I first wrote the words “I love you” in a note to a girl whenI was in the 5th grade. It felt good. And the feeling was evenbetter when I received a note back with the same words. A core belief tookshape in me. From that point on, I understood love as something that was meantto make me feel good. Of course, my 5th-grade love affair didn’tlast long (I was too shy to actually talk to her). But the impression that loveis defined by how another person makes me feel, stuck.
And then I encountered God.
Believing in His unconditional love felt good too. But He askedme to love others in the same way—even those I don’t like. How was thatpossible? If I didn’t have “the feeling,” how was I to love them?
Later in life, I remember reading through the book ofIsaiah, grimacing over the descriptions of God’s loathing of sin and what ithas done to His creation. Where was His love in all this? No good feelingshere. It felt as though divine frustration was ready to destroy everything! Butthen the words of John 3:16 pushed into my mind. And I was struck with theawareness that even with God’s hatred of evil He longs to find ways to expressHis love and affection for those He has created. The familiar Bible verse declaresGod’s love to be an action, not a feeling! It shows how far His love is willingto go to deal with the sin problem.
But how does this change how I love?
Here I find the definition:
To Love is to Give
“For God so loved . . .” God’s capacity for love is beyond ourability to comprehend. Of course in 1 John 4:16 we’re told that He IS love. Hislove does not merely flow out of His feelings. It flows out of His identity. Toknow what love is, we must learn WHO God is along with the many facetsof His character. His propensity to love takes Him to extremes. He does crazy,sacrificial acts because His love is such that it cannot be ignored or coveredup for long. It’s WHO He is.
“For God so loved . . . that He gave . . .” Forconfused humans to recognize what real love is we must look to the One whopossesses it as His essence. True love, therefore, must always involve givingbecause that’s what He does. We mostly think of love in terms of what carriesthe deepest and most passionate feelings. And strong feelings will perhaps accompanylove. But they are not the substance of it. Our passionate impulses inrelationships most often lead to taking from others to fulfill our ownemotional or physical desires, not giving. We easily slip into my 5th-grade understanding.
Choosing to give to the point of suffering is God’sdemonstration of love. An old definition of the word ‘passion’ is ‘to suffer.’ Thisturns on its head the idea of falling “passionately in love.” If we reallycomprehend God’s love, we may be left with the sense that we rarely love. The popularidea of love is an arrangement where we personally experience the mosthappiness. John 3:16 exposes that understanding as a twisted deception.
To Love is to Embrace What is Unlovely
“For God so loved the world….”
God’s example shows us the kind of love that pursues those who are unlovely. “The world” embodies many things, but particularly people—the good, the bad, the ugly and those who horde toilet paper. Though we the people have been corrupted with sin, we still carry something the Creator sees and loves—His own image in us (Genesis 1:27).
This challenges us to ask the question, do we have eyes tosee what God sees in people, beneath the ugly stains of selfishness and abuse?Mostly no. Our human tendency is to reject those in the world we disagree withor don’t like and seek out those we can get along with—those who make us feelgood.
You are Called to Be Like Your Heavenly Father
The simple words of John 3:16 paint a picture of God’scharacter and His commitment to save us who make up this world. But we alsoneed to recognize the call it issues for us to be like our Heavenly Father. To learnto love with His love is a very personal call to each follower of Jesus.
Do we really want to learn to love like He does? Only thencan the words “I love you” truly mean what they say – “I want to give to yousomething that’s valuable to me, even if it causes me to suffer in some way.”What would this look like for us? Our time, our energy, our limited resources, ouraffection and attention are all personal treasures that we naturally guard for ourselves.To love is to give to others that which is valuable enough to protect.
Remember, it’s not a feeling according to John 3:16. The Onewho is most offended by the ugliness of sin is also the One ready tosacrificially give to save those most immersed in sin. And on top of that, weget a picture of what true love looks like when we choose to let it startflowing through us.