Today, of course, is Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to celebrating love. It is the floral and greeting card industries’ biggest sales day. It is a day where many are making frantic calls to floral shops and restaurants, hoping they can still get an order or make a reservation. Don’t bet on it! And card aisles in stores are inundated with men and women anxiously looking for a card for their beloved.
Culture has an incessant way of infiltrating the lives of Christians. It is one of the main strategies of our Enemy to lead us astray and water down the density of our faith. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, we often fail to notice the danger we are in. Think of churches in the 19thCentury, for example. Many were segregated because the society, particularly in the South, was segregated. The Scriptures were clear then as they are now that we are one in Christ; there is no difference. Yet, many Christians were led astray by the culture.
Our understanding of love is much the same. Recently, I learned a student had made some good friends in her church college group, but then was later rejected by them. That’s what many late adolescents and young adults do in our culture, so it comes as no surprise, except these young people identify as Christians. Where is the love toward their former friend and still sister in the Lord?
The problem lies in the feeling-based definition of love in our culture. Love is emotionally driven. We feel; therefore, we love. And if we aren’t feeling it, we act accordingly, as obviously the young woman’s friends suddenly stopped feeling a connection with her and, as a result, withdrew their friendship.
One of the purposes of the Scriptures is to correct and our understanding of love needs to be adjusted. Here is how Paul describes love to the Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.(I Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)
Notice that all of the attributes of love are actions, not feelings. Love demands that you be kind even if you don’t feel kind. It demands that you let go of grievances regardless of your desire to cling to them. And you don’t express love only when you receive love or to receive love in return. Love is not about our self-fulfillment.
Feelings are God-given and are not wrong in themselves, but they cannot be what drives our actions, because most of what the Lord commands often requires us to overcome our natural feelings. Loving our enemies will not feel natural. Taking up our crosses to follow him will not be a naturally attractive option. Not worrying when we are under extreme stress will definitely test our natural instincts. Showing attention to our spouses after a long day of problem-solving at work will likely be a second, third, or fourth option to us, particularly if we are introverted by nature. Disciplining our kids when we know the result will be a tantrum or a fight will be hard because our natural inclination is to be liked. But love for the Lord means we will push through our feelings and be obedient.
In the same way, we need to understand that true love is acting lovingly. If feelings accompany that love, all the better. But we have to love others regardless of how we feel about them. And, perhaps surprisingly, acting lovingly towards others may actually cultivate feelings of love.
Jesus says that it is our love for one another that distinguishes us as his followers. As the old 70’s song says, they will know we are Christians by our love. The only way this is possible is if we separate feelings from our understanding of love. We are fallen people in a fallen world. If we love based on our feelings, we will only love about 2% of those around us. The rest will disappoint us, hurt us, or drive us crazy. Take a look around at local churches and those individuals claiming to be Christians. How is that approach working to promote the love of Christ to the world?
True love is grounded in our love for Jesus and our desire to please him. The expression of that love is to act lovingly toward those around us, no matter who they are, what they have done or might do, or how we feel toward them. For that, my friends, is how he loves us.
© Jim Musser 2019