When the engagement announcement was made between the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana in 1981, they were both asked in an interview if they were in love, Diana responded, "Of course," while Charles said, "Whatever 'in love' means." Diana laughed it off, while Charles added that the phrase "in love" is open to "your own interpretation." That one didn't turn out so great. The Beatles famously sung “All you need is love.” The author Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote “'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” And Whitney Houston belted out “Learning to love yourself, is the greatest love of all.” But is it? What is love really?
Of course, the most important question is “how does the Bible define love?” I’m glad to report that Scripture spells it out in very clear terms. 1 John 4: 10 tells us “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And John 15:13 tells us “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” There is, of course, the famous “love chapter” 1 Corinthians 13 that tells us 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.” What a beautiful description of love - such depth of meaning, instruction, and purpose.
When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?” – he focused on love… “You shall love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Here’s a thought-provoking exercise… close your eyes and picture God. What does he look like? We are told multiple times in Scripture that no one has ever seen his face. So, as you can see (or not see), it’s an impossibility. And yet, we are told how we see God and help others see what God looks like. 1 John 4:12 goes on to say “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” Verse 16 tells us “God is love.” So, how do we portray God? The passage continues… “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.” Wow! - In this world WE ARE LIKE JESUS. And finally, we are warned “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” Do you see? This is what God looks like… Love. What is love? Knowing God. Notice, it doesn't say "love is God" - it says "God is love." So, to know God is to know love. To attempt to know love outside of God is an impossibility - It will always end up in a perverse counterfeit.
We are living in a divisive world on the brink of self-destruction. We, as a society, kill our own children by the millions. We use one another for self-gratification and then toss each other aside like used merchandise. We go through relationships and marriages like they mean nothing. We ignore (and sadly even abuse) our children and wonder why they are so out of control (the stats on child abuse right now are staggering and heart-breaking). We are self-absorbed and resentful and unkind and ungracious and greedy. We divide and splinter into groups by race, political affiliation, doctrinal differences, and on and on. And there is little to no distinction between those in and out of the church. These are all symptoms of one thing – a lack of love… a lack of TRUE love. We live in a culture that says love is following your heart no matter who it hurts. We live in a culture that says love is “being nice” and “not offending anyone.” We live in a culture that says “live and let live” – “do whatever makes YOU happy.” But that is not love. Jesus said “if you love me, you will obey my commands.” God’s love doesn’t look the other way when it comes to sin. God’s love demands blood… and offers His own. God’s love demands that we be holy… and gives us His Spirit to lead us into all truth, convict us of sin, and empower us to walk in His ways. C. S. Lewis wrote “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” One of the most loving things you can say to anyone is “repent.” One of the most loving things we can share is the knowledge of the coming judgement and the salvation found in Jesus Christ. Do you know someone who claims to be a Christian but is living in deliberate and willful sin? Do you have family members, coworkers, and acquaintances who are unsaved? Of course you do - tell them they need to repent, tell them why, and tell them how. Are you yourself walking in the Spirit… seeking the Lord’s will in your life? If you are holding on to unholy habits – repent. If you are holding on to grudges – repent and forgive (unless you forgive, you will not be forgiven). If you are being lazy, self-absorbed, or unloving – repent. And in that state of repentance, you will be enveloped in God’s love. You will know forgiveness and life to the full. You will be empowered to love, because you will know love… for God IS love.