It's not just a word. Or a noun. Or as DC Talk would have me believe, a verb. Or as pop-culture wants me think, and overwhelming emotion.
It's an over-riding command for every action and relationship in the Christian life. Does my life reflect that all the time? Man, I wish, but yeah right. As mentioned above, in the Bible, love is never an option, or a feeling - it's a command. This in and of itself raises an issue that I don't see in our society. If love is a command, that means I have the ability to choose whether I really love or not. As much as we all like the concept of "falling in love" - it just doesn't hold water and it can't be the prime mover in our relationships. Truly loving someone is an absolute, all-out, war against yourself. No two ways around it in scripture. Why? Because loving someone carries a lot more than just liking them, or having "this emotional connection", or saying "God Bless" when they sneeze. So, what's love got to do with it? I think I'll hit that first, and in a strangely backwards fashion, get into what love really is second.
Love is the foundation out of which my relationships should be formed.
A lot of times, I miss this one completely. I'm not called to get to know, and then love - just the opposite. Often I look at myself and see that if someone can't take me where I want to go, I just tolerate and be nice to them. Wide and varied examples of that:
They don't have the job in the career I want to pursue
They curse too much
They aren't all that good-looking
They are wearing a gem encrusted shirt from Affliction or those big bug-eye looking sun glasses
They aren't a Christian
I've heard negative things about them
They've hurt me in the past
So as you can see, I have a lot of potential reasons not to love someone, we all do. But I have to get over that in my life, and I have to love regardless of circumstance. It's clear in scripture I'm called to love the poor, the widows, other Christians, and (God forbid) my enemies. In other words - whether it be friendship, dating, or marriage, everything is going to sprout first out of me loving someone else. We don't become legitimate friends, and then I love them. I love them, and that draws us into friendship. I miss this so often it hurts. If I am called to love my enemies, I am dang sure called to love people before I know them - regardless of poor wardrobe choices. When my love is based on something about the other person that I want to bring into my own life (their looks, job, dating potential, friend circle, whatever) - that's not love at its core - it's opportunistic networking - which is fine, but not who I am called to be in scripture, and I desperately want to avoid confusing that with true love.
So, what is love? (baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more - what an awful song)
Greater love has no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends.
Put simply? It's the ultimate sacrifice. Our perfect picture of love is Christ dying for those He loved. I look at this verse a lot of times and I think "yeah, I'd die for my friends" - but that's at least (personally) a bit of a lie, and even then, I suspect I'm missing the point. As to the lie - I say I'd die for my friends, but how many times do I lash out in anger when I'm wronged? Or feel disappointment when my (often unfair) expectations aren't met? Or choose my own *preferences* over theirs, then treat them like they're in the wrong for it?
None of those things is love. Not even remotely close, in fact. And if I can't lay down my expectations, my anger, or my preferences for my friends - would I really lay down my life?
1 John 3:18 (keep this one in mind while you read what's below)
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
Secondly, I fear that I miss the point of that first text. I get the cart before the wagon as talked about in the opening statements above and say "Yeah, I'd die for the people I love" - but that's the interesting part... just like I said above, I'm not called to be friends first, and then love (die). If I take that verse to its true depth, the question is would I be willing to die for those I don't know? Would I be willing to die for those that have intentionally wronged me again and again? Would I lay down my anger, preferences, and expectations for those people? That's the reality of love. Will I put another before myself. And even if they've wronged me, will I continue to truly love?
That last line leads me to my last view of love. Can we allow others (and ourselves) freedom when they've wronged us? Or do we need the sense of control that not forgiving brings us? The Bible is clear - love forgives. It holds no record of wrongs. Love conquers all. Here comes a mess of scripture, really read it, don't skip over it... it says a lot more than I do with a lot fewer words:
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
The Bible tells us that the outside world will know us by our love. It also tells us that a keystone of love is forgiveness. This makes all the sense in the world - it is a completely unnatural response, but I'm selfish so often. I hold others wrongs over them. I don't forgive because not loving them makes me feel superior, and it makes me feel like I get to judge them and hold them accountable for their actions. Sadly (sarcasm), that's not my job, it never has been, it never will be. Love is most evidenced in our forgiveness. Because forgiveness is not just being nice to someone we don't know - it is taking someone who we owe nothing, while they owe us much, and allowing them the freedom to do it all over again. Love is correction. Love is forgiveness. Love is charity. And maybe most importantly... God is Love.
Love comes down to one thing, and has one purpose.
It is the imitation of what Christ gave us.
It pulls others towards Christ, just as he pulled us.
Love isn't marriage. It isn't friendship. It certainly isn't dating. It's not "found" or "fallen into." It is our constant attempt to intentionally reach out to others through grace, mercy, and service. It's not easy, but it is the trademark of Christianity. And to offer anything less to the fallen people in this broken world is heart breaking.
Love God, Love others, the rest will take care of itself.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (weigh it carefully when you look at your relationships - platonic and otherwise... does it match up?)
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.