The world’s understanding of love is very different from God’s definition. As a word, we use ‘love’ all the time and it seems the distinctions have been worn away. People say they love everything from their family to movies to food to Lego to coffee. It affects our society at all levels and as a culture, we describe it using many metaphors: crazy love, love sick and falling in or out of love. According to the ancient Greeks, there are eight different types of love. Today’s definition seems to be ‘unconditional acceptance’. In a culture that uses the word ‘love’ to describe one’s feelings for tacos and bacon, it’s hardly surprising that there is confusion when Christians say, “God loves you.”
The apostle John tells us “God is love.”(1 John 4:8) Meaning that love is a part of His being, deriving from Him. It is not merely an activity or attribute He possesses. In what is arguably the most famous verse in scripture we read that God loved us so much that He gave His Son so that we would not perish but instead have eternal life, (John 3:16) I find it interesting that God’s love moved Him into action on our behalf. It’s not distant affection but a personal and sacrificial action. Jesus Christ is God’s expression of love to the world. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, reveals the beautiful nature of love in what is now known as the love chapter (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), often quoted during wedding ceremonies. This is where Christians get their traditional concept of love: it’s to “will the good” for someone else, to put another’s needs above your own. Jesus himself told the Pharisees when they tested him that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-39, Mark 12:29-31).
God is love. When God does anything He does so in love because He cannot separate Himself from it. This includes something that might appear to be un-loving like judgment. Because God is love, He judges in love. His judgment is not precluded by His love. Today being judgmental is considered politically incorrect and to be accused of being judgmental is an insult. However, as Creator, God has the authority to judge anyone or anything He created. One such example of what God has judged to be sin is gossip. Since we know that gossip is wrong (Ex 23:1, Eph 4:29, James 4:11) consider how it should be dealt with. What would the loving response be to gossip: silently sitting by and listening or ending it? Sure it might get messy but ending gossip is the more loving response to both the person gossiping and the one being victimized by it. Saying nothing would show indifference and showing indifference to someone’s actions tells that person that they don’t matter. After all, without taking someone’s actions seriously you’re not taking them seriously. By shutting down gossip we are actively willing their good- actively loving.
Jesus takes love a step further and tells us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us and pray for those who use us (Matt 5:43-44, Luke 6:27-28). That’s not a natural human reaction to the drunk driver who killed someone dear to us or perhaps a more extreme example, a member of ISIS. Some people are just unlovable from our perspective, but love is still a command. Christ can tell us to love our enemies because that’s exactly what God did (Rom 5:8-10) Please don’t misunderstand me; there are still consequences for our actions, however, that doesn’t mean that these people whoever they are, whatever their story, should be dehumanized. It means God loves them, no matter what they have done and so we need to forgive and pray for them, we must still will their good, even if it is the hardest thing we’ll ever have to do.
Perhaps instead of using the word love to describe our desire to consume chocolate covered caramels or see the latest flick on the silver screen, we should reserve the term for what it really is, a never failing, sacrificial, humble, selfless, truthful, faithful and hopeful will for the good of another person.
Rachel McDonald | August 15, 2017