Monday, 15 February 2016

What is love?

I blog about a lot of different things over here but pretty much everything comes back to the way that we view God in light of who Jesus has revealed Him to be. When it comes down to it understanding who God is really is the whole point of theology; so if scripture tells us that God IS love (which is what 1 John 4:8 says), we should make sure that we have a good working definition of what love actually is. Especially when Jesus boils everything down for us into the command to “love God and to love your neighbor”. To put it another way, we cannot love in a God-like manner if we do not know what Gods love looks like. This is the love that is supposed to be so evident among us that it convinces the world that God sent Jesus and that He loves us much as He loves Christ Himself (John 17:23)!

So how do we define love? Many people would go straight to 1 Corinthians 13 which is often called ‘the love chapter’; the one that says “love is patient, love is kind” and so on but these seem to me to be the fruits of the tree rather than the object itself. Love is always kind but kindness is not necessarily always done out of love. Love keeps no record of wrong but neither do the ignorant. Love does not rejoice about injustice but neither do the indifferent. You get the picture; the visible manifestations of love do not get to the core of what love actually is. For the definition of that which we seek I think we need to go not to the love chapter in Corinthians but to the love book, aka First John. Picking up in chapter three verse sixteen we read:-

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.

In getting to the heart of who God is and what genuine love looks like John points us straight to Jesus. He then narrows it down even further by pointing us to the cross as the ultimate expression of that love. John is really just repeating here what Jesus Himself had said at the Last supper when He said that there was no greater love than to lay one’s life down for His friends (John 15:13). John then follows on from this statement by imploring us to follow the self sacrificial example of Jesus in giving our lives for our brethren. This could include physical death but most often it would manifest in smaller sacrificial gestures. In the next verse (17), John builds on His definition by giving us a practical example of what this might look like in everyday life:-

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?

This is true love, it might not be beneficial in any way, it is others centered and sacrificial, it’s the “not my will but yours be done” kind of stuff.

Baby don’t herd me

Somewhere along the path I think that we have forgotten what Gods self sacrificial love looks like and what it looks like when we start living it out ourselves. Consider the excerpt below taken from a second century manuscript called the ‘The Epistle to Diognetes’ which gives us a glimpse into the lives of some of the earliest followers of the Jesus. I will end off with this as well as it hardly seems necessary to add anything to it.

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word - what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

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