If you surveyed one million people and asked them to define “love”, you’d probably get thousands of different answers.
Love is a hard concept to pin down. It can be romantic or familial (but not both, people). It can suggest fluttery butterflies or a deep bond of friendship. It could be the contentedness of a baby snuggling into the crook of his mama’s neck, or the heart filled to the brim as that mama holds her son. Maybe it’s a sunset proposal, or a hand to grip tightly as you walk through a devastating loss.
Whatever image comes to mind, love is a gift from God, and it is the first fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Love is all over the Bible. Since God created love, it’s only natural for us to get our definition of it straight from his Word.
There’s this most famous of love passages quoted at 92% of weddings I’ve had the pleasure of attending:
Or this verse from Matthew 28 where Jesus sums up the entire law with two commands:
My very favorite verse about love comes from the book of John, chapter 15, verse 3:
Do you know what I’m noticing? None of the attributes of love listed here are just about feelings. They are choices, made from love, to treat another person with care and consideration. Saying “I love you” is great (if you mean it), but those wonderful ooey-gooey feelings must be substantiated by real world behaviors. In any relationship, love the feeling must be accompanied by love the action or the relationship will not survive.
People who love each other spend time together. They carry each other’s burdens. Loving parents care and sacrifice for their children. Loving friends are available even when it’s inconvenient. Loving family circles around you when life gets tough. Not just once, but time and time again. Love shows up.
One way I knew my husband was “the one” was when I was down with the flu and he drove half an hour each way, four days in a row, to bring me whatever my cranky, disheveled, miserable self asked for: medicine, food, company: he kept showing up. One way he knew I was “the one” was in the care I showed for his little girl. Those mutual, loving behaviors continue today: not perfectly, but consistently. We serve each other because we love each other.
Even the most loving and satisfying relationships are work. We are all sinners. We all struggle with selfishness sometimes. We all want to have Christmas with our own parents..ok, I’m getting off track.
God takes it a step further. Forget the man you married who just spent two hours under your car changing the oil: what about that person in your life who consistently lies and takes advantage of people you love? God goes so far as to say we have to love them too. Come, Lord Jesus, because I need some work in this area right here.
Now, let’s quickly move on and shift to the most beautiful relationship: our relationship with God. He certainly has proved his love for us time and time again; most notably on the cross. God’s love for us is seen clearly in his patience, his mercy, his provision, his forgiveness, and his sacrifice; all for us; people without hope, without a clue, and sometimes without the common decency to acknowledge him as Lord. So how do we show love back to God?
Same way we show love to others; through our actions.
If we say we love God but we don’t obey him, do we really love him? If we say we love him but spend very little time with him is our heart really in it? If we consistently do things he has asked us not to do, how are we showing love? One more question: If your significant other treated you the way you treat God, would you still be together? If the answer is yes, great! If not, make some changes. Move (action word) towards a loving relationship with the Lord. It’s the most important relationship you will ever have.
Finally, Christians, we are commanded to love our brothers and sisters in Christ: the church! The church is the family you wouldn’t, I mean didn’t, choose for yourself.
So how do we love one another? Ye olde Bible says to do it this way:
Can you imagine how beautiful life would be if we all treated one another this way? The love of God empowers us to love first him, and then others in a way that doesn’t come naturally to us. Our flesh will fight it, persistently reminding us to make sure we aren’t forgotten. But we are most satisfied when we live not for ourselves, but for the Lord; obeying his commands and loving other people. Self-love, by the way, isn’t mentioned as a virtue in the Bible. Just sayin’.
We will never get this right all of the time. Not this side of heaven. But with God’s help, we can get better at it. Progress, not perfection. Help us, Lord.
P.S. Help and Lord are also four-letter words. What did you think I meant??!!