Love means something has to die

 

I’m in the middle of a series on how the Christian faith shapes our priorities and changes how we live our lives.

This week, I’m zeroing in on God’s command to love others.

Because of the sinful world we live in, the definition of love has become so twisted that it can be difficult to grasp what it actually means in the context of Scripture.

However, this understanding is crucial, since God is the one who ultimately defines what love is. We need to know what he means before we attempt to love those around us.

With that in mind, I’m actually going to divide this topic into two posts. Here, I’ll discuss what love means, and in the next post I’ll dive into some practical stuff.

Okay, so what does love truly mean?

I read an article recently which contrasts the emotion-driven romantic love our culture celebrates with grounded, selfless love. The author describes love as an action, a decision and an investment.

Here's part of her definition:

Love is not frenzied. Love is calm. Love is decisive. Love is deliberate. And love is focusing on their feelings and wants and needs, not yours.
— Kris Gage

And yes, this is true. But the Bible calls us even deeper than this.

In John 15:12-13, Jesus tells us to love each other as he has loved us, for there can be no greater love than one where we give up our lives for the sake of others.

In other words, true love means that something has to die.

We must set aside our desire for fulfillment, our demand to be understood, valued and adored in the pursuit of seeing others receive these gifts.

Through giving up our lives for others we can understand more fully God's love for us. And that understanding brings lifegiving joy.

So the beginning of love is death.

We see this theme again and again throughout Scripture.

Jesus modeled love by choosing to die a humiliating and terrible death on the cross so that anyone who believes in him can escape condemnation (Isaiah 53:5-6). We no longer have to die an eternal death because Jesus willingly took the blame for our guilt.

When we believe this, we are baptized as a symbol of being buried like Jesus and then raised to new life (Romans 6:3-4). We then regularly participate in communion to remind ourselves that Christ’s death is what brings us eternal life (Matthew 26:26-28).

Loving God and others means dying to our human inclinations so we can become more like Jesus (Matthew 16:24-27); (Colossians 3:1-4).

And no, this is not a “fun” kind of love. This love involves suffering. It’s difficult and will definitely hurt.

But it is worth it because we are loved utterly and completely by a perfect God who delights when we do his will, and longs to draw us to himself (John 15:14-17).

This prayer by St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most powerful descriptions I've ever read of what love truly is:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

So clearly, this isn’t an easy love. Sometimes it’s more than just an inconvenient love, it’s a downright hard love.

I personally want to get better at loving others the way Scripture describes, so I hope you don’t mind if I extend this topic into a second post.

Before going further, I want to acknowledge that I know full well how the Church has often misinterpreted what love means and deeply hurt people in the process.

This is not at all the kind of love I'm talking about.

I care passionately about learning how to navigate between speaking the necessary truth out of concern for others and putting in the time to understand another's story. 

No one person is more in need of God's grace than another. We're all on equal footing, and our goal should be to help point each other towards Jesus, the only one who can save us.

But more on that next time.

Read part four of this series.