Love. What is it? So many people claim to have it, but how many truly do? People have said love to be indescribable, some have said that love is pure commitment, and others pure emotion and elation. Love can be rationalized; love can be romanticized. But what is love? Love has been described as many things, but it can only be one. In our modern subjective world, many thinkers have created definitions for the word “love” and many of them, when challenged, then lean on the crutch of relativism to defend their position. Love, then, from this confusion has come to be known as acceptance and tolerance.
In relationships, women “dump” men who do not accept them for who they are. On social networking websites, disagreements run rampant because others cannot accept certain beliefs. These people become known as “haters” because they do not follow the law of love, acceptance. In families, sons and daughters carry disdain for their parents, because their parents do not understand their so called “needs” and refuse to accept their petty demands. No matter what arena of life you enter, love, from its myriad of definitions, has lost its true meaning and has been reduced to tolerance.
So what is the true meaning of love? Can we know what love truly is?
The Apostle John states, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (1) Humanity, by the eternal Logos, Jesus Christ, is given the superlative of love, to sacrifice one’s life for his friends. But how can this be? The greatest command from God was to love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and then my neighbour as myself. How can Jesus have these two ideas of the greatest “love” cooperate?
Christ, when speaking to the disciples in John 15, brilliantly displays the eternal truth of love. True love and the greatest good even in John 15 is this: the imitation of Christ through humility which results in partaking of the divine nature of God. Let me explain. In the following verses of John 15 the Apostle John writes of Jesus saying to his disciples, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you….I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (2) Christ describes that love consists of doing what He commanded; it consists of imitating Him. A true friend of Jesus, whom He as a man “laid down His life for,” will follow Him and will have a life that resembles His.
And why does Jesus wish this? Because Jesus, Himself, has been displaying the Father to them. Jesus is telling His disciples that imitating Him, a distinct person of the Trinity, is imitating the one essence of God. Later in Jesus’ dialogue He states, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (3) Love is in its essence Trinitarian. Let me explain.
The Trinity works in a way that displays all three persons of the Godhead. Christ magnifies the Father, the Father exalts the Son, the Father and Son emit the Holy Spirit, and then the Holy Spirit magnifies Christ. It is in this act of aseity or oneness that God magnifies himself to the world. So then when Christ says, “when the Comforter (Holy Spirit) is come…he shall testify of me” He is revealing that true love in His disciples will result in humble imitation (sacrifice) and partaking in the divine nature of God. For, when we accept the saving grace of Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit as a down payment. The Holy Spirit then magnifies Christ to our mind, renewing us, causing us to live sacrificially, and in imitating Christ, through the Spirit, we then imitate the Father.
Again, the Apostle John speaks of this act in the epistle of 1 John. He states:
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….No man hath seen God at any time….Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. (4)
Again, love is of God, for God is love. And God is Trinitarian, so then his love manifests itself in a Trinitarian way. God is the highest good, the fullness of what love truly is. Thus our love must also follow what Christ, the fullness of God and man, did. He sacrificed. He lowered Himself to live a life of service on this earth in the form of his very own creation; then He lowered Himself to death even the death of the cross. And this God, who is the best and highest good, is thus worthy of our love. And loving Christ will result in imitating Him, and imitating Him results in obeying His commands, and obeying his commands results in a rightly ordered life.
And why does Christ command this? Why is this important? Because the same way the Spirit displays Christ, who displays the love of God to us, so we as the Church display the love of God to the world. Hence this theology of love is also practical. He writes in John 13, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (5) The Church then, as it loves one another in its imitation of Christ, displays the love of God. If the Church clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, and gives drink to the thirsty, it shows the world the love of Christ.
But, love must be a full display of Christ to the world. The same way Christ stood for morality, so also should Christians. In the same way, Christ rebuked the hypocrites so should the Church. The same way Christ was righteously angry so also should Christians. But, can these acts, alone, fully display the love of Christ?
No, for all of these acts, whether feeding the poor, rebuking hypocrites, or correcting immorality, are of an external nature. This means that these acts carry the possibility to be done for the wrong reasons. For, if a man can die for the faith without love and give all he has to the poor without love, then this love must be something deeper.
The love of God is much deeper than this. The love of God is a change of motives. Previously, in chapter 13, Christ washed His disciples feet, and in doing this He showed them that humility is the key to loving one another. For, after washing their feet, He told them to do likewise to each other. Christ was demanding a heart change from his disciples, and it was in this heart change that the world would see Christ. The love of God is philosophically a motive that manifests itself in an action; it is not just an action, and it is not just a motive. Thus love is fully recognized in a humble act that has a sacrificial motive.
Sacrifice, exalt others, and in doing this you will display Christ. Love changes one’s motive from serve self to serve Christ, which will manifest itself in serving others. Yes, actions are necessary in displaying the love of God, but this love is something deeper. It’s a changed heart. It’s the ability to balance your emotions, thoughts, and motives in order to address every situation in a correct manner. Love changes the thoughts of man from “what can I get?” to “what can I give?” It changes the emotions of man from “what can satisfy me?” to “how can I satisfy others?” And, it changes the motives of man from “how do I preserve myself?” to “how can I sacrifice myself to help others?” This is Love, to sacrifice one’s life for his brother and in doing so imitate the Triune God.
Love is not tolerance, love is humble sacrifice. Love does not react in passivity, love acts with humility. In doing this we imitate the very nature of God. Let us all pray with Saint Augustine:
“O Love ever burning, never quenched! O Charity, my God, set me on fire with your love! You command me to be continent. Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will!” (6)
1.The Holy Bible: King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995. Print. John 15:13.
2. John 15:14-15.
3. John 15:26.
4. 1 John 4:11-15
5. John 13:34-35
6. St. Augustine. The Confessions. New York: Collier, 1961. Print.