“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” –Bill Clinton.
Every time my husband and I round a particular corner, political signs crop into our sight like spring tulips. The lawn in front of the red brick ranch house is so full of signs I can’t quite read them all before they crowd my rearview mirror. Silent, defiant, they shout and scream from stiff placards. It is clear from the signs where the owner of the house stands in our nation’s political divide.
Flanked by their not so silent protest, one sign always stands out to me.
Love thy neighbor means everybody.
It is almost jarring, incongruous with the belligerence of opinions around it, and I always wonder how the owners of the house, might define love. If it were not a season of social distancing and one of learning to not know my neighbor for fears of spreading covid, would I make the effort to find out the answer? Would I know how to define love?
February is the month of love. Yet, as God’s children, the term scatters us rather than unites us because we define it differently, sometimes in terms with which it is not meant to be defined.
John, the author of both the gospel and the epistles, was kind of stuck on the subject of love. The disciple is the one whom Jesus loved, the one who laid his head on the Master’s chest, and the one to whom Jesus gave care of His mother while hanging on a cross.
John loved and doled it out to others.
His love bar was set high.
- “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 (ESV)
- God doesn’t just love. God is love. He is the standard and definition. Love is His nature. It owns no lack, no evil, and no deviance. It is purely perfect, as is He.
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (ESV)
- Christ is the fulfillment of God’s perfect love. Its purpose is eternal. God’s immeasurable love is foundational in every aspect of His creation, history and plan.
- “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (ESV)
- Jesus’ incarnation and sacrificial death are imperative for our salvation. Christ’s atonement was driven by God’s love for us, for His desire to bridge the chasm created by sin.
- “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11 (ESV)
- Love cannot be defined by its opposite, hate. Nor is it displayed by tolerance of sin, because that would deny its defining existence. It doesn’t unify itself with wrongdoing.
The term love brings a difficult tension for the body of Christ. For the Christian must draw the term from the One in Whom our faith is born. If we strive to love apart from God we reduce it to something less, an ideology, perception, whim or sentiment.
Love radiates from the source, not society.
Fruits of love, as the Apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13, demonstrate patience, kindness and long-suffering. But, severed from God who is the origin, we produce a facsimile of the real thing. As we are prone to do, we make the term love in our image rather than God’s.
“For God so loved…”
This is where the church of Christ must return and return and return again.
God’s love is so much greater, higher broader, deeper than any of the stuff we point to and argue about. We are a light in the world thereby leading others to real love, to God who loves.
Terms are tricky. They can be played with, emotionally toyed about, and falsified. They can be twisted, and skewed. They can be turned into something they are not. They can confuse us.
I don’t pretend to grasp the full meaning of God is love. But the more my definition is rooted within the Biblical Person of the God Head, the greater becomes my capacity to love others while remaining rooted in Biblical truth.
That the God of the universe should choose to love me will never cease to amaze. I don’t want to dilute it. I don’t want to turn Scripture’s teaching of love into something the God of love doesn’t recognize.
If I no longer wore a mask and social distancing wasn’t an issue, if I because of the love of Christ for my neighbor took the risk and walked up to the door of the red brick house with signs littering the lawn, and knocked on the door, if I bothered to find out what the owner’s definition of love might be, would I could I introduce him to the Definition?