Several years ago, the famous PEANUTS cartoon depicted Schroeder, the piano playing intellectual, being interrupted by his infatuated admirer, Lucy. Lucy said to Schroeder, "Schroeder, do you know what love is?" Schroeder immediately stopped playing his piano, stood to his feet and said quite precisely, "Love: noun, to be fond of, a strong affection for or an attachment or devotion to a person or persons." Then he sat back down and started playing his piano again. Lucy just sat there stunned and then murmured sarcastically, "On paper, he's great." 
I'm afraid too many Christians just look good on paper. We've failed to realize that no matter how else we may bear out our testimony for Christ, the absence of love nullifies it all. Love is greater than anything we can say, or anything we possess, or anything we might give away.
The Scriptures admonish, "Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God – for God is love" (I John 4:7, 8 NLT). It couldn't be any clearer; our love for others demonstrates the reality of a right relationship to God.
Several years ago, my parents shared a table in a crowded restaurant with a local deputy sheriff. The conversation turned to matters of faith and the deputy told them of his conversion experience. He said before making his decision to follow Christ, his family would often invite him to church. He always refused and detested their asking him. Again, his family invited him - this time to their annual revival services. So he came up with a scheme to put an end to their coaxing him to go to church once and for all. This would involve accepting their invitation, but before leaving for church drinking a lot of liquor to get the smell of it strongly on his breath. He would also sprinkle some of the alcohol on himself and wear it like cologne. This way he would appear intoxicated and the embarrassment for his family would surely keep them from ever asking him again, he thought.
Much to his surprise, however, his family seemed undeterred by his appearance. They were delighted to have him with them. When they arrived at the church, the deputy was overwhelmed with the love and acceptance he received. So moved by the church's incredible acts of love, that night at the revival services he gave his life to Christ.
Love is the best witness for Christ that we can ever give. Demonstrating real love means loving the unlovely.
Still, in this day of saccharine sweet, artificial, and shallow expressions of love, let me add this qualification: sometimes love requires a forthrightness that can be bitter, even seemingly harsh.
I once read an interesting account by the late Thomas Watson of Georgia about the great revivalists Sam Jones, whose preaching moved thousands at the close of the 19th century. Watson wrote:
"I did not yawn the day I went to hear Sam Jones. There he was, clad in a little jump tail coat, and looking little like the regulation preacher. He was not in the pulpit. He was right next to the crowd and almost in touch of his victims. His head was down as if he was holding on to his chain of thought by the teeth, but his right hand was going energetically up and down with the grace of a pump handle. And how he did hammer the brethren. How he did peel the amen corner with groans and sobs and tears, these old bellwethers of the flock fell on their knees and cried aloud in their distress, then what? He turned his guns on us sinners. He raked us fore and aft. He gave up grape and canister and all the rest. He abused us. He ridiculed us. He stormed at us and laughed at us. He called us flop-eared hounds, beer kegs and whiskey soaks. He plainly said we were all hypocrites and liars, and intimated, somewhat broadly, that most of us would steal. Well, the meetings broke up, the community settled back into business, but it has never been the same community. Gambling disappeared, loud profanity on the streets was heard no more and the barrooms were run out of the country." 
Most people today would likely deem an old-fashioned preacher like Sam Jones as unloving and without compassion. Nevertheless, real love can also require firm confrontation.
I once heard Liza Minnelli, the famous singer, actress, and daughter of Hollywood's Judy Garland, tell of the days when she was addicted to drugs. She said someone close to her spoke very strong words about her need for a life change. What was said angered Minnelli greatly. Yet she claimed it saved her. Sometimes, Minnelli added, if you really love someone deeply, you have to be willing to suffer their wrath to help them.
Someone once said, "God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us the way we are." Indeed, and that is the kind love we must also demonstrate. Anything else just looks good on paper.
 Hill, Leon. O' for the Life of a Preacher! Amarillo, TX: Baxter Lane, 1975. Print. Pg. 52
Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.