What exactly is love and why is it so important? A simple, but accurate definition of Love as defined in the scriptures means caring about others more than we care about ourselves. The apostle Paul refers to this kind of love as "charity" (see 1 Corinthians chapter 13). Basically, it's deeds of kindness we do for others. A smile or letting someone go ahead of us in line are examples of simple acts of kindness. Most of the time this kind of love is easy to perform and cost nothing in the way of money or effort.
The reason why "charity" is so important is because that's the very essence of godhood. God is god because He is filled with love for everyone and everything. All the principles of righteousness are based on love. A person can't be longsuffering, gentle, good, kind, selfless, helpful, friendly, or considerate of others unless he truly cares about others. It's our love for God and Jesus that makes us holy. Without love we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Therefore, it behoves us to learn how to love, because in doing so we become more Christ-like. And the more Christ-like we are, the more qualified we become for exaltation and godhood in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest gift we can receive (D&C 6:13).
Children provide us the greatest opportunity to learn how to give loving service to others. There is something inherent in parents that motivates them to freely give of their time, talents, and energy to teach, guide, instruct, help, advise, protect, and watch over their offspring. In addition to this, parents many times feel the desire to shower their children with material gifts as expressions of their love. By taking advantage of the opportunities child-rearing provides, parents learn how to behave as Christ did - showing love by caring for others more than ourselves.
But if even small acts of love are important in helping us to become like Christ, then what about larger acts of service? What about helping a neighbor who's car won't start, or taking food to a shut-in, or visiting someone in the hospital? What about greater gifts of service such as helping victims of floods, hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes? And what about the constant efforts of those who work with violators of the law to help rehabilitate them, or with the elderly, sick and dying to help relieve their suffering, or with the underprivileged and poor to help them improve their living conditions?
To become more Christ-like means to become more loving, and we do this in two different ways. One way is in our frequency - how often we show love to others. The second way is in our intensity - how much effort we put into our love for others. To help get a better feel for what it takes for to become Christ-like, let's look at this from a numerical point of view. To illustrate, imagine a line with a zero at one end and one hundred at the other. If the line represents the love we give, then we can chart the amount of love we put forth in each act of service from zero all the way to one hundred percent. We'll call this our "love meter".
LOVE METER 0-------------------------------------------------------------------100
When we perform some simple act of kindness, such as a smile or a cheery hello, it doesn't take much effort. Therefore, on our "love meter" line let's say that a smile is worth five points. Whenever we perform some small act of love for one of our children, let's say we get ten points. Because it's easier to love our own children rather than a stranger, if we performed the same act for someone we didn't know, let's say we would get fifteen points.
If we get only ten points when we help a willing child of ours, we might expect to get fifteen or twenty points for trying to give a rebellious child the same amount of help, simply because we have to work harder at providing it. The same is true when we help a sick child, because it takes more effort on our part to perform this act of love than when the child is feeling fine. In the same way, forgiving one of our own children or a friend for a wrong they've committed against us takes much less effort than forgiving a stranger who has commited the same offense toward us.
Now, imagine that every time we do something kind or loving for someone else we get points which accumulate on our life's record. Then, when we have achieved as many points as Christ has, we will have measured up to His stature. In our illustration of a love meter, how many acts of love would it take before we could expect to measure up to Christ? That all depends on two things: the frequency of our service plus the intensity of our efforts to perform the service. For example: if we perform one thousand acts of love at ten points each, we will have accumulated ten-thousand points. However it would take only five hundred acts of service at twenty points each to accumulate ten thousand points, or two hundred acts at fifty points each to reach the same total.
Looking at it this way it becomes obvious that if we want to become more Christ-like, then the more frequently we show love and the more effort we put into it, the closer we become to being like Christ.
One way to increase the frequency is to show love to more people. That's one of the purposes of church callings - to provide us with opportunities to serve people other than our own family members. The other thing we can do to increase our points is to put more effort into the service we give. For example, a smile is fine, but a smile with a cheery word takes a little more effort. To give a smile and a cheery word to someone in the hospital takes even more effort because we have to go out of our way to deliver the smile. To give a smile and a cheery word every day to someone in the hospital until they come home takes quite a bit more effort, and even more effort is needed if the person in the hospital isn't a close friend or family member.
Let's apply this principle to church callings. Consider the kind of love that can be used to teach a Sunday school class. It takes effort to properly prepare the lesson. It takes even more effort to make sure the lesson is interesting, uplifting and informative to every class member. It requires even more effort to take the time during class to help each class member understand the lesson and even more effort to be concerned at all times about the spiritual growth of each individual in the class. And this same principle can be applied to missionary work, genealogy, home/visiting teaching, and a host of other programs in the church. They all provide us with a large circle of people to whom we can show love with greater frequency and deeper intensity.
On the other hand, with every act of selfishness committed we lose points. When we are angry, jealous, hateful, or deceitful toward others we are doing the opposite of love. Since spiteful, bitter words, cheating, stealing and lying hurts others rather than helps them, whenever we engage in such acts we are actually becoming more like Satan. And the more frequent and the greater intensity we put into these kinds of behavior, the further and faster we get away from becoming like Christ.
The more we extend ourselves to help others, and the more of ourselves we put into the service we give, and the more we care about the people we serve, the more we are behaving like Christ. Furthermore, the more people we serve, especially those outside of our circle of family and friends, the more we truly become like Christ.
Again, looking at numbers, a Sunday school teacher may have ten to twenty students they can be concerned about. A Relief Society President may have several hundred women she can show love to. A bishop has more than twice that many people he is directly responsible for meeting both their spiritual and temporal needs, while a stake president must show love to thousands of people over whom the Lord has given him charge. Although that may sound like a lot of opportunities to perform works of service, the President of the Church is responsible for everyone presently living on the earth. Thus we see that the greater the calling, the greater the opportunity there is to show love.
One of the things that makes Christ so great is the shear number of people He has actually shown love for. There are four billion people on the earth right now. Christ gave one hundred percent of Himself when he died for the sins of each one these people. According to our love meter, that means, in that one act of service, Christ gained four hundred billion points. Not counting all of His other acts of service while He lived on the earth, and not counting all the other people Christ died for, we could ask ourselves, "How long would it take me, personally, to accumulate four hundred billion points as recorded on the love meter the way I am presently showing love to others?"
However, there is one glaring error with this illustration. Becoming Christ-like is not a matter of accumulating points. We don't reach a number of good deeds and then sit back and relax. Becoming Christ-like is a matter of becoming like Christ is. It's a matter of attitude, of desire, of character and of behavioral traits.
But the illustration of accumulating points does show us the process of how to become like Christ. In order for our love points to grow we have to develop the attitude and have the desire to want to show our love more frequently, with more intensity, to more people. And as we continually work to increase our love points we begin to develop the behavioral characteristics of Christ.
The apostle James wrote a powerful message to the saints of his day trying to get them to understand this very principle. It seems, from his epistle, many of the saints back then felt that all that was necessary to gain salvation was simply acknowledge Christ as their Savior. He said to them, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well, [but] the devils also believe and tremble" (2:19). "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding, ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit" (2:14)?
Then he explained what the real purpose of religion was when he declared, "If ye [want to] fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, [then] thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [and] ye [will] do well" (2:8). "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" (1:27). "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (5:14). All of these are acts of loving service.
However, it must be noted that we can't help everyone and not all of us receive a calling to serve large numbers of people. Abraham recorded, "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; and God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers;... and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art chosen before thou wast born" (Abraham 3:22,23).
Not everyone is like Abraham. Many have not been chosen to be a ruler, or a prophet or a great leader, but each of us does have our own mission to accomplish, our own assignment to fulfill, and no calling is any less important than another. There is nothing small in raising children in righteousness and there is just as much need for Sunday school teachers as there are for bishops, stake presidents and General Authorities. Each person has an important part to play where ever the Lord calls them to serve, so we shouldn't despair when we don't have the opportunity to serve in ways that are as grand as others.
But despite this fact, most of us can show more love to more people than we presently do. The Lord explained, "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will and bring to pass much righteousness" (D&C 58:27). This is the purpose of true religion. As the apostle Paul explained, the reason why God established a church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers was "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry [and] for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12,13). And that is the whole point of love.