Friday, November 12, 2010

Love, Strictly Speaking

One night a few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about what our mission in life was, trying to reduce it to a simple phrase of two or three words. The only thing I could think of seemed to me incredibly vague, but neither my friend nor another person or two I talked to about it thought so. Perhaps I only think it's too vague because I, as do most human beings, am committing the error of supposing that other human beings think about things the way I do. Perhaps the phrase I thought of is actually a good definition of my life's mission:

Spread love!

However, the only way I can say in good conscience that that statement is not vague is to define it further. Before I try to define love, though, I want to make my argument for why everything that everyone--especially every one of those who say they are Christians--does should be done in love.

Why do I say that? I say that because, as the song "Jesus Loves Me" states, "the Bible tells me so." 1 Corinthians 16:14 reads, "Let all that you do be done in love." Galatians 5:13-14 says that we "were called to freedom . . . only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" And 1 John 4:7-8 tells us "let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." As if all the verses in the Epistles were not enough, in the Gospels (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31) we find Jesus Himself clearly stating that the greatest commandment and second greatest commandment are those which say that we should love God and love our neighbor.

As a disclaimer, I'm not trying to say that everyone should think their main mission in life is to spread love. I just want to make the point that, regardless of whether you would want to encapsulate your whole life into a phrase that uses the word love, the idea of love is central to the Christian life.

The question remains, what exactly is love? The question is more confusing than it might sound. For my attempt at an extended definition of love, I'm not going to go to a dictionary, and I'm not going to talk about feelings (not that feelings aren't great, but if I'm talking about my life's mission, I want a practical set of guidelines of what this means I should be doing). And yes, I know it's been used a gazillion times before, but I'm going to go to 1 Corinthians 13. Sometimes there's a reason that the same passage gets quoted over and over again on a certain subject.

Here's a list of things that love is described as being and doing: patient, kind, not jealous, not bragging or arrogant, not acting unbecomingly, not seeking its own, not provoked, not taking into account wrongs suffered, not rejoicing in unrighteousness but rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things.

Here are my personal reactions to a few of these (maybe in another post I'll go into more). Patient? Oh, my, I fail at that one. Not in the sense of waiting an afternoon or a day or a week to hear back from someone or go somewhere or get something. But if you want me to wait indefinitely on something I really really want? Ouch. Not jealous? OK, I'm getting better on that one than I used to be. But show me someone, especially someone close to me, who already has something that I hope to have someday (or want but don't know if I'll ever have) and I will show you at least some level of jealousy going on inside of me. Not seeking its own or taking into account wrongs suffered? Hmm. That sounds superhuman. Or at least countercultural. Bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things . . . I don't even know how to start applying those. It sounds like the characterization of a very patient and persevering person. Someone determined to see the best in everyone and encourage it. Someone who's willing to put up with a lot.

Getting discouraged? So am I. Therefore, I'll close with a mention of Someone else's love for us:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

PS Obviously, this is by no means exhaustive, even of what I personally could say on the subject of love. I hope to write more later.

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