In early Christianity the synonymn for love was perfection. Far from being a psychologized word (which could become pathological perfectionism), it was deeply theological–the best synonym the early Christians could find to describe when our lives are most like God.
This helps explain why later Christians like John Wesley and others in the holy-living tradition called the entirely sanctified life “perfection in love”—“love filling the heart”–and other similar phrases. Because God is perfect love (e.g. John 3:16–to all people, at all times, and in all places) we know we are moving farther into Christlikeness as we develop perfection in love.
And so, the ‘Verba Seniorum’ (the sayings of the desert fathers and a few desert mothers, published about 550 a.d.) begins with the section “Progress in Perfection.” In fact, the word monk (meaning “singular”) is a sign these early Christians knew that the life of love (as expressed in the two great commandments) is “Job One” for every disciple.
A look at the sayings of these first monks shows us that love is the basis for the entirety of our attitudes and actions, and that love is the defining word for the formation of our character (holiness of heart) and the expression of our conduct (holiness of life). As we make this our all encompassing intention, we have the mind of Christ.
Unfortunately, we use fallen-world filters to read about the centrality of love. We caricature the life of biblical love as cheap grace and sloppy agapé, when the fact is, it is the most radical way to live.
Why? Because it begins with the death of the false self (egotism) which deceives us into thinking that we can rationalize an “I love you, but________” attitude and actually (and correctly) decide whom we will choose to give or withhold love.. Egotism does all it can do to keep us from acknowledging that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Our pseudo love makes everything hierarchial, and we get to make the list and control it!
But biblical love is horizontal. To be rooted in love means, among many other things, that we always meet and relate to others as God’s beloved children, with ourselves being their brother or sister, and ourselves as their servants for Jesus Christ’s sake (2 Cor 4:5).
When everyone relates to everyone else this way, it creates an amazing fellowship–one in which the early Christians believed that the person standing before them could be the Messiah in disguise.