Love. It’s a word at the forefront of most people’s minds right now. It has a hashtag that’s still trending. It’s leading many people to plaster rainbows over their Facebook profile pictures in honor of it.
But how much do we know about our favorite four-letter word? How much have we thought about what love truly is beyond the romantic feelings?
I asked myself this question several times this weekend as I scrolled through various Facebook status updates. The level of hate and intolerance I noticed from both sides — those supporting gay marriage and those who don’t — indicate that we all still have much to learn about love.
In the midst of heated politics and feeds oversaturated with opinions, it seems we, even those who profess to be Christians, forgot (or maybe never understood) some of the basics of love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7 ESV)
Love is from God. God is the author and creator of love; we cannot know true love apart from Him. We cannot love each other properly if we do not love God first (Matthew 22:37-38) and do not have the Spirit of God working within us to teach us how to love. We cannot understand love unless we take time to learn more about God’s love — which was perfectly exemplified in the life and death of Christ. When we study His love, we quickly realize it’s not one-dimensional. It’s patience, kindness, compassion, justice, righteousness, wisdom, and tolerance all perfectly manifested in one virtue. We do each other a great disservice when we exclusively focus on one or two aspects of love (such as tolerance and compassion) while neglecting the other aspects.
Love is constantly seeking the best interest of others. What’s in all people’s best interest? To coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. We need to love people enough to want to save their souls by sharing the gospel truths. That’s how God loves us. That’s how Christ loves us. Any love that has a goal less than that is not true love.
Love is sacrifice. In the Bible, this kind of love is called agape in Greek. God showed us this love when he offered up his holy, blameless son as a propitiation for our sins. Since we have received such unfathomable love, we must seek to exhibit such sacrificial love towards others. Sometimes seeking others’ best interests conflicts with our personal best interests. In those moments we have to sacrifice whatever may benefit us – be it time, comfort, or even social acceptance – in favor of what can save another.
Love is compassion. Consider Matthew 9:10-13. Christ was able to proclaim the truth while *showing* great compassion towards people considered the foremost of sinners – the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the adulterers. Therefore, those sinners felt comfortable coming to Jesus for guidance and healing, so much so that they willingly dined with him! We too need to be the kind of people whom others are comfortable confiding in when they need help because they know we’ll show love and compassion before critical judgment.
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4: 21 ESV)
Love is a command. Love is not optional for Christians because we ourselves are recipients of great love, life-saving love. We cannot love only those with whom we identify or those we deem worthy of love. God loved us when we weren’t worthy of love, so we must do the same for all people.
Now for the really hard part. Let’s talk about what love is NOT.
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6 ESV)
Love is not sin. Love does NOT enable sin. If I’m truly looking out for your best interests, I won’t enable you to sin because I know that sin separates us from God, and there is no fate worse than permanent separation from God. I can listen, try to understand, and even sympathize with your struggle. But I can’t support your decisions to reject truth and continue in sin. That’s not love. Love rejoices in truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). If I truly love you, I will discourage you from sin by encouraging you to seek the hope that lies in Christ. And if you love me, you’ll do the same for me.
I say this not just in reference to homosexuality, but ALL sins. Yes, the motivating topic for this post was homosexuality because it received a giant spotlight this weekend due to the recent SCOTUS decision. And I’ll be perfectly clear in stating that I believe the practice of homosexuality (the action NOT the attraction) to be sin because of clear verses in the Bible stating so: 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, Romans 1:26-27. I’m not in the least bit homophobic. Homosexuality is a topic that’s very personal for me, and I have several LGB-identifying people in my life whom I love deeply. It’s because I love them that I have to share my honest thoughts on homosexual activity based on scripture.
But I don’t want us to get too hung up on homosexuality specifically because it’s just as egregious as any other form of sexual immorality (I’m looking at you, heterosexual folk who struggle with lust) and any other sin for that matter.
Love is not inaction. We can’t practice love if we say nothing, do nothing or express nothing towards those who desperately need to receive our love. We are doing ourselves and others a great disservice when we remain silent in the midst of social and cultural turmoil. Love is an action that requires an object. So if we seek to grow in love, we have to find people to love. We have to find people to save. We have to speak up when it’s necessary to speak.
Love is not easy. It’s not easy to constantly seek the best interests of others, particularly when those you’re trying to love reject your love or don’t understand it. Love requires us to share gospel truths with all, and that’s a difficult task when the truth contradicts so much of what the world holds dear. Sometimes love will require us to risk rejection and disproval in order to share the gospel. Love isn’t easy. It also wasn’t easy for Christ to willingly be nailed to and killed on the cross by those he was trying to save. Yet, he did. So we must bear our cross of love, and move forward in it as well.
Practically speaking, what does all of this mean for us?
To my fellow Christians, it means we have to aim to show love towards everyone. It means we have to continually fight our natural instincts to put ourselves, our security, and our popularity first. We have to get to know people and be willing to show compassion over judgment. We can’t express love only when it’s easy, fun and popular to do so. We have to express love by trying to save people’s souls, even when it hurts.
To my non-Christian friends, I know we likely won’t agree on the definition of love because we likely don’t agree on the source of love. I just urge you to understand that when a Christian works up the courage to discuss a particular sin with you (hopefully with compassion and understanding), they are likely doing so out of love and they are trying to look out for your best interest — which is your salvation.