Teaching: What is Love?

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[The following article was taken from The Contender, a bimonthly magazine that was published by Spirit & Truth Fellowship International.]

Hello there, dear contender in the human race. May the blessings of God be upon you as you continue to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. What a walk this is, huh? Lately, as I have struggled to suppress the “self-full-ness” (I just made up that word) wedged within me, so that I can love with the pure love of Christ, I have found myself having more empathy with others engaged in the same challenge. I have seen how self-oriented my “love” too often is, and it absolutely disgusts me. So I thought I’d discuss this subject in my column in this issue of The Contender, and I hope that you can relate to what I share and also benefit from it.

“What is love?” That’s a question that has no doubt been asked countless times, and no doubt been answered in countless ways, such as: “A many-splendored thing”; “Five feet of heaven in a ponytail”; “Giving”; “Rosie” (or whatever woman’s name may be tattooed on your arm). But, of course, since God is love, we should allow Him to define this term for us, and He certainly does so in His Word.

The Greek word agape, unknown to writers outside the New Testament, is a familiar one to most Bible readers, and I like E.W. Bullinger’s lexical definition of it:

“Agape denotes the love that springs from admiration and veneration, and which chooses its object with decision of will and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it.”

Gosh, I want to love that way. Keys to doing so? Keep putting on the mind of Christ, so that I see each person as he does. Keep reaching out to others. Keep adjusting my heart and actions when I see that others are not getting the love I think I’m giving. No self pity! No whining!

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 has been quoted, carved, decoupaged, needlepointed and calligraphied. What I really want to do is live it. Here it is from The Message:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Would to God that the above will one day be a description of me, but boy, the sin nature within me is subtle. My love for another and my great desire to do for her (let’s use a female pronoun, since that’s hip these days) can cross the line into becoming about me rather than about her. It can become about my pride in doing, and I can usually tell when this is by how I feel when she doesn’t show as much appreciation as I think she should. This is about control, not selfless giving, and it stifles true love.

Recently I was talking with my daughter, Christine, who usually dispenses at least several pearls of wisdom in each of our conversations. She had just completed a four week Outward Bound course as the lead counselor for seven “troubled yutes” (boys ages 13 to 17), and her observations were poignant. She spoke about her tendency to be a control freak (that couldn’t be genetic) and how she was learning to overcome this, especially in the context of leading people who have free will.

Naturally, in a phone conversation taking place soon after the NBA playoffs, we as serious hardwood fans talked a little about the final series between the Lakers and the Pacers. In the context of her recent experience in the wilderness with the boys, she mentioned Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s hybrid religious philosophy, a kind of “Zen Christianity.” A main point in Zen thinking is detachment from the outcome in a situation. Christine said that she had to come to grips with the fact that nothing she did for those boys would guarantee a change in their lives. Therefore, if she were to be in balance, it could not be about winning or losing, as far as her impact upon them, but rather about becoming content with just being with them in their struggle.

Think about how all this relates to the Lord Jesus. He lived his life and went to the Cross knowing that not all people would believe in him and take advantage of the monumental sacrifice he was making for them. In fact, some would curse him, spit on him and do everything they could to stop other people from knowing him and loving him. Yet, he still made the long trek to Golgotha, and I don’t think he was muttering angrily under his breath all the way. But I have muttered my way through too many “selfless” acts of “love” that took far less sacrifice than the Cross. How sickening is that?!

God is love. What a truth! One of the greatest ways that God showed His love was by giving mankind genuine freedom of will, and really allowing us to make our own choices in life. True love never coerces or manipulates in any way. Rather, God sets before each of us choices, telling us the resulting benefits and consequences. He does not then “badger” us about the choices we make. His message is, “When you turn to me, I am right there for you, and when you turn away from me, I am still there waiting for you to turn back.”

God is the model lover, and we can see His heart personified in Jesus Christ. In My Utmost For His Highest (July 19), Oswald Chambers writes:

“Our Lord never insists on having authority; He never says, “Thou shalt.” He leaves us perfectly free–so free that we can spit in his face, as men did; so free that we can put him to death, as men did; and He will never say a word. But when His life has been created in me by His redemption, I instantly recognize His right to absolute authority over me…If our Lord insisted upon obedience, He would become a taskmaster, and He would cease to have any authority. He never insists upon obedience, but when we do see Him we obey Him instantly, He is easily Lord, and we live in adoration of Him from morning till night. The revelation of my growth in grace is the way in which I look upon obedience.”

How hard it seems to be for me to follow suit, even with someone who I love deeply. Why? Because I often think that I know what is best, and I want to control the outcome. Even if I am right, that is still not the way God loves me, and the other would be well served if I love her like God loves me. I am currently reading a book titled The Art of Intimacy, by T.P. and P.T. Malone, and I think that some excerpts from an essay on “Love” that one of the authors had written earlier and included in the book are most pertinent in the context of this column:

“The experience of loving is unilateral. It asks no response, nor does it demand the other to be deserving…The loving rewards, not the being loved…The feeling of love arises out of your person, unreasonably and wonderfully thrusting itself on, and contagiously evoking response in, the other. When felt unreservedly without hesitance, shame or fear, the loved has no choice but to love. The slightest hesitance or most meager reservation in loving can undo. If the love feeling in you does not wake a love response, do not chastise the other, but look into your own heart to find wherein your loving lacks fullness or is crippled by your hesitance…

“I love you”…means that I surround you with the feeling that allows you—perhaps even requires you—to be everything you really are as a human being at that moment. When my love is fullest, you are most fully you…And so I experience you in all your beauty and in all your ugliness…Because being loved allows the other to be what he or she really is, it is much easier to know when you are loved than when you are loving. The affirmation of your love is in the other person’s being; the confirmation of being loved lies in your experience of being yourself…Since it is easier to know when you are loved than when you are being loving, the most serious personal distortions of human experience lie in the loving, not the loved, experience. Most psychiatric problems arise out of confusion of loving; mistakes about being loved are rare, if they occur at all…

But to love is to be alone, at least initially and momentarily, since it is unilateral and not dependent on response from the loved one. And since the fear of being separated makes us concerned with the response of the other, and so keeps us from loving, the very fear of aloneness and separation oddly enough results in our awful aloneness and deadly separation.”

A husband has no absolute guarantee that even if he loves his wife like Christ loved the Church, she will respond with a godly love for him. A parent has no absolute guarantee that his godly parenting will result in his children becoming dynamic Christians. Yet God’s Word states that this kind of godly love is the only way to go in any human relationship, and is what gives the other the best opportunity to respond as God would have him respond. Once again, Jesus Christ is the epitome of this kind of love.

In 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, the words “reconcile” or “reconciliation” appear five times. The basic meaning of the noun is “a change on the part of one party only, induced by some action on the part of another.” God so loved that He gave His only Son. Jesus so loved that he gave his only life. Now it is my turn, your turn, and we can so love that we give up ourselves for the sake of another, to show her as much as possible of the heart of God, unfiltered by our humanity.

Ephesians 4:25-32 gives us a clear picture of how it will look, behaviorally, if I love someone like Jesus would. Then come verses 1 and 2 of Chapter 5 – a commandment of God that must contain both a provision and a promise. That is, we can do it!

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

It looks to me as though a key to reaching this lofty goal is to know that I am “dearly loved” by the Creator, who is also my dad, and by the Lord Jesus, who is my big brother. The more I understand their passionate, unwavering, unconditional love for me, the more free I am to fearlessly love others, knowing that my “self” is in good hands and that I don’t have to take care of it at the expense of another. Such a deal.
Well, I gotta go and practice all this, so until I see you in the October Contender, have fun in the Son. And stay on the edge of your comfort zone, stretching your faith day by day.

You can read the original article here.

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about God’s wonderful message, please visit the Truth or Tradition website. You can also keep track of the ministry through their Facebook page, their YouTube Channel, or follow them on Twitter.

Thanks for reading.

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