1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 John 4:8; Hosea 1:2; 3:1-5
When I was in 1st or second grade, I thought I was in love. There was this young lady in my school named Meghan Diner and I felt like she was the one. I went on a search to find ways to express love to girls and share the deep feelings I was feeling. My young mind went to TV and the radio. I soon found my muse. My parents had just recently watched a movie titled “The Body Guard”, it was a big deal and had just come out on VHS, so everyone was talking about this film. The song by Whitney Houston was all over the radio as well, the song to the film was: “I Will Always Love You”. So, I knew this was what I needed to bring to the table: as song. One day during recess, I got in trouble and was put on the wall. I felt this moment of stardom was what I needed. From the wall of bad kids I preceded to sing loudly to Megan the song “I Will Always Love You”. I think we “liked” each other for a week and the relationship ended. I didn’t know how to love Meghan, so I turned to the world to define it for me. It ended up being a silly story, but a sad reality.
This silly story I think shows something important- the world’s definition of love is diluted and lacking. Great films like “The Body Guard” and many other chick-flicks attempt to define something so powerful that they usually fail pretty badly. This false expectation of a whimsical, blissful, romanticized version of love is not strong enough to withstand real life. However, there is a real, powerful understanding of love and it comes from the Holy Scriptures. The Spirit of God breathed these words into the men who wrote them and he leads us to understand them. The question we will seek to answer today is: What is Love?
Love began with God and God is the designer and creator of love. Love comes from God because God is love.
You can’t know (Agape) Love if you don’t know God (1 John 4:8)
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
When we learn about love, we learn about God and when we learn about God, we learn about love. To many, I am aware that this seems arrogant and religiously manipulative. However, when one looks at the love the world offers, it leaves one cold, doesn’t it? Love that is defined by emotionally romanticized affection will end, yet the current culture at large pedals the love that brings death everywhere. Many walk from relationship to relationship seeking this love and believing they’ve found it only to be let down and depressed by the sad reality of false love. When one looks at the narrative of God, one sees a love that is like any other in history. One can view a picture if a love that has lasted for centuries. The narrative of God is quite literally a story of love. Even the love of philosophy can leave one wanting more. It comes closer to the reality of what love is, but still doesn’t go deep enough. God defines for us what love is, and takes deep care in choosing the words in which he describes it for us. His definition doesn’t simply encompass one aspect of love either. It encompasses the three main areas of the soul’s need for love. Those three aspects of love are: Raya/Phileo (friendship love); Ahava/Agape (An unwavering, unconditional commitment to the ultimate wellbeing of the other); Dod/Eros (sexual, physical love). In His word, he clearly explains what these aspects of love are and are not. Today we will seek to unpack Ahava/Agape love.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he paused with a powerful poem on what unconditionally, sold out, never leaving love would look like. The first thing he states is that
True love puts up with the mess of real life (1 Cor. 13:4)
Here, in this portion of Scripture, we see that Agape love is patient. That English word simply doesn’t do justice to the real meaning. The word Paul used literally means: “Love is long suffering”. The definition of long suffering is: “Having or showing patience in spite of troubles, especially those caused by other people”. This means: agape love deals with the mess of life. Real love doesn’t run when troubles come, even if they are caused by the person we are “loving”; in our culture, this is counter to the normal belief. Once someone or something causes problems, we are taught throw it away and get a new one. Suffering is bad and if a person causes you to suffer, culture tells you that person doesn’t love you…because love is always supposed to feel nice; like kittens and rainbows. My friends, real love puts up with the mess of real life and love is choosing to walk in the mess with the people you love, not run from them, or their mess. You can’t love Cheetos like this! We in our culture have so dulled the word love that it is quite overused and almost meaningless, but love is incredible and was always meant to be so.
God doesn’t just preach at us to love this way and ignore His own advice. No, God practices what he preaches. Take a look at a quick view into the story of Hosea
Here, we see God not only giving us a living picture of His long suffering with Israel, but a promise to keep loving His people that way. I am Gomer, yet God still redeemed me while I was whoring myself out to the Devil. How do I know the definition of love from God is true? I know because I’ve experienced it. He has bought me with his blood, and I’m washed clean, just as Hosea went a bought back his wife from the pimp! It’s that deep and that rich my friends. He’s also done it for you. When we are filled with Him, we too can love like this and when those we love are filled with Him, they can love us like this as well.
Love is long suffering, but it is also sacrificial and serving. True love isn’t about itself. In fact:
True love lives for others, not itself (1 Cor. 5-8a)
True love does not insist on its own way. If a guy or a gal tells you that in order to prove your love to them, you must or should have sex with them, they have simply proven to you that they do not really love you. Love can’t wait to give, lust can’t wait to get. Love, when done right in a relationship is fulfilling, because one person is seeking to serve the other while the other is seeking to serve them. When each person is looking to pour out everything to the other you have a healthy relationship of true love. False love happens when one party seeks his or her own way and desires their significant other to seek to please them as well. Love lives to serve; it does not seek to be served. Nor does it keep records of wrongdoing.
Love, designed by God is the most incredible reality of life. Agape means unconditional and unending. In fact, Paul states in 13:8a that Love never ends. It never settles for less and it never just quits. In the deep understanding of love, there is no falling and in and out of it. You are simply loving or not loving. We have so cheapened the idea of love that we believe it can end, but it endures all things. Love endures all things, it doesn’t say love affirms all things. Love can come in the form of affirmation, but one can give love to another, even if they do not affirm everything they are doing. If I believe it is wrong for you to do it, I don’t affirm a certain action. Yet, because I love you, even if you choose that action, I will still be here for you and walk with you. I probably will never affirm the thing you’re doing as right but I will never leave you. This is the love that God gives, yet many times the evangelical world misses it and even displays hate instead of the love we’re called to show.
We see this in the continuing story of God’s narrative. God never gave up on me and he will never give up on you either. He practices what he preaches. He is always patient and always kind, always enduring and bearing all things. We too can experience this unconditional love here on earth.
God desires not only that we love the way he calls us to love, but that we experience the love He has designed. When we fall for the false love our culture has designed it breaks God’s heart because he has designed us for better. He has given us this beautiful poetic description to show us not only how to love, but how he has designed us to be loved. As we continue on this journey this month, I pray that you will seek to love this way, but also see that because of Him and His already outpouring of Agape to you that you deserve to be loved this way as well. Don’t go for the low hanging fruit, or the bargain deal…go for the good stuff!