This hymn addresses four types of love: love of Jesus, love of family, the grit-your-teeth kind of love, and charity, the pure love of Christ.
These four loves comprise the backbone of what it means to be a true Christian. The first is the love that “glorifies the Son,” meaning the love that gives us the guts to say “Thy will, not my will, be done.” This love is the antidote to the kind of obedience that is driven by fear of punishment. When we love God, serving Him becomes less of a burden and more of a privilege. Fear makes us cower, whimper, wait in dread for the axe of God’s Judgment to drop on us. Love makes us step forward and ask, “What else can I do for you?”
The second is love of family. Part of this is showing love and giving our best to our living relatives, and part is showing respect and interest in our ancestors. The importance of this is written of in Malachi and in the Doctrine and Covenants: ”And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers” (D&C 2:2). I believe this process of turning our hearts to our fathers not only blesses them with our work in temple ordinances, but it also helps us show love and compassion and forgiveness for our forebears.
The third love mentioned in this hymn is one especially interesting to me, the grin-and-bear-it kind of love. This love that “overcomes defeat” is the love that helps us keep relationships intact, and to swallow back curses when we should administer blessings to those who may curse us first. This is the love we pray for through gritted teeth, which may very well make it the most important love.
The fourth love, charity, is the love that we employ to “change from foe to friend,” the love we invoke to sustain us when we most desperately need to change. Charity, the pure love of Christ, gives us the perspective we need to have compassion toward our fellowmen. My grandma used to say that the people who ticked us off the most were “more to be pitied than censured,” which I think captures the essence of what it means to have charity in our hearts.
Charity, in combination with the other types of love, are what will bring us closest to Christ. As Elder Holland has said, “Pure Christlike love…can change the world.”