More about love…
In my last post on this topic I shared what I had learned that led me to understand that love was better understood as something that we first had to have rather than something we first looked at as something we had to do. Remember? Paul said…”and have not love…” in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13. In my experience, we are more accustomed to thinking in terms of a list of things to do than we often are about actually possessing and experiencing what the scriptures speak about as normal or necessary stuff. I’m not completely sure why, but I want to challenge that in this post.
There is an order to love.
The scripture in 1 John 4:19 says plainly that “we love because He first loved us.” That truth doesn’t directly answer the “do we have love?” question, but I believe it is the place to start. This passage implies that we can do love because–in a manner of speaking–love has been done to us by God first. No matter what else that teaches, it reveals that our ability to love begins not as a duty, a desire, or even as an act of obedience, but it begins with God and Him having loved us. In a very real way, love doesn’t begin with us at all. I think it would also be safe to say that if God hadn’t loved us first, we simply wouldn’t be able to love each other.
God doesn’t suffer from this limitation in the same way we do. Again, in 1 John 4:16 we learn that “God is love.” When He does love He is operating naturally with integrity and wholeness. He is doing something that flows honestly and naturally from His most basic nature. He is love.
We, unfortunately, don’t have the luxury of operating from a basic, unrestricted nature of love without some help. Fear has robbed us of that. We are insecure creatures who have been subject to slavery through fear of death. (see Hebrews 2:15) It all started pretty near the beginning…
Fear began at the fall.
In the story of the fall of man, Adam was warned not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The warning was that “in the day you eat from it you will surely die.” (see Genesis 2:17) Well, he did eat and he did die. In his first recorded communication after the fall, Adam hesitantly responded to God’s call with the words, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid…” Nakedness wan’t the primary issue. Fear was. Ever since then it has been “appointed for men to die once”, and that death has been linked with judgement. (See Hebrews 9:27) A fearful mans view of judgement always involves punishment. The result has been fear and insecurity and an unfortunate inability to freely love. Some would say the problem is sin. I would argue that it is more accurately understood as a problem of fear and the bondage that resulted from sin. To be sure, sin is at the root of the problem, but the fear that resulted from sin is the issue. Here is why I believe that…we have to face and make room for the truth that sin has been completely taken out of the equation by the sacrifice of Jesus. Sin simply isn’t a relationship-defining issue between you and your Heavenly Father. Jesus defines that relationship now.
We have to believe in love to experience love.
So, what is the issue that keeps fear alive and love at bay if it isn’t sin? It is belief–specifically, belief in Jesus as God’s love-gift sent to you. (see John 16:8-9)
I know a lot of people whose sins are fully paid for by the shed blood of Jesus and are completely forgiven by the Father, but who still struggle mightily to do love well. Having your sins forgiven is no guarantee that you will have (possess) love in a healthy, functional way. I have a limited amount of experience as a pastor, so this is simply an anecdotal observation over 20-plus years; but I find that people who don’t love well almost always question whether they are loved or worthy of love themselves. I am not just talking about unfortunate folks who were abused as children or abandoned or betrayed by spouses. I’m talking about regular believers who are simply vague about the reality of God’s love for them in a practical, personal way. One reason: They judge God’s love for them against how daily circumstances feel rather than engaging with Him in those circumstances whether they be good, bad, or neutral things.
A Disturbing Surprise I encountered at Joyland.
We did a video survey a few months ago at church–more as an experiment about our video capability than a real survey. I chose what I thought would be a slam-dunk question that would be easy to answer and produce some warm and inviting responses for the people outside our church family. The question was, “How do you know you are loved by God?” I was stunned. The majority answer was, “Because the Bible tells me so.”
Honestly, it sort of rattled me.
Joyland is a very encounter-oriented church. We expect to and are not afraid of experiencing the presence of Jesus. Our worship is described and practiced as “unto an encounter.” And yes, we are rooted solidly in the revelations of the Bible, but come on! In regard to one of the most fundamental relational truths there is between a believer and our Father, the best answer the majority of us could come up with was an assertion from a nursery song…Jesus loves me this I know…for the bible tells me so.
Yes, I believe in believing the Bible!
Before you accuse me of being flaky about the revelation of scripture, I know the Bible does reveal on many levels and with a number of actual stories and verses that we are loved by God. I’m glad we believe what it reveals, but of all the things the Bible tells us, this revelation about love should be one that bears the fruit of actual experience. In 1 John 4:16 (the same passage that tells us, “God is love”) it says, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.” Come to know and believed. As I read that, that is clearly more than just agreeing that the Bible says God loves me. It is a real experience leading to a settled belief.
The simple truth is that you have to experience love–and you have to know you’ve experienced it–to love others well. The wellspring of our love is God’s own love for us. The experiential knowledge of that freely and lavishly given divine love is the necessary and underlying power to love others well.
The conclusion: If you are disappointed in your current ability to love others as you wish you could, it is probably a sign that you do not have (know through experience and genuinely believe) the love God has for you. Stop brow-beating yourself for being a sub-standard lover (which invites self-focus and does nothing to change you), and turn your heart and mind toward all the ways and how much God loves you. (If you are stuck listing them, start with “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”) It isn’t selfish to think like this. It is simply opening yourself up to the ‘way’ of love. I promise it will get you from where you are to where you want to be.
(Read Ephesians 3:14-19. Paul is asking God to help us do this very thing.)
I love you guys (because I’m loved…Ha! See how easy that is.)