received all the glory. Thus, it wasn’t their dying that made this act an extreme expression of love. Instead, it was their living—their living for the Lord and making His name known to all the people.
I love how John Piper explains this in his book “Desiring God.” He writes that love cannot be equated with sacrificial action. In fact, it cannot be equated with any action: “Evidently an act does not qualify as love unless it involves right motives. But isn’t the willingness to die a sign of good motives? Someone might say that what ruined the self-sacrificing act of apparent love was the intention to inherit reward after death or to leave a noble memory on earth … yet this answer is incomplete … the more important question is, ‘What does love to man have to do with our love for God and His grace toward us? Could it be that the reason a person could give his body to be burned and not have love is that his act had no connection to a genuine love for God? Could it be that horizontal love is only authentic when it is the extension of a vertical love for God?’”
According to Piper, a sacrificial act is most loving only when we have an all-satisfying joy in Christ and in His service. “Our sacrifices are not right for right’s sake, nor are they considered an abandoning of one’s own good solely for the good of another person,” Piper writes. “Rather, a sacrifice is first, a deeply satisfying experience of the fullness of God’s grace, and second, a doubly satisfying experience of sharing that grace with another person.”
I believe that the greatest expression of love—the most extreme benevolence any human could ever bestow upon another—is to share the Gospel with another person. Although the Great Commission commands us to share our faith, Jesus did not necessarily tell us “why” we should.
Jesus never said, “Go forth, and here is the reason why.” He simply said, “Go and make disciples.” But love is the reason why we share our faith. Proclaiming Christ to others is the greatest demonstration of love we can ever express on earth.
Therefore, all loving acts must point to Jesus and be for the praise of His glory. A person may sacrifice his time, his resources, his reputation and even his life if he thinks that good will come of it. But the Christian should willingly sacrifice each of those things so that others will see Jesus.
While love sometimes involves sacrifice, it always involves evangelism—a pointing toward Jesus. And to me, that is the greatest act of love we can ever express.
Eric Veal has been a member of Southeast Christian Church for 30 years.