The Nature of Love

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Isa. 64:6 π Lk. 14:27 π Jn. 3:16 π Jn. 15:5 π Jn. 15:13 π 1 Cor. 13:4 π 1 Cor. 13:4-8 π 1 Jn. 3:16 π 1 Jn. 4:8

There is always a challenge laid upon every man, even in the worldly system of things, to express "love" for one's fellow man. What is meant by that little word "love," however, changes from user to user until the word comes to mean absolutely nothing. And, for the most part, we Christians are quite content with letting the word mean nothing for then it requires nothing of us.

John the apostle wrote, however, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." ( 1 Jn. 3:16 ) And Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." ( Jn. 15:13 ) When we move into the realms of real Christianity, this little word "love" takes on some very specific meanings - meanings which are not at all comfortable or nice to the person who loves. When God loved the world, it cost the Son of God His life on a cross. ( Jn. 3:16; top ) And as He was in this world, so are we to be in ours.

What must also be observed is that when we lay down our lives for our friends and brethren, we are not laying down our lives so that they can have more luxuries or more toys. We are laying down our lives to meet their genuine needs - their needs as God sees them. Although the world is quite happy with a Mother Theresa or Princess Diana who practices acts of goodness for their own sake, the acts of goodness that God leads a believer into are neither self-serving, mindless nor random. Unless the Holy Spirit is the director of our good deeds they amount to nothing. Jesus still says, "Without Me you can do nothing." ( Jn. 15:5 ) All our best efforts at righteousness apart from God are still as filthy rags in God's sight. ( Isa. 64:6; top )

We, as Americans, are generally quite uncomfortable with the notion of self-sacrifice. We consider this some form of mental illness or "co-dependency." Yet, this is precisely what the genuine believer in Christ is called upon to do with his life. Jesus said, "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." ( Lk. 14:27; top ) Though many Bible "scholars" and "theologians" find ways to explain away the clear commands of God in Christ Jesus, the truth is that love is not a nice, warm fuzzy which we can simply embrace for a feel-good experience. It is a fire which burns and consumes. It is a passion which channels our every action toward the object of our love. Anything less is not the love, the agape, which is spoken of in the New Testament.

Perhaps the most costly element of love is the first thing Paul thought of when he began to describe love. Paul wrote, "Love is patient..." Another version says, "Love suffers long..." ( 1 Cor. 13:4; top ) To understand why this is the most costly element requires that we have an ability to look at life with more objectivity, requiring perhaps even an eternal perspective, that is not common to most Americans.

Most Americans are fixated on "now" or on the "short-term." And even when they do look into the future, their speculations often revolve around only "me" and "mine." Most often, contemplation of the future never moves beyond "retirement" and "grandchildren." Many American Christians are likewise often limited to some fuzzy notion of an eternity which comes after death in which "I" get to fellowship with Jesus all by "myself." Oh, may the Lord grant that we have our horizons expanded!

When it comes to love, we generally don't even know what that is. When we say that love is patient, we then have no idea what it is that love is waiting for and about. Love, that is, setting aside our own agenda and priorities to meet the real needs of another as God directs us to do so, is going to be waiting for something. What is it waiting for? It is waiting for that other to be in a place to receive genuine love. What is this patience about? It is the patient waiting through that period of time when the object of our love is not so loveable. It is the setting aside of our own desires - desires for friendship, companionship, self-esteem, superiority or whatever - so that the one we love will become more like Christ than what they are now.

Let's track this down for a moment - for what I have just said points out what may be perhaps the biggest source of our confusion about love: the English language. In English, we have one word: "love." That word encompasses how we feel about our spouses, our pets, our cars, our houses, our favorite foods and our favorite colors. The Greek of the New Testament had at least some advantages. There were several words for love that encompassed various aspects of love: patriotic love, erotic love, brotherly love and godly love.

But what is perhaps the most devastating piece of confusion in the English language is that we have taken the notion of godly love and enmeshed it with that of feelings. When Paul described love, he wrote:

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. ( 1 Cor. 13:4-8; top )

Read that list again.

There is not one emotion present. They are all acts of the will. They are choices. To learn to love as God loves, I submit to you that we must learn to separate our emotions from our will - at least to understand what is required of us. Love does often produce some "warm fuzzy, feel-good" moments - but we must never consider those emotional by-products as the essential elements of love.

Above and beyond these language distortions though, is a misunderstanding of exactly what love in the Christian's life is supposed to be. And in the above discussion, I have spoken of love in a deceiving manner. I have called love by the neuter pronoun "it." This is not accurate.

John wrote, "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." ( 1 Jn. 4:8; top ) Love is not an object which we can pick up separately from its source. As Americans, we often think that we can pick up an ounce of love, a pound of patience, a quart of perseverance and a pinch of godliness and thus we're living the Christian life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The genuine Christian life is not a life of imitation. That is, we cannot through the efforts of our intellect, emotions and will (soul) learn all the things Christ would do and then struggle as best we can to perform as many as we can. That is merely legalism using the teachings of Christ to form a god in our own image with a legal code somewhat derived from the Bible.

What we are called to do is to die to ourselves and let Christ live through us - in spirit and truth. It is not enough to imitate Christ - we must have the very life of Christ living out of us. This is true of love also. It is not enough that we remain patient or kind - it must be the Spirit of Christ living in us which manifests patience and kindness. Anything else is a soulish substitute that will never impart life and which will have no eternal value. Thus, when we say that we need more love in our lives, we need to recognize that what we're really saying is that we need Christ to have more control over our soul.

When we find ourselves acting in an unloving manner, we must recognize that it is our soul which is at work. Christ is not divided. Either we live His life of the Spirit - with all the love, power and holiness which that life entails - or we live our own life of the soul - with all the selfishness, impotency and filthiness which that life entails. When we find that our attempts to present Christ to others is polluted with elements of the soul, we must repent and learn how to respond spiritually so that Christ is manifested in our lives.

We have much to learn about life and love. I make no pretense to be an expert in the matter. Rather I am merely an observer who must make the sad commentary on our culture and society that I have neither seen nor experienced much of what Jesus would say is genuine love. My prayer is that my life would be spent in doing whatever I as one man can do to rectify that inadequacy.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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