Love. We all want it and can’t live without it. We seek it, idolize it, and make it our life’s goal. But do we know what we’re really looking for? Is that object we call “love” really what we’re expecting?
Love is depicted in many ways in the world. We see movies, novels, and dating relationships describing love as an emotional tie to another person. We’re given the idea that love is found only on Valentine’s Day in the form of a box of chocolates. We’re convinced that love is found in the physical attraction to someone through a kiss or an embrace. Worst of all, lust is portrayed as synonymous to love, despite all its harmful effects. Out of all the choices, which one is truly “love”?
God, of course, gives the most accurate description of love:
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13
Here is a definition of love most of our culture knows nothing about! We see very little giving, much less dying for others. But according to the God of the universe, the greatest form of love is giving up one’s life.
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. Romans 5:7
The greatest example of this, of course, is Jesus. He dared! People all over the world have laid down their life for someone or something, but never for so great a cause. Others have laid down their lives for their friends, but rarely for their enemies. In contrast, Jesus did this for people in the present and people in the future, regardless of their love for Him. He allowed Himself to be given.
For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Our human instinct is to fulfill its cravings at the expense of everyone else, with no pain toward ourselves. Jesus, however, commanded us to love our neighbor – friend or foe – as ourselves (Mark 12:31). When we love “us,” do we take advantage of ourselves? Do we take from ourselves more readily than we give? Do we deprive ourselves of our daily needs? They answer is clearly “no”, yet we often do exactly that to others, not realizing that we’re stepping out of the boundaries of love. We forget God’s command to do unto others as we would have them do to us (Luke 6:31).
It’s easy to give a gift or assist someone we like. We feel more inclined to show love to someone who loves us in return. But what about the times someone isn’t able to return the favor, or chooses not to? That’s when we are called to be the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
A man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. Shamefully, two devoted Jews passed by without offering aid. They were followed by a Gentile, focused on a destination of his own. He stumbled across that horrific sight crying out to him for help. He hesitated. Time was ticking away. He was human like the rest of us, so I could imagine the debate that went on in his head: “You’ll be late for your meeting! If you’re late, they’ll never promote you to that new position! Let someone else come and help him.” Thankfully, he didn’t give in to the argument. He stepped aside and assisted the man, inconveniencing himself and his pocketbook.
This Samaritan was a “good” Samaritan. But what separates a person from the just “good” and the “loving” is the action taken to back up the goodness. A “good” man has a few compassionate thoughts fly through his head, yet still continues on because he must keep his schedule. A “good and loving” person will go beyond inward goodness; he will put aside his desires and help the person less fortunate. Greater still is when he pays the extra bit to keep the other person going, even after he must leave. That is love.
Just the same, negative feelings often arise when our flesh wishes to do anything other than show love. It may be that it’s going to take an uncomfortable amount of effort to show it. We might have to swallow our pride and humble ourselves in front of someone we’ve wronged. Someone who has hated us might be a candidate for love, but our flesh may cry for justice rather than mercy. Whatever the situation, we cannot rely on our senses. The greatest test of love is how we act when our feelings don’t line up with our actions. It’s an act of faith that says, “I will do this out of a tender heart toward God, regardless of the way I feel.”
An emotion-led relationship is often controlled by hormones and has nothing to do with commitment. The feelings change the moment someone does something we don’t like. The fuzzy feelings of getting a gift and a special night out eventually fade. Physical touch and sexual “love” is temporary and subject to a person’s presence. Lust does nothing but take out of selfishness. The only reliable and authentic form of true love is found in only one place – in the nature of the Father. Apart from Him, we flounder in our own strength to accurately show and receive love. When we don’t know Him, we don’t know love, for He is love.
A minister once said that “love is a verb.” It’s an action, not a feeling. It’s a decision, not a fleeting thought. Thankfully, Jesus understood this. He acted on His love to the point of torture. This may never be demanded of us; but like the Good Samaritan, we still have opportunities every day to put down our flesh and its desire to take rather than give. We may have to reprogram our minds to think without selfishness interfering with our actions. We may have to start with the small actions of love in order to attain to the big actions. The opportunities are there if we’ll keep our eyes on the greatest Example God gave us – Jesus, love in the flesh.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. I John 4:7, 8
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