The Life Jesus gives
CH 3 - DEFINING OBJECTIVE
What is “love”? If it is to be the central focus in our pursuit of the abundant life, it would seem clear that we need to know what it is that we are attempting to focus on. Does the Bible define love? In a way it does, and many would cite the following passage as containing that definition:
I Corinthians 13:4-8a “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
In fact, this is not really what we would normally think of as a definition. Actually it is a description of what love looks like, rather than a theoretical definition of the concept of love. In Scripture, this is the way God communicates to us about what love is in ways that are far more vivid than any mere definition could be. When God wishes us to understand that His love is real for us He cites specific concrete facts that communicate the reality of His love in ways that are meant to grip our hearts:
1 John 3:16 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for
Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
These concrete examples are important because it is easy to have an abstract belief in something, and to speak passionately about it and yet live out a life that is radically distinct from what we claim to hold dear. So the first thing we must know about love is that it does not exist in theory, but only in the way we interact with God and other people.
It is in our nature to try to distill things down to the essence of what they are so we can better understand them, and refute false ideas about them. In our day a popular expression has arisen that is meant to do just that in regard to the nature of love. The expression is, “love is not a feeling, it is a choice”. The concern that this expression addresses is that some people confuse love with the emotional feelings that accompany love. There are many destructive consequences for believing such a thing so it is good that people have attempted to correct this misconception about the nature of love. However, I think in doing so they have created another misunderstanding in its place, because although love is not a feeling, it is not simply a choice either. Love certainly motivates choices but so do many other things. That love is not simply a choice should be clear to anyone who chooses to think about it for awhile. Would anyone truly believe themselves to be loved if they were told by someone dear to them that the relationship consisted only of a commitment to making good choices on their behalf. I am not saying that such a commitment is bad. It is in fact good, and Biblical, but it is only an outward obedience to God’s ethical commands, it is not in itself love.
So then what is love? Love is a commitment that is made within one’s soul to either God or to another person.
A real commitment and attachment of one’s soul to another person means that you value them at least as much as you value yourself. This is precisely the motive that Scripture exhorts us to have in our dealings with others whom we are called to love:
Matthew 7:12 “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Ephesians 5:28-29 “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.”
This is the critical component that motivates us to make those good choices for others. Not because it is theoretically important or right to do so, but because we want to. And it is this component that is so challenging for us. Because as we learn more about what it means to experience the abundant life, we will get ever clearer glimpses of how selfish and self-centered the human heart truly is.
Finally, one might wonder why love is such a big deal. Why is being a loving person the linchpin for being the sort of person in whom God delights? The simple answer is that to be a loving person makes one compatible with God Himself:
1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Not only that, but God created us, and then redeemed us to live eternally in relationship with Him. The relationship that we have with God and with the rest of the redeemed is designed to be a manifestation of perfect love that mirrors the relationship that has eternally existed between the three persons of the one God:
John 17:21-23 “…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
1 John 4:16 “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
So love is a big deal because relational love is the environment of our eternity with God and each other. When we are the most loving - we are the most like God and the most fit for Heaven.
It should be a part of our regular mental routine that we reflect upon the truth that God wants us to become
people characterized by love for God and others, and that we seek to continually learn what it means to be a genuinely loving person.