What is Love?

What is love?
Love is a word that we use all the time without really thinking about it.
We tell our loved ones, “I love you” but moments later we say things like:
“I love guacamole.”
“I’m in love with that dress.”
“My new mailman who always shuts the door on my mailbox—I love him.”
But just because we use the word all the time doesn’t mean we understand it.
Psychologists and biologists write endless papers on the complex neurochemical reactions that take place in our brains when we love another person.
Poets and songwriters take down countless verses to try and capture with words the feeling and experience of love.
We write about it, talk about, study it, sing about it….And yet, somehow we still aren’t quite sure. We have conflicting definitions and understandings.
For the early Christians, they didn’t define love by any philosophical, psychological or even biological definition. They began to define love itself by one person: Jesus.
They lifted up Jesus as love itself and his life as an example of what it looks like lived out.
Now, it would be great to take you to one story from the life of Jesus and say, “This is love in its entirety. It is all summed up here”, but I can’t. I can’t because in every story of Jesus is a love story. 
When we read of Jesus healing those who were sick, restoring sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again, we are reading stories of love.
When we read of Jesus spending much of his time with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and lepers because they were the one’s excluded from the Temple and from society, we are reading stories of love.
When we read of Jesus telling people of the ways of God and the good news that there is going to come a day when God will bring true justice to those who have been neglected, abused, and forgotten, we are reading stories of love.
And when we read that Jesus willingly gave up his life—although he was innocent of any crime—giving it up for us, we are reading the greatest story of love.
Jesus himself told his disciples the night he was arrested “There is no greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for ones friends.” (see John 15)
The same Gospel writer, John, a follower of Jesus, looked back on that event and said in one of his letters to the early church, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16)
He went on to say, “…God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:8)
We live in a culture where more often than “God is love”, we live as though “love is god,” particularly romantic love.

It is worshipped. It is adored. It is given the highest place in our movies, in our music, and even in our phones. Look no further than Valentine’s Day. Last year, Americans spent $19.6 BILLION on Valentine’s Day, an average of $143.56 per person. That is a lot of candy, flowers, alcohol, and jewelry, isn’t it? That is enough that we could dig 1.5 million wells for the 800 million people around the world who lack access to clean drinking water. We sure love the idea of love.

But the definition of love the world gives has strings attached. It comes with “ifs”.
I’ll love you if you are pretty enough.
I’ll love you if you are rich enough. 
I’ll love you if you look like me, act like me, and vote like me. I’ll love you if you can do something for me, if you do something to earn my love—and you better not do something I don’t like or you’ll lose it in the snap of the fingers.
For our definition of love, it seems you must be or do something first before it is given to youIt is conditional.

 But God doesn’t work like that.

John went on to say, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (those being the things we’ve done wrong).” (1 John 4:10)
Paul, another early follower of Jesus who had first persecuted Christians before joining them said this in his letter to the church in Rome, “God proves his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners (that is disobedient, messed up people) Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
God’s love comes before we are really worthy of his love, not after we’ve cleaned ourselves up, and he showed it by sending Jesus Christ to us and for us—to bring us freedom from the guilt of sin in our lives and it’s power over us (this cycle of sin and guilt and shame).

Love is about forgiveness. It is about freedom. You see, God is love, and love is sacrificial. Love is serving the other. Love is putting the needs of the other before your own. That is what God has done for us.

In perhaps the most famous Bible verse of all, that verse Tim Tebow famously put on his eyeblack during the NCAA National Champtionship game, John chapter 3, verse 16, John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive everlasting life.”
God so loved the world. That means you, and that means me!
We have this Bible for our daughter called the Jesus Storybook Bible. We read it to her because it tells about how the Bible is one grand story of a God who lovingly created us, a God who–even when we turned from him–did all he could to bring us back to him.
It repeatedly says, “God loves you with a Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” I love that. I can’t get it out of my mind. It sticks with me and affects my heart in a wonderful way. I can’t help but think, “Isn’t that what the world needs? Isn’t that what I need?”
So do you know that God loves you? How much he loves you?
If you are hesitant to say, “yes”, what keeps you from believing that God loves you with a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love?
– Seth