I had the privilege of taking part in a “commissioning ceremony” for the son of a dear friend on his 18th birthday. I was asked to impart something on the topic of ‘Love.’ Here’s what I shared:
The First and Second Great Commandments are: to love God, to love others. The world has a polite notion of love. It makes love into heart-shaped candies. It distorts love with shame and perversion. It manipulates love, using it to sell cars or politicians or beauty cream. The church has a more accurate, God-inspired, yet sometimes still-too-polite and slightly distorted notion of love. Yes, love is a choice, more than a feeling. We love, because He first loved. True, agape love is unselfish and unconditional, imagining and acting upon the highest and best for another person above yourself. All of these are true. But they are soft and incomplete.
Let me add two more truths drawn from my own experience, from the conviction of the Word, and what I know of the character of God. These are less discussed, less preached on, less understood, less “churchy,” but no less true. They are the masculine and strong. Now more than ever, among the highest and holiest facets of love, are war and sacrifice.
First Corinthians 13 isn’t poetry. It’s a war manual. Look past the sentimental familiarity of this amazing passage. Instead, see high heroics, grit and grime, the courage of love, and the call to lay down your life. To be a man of biblical love means:
1. You’re willing to drop the pretense and get real. See, it doesn’t matter how gifted you are. If you don’t know how to love, you’re a lightweight. Big, showy gestures don’t matter. Saying the right things don’t matter. Sounding wise and mature and spiritual doesn’t matter. Quoting Bible verses doesn’t matter. Are you governed by love in what you say and do? That’s what matters.
“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love…”
2. Love also means you must be strong enough to be weak, even when you hate looking weak, and tall enough to bow down, even though your pride takes a beating. It means you absorb evil so that the evil actions and intentions of others stop with you rather than traveling on through revenge. Love declares, “Even if it costs me dearly, this wrong dies with me.” And don’t kid yourself. The resolve to love someone can feel very much like dying. What might you have to die to? Pride, mostly. But it might touch your bank account, too, or your reputation. Maybe even your sense of justice. It is very easy for Christians to justify anti-Christ behavior with thoughts like, “You don’t understand what he did to me. I have a right to feel this way. It would be wrong to let him get away with this.” Really they just don’t want to do the hard work of love. Love is simultaneously the most powerful and the most right-less activity on the planet. Messages on forgiveness are great until you’re the one who has to forgive! And forgiving is easy as long as it’s a someone you don’t really care about. The cost of true love is only realized when it’s your dearest friend, or your spouse, or your parents. In this, love wars, not by killing the enemy, or striking back, or lashing out, or proving how right you were…but by jumping on the grenade of pride and killing yourself instead. Relationships are too costly, too dear, too valuable for small, soft love. Listen to the song of war and sacrifice in the heart of real love:
“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything…”
3. Love has a stubborn glory. When other virtues fail and fade, love is just getting started. Be the last one standing. Be the last one to quit believing in the person every one else has written off: the drunk, the addict, the nerd, the loser. Be the last one to think less of them, the last one to abandon them. Let everyone else get cynical and walk away. You stay. On the other hand, be the first one to say I’m sorry to your spouse, the first to say “I love you” even if you’ve been hurt or disappointed, the first to give money until it stings because you can no longer afford that new, shiny thing you’ve been saving up for. Learn the pain of a fasted lifestyle, where you aren’t always full and satisfied, mainly because you’ve traded your comfort so that someone else could get a break they desperately need. Be the one who says, “I believe,” even when everyone else laughs and thinks you naive. Be that guy.
“Puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies…”
4. While there is incredible beauty, joy and grace to experience in the world, in the end, this is a broken planet. Age will bring fiery trials into your life. Friendships will let you down. People are broken. Marriages are under assault. In all these things, the heart of love is the first to suffer. How will you respond? Will you withdraw…or dare to be part of radical expressions of faith, hope and love that fill the gaps and bond like mortar, to hold it all together. Enjoy your strengths, gifts and abilities. Relish the opportunities that come your way. Life is a good gift! Be thankful for all these things, but don’t get distracted. Keep your eye on the ball.
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”
Such love is the work of men. Remember, when everything was lost in darkness and pain, God sent a man to do the hard work of love. We often think of love as sweet, romantic, tender women’s work. No, no, love is a man’s job. Your highest glory, on earth and in heaven, will be the measure of love you rise to. Jesus, the man, was misunderstood, abused and betrayed. He was praised and then abandoned. He was lied about. His own friends rejected him. And yet the Cross is the highest triumph of love. His love never quit, and it is going still, today. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be a man of true, strong, wild, daring, risky, dangerous, humble, bold, forgiving, enduring, expressive, faithful love.