by Rayola Kelley
February reminds us of love. Cupid, flowers, candy, and romance are in the air. However, if you think about the idea that we need a particular month, day or occasion to consider the value or necessity of love, it makes love sound as if it is nothing more than an occasion we celebrate once a year, rather than a truth and reality that should govern every area of our lives.
Perhaps the problem that surrounds love is how people perceive it. After all, people can love various things. They can love food, music, movies, books, traveling, sports, entertainment, and most of all they can be in love with the idea of love. When you consider these objects of love, you realize they have no real substance behind them. In other words, these things represent that which makes us feel a certain way for a temporary period of time, but they cannot give love.
The Apostle Paul summarized how such love will express itself in the last days in people’s lives: “…lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4b). This type of love is not only misdirected, but it is idolatrous, selfish and fickle.
How about Christians? Christians can claim they have a handle on what real love is. After all, it is described in the Word of God (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13). However, can Christians advocate that they truly understand love if they fail to practice it? Without practicing real love, it will remain a concept, rather than a reality.
Over the years I have had to test my understanding of love. Love for me started out being carnal or fleshly. In other words, whatever fed my flesh as far as sentiments, emotions and lusts was considered worthy of my attention and affections. However, such love was nothing more than self-love. The more something made me feel good about myself, the more I loved my life. It was still all about me feeling significant or important.
My love graduated to a romantic notion. I am sure you know what I mean. If you watch enough TV or read enough romance novels, you will develop this concept of love. It is nothing more than fantasy that resents any type of reality that may challenge it. However, it represents the world’s perception of what love needs to do for you to find happiness and fulfillment in your life. As you can see, such love is still self-centered and unrealistic, but it is being promoted by the general consensus of the world.
It was interesting to consider how such love translated itself in my Christian life. It was carnal at the base with a big dose of the world’s notion to top it off. In other words, I was in love with the notion of how God’s presence in my life would benefit me. Clearly, Jesus was tacked on to the notion, but He was not the object of my love. Needless to say, it all proved to be nothing more than what I consider to be sentimental hogwash.
Recently, I had to consider how this sentimental hogwash expressed itself in my Christian life. By sharing this bit of information you might recognize some of the fruits of this love in your own life.
Sentimental: As a new, inexperienced Christian, I developed a sentimental notion about what Jesus did for me. I knew God loved me, but I did not understand the character of God’s love. In other words, if God’s love was carnal or fleshly, He gave His Son out of reasons that would serve His own purpose. If God’s love was worldly, His expression of love had some type of expectation or notion about how it would honor Him. In short, everything God did out of love would have an angle to it that somehow would benefit Him in the end. Such love would prove to be hypocritical and untrustworthy.
Obviously, God’s love could not be adjusted to either perception. The cross of Christ, the greatest expression of God’s love, was not about Him, but about you and me. There was nothing within man that would earn or warrant God to express His love in such an incredible way. He had sent His Son to die for each of us, knowing that many, in their present state of separation from Him and in rebellion against His authority, would reject His love.
As far as worldly notions about God’s love, I could believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was noble. However, Jesus clearly stated He was going to the cross in submission to the Father’s will. Therefore, there was nothing noble about His actions. Worldly love always has a certain amount of nobility or philosophy attached to it. It was clear that there was nothing worldly or philosophical about Jesus’ actions or God’s love. Jesus accepted man’s worst so that we could receive God’s best. Clearly, God’s love is not a carnal love, and it is not of this present world. My concept of God’s love had been challenged, but I failed to come to terms with it. Instead of establishing God’s love in my life, I directed my fleshly, worldly love in a different direction.
Religion: Since my concept of love proved to lack substance I directed it towards God by becoming more religious about my life before Him. After all, don’t we prove our love by our actions? Carnal and worldly love always expresses itself towards God by becoming more religious. However, how can a person know how to please someone if he or she does not really know the person’s character or will? Real love for God brings people into a relationship with Him. It is in this relationship that individuals begin to learn how to love God according to His attributes.
I took many detours in religion before I learned about how the real love of God expressed itself. It was in my detours that I developed a love for my concept or belief about God. This means that I was in love with an image of God, rather than in love with the Person of God. I had Him in an intellectual box that was confirmed by my religious conclusions. This love for the image I had created in my mind about God caused me to get caught up with my philosophy about Christianity.
In time the image of God left me destitute and unsure. There is a big difference between an image and what is real. After all, you can adjust your image of God, but you cannot adjust the Person of God. I wrestled with the fruit of my idolatrous image of God. I wanted to love God, and yet I failed to fall in love with the God of the Bible. I wanted to know what it meant to have an intimate relationship with God, but in the end I had missed the door or the means by which I could enter in to discover such a relationship.
Where did I go wrong or where did I miss it? I felt that my desires were sincere, but all my attempts mocked me and left me empty. I floundered in my miserable plight. How could something that was so right such as a desire and search to love God, end up becoming so wrong?
This brings me back to the love of God. What is God’s love? To answer that question, we must consider the character of His love. The first thing we must note is that the love of God is a visible expression of God Himself. The Bible tells us God is love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, love is not a matter of action; rather love is something you become in your expression towards others.
How do you become an expression of God’s love? It begins with a decision to love God. The more you love the God of the Bible, the more you take on the character of His love. Of course, you cannot love someone you do not know. Therefore, your foremost desire and pursuit must be to seek God out to know Him for who He is. Behind this search is the intent of establishing a relationship with Him that is based on and motivated by His love. Love in this arena will mean that all of your affections are being directed to God, where they will be disciplined according to His purpose and will (Colossians 3:1-2).
Once you are being established in a relationship with God, you are able to make a commitment to love others. The key to choosing to love God is that as His love is developed in your life, it will become a natural response towards others. This natural response will find its basis in righteousness.
God’s love is considered benevolent. Benevolence in this text means to owe good will and kindness towards others. The main desire of God’s love is to be beneficial (upright) and kind (gentle) in its commitment and action towards others. Love of this nature is void of selfish attitudes and self-serving ways.
Out of benevolence God sent His Son to die on the cross for us. This brings us to the next aspect of God’s love and that is, it is submissive towards what is right. God’s love is of a higher caliber than the selfish love of man and this world. It gives way to what is right for the betterment of others. This is how love properly honors others (Romans 12:9-10).
It is important to realize that God’s love does not demand you do it or see it His way. Rather, this heavenly love is quick to discern what is right, and give way to it. Jesus wanted to avoid drinking of the bitter cup that He was about to drink due to Calvary (Matthew 20:22-23). However, the love of God required Him to overcome the harsh reality of this cup, and give way to that which was eternal for our benefit and the glory of God. In the end, it became sacrificial because it could do nothing else but offer the best (Jesus), and offer it all (Jesus’ life) to secure eternal life for all who would believe.
God’s love is faithful. It takes character, vision and patience to be faithful to a matter. Praise God that His love remains the same regardless of personal actions. Thank the holy name of God that His love enables one to see beyond a person’s present state to consider the possibility of his or her potential. God has given His best on behalf of humanity, knowing full well that under the right spirit and in obedience to His Word, man can be conformed to the very image of Christ, reflecting His glory in this dark world (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
The final aspect of God’s love is that it is eternal. There is no end to His love. It will stand when all other types of love fall to the wayside in judgment. Today the divorce rate in America is a tragedy. People accredit this disaster to “falling out of love.” The reality is that people have not fallen out of love, rather their concept of love has lost its unrealistic sensationalism in light of that which is real. Such fickle, self-serving love no longer serves the purpose of the person, and, therefore he or she has become bored, disillusioned and angry about the relationship. After all, most people believe that love is self-serving, not sacrificial. It is to bring happiness, not result in testing and challenge, which will realistically come into any relationship.
Over the years, I can measure my Christian growth by how I perceive the love of God. As I became more realistic about God and life, my understanding of the love of God changed. It ceased to be a romantic notion that stirred up my emotions and expectations to operate in a world of fantasy about Him or the Christian life. As I denied self more to gain Christ, I began to understand the commitment, faithfulness and benevolent nature of God’s love. As I applied the cross, I began to understand that love never sees its acts as sacrificial, but as reasonable in light of God’s expression on the cross.
As I observed the quality of man’s love and the world’s love, I recognized that neither love could endure the challenges of this present life. Since such love is mainly selfish and self-serving, it has no source, lasting substance or staying power to maintain its commitment and devotion.
The contrast between the different loves has made me thankful for the love of God. I have recognized His love at work in my life. The greatest difference between my fleshly love and the love of God is that the love of God endures when all else is being challenged. I cannot tell you how many times His love has compelled me beyond personal preference and limitations to become an expression of His heart and commitment towards others. Through it all I have realized the love of God is something you become in your attitudes and actions towards others. It becomes a natural response of the heart. This becomes more apparent when you consider the cross of Jesus. His cross was the very expression of God’s love reaching out to us. His love not only endured shame, rejection and crucifixion, but it endured the grave of hopelessness to be raised up in newness of life.
As we consider personal perceptions and ideas about love, let us ask ourselves a very important question. Where does our personal love find its source: in fickle man, in the temporary world, or in God? If our love is found in God, then we can be assured that it is grounded in the Rock of Ages, lined up to the Cornerstone of truth, will ultimately endure the challenges of life, and lead us into the fullness of the everlasting love of God.