Culturally, when we talk about ‘love’, we are talking about the feeling we have in relation to something. For instance, I love dessert! I really do. Well-made pastries, cakes, pies, and cookies are so delicious! Unfortunately how we ‘love’ dessert is also how we interpret our love for people. My love is based on how I feel about them. In other words, my love is measured by how well another person meets my needs for belonging, identity, or affection. When I feel good around them, when they are meeting certain needs inside of me, I love them. If they are not meeting those needs or expectations, if I don’t feel good around them, I don’t love them. Do you see how twisted that is?
Now I don’t want to throw feelings out the door, they are a wonderful, and just as much a part of our lives as they are of God’s. But when we define love primarily through a lens of feeling we are not only being self-centered, but we have given the well-being of ourselves into the hands of others. They are responsible for how I feel, for meeting my needs, and ultimately responsible for how much I ‘love them.’
This is a disastrous way to live because our love becomes very, very, fickle. We want to love, but we unconsciously become focused on the benefit we receive from a relationship. When this happens we miss love completely. Love, as defined by God, is other centered and self-giving. It isn’t about what someone gives to me, but what I choose to give to them.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13).”
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8).”
What a profound revelation of love. God was getting nothing from us, our relationship was as lopsided as it gets. We had turned our noses up in our selfishness and hurt Him over and over. Yet He still loved us, still chose us. Again, that doesn’t mean he ‘feels’ happy or good with who we are or with what choices we are making, it means that He continually chooses to move towards us and put our needs ahead of his own despite our selfish and inconsiderate choices. God’s love is determined by who He is, not by who we are.
In John 3:16, it says that God so loved the world that He ‘did’ something. He sent His son. Love is action. Love is not self-seeking but self-sacrificing, Jesus demonstrates this to us in the most powerful way, He died for us. This is profound, and has the capacity to transform not only our own hearts but every relationship we find ourselves in.
In our culture we think that someone can ‘love’ another while treating them like garbage. We have a misconstrued understanding of love because our emphasis is on how we feel instead of what we do. An abusive husband will often claim that he still loves his wife. He certainly doesn't meant that he has been choosing to put her needs above his own. No, what he means, is that he feels emotionally attached to his wife, he wants her, maybe even needs her. The attachment he has isn't love because it is self-centered not other-centered. The love a teenager has for a crush has to do with the feelings they experience around that person. The feelings are not bad, but since they are about what they personally receive from the relationship, it is not love.
The love I have for my wife is measured not by the good feelings I have when I see her or think about her, although there are plenty of those. My love for her is measured by the continual choices I make to care for her. Surprisingly, the more I love her, ie the more I die to myself to care for her and put her needs above my own, the stronger feelings I have for her.
How many married couples claim they have fallen out of ‘love’? What self-centered garbage. What they mean is that they have given up on loving their spouse, they have forsaken love by focusing on their own needs rather than their spouses.
The reason a person’s ‘feeling’ of love has gone cold is because they have stopped loving. They have stopped laying down their lives, stopped serving, stopped caring.
The vast majority of marriages end because someone has selfishly chosen to stop loving. You do not ‘fall in love’, nor do you ‘fall out of it’. You choose it, again, and again. Love isn't passive, it doesn't happen on accident, love is always your choice no matter how the other person is loving you. It is this definition of love that is written into the vows spoken at a wedding ceremony. Vows so often spoken but so rarely lived out. If we truly realized what love is, most marriages would not only be saved but they would thrive.
This revelation, that love is a choice, gives great purpose and clarity to my life. Love isn’t determined by how others treat me but how I choose to treat them. How beautiful, how challenging, how convicting. Nobody is responsible for my decision to love but me. This is true for my wife, my family, my friends, and every person I will ever meet. Love is my choice. In this I have discovered what life is truly about, for everyone deeply desires to experience this kind of love, it's what we are made for. We are created in the image of God, created for relationship, to share in the relationship He has. We are created to love and be loved. This is not a passive or self-centered lifestyle, but radically active, amazingly vibrant, and oh so challenging.
It’s astounding that in his letters of the Apostle Paul rarely, if ever, did he pray for the circumstances of others to change. Instead he prayed “that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).”
His desire was for everyone to know the love of Jesus. The love that transforms us so that we in turn transform the world. Paul wants his readers to live radically in the love of God, and to follow Christ's lead by laying down their lives for those around them. It is impossible to experience God’s radical love without being changed, without being challenged, without loving in return. Love God and love your neighbor, the two greatest commands of scripture, our purpose and our true identity.
Loving God is the hardest for me to do sometimes. I want it to mean I feel warm and fuzzy when I think of him, but that denies what love actually is. Loving God means that I am making choices that honor Him. It means that I am living life, relating with others, and making choices with Him in mind. Sin is when I am making selfish decisions, sin happens when I'm not loving God. Love is more than feeling, it is our behavior, our choices. I want to grow in this love, to grow in His love. I want to know it, taste it, and breathe it. When I choose to love God, just like when I choose to love my wife, feelings of affection often grow, but my love isn't dependent on those feelings. I is my choice, and yours too.
Be loving today, make the hundred small choices to honor God, and to put other’s needs ahead of your own. It is truly what life is all about.