13 July 2016

What Is Love?

Love Is Good, Right?
Is it fair to suggest that everyone on the planet thinks that love is a good thing?
Is it fair to suggest that we are all on the same sheet of music in declaring love as something of value?

I mean, after all, we have all kinds of groups using it as part of their message nowadays. Slogans such as "LOVE WINS" have plastered social media. What does the word love here mean exactly...?

America has been in a great deal of turmoil lately due to a senseless loss of many, many lives. It is a painful tragedy and for some more painful than others when the life lost is a close family member or friend. As a result, you may have seen many emotional responses in the form of new postings online. Many are about how Jesus called us to love our neighbors with even some suggestions on how to do that. This billboard pic is rather cute as well. You may have even seen it online somewhere by now.

What does the word love in this graphic mean exactly...?

These are only a couple of examples out of countless posts online related to love and how God wants us to love our neighbor, or that the hate needs to stop, or that love wins, that love is supreme. It really does seem that love is something around which all of us can rally. Regardless of your lot in life, your ethnic background, your religious affiliation or lack thereof, your age, your personal preferences, or criminal history - love seems to stand out as good.

So what is the problem? If we all agree that love is good why is this not more simple? Do we even know what it means...?

I would suggest to you that the reason it is not more simple is because everyone is throwing around the word LOVE with the assumption that everyone else is using the same meaning. I would even go so far as to suggest to you that some are throwing it around knowing full well that you are using a different meaning and use that as a means of manipulation.

Equivocation of terms. (definition taken from Google)

Now, while the definition implies some measure of intention, I will acknowledge that a great deal of this probably happens innocently enough, with most folks not even realizing it when it comes to the word 'love', but difficulty will follow if two people are trying to talk about the same thing using two different meanings. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that when entering a discussion on any topic that you start by defining the terms.

So when you HEAR something like 'Jesus loves everybody' or 'Love your neighbor as yourself' - what does that mean to you? What does it mean when you SAY it?

The Command To Love
Let's look at the command to love your neighbor that is given to us in the Bible. Where do we find it?

Leviticus 19:18
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Matthew 5:43-48
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 22:34-40
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

Now these are only a few of the places where we might find mention of this in the Bible but it will suffice.

First, we can see from the passage in Leviticus that this concept is not solely a New Testament one. God even spoke it to Moses!

Secondly, the Sermon on the Mount! Jesus actually steps it up a couple notches doesn't he? Not only are we to love our neighbor but our enemies as well. If we only love those who love us - how are we any different?

Third, Jesus lays it out again but indicates it as a second commandment to loving God himself with all heart, soul, and mind. He also indicates that the two together are on what all the Law and the Prophets depend.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (v. 17), Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

Absolutely! Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself. What exactly does that look like...? In a world where people have different definitions of what love really is... what does 'love your neighbor' look like?

Who Gets To Make That Decision?
Who gets to come up with the definition of love?

Well, I would suggest to you that since God gave the command, God gets to define it - not us. The good news is that God created us in His image and through His son Jesus, we have all the access to God that we need in order to find out what it looks like to love your neighbor.

See the Image of God video from the folks at Join the Bible Project

How do we love our neighbor? I have a suggestion. Let's go back to Matthew chapter 22 where Jesus indicates the first and greatest commandment of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind for a moment. Loving our neighbor comes in second. Focus on God first and the rest will come as a natural outpouring of the hope that is within us.

Here is an acronym that may help.


Live Out - this is our expression and lifestyle that people see - what we live out. To be volitional is to be willful in our choice. Exaltation is worship. Worship God. 

God gave his son Jesus who died on a cross for our sins that we might accept that gift and come to a relationship with Him. That we might not perish as the consequences of our sins would dictate but have everlasting life in communion with the One whose love for us was so great that He sent His son to die on a cross to take care of those consequences for us. Now that is love and through this relationship we can come to know love as it was meant to be.

God, who IS love itself knows full well what it looks like. He loves us all in a way that we can only dream to imagine. If we would but turn our hearts away from our own flawed definitions and turn to Him for the definition instead... 

I pray that we might all come to know Him and live out a volitional exaltation of Him in all that we do and that through our willful expression of worship to God we can come to understand how to love our neighbor as ourselves because we will know firsthand how He loves us.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Ravi Zacharias...
Unless there is a change in the heart of a human being, laws are but a surface solution. It is putting a band-aid to a joint that is out of order."

Let Jesus come and change your heart and let us all begin to truly love our neighbors.

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