L O V E.
It’s a four-letter word, but easily the most talked about and confusing one that exists on this earth.
It’s easily the thing I think about the most. What is true, real, raw love? Why does there seem to be so little of it in a world that claims it as its god? Why is it so easy to love some people, and harder to love others? Can love ever survive the test of time and live forever? Can I love everyone?
It is from within the tempest of this sea of thought within my mind that comes a fresh storm that has revolutionized my recent thoughts on love and why it is so hard to define. Most everyone has heard of the four types of love as expressed in the Greek language, or read about the four loves C.S Lewis discovered within humanity. But these are all types of love. I have come to find love more simply defined, and that all love is formed from the same fire, but not all love comes out of that fire equal. When love is found, or sought, and grasped, there are three “heights” of potential for that love.
These three heights of love are expressions of its glory, postures of its beauty, and conduits of its power.
Love height one: Responsive love.
This is the easiest and most often found height of love, yet at the same time it is also the most ignored height. This love is a response to a situation, a circumstance, or person. If I see someone on the street in need of food or clothing, and do not offer them anything when I fully am able, I am not engaging responsive love. Responsive love ALWAYS responds. Responsive love goes up to the person in need, and offers food, clothing, or money, and hopefully prayer, all which are simply forms of responsive love. You see, and you respond. You cannot get to the other heights of love without entering through responsive love. It is the gateway to deeper and more profound expressions of love; without it, love simply would not exist in the world.
Christ showed us the greatest form of responsive love in that he did not look on at the sad state of his lost children on earth and become apathetic or negligent about our plight. He entered through the gate and responded in love by coming down to earth in the form of weak, finite flesh. That was his response. And it was love.
What frightens me is the lack of responsive love in this world. For although it is the easiest and most attainable height, it is widely ignored; out of apathy, or out of disregard for its power, and ignorance of its purity. How many people pass by hurting and desperate people on the street and barely glance their way? We are told that giving someone a dollar isn’t love, it’s just pity, or sympathy. Yes, sympathy may be involved, but understand that sympathy is a motivator for responsive love. Sympathy is the unplanned feeling of compassion for that person, and one can react to sympathy in two ways: ignore it, or respond. And when you respond, sympathy has then matured from feeling to action, and we call that action love. It is the choice to respond, to act, to make a difference by stepping out from our egotistic worlds and share something with another human being. If we ignore the situation it is because we do not love.
Love ALWAYS responds.
Jesus had the most responsive love the world has ever seen. He ministered to everyone he came in contact with, He responded in love to every situation he saw.
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Check this out.
Christ saw the crowds, and experienced compassion for them. He felt the desire to do something about all the hurt and pain he saw. And he responded in love: he taught them, ministered to them, healed them; he loved their entire being. And catch this: Jesus was distraught over the lack of responsive love in the world, but more specifically in those who followed him. He was in emotional agony over the state of suffering in the world and the lack of response to it. His disciples learned the love of response time and time again as they walked beside the Creator of the universe.
They told the blind man to shut up, Jesus called to him and healed him.
They told the hungry crowds to go home, Jesus fed them.
They told the woman she wasted the perfume on Jesus’ feet, Jesus blessed her.
They told the children to leave, Jesus called to them and gave them his Kingdom.
Love height two: Committed love.
This height of love can only be reached by first responding. This love not only responds to a situation, circumstance, or person, but also loves deeper by going to the next level and committing to that situation, circumstance, or person. Because of the nature of this love, it is impossible to love in this way to everyone we come in contact with. But we must love in this way to certain things or people or else we miss out on a love that’s deeper and a love that will connect us to people. Everyone in the world loves in this way. There’s not a single person who has never committed in love in at least one person. It’s the nature of relational love to commit. To say, “I love you, therefore I will not leave you.” Love in its most powerful form binds things, people, situations. Take for example the idea of coming across a homeless person in the street asking for money. If I go up to that person and give them money and pray for them, I’m responding in love. But what if something in me stirs a strong empathy for that person, a sudden and deep passion for their well-being? I could then choose to love that person by not only responding, but becoming that person’s friend, giving them a place to stay for a while, and developing a personal relationship with them. That’s commitment, that’s committed love.
Christ showed us committed love by not only responding in love by coming down to earth in the form of human weakness, but also by developing personal relationships with many people. He responded in love to everyone, but he only chose twelve men to love more deeply with commitment. He walked with them, ate with them, cried with them, laughed with them, ministered with them, ministered to them, taught them, loved them.
He did life with them.
He committed his life to loving them, and bound himself to them. He made them part of his identity. He took their struggles and mistakes upon himself, and was not ashamed to call them his brothers.
But sadly, the second height of love is something found less and less in the world. People are scared of commitment; it threatens their freedom, makes them accountable, vulnerable. One night stands, broken friendships over trivial things, a quick romance here and there, a friend-with-benefit now and then, etc etc.
See, this world is obsessed with YOUR rights, YOUR freedom, YOUR happiness. YOU YOU YOU. Committed love focuses on another before you, that’s why it’s so hard to find. Commitment might hinder my complete freedom, it might complicate my rights. Commitment is a form of sacrifice, but it is not that final height of love. Commitment surrenders certain things like time, money, freedom, all for another person. It has fleeting hints of sacrifice, but is not sacrificial at its core; it is binding, vulnerable, and accountable at its core.
I think of Peter, the disciple, who would often declare his commitment to Jesus when Jesus spoke of his suffering or his love, but ended up denying his connection to his Lord at the hour of darkness. Commitment is easy to declare, but hard to live out. Peter found this out the hard way. I have no doubt it was something that haunted him until the end.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
In the end before Jesus left him, Peter struggled with the love of commitment. He knew he loved Jesus and he wanted his Master to know that. Jesus knew Peter loved him, but desired something more than his words. He wanted a life of commitment from him. Three times Peter denied the love of commitment before Christ died, and three times after Christ was raised did he accept it boldly. He had seen where freedom got him, and now he desired nothing more than committed enslavement to Christ. And this committed love drove Peter into expressing the greatest height of love ever: sacrificial.
Love height three: Sacrificial love.
The final and greatest height of love is not only the greatest expression of love, but is also the purest form of it. This love not only responds, not only commits, but also sacrifices. If I see the homeless person on the street, I respond by giving them money and praying for them, and commit to them by giving them a place to stay and developing a relationship with them, I then have the choice to enter into the greatest height of love for them by sacrificing of myself for them. Sacrificial love differentiates itself from committed love by not only binding itself to a person or situation, but giving of itself for their betterment. If I wake up in the middle of the night to drive the homeless person to the hospital because they’re sick and end up missing work because of it, I’m showing sacrificial love. Sacrificial love ALWAYS gives, it NEVER receives. It’s impossible for sacrificial love to receive because sacrificial love is complete and utter abandonment of me, and complete and utter pursuit of another. Sacrificial love is not always smart, because it will do things that endanger my health, my wealth, and my time all for the sake of another.
Sacrificial love is rare in this world. It’s worshiped but rarely pursued. It inspires people, but rarely activates them to do the same. In my humble opinion, it’s why so many relationships and marriages fall apart. If you are not sacrificing for someone, you haven’t given up anything, and when you haven’t given up things for a cause or a person, you aren’t invested in them. If you’re not invested in them, you aren’t going to be connected. Sacrifice is most binding form of commitment. When you have given up things in your life or you life for someone, you will be connected to that person in the purest way possible. Sacrifice gives things worth. Just as Christ’s sacrifice gave us worth, so our sacrifice for others gives them worth, and ties us to them in a meaningful and personal way.
Christ showed us sacrificial love in not only responding with love and coming to earth in the form of mortal flesh, and committing to love by living life with those he chose to love more deeply, but by finally giving his life up for the sake of us, so that we might enter into right relationship with him again.
He responded in love.
He committed to love.
He sacrificed for love.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
What a great verse to quote. Everyone loves this verse. John 15:13. Obviously Jesus said this in reference to his coming death. Right?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
If we are to love each other as Christ loved us, then what does that mean?
To lay down your life for another is not always going to mean dying a tragic death, but that in every moment of every day, your life is not your own; it is laid down for the sake of others.
You will be trampled on.
You will be humbled.
But so was he.
You may be called a “people-pleaser”, you will be told your choices are not smart, that you need to look out for yourself, that people are using you. But that’s the nature of sacrificial love.
As long as you are being connected to the Father and being poured into every day, you will be able to be sustained in pouring out of yourself for others every day.
Sacrificial love is painful.
It is hard.
It is tiring.
It is emotionally draining.
It will only take from you.
But there is no other love like it.
We need to love more deeply. Love can never be talked about too much. We need to dwell on it more. To ponder its meaning. The more I think and dwell on it the more I realize it is the key to everything. And I really mean everything. It changed the course of history. Let it change you. And then let it change others through you.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”