Love can be a funny thing. Most people seek out love to provide joy in their lives, but all seem to have a different idea of just what love is. “It’s one of the most studied, but least understood, of all human behaviors,” Lachlan Brown writes. He goes on to detail out several studies done about love and the characteristics scientists have identified as markers of love.
We know even without reading the article that we all have our own ideal of a loving relationship. It’s a bit comedic if you imagine a row of progressively older women. A 7th grader has a serious crush on the boy that sits next to her in homeroom. “I think I love him,” she says.
The 10th grade girl next to her rolls her eyes. “Okay, but all the cute middle school boys grow ugly in high school. You don’t know anything about love.”
A sophomore in college who has dated the same boy for almost a year smothers a giggle. The high-school girl has declared herself in love with 3 different boyfriends so far this year. What did she really know about it?
A little ways down the line, past the engaged woman and the newlywed, there sits a middle-aged woman who smiles wisely and says, “I thought I loved my husband when I married him. That wasn’t anything yet.”
Next to her is an old-timer that has stayed married to the same man since her 20s. One of the other women asks her the great secret to enduring love. She grins. “Who said anything about love? I just figured it’s too much trouble to start over now!”
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The Joy of True Love
A good-natured gentleman once made that joke regarding why his wife was still with him after decades of marriage. It’s an honest joke that speaks about unfulfilled expectations in marriage. It also speaks about the kind of commitment that can carry a couple through the rougher years.
Love truly is mysterious. It is also a great source of joy…
…but only if we have the correct ideal for love.
The Bible actively describes love in 1 Corinthians 13. It tells us something even more important in 1 John 4:8.
If you have a poor example of love, you will not understand the joy that it can bring.
1 John 4:7-11 teaches:
1) God is love, meaning that we need to look to Him as our role model
2) God’s love is confirmed by Jesus’ sacrifice
3) God loves us so we can truly love others
Our human ideas of love are often wrong or misguided. By studying God, we study love itself.
Read What Love Truly Is
First read 1 John 4:7-11
This passage is straightforward. If you’ve ever heard a lecture about the different Greek words that we translate as love, then you can probably guess that these Scriptures invoke the agape form of love. Keep in mind as we’re reading this that this passage is talking about “I love you so much that I want what is best for you even if I have to sacrifice something I desire” love.
Learn Why We Can Find Joy in God’s Love
“Love is love,” is a common expression today. Is it really true? If you’re looking at how humans express love to one another, it can certainly appear that way. However, the best relationships – meaning the ones that understand that relationships require some manner of sacrifice – are still often driven by selfish purposes.
This can be seen at the start of a relationship. Why choose somebody as a significant other? Why as a friend?
- “He makes me feel good about myself.”
- “I can see a future with him.”
- “I need to be friends with this person. They think just like me.”
- This person will make me a better version of myself.
God destroys human logic and exposes our self-centered aspect as a corrupted version of love. He does this by loving humanity at the cost of His own pain and suffering. The classic example of agape is how Jesus suffered torture, humiliation, and death on a cross.
He took on this pain willingly. Philippians 2 stresses that Jesus was already equal to God. There was nothing to gain except a future with the people who had rejected, rebelled, and scoffed at God’s ways.
But God’s love goes beyond a willingness to suffer. It’s also an unwillingness to turn a blind eye to how His loved creations live. He sees that our actions bring harm to ourselves and therefore holds us accountable. He commands us, demands obedience, and administers justice so we can live better and more abundantly.
God’s love is both justice and compassion. We see this in the Garden of Eden. We see it when Cain murders his brother. We see it with the Israelites. We see it in our own lives. Yet even when fail to follow His commands – understanding the harm we do to ourselves – God restores us at His own cost. That is true love.
1 John 4:9 points to that moment on the cross as the ultimate confirmation of God’s love. God doesn’t just love us. He is the original source, the archetype, and the example. He offers us this love not just for our own benefit but so everybody around us can benefit.
Why You Should Find Joy in God’s Love
Before that, let’s be clear that God should be praised for His love. That’s the first reason the correct definition of love is important. There’s a reason why the verses that dwell on our own lack of merit for this gift resemble poetry: “Like sheep we have all gone astray…”
Doesn’t God’s love make your heart beat out the rhythm of hymns? Does it inspire poetry in your mind? Does it flood your body with joy?
God’s love means that the burdens from our shoulders have been lifted. You and I are free to dance, to sing, to praise, to write blog posts, to paint, to hug our kids, and to eat chocolate cake with our friends without guilt. We can do these things with joy, secure in the knowledge that God loves us and desires us to enjoy the gifts of His Creation.
Okay, so maybe we need to go easy on the chocolate cake. It’s not exactly what’s best for our bodies.
God’s love brings joy to us in a different way, too. The better that you understand God’s love is the better that you will be able to love those around you. Yes, that often means loving at our own pain and suffering as we give our energy, time, and sometimes delicious treats away to others.
1 John 4:11 shows that this is not optional. We must love others this way so they can experience God’s love through us. The good news is that this kind of sacrificial living has an immediate reward in our lives.
Serving others and helping them are good for you. Giving to others has been proven to lead to happiness in multiple studies. Additionally, it’s good for building relationships. A study by Harvard across almost eight decades shows that relationships lead to a fulfilling and longer life.
It can be tempting to think of sacrificial love as a temporary loss for an eternal gain but it’s not true at all. Sacrificial love is for our own good while we are on this earth. As we love, we also testify to God’s greatness. Our actions give weight to our words as we claim, “This is God’s love for you, too.”
Ask, “Have I thought about God’s great love for me lately?”
Praise, “God, thank you for loving me like you do. You didn’t have to sustain the world after Creation, but you chose to do it out of love. You didn’t have to forgive me for my sin, but You did. You didn’t have to suffer for my salvation, but You still chose to do this. Your love is great. Help me to reflect it with those I meet today. Amen.”
Do: Come up with three tasks you can do to show God’s love to somebody else. Make them realistic for your schedule. Follow through on at least one of your ideas.
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