Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The 4 Aspects of Love

One semester, the Vice Provost of Biola, Dr. Pike, came and gave a speech in our international student fellowship. She shared that at her father’s deathbed, one thing that brought her comfort was what her father said to her – “I have always loved you the way God loved the world.” It was so deep that I could not understand it at when. How do you love someone the way God loved the world? Why is that comforting? And what does it even mean?

For those who, like me, became Christians later in our lives, sometimes it’s hard for us to grasp the meaning of "love." We are so trained and conformed to what the movies, tv shows and pop music have taught us about love. Love, according to Hollywood for example, is the instances of romantic feeling – love is those moments when you trigger my animal instincts, and love is gone when those feelings are gone. Love in this sense is self-serving, using and momentary. This misconception of love may have contributed greatly to the high percentage of divorce rate in the US. However, this is not to say that it is wrong for us to feel romantically attracted to someone, but the cruel reality is that romantic feeling fades. Without love, what is left of a relationship? In addition, love in this sense is way too limiting – love is something that’s broader than romantic relationship.

The 1 Corinthians 13 Love
Based on my experience, and from what I have learned from the Bible so far, it seems that no matter who the recipient of our love is – whether that is a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, children or even a stranger – there is only one kind of love for all of them. According to the Bible, that one kind of love is as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “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.”

The “1 Corinthians 13 love” really is the only kind of love that is prescribed in the Bible. If you wanna love your friends right, love with the 1 Corinthians 13 love; if you wanna love your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse right, love with the 1 Corinthians 13 love; if you wanna love your children right, love with the 1 Corinthians 13 love; and to love a stranger right, you love with the 1 Corinthians 13 love. And when you love right, your love should reflect that of God, because God is love (1 John 4:8).

As observed from the Bible, the love of God is, first and foremost, a commitment. In this relationship between God and Man, God is the initiator of the commitment. He is committed to mankind in a way that when those who belongs to Him are lost, He chases after them, and brings them home; and for those that do not love Him back, He still blesses them by causing His sun to rise and by sending rain on them (Matthew 5:45). His patience for mankind is immeasurable. He called, and He waited, and centuries after centuries, He is still waiting for our hearts to return to Him. In the story of Hosea, when Hosea went and brought his adulterous wife home, even after her beauty is no more, it really is the illustration of God’s commitment to His people.

Commitment is the key to love – this is not only a biblical fact, but also a psychological fact. Based on a research on the divorce rates between arranged marriage and so-called love marriage, the researchers came to the conclusion that it is not romantic feeling but commitment which is the key to long lasting marriage.

Therefore, it is to my belief that although there is only one kind of love, there are different commitments to different objects. To a stranger, it should be a commitment to be the Good Samaritan. To a friend, it should be a commitment of companionship, self-giving, and to ask for nothing in return. To a child, it should be a commitment of protection, guidance, and togetherness. To a spouse, it should be a commitment “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” In a marriage, without commitment, this vow would mean nothing.

A love that reflects the love of God is inseparable of compassion. In the Old Testament, many times God either speaks of or is spoken of as being compassionate. When giving the civil law, God commands that when lending money to people in need, the lender must not take the debtor’s cloak as a pledge, for it may be the only covering he has to sleep in. God says, “When he [the debtor] cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Exodus 22:27).

In the New Testament, compassion is one of the most prominent characters of Jesus’ ministry. Without compassion, we would not have the incarnate Son of God on earth. The incarnation of Jesus is exactly what compassion is – it is through the man aspect of Jesus that the God-man identified with us, and carried all our sins in our place. Compassion is the ability to feel what others feel, and meet them where they are. Love without compassion may easily become the self-centered, egocentric and self-righteous love – a love that is only to make yourself feel good about yourself, and to say to yourself that “the Bible commands me to love, so I have been loving. See how loving I am!”

Love the Lord your God, and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Without love – the right kind of love as described above, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, the tongues would only be resounding gong or clanging cymbal; any teachings, even the most accurate interpretation of the Bible and the soundest theology, would be nothing; all the sacrifice and self-giving would not benefit us in any way. That is why when asked about the hierarchy of the commandments, Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

Love must take precedence over the fulfillment of any commandments, and the love for God must take precedence over the love for Man. Without the love for God, we may not have relationship with God and know God, and thus may not love right. And without the love for Man, the fellow image bearers of God, we do not really love God. Finally, without the love for Man, we really can’t properly fulfill any commandment of God.

Love really is a difficult lesson to learn. It’s taking me years to learn to love and be loved right. I’m still learning, I’m still making mistakes, I may still hurt people, and I may still get hurt by people. But it is my belief that Christians of all people are called to love. If you are a Calvinist, you are a Christian; if you are an Arminian, you are a Christian; if you are a dispensational premillennialist, you are a Christian; if you are an overly optimistic postmillennialist, you are a Christian; even if you are not an “ist” of any theological view, you are still a Christian; but without love, you cease to be a Christian. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

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