What is Love?
MARCH 23, 2021
Love is Jesus. That is it.
If people go much further in trying to understand love than Jesus, they will miss it.
John says: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).
If you have never been loved deeply, without condition, and without requirement, I do not have the words to explain it to you. On the other hand, if you have experienced it, I really do not have to say much more.
A number of years ago, I wrote the book Three Free Sins. Its main thrust was that the reason people are so bad is that they are trying so very hard to be good. The trying is often so prideful, ego-centered, and narcissistic that holiness is hardly ever the product. Because of justification (we’re forgiven), imputation (we’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ), and adoption (we now have a cool father), believers can lighten up and allow God to show them his love when they get better and when they do not. And then, Christians will be surprised with the goodness that often follows. That happens because goodness and failure to be good are no longer the issue. Jesus has taken care of that, and now believers can go out and play.
It is the same way with love, being loved, and loving others. Christians have been trying way too hard to love, and the harder they try, the less they love. The more people chase love, the more it recedes. Try to define, manufacture, control, earn, or use love, and love will not be found. But if people give up trying to look for love in all the wrong places, love finds them. And that love will become the key to their efforts to speak and live the truth we’ve been given. The reason God did not send a book to express his love, but instead sent his Son, was because of the nature of love. Love is not a concept, an action, or a doctrine. Love is an experience, both when it is received and when it is given.
A number of years ago when our oldest granddaughter Christy was little, she was playing with her Madeline doll. She was trying to put clothes on her doll, but it was not working. She became quite frustrated. Her father Jim and I were watching a football game on television, and Jim said to Christy, “Try a little patience, honey, and you’ll get it.” Do you know what Christy did? She threw Madeline at her father, and when he admonished her, she threw the beanbag chair she was sitting on at him.
“That’s it,” Jim said, picking her up. “You’re going to be in time out and you’re going to stay there.” As he walked away with Christy on his shoulder, she was saying things like “I hate you!” and “I’m never speaking to you again!” Jim said he was fine with that, put Christy in a chair, and told her not to dare move before he told her to. Then Jim and I went back to watching the football game. Actually, Jim did; I never left because wise grandfathers learn to stay out of those kinds of altercations.
A while later, Christy came slowly back into the family room. She was crying. Christy climbed up onto her father’s lap and said, “Daddy, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I do stuff like that. I love you so much.” Jim hugged her and said, “And Christy, I love you so much . . . more than you will ever know.”
Love happened. Nobody planned it or used it. It just happened.
So if Christian love is the key to reaching a world that does not want to be reached, what do believers do?
Nothing! And above all, do not do anything religious.
Jesus showed love by being love. Jesus hung out with the wrong people, said the wrong things, and hugged those nobody else would hug. And he was quite harsh in what he said to those religious people who violated the essence of their faith by making obedience to a very demanding God the center of their belief system. He called them “whitewashed tombs” and a “brood of vipers,” who often took a searcher for God and made him a “child of hell” (Matthew 23:27, 33, 15).
Sadly our agendas almost always precede and define everything we say and do, and certainly that is true about love. Love often turns into theological demands and religious definitions, or even worse, syrupy and cloying drivel.
What do believers do? Again, nothing.
Well, there is something: just let Jesus love you. I am not even sure what that means but it feels like forgiveness, acceptance, and delight. Read 1 Corinthians 13. Instead of reading it as a condemnation of the love you do not have or a definition of what you want, change the words “love is” to “Jesus’s love for me is.” It does not matter that you are not worthy (and I’m talking to Christians in general here, and to myself in particular), that you have sinned, or that you have a lot of doubts. It does not matter where you have been, what you have done, what you have been smoking or drinking, the shameful secrets you cannot share with anyone, the people you have hurt, the anger you feel, the unfairness you have experienced, the piled-up failures you have, or what people who do not know you think about you. In fact, the most important part of the Christian faith is not church or doing religious things or witnessing or being good. It is simply hanging out with Jesus and experiencing his unconditional and relentless love for you.
Then what? Do not leave. Stay there until you have experienced the love that happens in his presence. It might take a few days or a few years—that is OK. Then go mingle and see what happens.
Adapted from Steve’s book, Talk the Walk.