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This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. - 1 John 4:10 (NLT)
What is love? Do certain words, phrases, emotions, experiences, disappointments, tragedies come to mind for you when we pose the question? Perhaps a definition just kind of pops into your head and you wonder if it could possibly be a good answer. Or, maybe for you, literally nothing comes to mind. As you think about it, perhaps you know that you don't know in the slightest what love could be. Trying to pin it down can certainly feel elusive. Intangible. Undefinable. Mystifying.
What is love? We can turn our attention to God's words and readily find His wisdom on it. If we are willing to seek, listen, and learn, then we can grow to understand… and we can also discover more about what it means to give and receive love. Our relationships and our interaction with the world around us can be transformed as we align our thoughts with God’s heartbeat when it comes to loving like He does.
Where do we start? Let’s take 1 John 4:10 and make it our measuring stick. So: What’s love? It is an expression of sacrifice. God’s love for us was once demonstrated by the giving of Himself in order to lift up the beloved. Selfless sacrifice is the starting point for real love. What do we give? We have so much to offer in this way: our time, our gifts, our resources and treasure. But also kindness in our actions, and in words and tone. What is love? It’s a generous giving-up-of-self to lift up another. And the prime example: Jesus. He gave His life up for us. Because of love.
Jesus is the visible expression of God the Father. The way Jesus expressed love shows us the way God loves us. This self-giving love is a gift to us. It’s our example as well. It’s an unlimited resource and the only true power-source that can help us to extend love to the people in our lives. Ask God to help you grow to love like Him.Share Tweet
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! - Romans 12:15-16 (NLT)
When I’m preaching a wedding, I often remind the couple that love is this: Giving up “self” to lift up the other. There is always a component of sacrifice involved when it comes to real love. You just can't get around it. You can't opt out or glaze over it or ignore it. This giving up of self is expressed in so many ways. It’s tangible evidence of a desire to honor, provide for, creatively encourage, and support the one receiving love.
Paul adds a nuance to our understanding of love in today’s scripture: Rejoice with those who are happy and be sad with those who are sad. Love expressed in this way is characterized by actively entering into situations and circumstances, difficulties and hardships, celebrations and excitement… sometimes, more than one at once. In this, Jesus is the perfect example for us. He entered into our experience. He was alongside us… with us. He lived among us. He was a servant. It’s been said that we can know how much we’re growing in this area by how we react when we are treated like a servant.
Sometimes love looks like a give-and-take. But it isn’t always returned—or even gratefully accepted. It’s like Westley’s servant-hearted love for Buttercup in The Princess Bride. He responds to any and every demand with the words, “As you wish.” She eventually recognizes it for the expression of love that Westley intends it to be. He honored his beloved through the way he acted and the way he spoke. A love like this is thoughtful, helpful, encouraging, and brings joy.
“...the LORD still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” - Hosea 3:1 (NLT)
“Do you love me? Check the box: Yes or No?” I got the note back with the checkbox next to the NO being filled in. My fourth-grade heart broke. Kind of an awkward way to try to establish a connection with someone, isn’t it? It cut to the chase, but perhaps it was rushing things a bit!
Fast forward a seven years after my fourth-grade rejection, and matters of love were no less complicated. After the bell rang at the end of Chemistry class, I was handed a note. A girl who liked me wondered if I liked her back? Would I be interested in dating? My response never made it back to her, because, in a really unfortunate turn of events, I happened to like the girl she had entrusted to hand her note to me. Oh, the agony…
Perhaps love notes weren’t the ultimate expression of love in my experience! But what about God’s love letter to us, the Bible? In His Word, we discover that God’s love is so much different than the imitation the world tends to offer us. Do you know the story of Hosea and Gomer? It is a story of a husband’s unrequited love for an unfaithful wife. The account reflects the way God is often treated by His people.
Hosea was to marry a prostitute. Gomer would be unfaithful, but she would continually be received back. Can you imagine how hurtful and confusing this unrequited love would have been to Hosea? But also how deeply we can hurt God Himself when we reject His expression of sacrificial love? God’s love is persistent, unrelenting, and in continual pursuit of the object of that love.
In the end, God welcomes us in spite of the ways we act, react, and wander. Even when we feel entirely unloveable, He says He loves us anyway. And I’m so grateful.
God’s demonstration of love for us has been ongoing. It goes back way beyond the moment we started to notice He was even extending such a clear message. He asks, in a simple, even innocent way—in a way that is completely open to rejection—do you love Me? Will you check Yes or No?Share Tweet
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. - Philippians 2:3 (NLT)
Kids were asked to describe what love is to an illustrator, who then drew a picture according to those descriptions. Some of their responses were cute, some funny, some profound. Some kids used words like hugs, bubbles, or a burger and fries. Others used words like scary or a "lollipop with a scorpion inside.” Yipes! The pictures crafted in response to these conversations ranged from cute and fun to disturbing and confusing. Do any of these descriptions resonate with you? What words or phrases might you use to describe love?
I am thankful when the Bible brings simplicity. God is really good at boiling something down to words and phrases that make a huge concept as clear as a picture for us. Philippians 2 has some pretty amazing advice for growing in our love for God and others. It’s as simple and complex as this: Consider others better than yourself. There’s something integral about getting past ourselves as the center of the universe that allows love to begin to flow in our lives.
It was a really profound moment for me when I first pondered these words from Paul’s letter to the Philippian church long enough to realize that we don’t just need to think about the people around us and demonstrating love well to them. There is Someone Else who fits into this invitation toward loving well: God.
We can live out Jesus’ direction to love God and love people by thinking of both God and others ahead of our wants and desires. We can consider what God wants for us and from us. A life of growing in love looks like learning how to love both God and love people really well. It can literally change the world around us as we lean in and trust that God’s way will bring us the fullest and most vibrant version of love we could ever hope for.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do... Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us... - Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)
Loving people isn’t always easy. But it’s worth it. You may have heard it said that love is a choice. It truly is. It's a decision that we make to give up self in order to lift up another. Especially in the closest, deepest relationships in our lives. But as we make the choice to love, it's important that it also becomes habitual—the most reasonable response in our minds. Not to remove all of the fun warm-fuzzies of familial love, the high points of self-sacrificial giving on behalf of a loved one, or even the excitement of a romantic relationship. But ultimately, love must have a gravity. A serious, uncompromising nature. A choice that is made so often that it becomes the default. The habitual choice.
This choice to love will always permeate our relationships at an ever-deepening level. It will find its way into smaller and smaller cracks that God wants to repair as we learn to love like Him. Making sure we attend to the ways we can sometimes be hurtful to others is a nuance of love that can sometimes be ignored as we strive to be more loving. Rather than focusing proactively on love, sometimes we need to back up and address relational fallout.
I’ve had to practice in order to grow here... owning my flaws, admitting my failures, and apologizing. I don’t know about you, but I regularly fail in the pursuit of what I want to be, how I intend to act or react, what I meant to say. I also miss the mark as I chase who God wants me to be. As a result, I get plenty of practice with confession, admitting my blunders, and apologizing for the ways I hurt God and others. Is there an opportunity for you to love like this today?
From time to time, we need to take stock of our lives and sacrifice our pride, own our mistakes, and repair relationships by lovingly, honestly apologizing when we realize the need. Will you pause today and reflect on the wake you’ve left behind you? What is God inviting you to do?Share Tweet