And I don’t mean romance.
Love is one of the most important concepts of the Bible. 1 John 4:8-9: “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Enough said. Right?
But what is love?
In our language, we say “I love pizza” and “I love my wife” in the same paragraph and mean (at least they should mean!) profoundly different things. Our version of love is something like this – whatever (or whoever) makes me happy, satisfies my desires, makes me more comfortable, I will love them. The problems with this definition of love are many and multifaceted. Our culture’s high divorce rate, removed social interactions, and emphasis on materialism could all be cited as symptoms of this skewed idea, but I want to focus on an alternative way of love rather than belabor our problems.
The New Testament is replete with commands and exhortations concerning this word. Consider Romans 12:9-10: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” And again, Jesus himself made this clear to his disciples in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus modeled this perfectly for us through His obedience to God and His heart for other people.
Professor Jerram Barrs (who will be speaking at the LUX conference) comments on Jesus’ command:
We are to love one another, and all people, with the same kind of self sacrificing love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross . . . [yet] we are all coldhearted, slow to love Him, reluctant to obey Him, unwilling to change, struggling to obey; and yet He continues to love us.
It’s so easy for us to get caught up in doing things, learning things, and experiencing things, yet lose sight of the most important thing – our obedience to God and our heart for people. Love.
Our tendency is to choose one or the other, but I’m afraid that obedience without heart, or heart without obedience, are equally false. I often measure my life by how productive I am, how much I’m able to study or read, or if I’ve done a good deed or not. When I was in college, I often used my grades as the ultimate measurement. It is a good thing – and God honoring – to work hard in school. But the sad thing is, I would sacrifice so much to try to maintain the GPA and neglect the condition of my heart. When we make our whole lives revolve around making ourselves comfortable, successful, or even happy, there is great irony in the result: we either fail to achieve what we hoped and despair, or we achieve it for a time and move on to something else. When we lose sight of God’s love, we become blind, even to our own emptiness. We can get lost in selfishness, but we can also get lost in good works. If our lives revolve around making other people happy, but without pointing them to God’s love displayed on the cross – the only source of real Hope – we have not really loved them.
God’s definition of love is better. It may not be easier, and it may take a lifetime to make progress in, but it’s satisfying because it’s what we are made for – to obey God and love people. And ultimately, we trust in His death and resurrection to get us there, slow learning and rebellious though we are, His Spirit is patient, full of compassion and steadfast love. 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
Perhaps you are like me, and you find yourself like what Jerram describes – cold-hearted, slow to love, slow to obey. If I’m honest about the state of my love life, I’m a mess. As we journey into 2012 and prepare for a new semester, let’s ask this question together – are we loving one another? And one further, what definition of love are we operating under? Let’s seek Jesus together this year, and learn from His example on how to love.