Jesus demonstrates what love really is

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A line in a popular song of 1965 said, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”. A look at the headlines from around the world in the past couple of weeks serves as a reminder to this somewhat simplistic approach to world problems. Simplistic, perhaps. But at its heart, there is a message for each one of us. Our world, global and local, needs love.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have certain perspectives on love. As a pastor I preach on love; I teach about love; I counsel about love; love is a big part of my vocabulary and daily activity. That should be the case, however, not just for me but for every Christian believer, and, I would suggest, for every person.

The scriptures tell us that God is love (1 John 4). Because that is the case, all who follow God should try to live lives of love.

Again in scripture we read, “Faith, hope and love abide. these three, but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians). Love is preeminent in all things for those who love God and follow Jesus.

But love, although a commonly used word, can be a bit tricky to nail down. I would suggest that it is a word that we use much, but understand little. As evidence, I offer an illustration of my 20-plus years in ministry. In that time, I have performed more than 100 weddings, and for each I have conducted pre-marital counseling, always beginning the first session this way: After brief introductions I say I assume that at some point the groom-elect has made a proposal to the bride-elect, and she said “yes.” Virtually every time that had occurred. I then turn to the groom-elect and say, “if you had never used a particular word, she would have never said ‘yes.’ If you had never said to her, “I love you” she would have never said ‘yes’ to your proposal.” I ask if that is right, and they both affirm my suspicions. After that, I ask the groom-elect to define “love.” This is almost always followed by a long period of silence, and awkwardness. Sometimes the bride-elect looks on in eager anticipation of what he will say, while at other times she tries to rescue her beloved.

What follows is a conversation about what love is. A conversation about making one of life’s most important decisions based on the strength of a word we have a hard time defining. We talk about a number of things, but primarily I try to help them see these things: First, love is not a feeling or emotion. Those things come and go, but a true love abides. Feelings and emotion can be the result of loving behavior, they can help us in loving, but they are not love. Second, love is a decision; a conscious choice to stay connected and in relationship and commitment even and especially when it is difficult. Third, love is effort. It takes work to love another. It often isn't easy. It requires honesty and openness.

After talking through these things, I try to lift up a hopeful and helpful understanding of love. I believe that understanding is found in the Bible. God is love, and therefore He acts in a loving way. In the Old Testament we see a God who, when Israel wanders and turns away, remains steadfast to them. Love is being steadfast, often even when injured and wronged. Then we turn to the New Testament and see what I consider to be the greatest act of love in all human history, Jesus on the cross. On the cross, Jesus suffered and died for the sins of those who crucified Him. As He was dying, I don't think he was filled with warm fuzzies and empty platitudes, but was filled with compassion and love. As He was dying he said, "Father forgive them, they don't understand what they are doing."

That is love. It is that kind of sober, intentional self-giving love that the world has but needs to see more of. Love is considering the other first, love is giving your all to another, love is a decision to consider the other's needs and wants before your own. What the world needs now, as always, is that kind of love.

The Rev. Albert Gillin is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Contact him at 509-525-1093 or by email at gillin@wwpcusa.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at catherinehicks@wwub.com.

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