“Love, as it exists and is properly expressed in Christian community, is the mark that most clearly indicates to the world that we have been changed by the gospel. ”
We all carry our own preconceived notions regarding love, and those notions are usually based on our personal experience (hardly a reliable arbiter of truth). For some, love is an emotion that is neither chosen nor discarded. It simply happens. We fall into it, and we can just as easily fall out of it. As a result, many justify poor and sometimes sinful decisions (i.e. divorce) by appealing to “irreconcilable differences” as if “love” or the lack thereof is something upon which we can simply agree to disagree. But the Bible says that God is love. That means He gets to define it, and He does so in His Word. Therefore, all of our opinions regarding love must conform to His standard, particularly if we profess to be believers in Christ.
Love is rightly expressed to the extent that it accurately reflects the gospel (i.e. the love between Christ and His bride, the church).
1.) Our marriages reflect the gospel. Ephesians 5:22-33 teaches us that the man represents Christ and is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loves His church. He is to give himself up for her. The wife, representing Christ’s bride, is to submit to and respect her husband “as to the Lord.” For either party to behave otherwise is to pervert the image of the gospel that our marriages depict which is why the prohibition against divorce is so strongly stated in the Bible (Matthew 5:32).
2.) Our communities of faith reflect the gospel. I John 3:14-16 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death…This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers”(HCSB). To the extent that we fail to love one another in the body, regardless of offense, race, ethnicity, sex, economic status, etc., we pervert the gospel. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, HCSB).
Notice that I did not say “should” reflect the gospel. Make no mistake, your relationships with others reflect on the gospel. The question is whether or not those relationships reflect badly upon the gospel.
So, what does gospel love look like? Well, we have already seen that within marriage, love is expressed through self-sacrifice and submission, neither of which are emotions. The same can be said of the church. Men lead through self-sacrificial service to the Lord and to the body which willingly submits. Again, while emotions certainly make it easier to fulfill the call to love in these ways, obedience to the commands of Christ and faithfulness to the gospel are vastly more important.
I Corinthians 13:4-8 illustrates beautifully what the act of Christian love entails in the home and in the church. There we find that love is patient and kind. It isn’t envious or boastful or conceited. It doesn’t act improperly. It isn’t selfish. It isn’t provoked, and it keeps no record of wrongs. “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (HCSB, emphases mine).
Christians are called to love. In fact, for the true believer this type of love isn’t optional, it’s evident. You love imperfectly, to be sure, but you love. And when someone fails to love you in the manner in which he or she should, you love all the more. Their failure is not a license for you to discard your own obligations. Pray. Remain steadfast. And love. Exercise patience. Show kindness. Humble yourself. Put others first. Forgive.
“Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will” (II Timothy 2:25-26, HCSB).
Brothers and sisters, do not allow emotions to cloud your judgment and lead you to make unwise decisions when it comes to love. Love is about obedience to Christ who models perfect love for us. Let us endeavor to honor him and display the gospel in the way in which we love.