Tuesday, June 04, 2013


We often operate in life, unfortunately, from the basis of our unexamined assumptions of what it means "to love" and" be loved."

Someone has said, "For the popular culture, love is something we feel, but for the church love is something we do." That sounds good, maybe even correct. But it leaves a lot un-said. Like what Love is. Examining what some people call love can even be a scary thing. [I admit that the picture is a bit of an over-statement.]

We ARE commanded to love each other: to love our neighbor as ourselves. [That's doing something.] But what does that look like? Does it mean to "never say no?" Is it always "being available?" Do we sacrifice ourselves and those in our family in order to completely love someone else? To me, that's a scary thing. 

To help us fulfill the commandment to love, we have produced many, many books on “how-tos.” While those books can be helpful, they may actually be a problem if they keep us from looking at the deeper reality of God’s real presence and work in our relationships. We end up being tempted to trust in the “how-tos”  [The practical steps to fulfilling that commandment]  as the reality of love itself.

There are three scary problems that follow in the wake of that kind of temptation......

First__they [those practical steps to loving] can lead us to believe that God’s goal for us is primarily external to ourselves. We end up equating maturity, or the successful Christian life, with happy or smooth relationships as a result of our being successful in our steps of performance. Of course, if someone tells us we don't love them AFTER we've done the right things to prove we do, there is an emotional war [anger/argument] carried on between us as we try to convince them otherwise.

Second__ they [those practical steps to loving] can lead is to believe that relationships are fairly simple to figure out and that we can solve almost any problem with the right technique. Good luck with that idea! 

Third__because we think that relationships are simple, we can be naïve about or even deny all the ways that we can sin, or be sinned against, in our relationships with such things as manipulation of another or control of another. How scary is that!

So what is real love?

I'm not sure love has a definition to it as much as it has a description that defies explanation. You recall the scripture says, "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Then, Chuck Swindol said this, "One of the most profound comments made regarding the early church came from the lips of a man named Aristides, sent by the Emperor Hadrian to spy out those strange creatures known as "Christians." Having seen them in action, Aristides returned with a mixed report. But his immortal words to the emperor have echoed down through history: 'Behold! How they love one another.'"

But notice that a definition of love doesn't seem forth coming from anyone, even Chuck Swindol. So maybe love is more of a discernable thing than it is a definable thing.

I heard a story told as true by a popular preacher that pretty much says it all for me. Don't make anything gender specific or cultural in this story. Let it be what it is. A tale of two people who find love. 

A woman was married at a very young age to a man who said he was a believer, but was a domineering, controlling, kind of person and one who never seemed pleased with anything she did. She spent her waking moments trying to please a man who could not be pleased. He would leave her lists of things to do during the day while he was at work and upon his return home, she would find what she did examined and denounced as unfit or incorrect. She tried cooking tasty and attractive meals, to no avail. She tried keeping the house clean, but he was never satisfied. She tried to do everything right, but usually found nothing done to his satisfaction. She was doing everything she knew to do. 

The marriage ended. She was alone again. 

A man came into her life who was also a professing believer, but he was a different kind of person than she'd ever known. He was a gentle and kind person. He was thoughtful and appreciative. He was a gracious and giving husband. He said he loved her. which her former husband had declared on occasion as well, but there was something different with her new husband. Somehow his love seemed about her instead of about him and had a ring of reality about it.

One day, several years into her marriage with this man, she became aware of something. She was cooking meals, keeping a clean house, doing things that were for her husband and now her children, to be sure, but, she was unaware of them being done for any reason except she loved them.

They were things done with joy and delight with no agenda except to express her love to a family that was the object of her love. They certainly were NOT a list she'd drawn up to perform to prove she loved them. Somehow love was just real to her and the things done were not lists to be accomplished, but an expression of her real love.

Maybe in human relationships that's the definition, or better yet, the description of real love.

I'm persuaded that we come to that kind of love not so much by experiencing it from a partner as we do learning the biblical description of God's love for us in Christ. When we really do understand the depths of that act of love, we are more likely to be able, in the power of the Spirit, to love others as we're loved.

I know that is the best description, if not definition, of love you'll ever find, IMHO. It's called the gospel. That love does a number on "things that are scary." 

Paul B.


Garen Martens said...

Good example - the woman in her second marriage. "...she was unaware of (things) being done for any reason except she loved them."
If we can get to that level of loving family and other people, I think we have achieved Christ's directive to love one another.

Aussie John said...


You never disappoint!

Verbosity won't be a problem this time. I won't even attempt to add some of my thoughts, except to say, it's easier to describe what love isn't that what it is.

I know that I've experienced real love from the day I knew my Lord, Jesus Christ, and from the day, more than half a century ago, I met the gorgeous girl who would be my wife, and the relationships I've had with many brothers and sisters in Christ.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Dr. Dan Allender has been helpful in my quest to define and apply biblical love. Though it is an older resource "Bold Love" is an insightful book. Love applied or received can be a scary proposition because it is never "text book" ! Lets face it this is because relationships are never formulaic...at least not the ones that really impact us beyond a surface level.

I don't know if Allender spelled it out or whether or not I am summarizing but I have to remind myself (and occasionally others) that love applied looks different from relationship to relationship.

Thanks for the post

Paul Burleson said...

Garen___You nailed it.

Aussie J,____You're NEVER verbose, keep them coming.

Rodney____I totally agree about Allender's book.