[JESUS SAID:] “THIS is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” John 15:12 ESV.
This past week, sitting in the warm sun at the park with my own children, I watched as a mother tenderly kissed the forehead of her little girl and said, “Mommy loves you so much.”
That got me thinking that the word “love” has come to mean so many things that it rarely means anything at all.
We water down the use of this word in how we tell our best friend that we love the way they are always there to talk, or how we love tapioca pudding, walks on the beach, our favorite jammies and getting a good parking space at Costco; all at the same time using it to describe our affection for our children, and God’s mercy to us.
In fact, many people use this word to describe God himself, pointing to the words of St. John in his first letter, where he describes God as being love (1 John 4:1-16).
So what does the word “love” actually mean, and how should we be using it?
My sister, growing up, had a poster hanging in her room with the word love jumping out from a Technicolor background; we still see bumper stickers “Make love not war.”
Of course it is seen in conjunction with the peace sign and now the rainbow flag. But I argue that love is something much more than a slogan, a political statement or an ideology.
Love is active.
Paul tells us it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:7 ESV). This is not to say that love embraces all things.
It may be kind, not envious or arrogant, it is not self-seeking, irritable or resentful, but it does not rejoice in wrongdoing (1 Cor 13:4-6).
I was asked a few years back, “How can you show someone love by telling them no?”
As time goes on, I believe the greatest expressions of love we ever experience can be found with the word “no.”
For instance, when an attentive parent uses that word to tell a child they cannot cross the street, or when a wife answers a nurse wondering if she is ready to go home and leave her husband’s side for the night.
The word “no” can be a powerful display of love; love for themselves and their parent, as a child stands up to their abusive parent and demands the torment stop.
The word “no,” screamed from the soul, articulates deep love, like that when a parent hears that their child has been diagnosed with cancer; that parent would never hesitate to take the place of that child and bear that burden and death for them.
Our Lord said no, never, and not on my watch to you and me when he bore the burden of our death.
He displayed his great love through action as he made himself a servant (Phil 2:7, Mark 10:45), bore our sin on the cross (1 Pet 2:24), and died that we may live through him (2 Cor 5:10).
His love for us drove him to exchange himself for us, bearing the wages of sin (Rom 6:23), and giving us victory over sin, death, and Satan (Rom 4:25, 2 Tim 1:10, 1 Jn 3:8).
He told us and shows us how no greater love exists than when a person lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
Yet he did it when we were still his enemies (Rom 5:10). He truly demonstrated love by saying “no;” “no” to the separation between us and him; “no” to the eternal death we deserve; no to Satan claiming us for himself.
By this he gives us the confidence and ability to say “no;” nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).
Love is not merely a fleeting emotion, it is not simply desire, happiness, appreciation, or enjoyment.
It is not to be used as a political statement or watered down by a worldly ideology.
It is a word that demonstrates God’s commitment to you, and how we are to treat, respect and sacrifice for one another.
To love is the highest calling, the deepest commitment, and the greatest work. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, say “no” this week, this month, this year.
Say “no” to thinking of yourself first. Say “no” to not caring for your family.
Say “no” to allowing yourself to hurt others with your words and actions.
Say “no” to unnoticing another’s needs.
Say “no” to giving in to your lusts.
In love, bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. By doing so you fulfill the law of Christ, and become the aroma of Christ in this world (Jn 15:12, Gal 6:2, 2 Cor 2:15).
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Patrick Lovejoy is minister of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles. He can be contacted at 360-457-4122 or pastorlovejoy @rocketmail.com.