Over the past couple months, my inner definition of the meaning of true love has gone through some fairly major remodeling. I've found my assumptions challenged, and my sometimes twisted perspectives brought to light through various encounters and experiences. I would never, ever claim any of these experiences to be easy things to walk through, and yet it's been an exciting journey for me to understand a little more clearly what real, godly, true love looks like in day to day life.
When I first mention the word 'love,' your mind is possibly drawn to that which is shared between a husband and wife, or between an engaged or courting couple. While I have no doubt in my mind that these principles apply in this area, love is a much greater prism than the fluttery, amazing feeling that most people think of, and is by it's very essence something that effects a much broader realm. In reality, true love lived out touches every single area of our life, while at the same time, spilling over and effecting every person we come in contact with. Jesus lays out the definition of a Christian clearly in John when He says, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." He also declare Himself to be love, and in actuality, love in our life is the living, breathing manifestation of Jesus Christ Himself that should flow out and touch every single relationship in our life.
At the very root of what I have been learning is one simple word. "Give." Scripture makes this clear. "Love...even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it." "God so loved the world that he gave..." "Greater love hath no man than this, than a man [give] his life for his friends..." The Bible often refers to our salvation, sanctification, and eternal life as a gift from the hand of God.
I have a friend who really loves chocolate. She loves chocolate in any shape, form, style, or presentation, and the bigger the bar or box, the better. I love giving her chocolate, and the squeals of delight from her lips whenever she opens a new box is more than enough reward for me. Sometimes I've felt rather selfish - I truly feel that I get more delight out of her excitement than is fit and proper! Giving to her feels like a treat for myself, and has never, ever seemed to be a sacrifice.
Oftentimes when we think of giving, the highlighted verse in our mind is "Give and it shall be given back unto you, a good measure, shaken down and running over shall be given into your bosom." This is the sort of love that leaves us feeling overwhelmingly blessed, and completely primed to go for it again. What pours out of us is received with gratefulness by others, fruit is being produced, and sacrifice is the farthest thing from our mind. As long as we are receiving, as well as giving, love flows out naturally, and we bask in the warm glow that surrounds our life.
What if this is not the case, though? What if the next time I gave my friend some chocolate, she half-heartedly rips open the wrapping, glances over it, and complains that it was the same brand I gave her last time. What if that box of chocolate was shoved on a shelf, forgotten, and left for the ants. No appreciation was shown, no thanks given, and the gift which costed me some effort and money was never used or thought about again. That sure wouldn't be much motivation for me to keep giving, would it? I would probably start looking for another friend who appreciated what I had to offer.
This is where the rubber starts to meet the road, and where I've come face to face with the fact that loves gives with no thought of return. For me, this has been the time when I've started realizing that true love does not ask, "What does this friend or person have that will bless, fulfill, and satisfy me?" Without doubt, it is a natural and easy thing to focus on! Oh, but how much more beautiful and can I say, immensely more satisfying, is the time when our question becomes, "What do I have that I can give to bless or help this person?"
Now, consider with me one final scenario. Imagine that this box of chocolate was something my friend needed. She needed it desperately, and I was the only person who fully comprehended her need. Because I loved her, I went to great lengths and extreme expense to buy exactly the right kind for her. It truly cost me quite a bit. In fact, everything that was precious in my life was laid out, and my anticipation at her appreciation of my sacrifice, and at the deepening of our friendship through that sacrifice was great. The day finally came when I presented her with the gift, and to my surprise, I quickly realized that she didn't know herself that she needed this chocolate. When she opened the box, she turned on me with fury that I would dare assume her needs or desires, and accused me of ulterior motivations. That precious box of chocolate was thrown on the floor, trampled on, and I in turn was thrown out of my friend's house and life...
This, my friends, is the scenario that our Lord faced when He came to earth. The only difference is, He knew beforehand that His gift was going to be trampled on and rejected by the majority of the world, and yet He still gave everything He had. He not only knew that He would face rejection of the worst kind, but also a pain and death as cruel as man could imagine. What was His motivation? Remember one of my first statements - God is love. Love gives without reserve, and love for us and for His Father's glory is what drove Him to earth for the aid of a few who would eventually realize in a very, very small way what sacrifice He actually made.
So how does all this apply to us? I am reminded of David's words in II Samuel 24. David asks the searching question, "Shall I give unto the Lord my God that which has cost me nothing?" First and foremost, I deeply believe this applies to our surrender to God. If love is truly measured by giving, isn't is accurate to say that an unsurrendered life to God is in essence hating Him? Isn't it equally as accurate to say that the greatest expression of love that we can show to our Lord is the very giving of ourselves, unreservedly to Him, for whatever purpose He sees best?
"God so loved, that he gave...." What an example to pattern our lives after in relating to others as well! Remember....
There will be times this love is taken advantage of.
Still keep loving.
There will be times when this love is not appreciated.
There are times when loving and giving another the thing they need will be misunderstood.
Don't become bitter.
Keep your eyes on the source of love, and remember His example.