True love is not a shiny red heart or a box of chocolates. True love is not expressed by the giving of a rose. True love is more than this. True love flows from the cross – the ultimate symbol of love. True love is not limited to those who love you. True is shown freely and selflessly to all. True love is willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of others, taking the example from Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.
The world has this messed up view of love. It sees love as just about emotions, making people feel good about themselves. And while that is an aspect of love, there is more to love than that. As John Piper says in his book ‘Don’t waste your life’, if you take someone to the top of a mountain you wouldn’t put them in a room of mirrors and tell them how good they looked. You would let them experience the amazing views. Our love needs to make people aware of the beauty of Christ, rather than just be a mirror that makes them feel good about themselves.
Who should we love? Our love must not be limited to those who love us – Matthew 5 v 46-47 NIV ‘If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?’ When we are carrying out acts of love we shouldn’t be looking for something in return. (Matt 6v1-4 says: “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.(NLT)) If we are doing things to gain respect from others, to have people look at us and say and say how great we are for doing that then we are not acting out of love. When we limit our love to those who love us, or to those who we perceive as worthy of love, then we are guilty of judging people, something we are warned not to do in the Bible (For example Matt7v1-2, James2v8-9). Ultimately, when you look at what is truly important, we are all in the same boat, for ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 2v2-3). In the eyes of God all sin is equal, and so we cannot judge some people as such serious sinners as to be unworthy of our love. Society today has many ‘unlovable’ outcasts that just don’t get mentioned in many churches as they are perceived as serious sinners. But that isn’t the way God looks at them, and so nor should we.
One example is people living with HIV/Aids. It has been estimated that there are 38.6 million people living with HIV, but people tend to take the stereotypical attitude that ‘It’s their own fault’. In many cases it isn’t. It can be a result of lack of education, unfaithful partner or being born with it. Yet many people let the misconception that people with HIV/Aids are unworthy of love stop them from doing anything to help, to bring an end to the crisis that is devastating much of Africa. As a generation we need to move beyond this misconception. This is no-one unworthy of God’s love. As Jesus said in Matthew9v12-13 “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Who are we to limit the love of God?
There is more to loving people than just saying things that makes them feel good about themselves. Eating a chocolate bar makes you feel good, but ultimately if all you did for the people you care about was stuff them full of Mars bars you will end up doing them more harm than good. Likewise if all we do for the people we care about is pile praise upon them it is not going to do them much long-term good. If we love people we need to point them to the ultimate act of love, true love that will never end. We need to point them to the cross.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading Matthew 7, particularly verses 15-23, and it really struck me that God doesn’t want our words, he is not just looking for continual pouring outs of praise from us. What he cares about is our hands. Our actions. Our lifestyle. That is the key way we show love, both for God and for others.
That’s all well and good. We know that as Christians we should love everyone, and our faith is useless if it does not lead to actions. But so often it can be hard to put it into practice. If that is the case then you really need to pray for opportunities. For it is essential that we do it (re Matthew 5v43-48).