Love: What, Why, How, Whom
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.
1 Corinthians 13:4 – 8
Love is a noun. We can find it, lose it, give it, fall into it, or simply be in it. Love is a verb. We can love a friend, a car, the taste of a chocolaty dessert, the feeling of a fresh spring breeze, or the smell of a newborn baby. There are hundreds of songs, poems, books, and self-proclaimed “gurus” on the topic of love. They tell us how good it feels to be in love and how bad it feels to be out of love. They tell us how to find love and how not to lose it. It seems that humanity loves, love. But with all the ways we try to express love, define love, feel love, and give love, we fall short of fully understanding what real love is.
So what is real love?
The Bible tells us there is no greater love, than to lay down one’s life for another (John 10:17, 15:13, 1 John 3:16). That is real, true love. But that is not the kind of love that many individuals feel, or even want to feel. Everyone wants the warm and fuzzy kind of love that we read about in fairy tales, where the knight slays the dragon to save his fair maiden. But the most incredible love story in the world did not end in the happily ever after we have come to expect. Jesus lived His life as an example of real, true love. He sacrificed Himself for our sins and saved us from death.
Why should we love like Jesus?
One of the best reasons to love, is to receive God’s amazing promises! What does God promise to us if we show love? In this world, God will bless us with life to the full, wealth, and an honorable reputation among men (Proverbs 21:21). These are all very shiny, valuable gifts, by the world’s standards. Reason enough to love, right? But there is more! If we “live in love” He also promises to live in us (1 John 4:16). That is a glorious gift, by worldly and heavenly standards!
Another reason is, we are commanded to love (John 15:17). Jesus tells us that He has a new commandment for us, to love each other as He has loved us (John 13:34). But expressing love is tricky – probably the reason for all the books and gurus! Although you may not be ready to lay down your life, just yet, there are other ways to show love. The Ten Commandments were given to set Israel apart, to guide them in right behavior, and the law is still valid. However, the new commandment given to us “sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) because, we would never commit these sins if we truly loved one another. First Peter says we are called to love each other deeply (4:8), therefore, simply abstaining from bad behavior is not enough.
How do we love like Jesus did?
Jesus was the perfect example of love. But, He was perfect for a reason. He was the sacrifice for all of our sins. Instead of comparing ourselves to Jesus, we can look at His example and ask how to be more like Him in each situation. Be humble and gentle, be patient, be devoted; honor each other, pray for your enemies; show respect to everyone, fear God, honor authority; be like-minded, be sympathetic, be compassionate and humble (Ephesians 4:2, Romans 12:10, Matthew 5:44, 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Peter 3:8). As you can see, there is a lot to this love thing. It is a tall order to fill. Not only do we have to be kind, speak truth, and lift each other up, but we have to act in love as well. In summary, “Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
You may be saying, “Well, I can do that! I love my husband and my kids SO much. Love isn’t such a tall order, if I’m sacrificing for them.” Ask yourself, though, did Jesus love only His family? No, he loved everyone, the tax collectors, the demon possessed, the Romans, the Samaritans, the rich and poor, the old and young. His family extended beyond His immediate family; His family included the disciples and all people who would believe in Him through their message (Matthew 12:48-49, John 17:20).
Whom are we supposed to love?
When asked by the Pharisees, which commandment was the most important of all, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The heart is the center of physical and spiritual life (Praxis, 71). To be clear, Etzel and Gutierrez emphasize that, “the heart represents the very core of who [we] are” (Praxis, 71). But more than that, the Bible tells us that God must be our number one love. Within the Bible, we read of His love for us – likened to the love of a bridegroom for his bride. Shouldn’t we reciprocate? To drive the point home, that He is supposed to be our first love, He tells us, “Anyone who loves their father or mother…or their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). There must be no one above God. Anything that we love more than Him is an idol.
After Jesus told the Pharisees what the first most important commandment is, he followed it up by saying that we must love our neighbors…The crazy cat lady next door, the drug addict behind the convenience store, the thief, the murderer, even our enemies – the very people who seek to destroy us. We must love everyone, just like Jesus did.
We must also love ourselves. The Bible warns against pride, but Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:33). This statement suggests that, to know how to love others, we must first value ourselves and love ourselves. How do we love ourselves? By learning God’s Word and obeying His precepts. Proverbs says, “The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper” (Proverbs 19:8). The pursuit of knowledge, especially of God’s Word, blesses us. By reading the Bible and meditating on the lessons within, we learn to be hospitable, we learn to love what is good, how to maintain self-control, remain upright and of good reputation, and to be disciplined enough to follow through with good works (Titus 1:8). When we show love and speak love, God grants us the company of kings, even the King of kings (Proverbs 22:11, 1 John 4:16).
God promises to watch over all who love Him (Psalm 145:20). He promises that, if we act as servants to His people, blessing them, loving them, and caring for them, we will be received to the highest stations in heaven (Matthew 18:4). Love can be complicated. It can get messy. But as with anything else, practice makes us better, and we can be encouraged knowing that we have a perfect example to follow. We get better if we practice love every day.