This time of year, Valentine’s Day stirs up the often misunderstood concept of “love.” The English language is kind of silly when it comes to the word “love.” We love baseball, apple pie, the flag and our mother. I’m sure people who are trying to learn the English language find that awfully confusing.
Other languages like Greek, the original language of the New Testament of the Bible, use several different words for love: eros, phileo, and agape are just a few. In 1 Corinthians 13, the King James Bible of 1611 translated one of the Greek words for love, to be “charity.” At the end of the book of John, two different Greek words are translated into the same word “love.” It’s a shame the Bible translators were limited in their ability to communicate the depth of the original Greek. They were handicapped by our English language.
English speaking people have lost the depth of the meaning love. Emotion fueled, sexual passion and lust are the words I describe what others might call “love.” But I dare not think that way about apple pie. I can have a preference for apple pie over cherry pie and a particular enjoyment when the sweet taste tickles my tongue, but it really isn’t emotional love.
What kind of love should we be striving toward then? Jesus said to love God and love people (Matthew 22:37-39). When Jesus spoke these words, He tied two commands together into one statement, drawing a picture of our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with others. In doing so, Jesus tied our ability to have meaningful relationships with people, to the strength of our relationship with God. They are interchangeable. You can’t have one without the other.
Here’s where we can miss the boat, if we don’t think the way Jesus commands. Many relationships are built upon an idea of a 50/50 partnership. If one person performs certain actions, then the other person in the relationship should perform an equal action. The same holds true, when one stops performing, the other gets upset and stops as well. I think this is why many people change relationships as often as they change jobs. Whenever their expectations are not met, they quit their “partnership.” This is also why many people fall out of relationship with God. I hate to be the one to tell you, God is not our “partner.”
If you are like me, I often find it hard to love certain people. If I choose to step outside of my own emotions and see people the way God sees them, I can at least stay civilized around them. When I feel my love for someone waning, I sometimes remember the powerful verse from John 13:34, where Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” And what is the love that Jesus speaks about? Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
What if you saw someone running into the street, into the path of a speeding truck? Would you push them out of the way, save their life and take the hit? I may do that for a family member, but for a stranger? What if they were carrying your TV? Would you still die to save them? Jesus did.
Here’s the short and swift answer: we should love others the way Jesus loves us – sacrificially.
Recently I helped someone in a special way. They did not do anything to deserve my favor and I did not ask for anything in return. I just did it. The question came out “why are you doing this?” The answer, “I want you to succeed.”
This kind of love is often described as “grace” or “undeserved favor.” This is what sets Christians apart. Soak up this statement from Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even though I was (and still am) a messed up human being, God still loves me - unconditionally. Even before I wandered from the path of righteousness, God had made a new path of reconciliation, a path bathed in the blood of sacrificial love, a path in the shape of a cross.
Love the way God loves. Amen? (or ouch
Pastor Jay Merritt
Each generation seems to have a countercultural group that stands up and says “We’ve had enough and we’re not going to take it anymore!” To be countercultural, is like a single fish breaking out of the swimming school, turning around and propelling itself upstream, against the current and against the confusion of fins and bubbles blinding the way. It is not an easy path. Sometimes others will turn and follow, but when the going gets tough, many go back to the flow of the culture. While I’m not going to lay judgment on these movements, I’m going to present the case that Jesus was, and is, countercultural.
In America, our Declaration of Independence proclaims the right for “the pursuit of happiness.” We work and we work to achieve that right. We exhaust ourselves and our resources chasing that elusive goal. We are taught from an early age to pursue the American Dream. We are to pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps and WIN – no matter the cost. To acquire our happiness, we have borrowed and spent. We have sought out things and substances to fill a void, a standard called “happiness” that is always one notch higher than our means. Material processions, money, and pleasure have become god in America.
Is that what has happened in America? Have we forsaken the God our nation was founded upon? Our National Debt is now over $14 trillion. This is equal to $45,000 per citizen. Has our hunger for money and things, become a monster that will ultimately destroy this great nation of ours? Our U.S. economy is so driven by purchasing more and more stuff, that when we all stop spending, the whole system collapses, which resulted in the “Great Recession” I am hoping will end very soon.
Even religious organizations seek to build “kingdoms” on earth. According to the US Census Bureau, churches in the US spent $7 billion on building construction, in 2009. This is more than the GDP of Haiti. Other sources estimate that amount to be closer to $11.5 billion per year. Large sums of church money go into building ownership – utilities, maintenance, construction and mortgage. According to Dave Ramsey, the American church is in debt to the tune of $33 billon. But all that is tiny, compared to the $60 billion a year Americans spend on soft drinks.
Is it possible that even the church has lost its way?
This is a picture of the culture, the fast moving stream where Americans find themselves. It’s easy to get pulled down stream. It’s easy to feel comfortable, because everyone else is there with you.
2000 years ago, there was a single little fish who turned around in the stream and started swimming the other way. His name was Jesus. He calls on us to follow him.
Instead of pursuit of happiness, he said “pursue the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) He said it will not be an easy road, for his followers will be persecuted for being righteous and people will hate you and say all kinds of evil against you for following him. (Matthew 5:10-11) He told his followers to be like salt in a wound, to be a bright light in the face, to be ready to be repulsed in a culture that is upside down, doing the opposite of his teachings.
Rather than pursuing greatness, Jesus said " he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) Rather than seeking wealth and possessions, Jesus said to the rich man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." On the subject of money, Jesus said "Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33 NKJV) The reaction to his words proves Jesus was countercultural: “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided (had bad things to say about) Him.” (Luke 16:14 NKJV)
Jesus never built a church building, yet he has millions of followers. His most famous sermon was given on a hillside. He taught in people’s homes, in the streets and in existing buildings, yet he had no home of his own. "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Matthew 8:20 NKJV)
While Americans are fighting for “rights,” Jesus died to take our “wrongs,” with nothing in his hands but nails. That’s countercultural. Amen?
Pastor Jay Merritt
Pastor Jay Merritt writes about God in every day observations.