As we come near to Valentine’s Day, my thoughts turn to love. What is love?
Scripture has much to say on this subject, defining several degrees of love. One that comes to heart today gives definition in the fact that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and we are called to love as He loves. From this I understand that love begins within. True love comes from who we are, and therefore is undisturbed by what people do or don’t do. When love flows from my being, I will find it easier to keep on loving others, despite insult, making 1 Corinthians 13 easier to follow.
Then I think of the passage in Ephesians 5, where the husband is encouraged to love his wife as Christ loved the church. How did He love the church? Through giving Himself for it, nurturing it, and cherishing it.
Jesus gave His life for those He loved. To give oneself fully to a relationship requires compromise: meaning I have to be willing to give up what I want and have for the sake of those I love—and vice versa, by the way. Jesus died to self to come to this life as the Lamb of God: giving up all He had before in order to come to this life in flesh; show us how to love, live for and honor God and each other; and then to give His life for us, leading us then to do the same in giving our all to God.
That was His first act of love toward those who would be the people of God. But He did not completely neglect Himself while here. He often drew apart from the crowds for a little self-care and time with the Father so as to replenish His stores for giving into the lives of those He loved enough to die for. We, too, must take care of ourselves if we expect to have any supply to give into the lives of others.
Jesus nurtured those He loved. He encouraged their spiritual growth, called them up higher in their thinking, and did all He could to help them be the best person they could be. Nurturing others we love in this same way is vital to a love relationship. Love desires the best good of those loved and encourages them to be and do their best. Love sees the potential wrapped up in the person and nurtures it, calling for it to come forth and live.
Jesus also cherished those He loved. When we cherish something or someone, we do all we can to treat them right, as one we treasure. We also do all we can to protect them from harm, destruction, or loss. Love treasures, cherishes, and protects.
When asked which was the greatest law, Jesus rightly said that loving God is the greatest, followed by loving others as we love ourselves. Love fulfills the law, for love will always keep God first, having no other gods before Him, honoring His name in word and deed. Thus love of God does the things He requires of us, beginning with keeping the Sabbath holy, giving honor to parents, protecting life, honoring the marriage bed as holy; love will give and not steal, it will build up by speaking truth in love and not tearing down others through false witness, it rejoices over God’s blessing toward others without being envious and jealous and covetous.
True love never fails, because love will always see the potential and work to help the one loved reach that potential. Love will not keep a tally of hurts, spouting them off at every opportunity, but love will always be open to starting anew, leaving the past in its grave to go forth to improved relations.
Love always seeks the greatest good for the one loved, therefore faith, love and hope are seen together in the relationship that withstands the test of time and the growth of individuals.
Before ending this note on love, we must realize that if we are to love our neighbor, Jesus’ response to the question posed makes clear that for us to truly know how to love others, we must first know how to practice all that love is toward self. That means that to love self properly, we cannot focus on and add up all our flaws and failures, but must maintain hope of better and encourage our own success toward becoming our better best. It means cherishing oneself enough to value ourselves in ways that lead to us being protective over the things we want to maintain and work to shore up the areas of our being that need improvement. Being “love” will cause that flow to touch all we are in relationship with, beginning with God and self. As they say, “I better like me because I am the one person I cannot get away from.” Love of oneself works toward being able to like oneself and causes us to become one of our most faithful supporters.
When we can first love God, then rightly love self as an outflow from our relationship with God, then we will have what it takes to know how to truly love others. The greatest valentine card we can give to God is to be love as He is love, and to let that love flow to all in our sphere of influence, from our glance in the mirror every morning, to “the least of these” we meet every day.
And lest we forget!
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48, NASB).
I perceive this call to perfection as meaning that we are to be who we say we are in truth; not putting on a façade of Christlikeness or godliness, but truly being as He said He is: “I AM who I am. I’m just me.”
For other insights on love, read: 1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12; Colossians 3.