In our society, the word “love” has become such a distorted thing that it is not even recognizable. What do some call “love?” Possessing others, using them selfishly to satisfy some primal and base instinct, or abusing them because some have the perverse notion that causing pain for someone else is pleasurable.
On the flip side, some believe that true love is their being willing recipients of these things and so they willingly subject themselves to the dehumanizing treatment that others will only too gladly heap upon them just to gain the approval or acceptance of the once hurting them.
But God’s intent for humanity is not that some can be selfish, twisted pigs and others can be living doormats on which abusers wipe their feet. None of these things are even vaguely what God had in mind when it comes to our loving each other. Nor are these things the ways in which God loves us.
So how is it that we have no notion of what true love is? How can we be so wrong in our attempts to define it? How is it that we pursue those things that dehumanize us and color us as “objects of wrath”? Is it because that in our enmity with God, we reject the simpler and profoundly more beautiful ideas of love that He demonstrates for us? Is it because we allow ourselves to be duped by the satanic lie that God does not know what He’s doing? Is it because we simply don’t know His truth and are therefore “ripe for the picking” by worldviews that are corrupted and perverse?
There is such a thing as “true love.” But it isn’t what Hollywood has made it out to be. It isn’t what most books describe it as when depicting it as an emotional link between two people. It’s something better. It’s something greater.
In fact, the best and purest picture of love that we can find is the in life and work of Jesus and, ultimately, in His choosing to die on the cross of Calvary in our place for our sin. If you are unsure what love looks like, then look at Jesus. And if you’re unsure what sort of standard to strive towards in regard to how you should love others, then look at Jesus.
True love is governed by the principle put forth in 1 John 3:16 (ESV), “By this we know love, that He (Jesus) laid His life down for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
Love is placing the value of another’s life above our own. Sometimes when people read or hear this verse, their minds go automatically to “Hollywood” interpretations in which the hero tolerates others, but daily goes about his selfish business; then in a moment of crisis, he magnanimously sacrifices his life for the sake of another.
The problem with this, although portrayed as “romantic” in many movies, is that it does not ring true to reality. He who does not deny self in small things, is morally unequipped and mentally unprepared for denying self in moments when it could be life and death.
Jesus certainly did not approach it that way. Daily He denied Himself in order to fulfill the destiny of others; daily He lowered Himself in order to elevate others to God; and daily He forfeited what was rightfully His so that He could reward those who neither deserved nor desired the life only He could give.
Every step on the way to His death on the cross of Calvary was fraught with a daily death to His own immediate desires and needs. He did not do these things in order to convince us that He loved and loves us; He did them because we needed Him to do those things. But in His doing of those things, we should be more than convinced that we are indeed loved… loved perfectly and loved eternally.
Therefore, in order to truly live out love as Jesus desires us to, we must follow His example. We too must choose to deny self. We too must learn the daily discipline of laying down our lives for the brothers. When we do so, we step into life greater and grander than we could ever imagine… and that life bears us into an eternity in which Jesus Himself resides in glory.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV).
This is what love is. It reaches out, risking rejection, but pursuing the good of others even when it is at our expense. When we love like this, we love like Jesus. And when we love like Jesus, we are demonstrating our love for Him.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV).
Will you put into practice the kind of love that Jesus showed us? For you to do that, you must first believe in and accept the love with which Jesus has loved you. Have you done that? Have you received His gift of love and forgiveness? Have you allowed it to enter into your heart and life? If not, then it is time be let His love in. When you do, that love will begin a process of changing you and your relationships. In fact, it will change your world.
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.