Saturday, November 8, 2014

What is love?

What is this mystical idea called love? 

Love is the greatest ideal.  It's the greatest value.  Everyone loves love.  Whether it's an atheist dreamer, a New Ager, Universalist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew or Agnostic Marxist, it's all about love.  Love, love, love.  Love is the answer, right? 

The Bible says "God is love."  1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

But what is love exactly?  Let's check the English dictionary first, just so we know where we're starting from:

According to and it's entry for "love" love is:

1.a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.

2.a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.

3.sexual passion or desire.

Interesting.  Simple enough, words like "affection" and "profoundly tender passion."  And what about the Bible?  What does it say about the L word?

Well, according to Strong's Concordance, New Testament Lexicon the word used in 1 John 4:8 for love is transliterated from Greek "Agape."  

The definition/semantic range for "agape" is "
  1. brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence
  2. love feasts
If God is love, then he must in fact, love us. It could be said about God that his most defining attribute would be his capacity for affection (love) toward his children.  That's you.  

In addition to God loving us, his children, he also came as Immanuel, Jesus Christ, and gave two supreme commands, both of them in direct regard to love.  Remember?

Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus replied: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(bold added for emphasis)

God loves us, and he asks us to love him in response.  In addition, he says to love others (including ourselves).  One could say that Christianity itself is believing in Jesus Christ and his work, and loving God and people.  It's really that simple.  

But loving is sometimes difficult, isn't it?  

I remember when I was young I had a lot of love to give.  It seems to me that when we are young we have a very high capacity for love.  Maybe as life goes on that supply, that treasure trove of love is depleted.  Sometimes our parents neglect us, or abuse us.  Sometimes tragedies happen early on in life.  The girl we got the crush on tells us to get lost in no uncertain terms.  Friends leave us.  Parents fight.

Then on into adult life, and other things happen.  Time and again things happen, and life starts to feel like a drudgery.  Bitterness takes the place of love and openness.  Pain replaces forgiveness with anger.  We lash out at those closest to us when they hurt us, in a desperate attempt to protect what little love and self esteem we have left.  

It's a tragedy, of course it is.  I know every single person reading this can relate in some way to enduring pain, and being drained of their ability to love.  I know for certain I'm not alone in that one.  It's difficult.  It's very difficult.  But if we are to be Christian brothers and sisters, we must relearn how to give love and receive love.  

The following is a letter a dad wrote to his daughter while she was young, regarding the impact the world might have on her in the future.  I think it illustrates very well the love we have when we're young and how can sometimes lose it:

Dear Daughter,

I hope you never notice the magazine rack at the supermarket.

I hope you never see the billboards on the highway or the ads on the side of the city bus.

I hope you never learn about Hollywood and the fashion industry.

I hope you never listen to pop music.

I hope you never walk down the makeup aisle.

I hope you never hate your own appearance.

I hope you never pick up the habit of putting yourself down whenever someone compliments you.

I hope you never feel the pressure to physically conform to the perverse standards of a disordered world.

I hope you always stay exactly as you are right now. Innocent, carefree, unencumbered, pure.

But these could only be the hopes of a foolish idealist like your Dad. I can rub the genie lamp and make a thousand stupid wishes, but you will grow. You will start to learn about the culture that surrounds you. You will form opinions about yourself. Your vivacious, bubbly happiness will give way to more complex emotions. You will develop new dimensions.

In these times, here in your very early life, you only cry because you're hungry or tired or you want me to hold you. One day, though, your tears will come from a deeper place.

And, when that day comes, I want you to remember one thing: you are beautiful.

 (Read the rest of the letter - click here.)

Love binds everything in the Christian faith together in perfect harmony (Col 3:14).   Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV) says "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

The only reason you and I are capable of loving anyone today is because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).  God loves you very much.  For some, some lucky few that is very easy to understand.  For me, that is very difficult to understand.  But it's true.  Even if at times I can't feel it, more and more, that love sneaks in through the cracks.  At times I can feel his loving presence in my heart, surrounding me, in the trees, the wind, in the sky above.  It's the love of God that is the replenishing power to refill your drained love reserves.  He's got love to fill in all the broken areas within you.

We can put the disciplines into practice too.  Colossians 3:12-14 lists compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience as the clothing of the Christian people.  Those are wonderful personality traits!  Cultivate them!  It's not too hard.  Sometimes when I'm at work I remind myself in my head, go strike up a conversation with a resident, ask them about how they're doing and encourage them to keep going.  Or I remind myself to compliment someone about their progress forward.  When I'm in line at the store I try to remind myself to smile, and look the person at the cash register in the eyes so they know I consider them to be a real person of value.  Here's a good one, when I'm rushing around in traffic on the way to work, I remind myself, patience, as my angry emotions are building up!  That's a tough one.  

What I'm trying to say here is that it's a duel approach.  The front tire is prayer and alone time with God.  I pray for those attributes, I pray for more capacity for love in my heart and in my life actions.  But prayer isn't enough.  I can pray all I want, but that won't change much unless I also take actions.  The back tire is making a valiant effort to practice the principles of love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience in my everyday life.  How can I put it into practice?  How can I slow down just a bit more, and show some extra care and love for those around me?  

Very simply, over time with prayer and practice the qualities I'm attempting to emulate slowly become core parts of my character and I just naturally do them.  

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

There are so many scriptures I could pull regarding love, because love is the entire message of the Old Testament and New Testament.  It all comes together in love.  All the endless laws of the Old Testament were all guidelines to let people know that people who love one another "don't do this, don't do that" (Gal 5:14).  

An entire book could be written about 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, and it would've even have to be about loveless rejects arguing cessation vs. continuation (that's another story).  I remember this scripture being plastered all over my parents house when I was growing up.  Love is this, love is that.  Sometimes it's easier to read than to put into practice though.  Oh well.  

The most famous scripture out of the Bible is regarding love:  John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The Bible describes the ultimate expression of love like this:

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 

You'll notice that a lot of the verses I'm pulling from the Bible are either from the book of John or 1 John.  The Gospel of John is really the passionate love gospel.  It's all about love in John, and John is my favorite gospel.  1 John, written by John himself, of course talks a lot about love as well.  He was the love writer of the love gospel.  And I love it!

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  

In closing, the world will know who Jesus is, by our example of love.  Love is much more important than blasting sinners.  Let the Holy Spirit handle that work.  Love people and give them grace.  Be a picture of Jesus to them.  Bless people that talk smack behind your back.  Bless people who stab you in the back.  Bless people who have hurt you in the past.  That's the tough part of love.  We don't get to hold grudges as Christians.  Not allowed to.  We get to love people.  Think about it.  Have you ever seen an angry street preacher arguing with people, or a pastor condemning a certain people group?  Imagine how turned away people feel!  Very often we can work so hard to win an argument, but really all we've done is lost the person.  How can we love?  How can we listen?  How can we identify with their point of view?  Those are the questions that must be asked of the modern Christian.  Contend for sound doctrine, Biblical authority, share the apologetics arguments, but do so all in love.  The perfect way to say it I think is this: "Speak the truth, in love" (Eph 4:15).  

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  3. No Evidence for God? 
  4. Dare I send you to Church? 
  5. Doctrine?