Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Looking at Love

Love has been on my mind quite a bit lately. This might seem odd considering I'm no romantic and thoroughly enjoy my singleness with a vigor, but it really isn't that odd because the "love" I've been looking at is a bit more than the kind you see in the theaters or in love notes.

It all sprang from a conversation in which a friend that frequently bombards her friend with "I love you!" in  playful tones asked if I loved her. I said, something to the effect of, "Yeah. In Christian love," to which she replied that it doesn't count because I'm supposed to love her that way. I was reminded of other conversations in which people (myself included at times) say things like, "the Bible says I have to love them/you, it never says I have to like them/you." I've even heard it explained rather jokingly by a preacher how the Greek wording of the New Testament implies that we have to love people with unconditional love, but aren't required to feel emotional love towards them. Sadly, I've even been guilty of using this line on occasion.

Now according to what I've found from Merriam-Webster, there is some truth to these lines of thought. "Like" applies to an attraction towards something/someone or taking pleasure in something/someone. If you enjoy being around someone, you "like" that person. The Bible doesn't require us to enjoy being around everyone. Enjoyment is largely an emotional reaction to something, the Bible never requires us to have specific emotional reactions, but there are several places (such as passages on anger) in which it expects us to control what we do with our emotions. So my friend was somewhat justified in her indignation, because I didn't say that I get enjoyment from being around her, rather I said I loved her with the love the Bible says to have.
But the other side of the coin is that the Bible requires a much deeper kind of love than "like". It commands us to go beyond physical attraction (eroo) and emotional connection (phileo) and to commit to an unconditional love and acceptance (agapo). It's not a cheat out of love, it's a deeper love. Don't believe me? Check out I Corinthians 13:4-7a
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 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 hopes, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
How is that a cheat? If that's what the Bible prescribes as Christian love, I'd much rather have that than be liked by all the world. Like as an emotion, can change. The love described above never fails.

I once heard the same preacher who made the Greek word-play mentioned in the beginning of this post discuss how unlike the other words for love found in the NT, agape love - the kind mentioned in the scripture above, the kind we are commanded to - is a conscious decision to love another person regardless of their response. This is why it is commonly referred to as unconditional love. Unlike other kind's of love, it isn't dependant on a feeling or emotion. Like I said earlier, the Bible never commands us to have a certain emotion, it tells us to control how we handle our emotions. The commandment to love one another is a command to ignore how our emotions react to people, and to put their best interest above our own. If that's Christian love, sign me up! Forget about being liked. Sadly, I myself despite the claims I make of loving others in Christian love (which are usually just playful ways of assuring my friends that I'm not romantically interested in them), have failed to have this true kind of Christian love towards other people.

I think the Bible challenges me along with all who are in Christ, to put aside their emotions towards others. To take on the attitude and mindset of Christ, and truly love another just as God loved us through Christ. To stop looking at our relationships with other people in terms of what they can do for us and how they make us feel, and to start asking what we can put into them, how we can be a benefit the other person. That's a pretty tall order, one that I know I personally am unable to fill. I don't have that kind of love in me. But the best part is that I don't have to have that kind of love myself, because God gave it to me when he sent Christ to die on the cross for me. And now his Holy Spirit dwelling in me attests to that love daily. All I have to do is allow the Spirit to express that love through me. By my own power I am uncapable of Christian love, but with God's help I can redistribute the love that he lavishes upon me. Even still, a realistic mindset must admit that perfect Christian love is something that I'll never completely achieve as long as I dwell in this mortal body, but I just think of it as practice for Heaven.

So is it an insult when someone says they love you in Christian love? Is it a cheat that the Bible calls Christians to love others, and not to like us? Hardly! The cheat would be if the Bible merely required Christians to like others. If Christians truly lived up to the Biblical requirements to love others, this world would be one awesome place!

Thanks for reading!!!!
In Christ,

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