"But it seems to me that sacrifice is only love put into action"
Elizabeth of the Trinity, a 19th Century Nun
One of the hardest things to understand regarding language, is the evolving and changing meanings of individual words. Words in the English language may be used in significantly different ways today, than they were 200 years ago, even though we speak the same language. Add into history, that words may have slight nuances or uses that were particular to a particular subculture of that time. We think of the word "cat", and it may refer to a feline, or if said in the context of a 1960's urban subculture, we would be talking about a man.
Love is one of those words that we use so frequently today, that we often miss the richness of its original meaning. We speak of love as an emotion that is experienced when we have significant affection for something or someone. We say, "I love Pizza", and we are referring to the pleasure we experience when we eat pizza. We can love our hometowns, our sports teams, a particular outfit,or the smell of something, This is our venacular. Our lingo of love has been drastically reduced to pleasure and affection that we experience. I know that we also reserve the word to speak of intimate affections we experience with our significant others and even God. Yet, I would argue that we rarely speak of love as it was written in Biblical terms. Our concepts of love are often warm, affectionate, and self-focused. These concepts, are false loves. Emotions and affections that often substitute for real love, to our detriment.
I believe that we accept false love instead of receiving and giving real love because it is just plain easier. False loves are about me, fulfilling my needs, desires, and dreams. Real love, as expressed by Jesus, and countless others, is radically focused others; seeking their wholeness in deference to our own needs. It involves choices to honor, exalt, support, encourage, suffer with, and identify with others, in ways that often requires sacrifice on our behalf.
Think of the following false loves:
1. Contractual False Love: I care for you to the degree in which I receive what I desire from you. In Contractual false love, I feel good about you as long as you are making me feel good. Unfortunately, many marriages are built upon this premise. Somewhere the commitment towards our spouses for better or worse, richer or poorer, and sickness and health got lost. Marriages are destroyed because the spouse can not meet "my needs" regardless of their legitimate life reasons for this, such as physical or emotional illnesses, unemployment, or fatigue.
2. Mirror False Love: I care for you because you are like me. A study in the 1970's in a New York Psychiatric hospital revealed that physicians spent significantly more time and more depth with patients who were similar to them ethnically, socioeconomically, and of the same gender. One of the ways that we demonstrate care for ourselves is to naturally care for those who are like us. This false love allows us to show affecction to those who agree with us, act like us, and more deviously, oppose the same things we oppose. Too many churches are filled with this kind of false love, where instead of authentic love that extends to neighbor and enemy alike, there is simply an affection for those who reflect me.
3. Erotic False Love: I care for you to the degree inwhich our physical intimacy is satisfying. In popular media, people are defined by their sexuality. To be a man, is to be able to satisfy sexually. Women are often depicted as powerbrokers of sexuality. Sex becomes the end, instead of a means of sharing intimacy. Many studies have shown that infidelity and abuse is significantly higher in relationships where the woman is pregnant due to reduced sexual engagement. Erotic false love is promoted on most TV shows, reality shows, and romance novels as common place and normative. It teaches us to be led by "whats between the thighs instead of whats behind our eyes".
Real love is a sacrificial devotion to the well being of others. It does have degrees, as the love we have for our spouses is different than the love we have for a colleague (or at least it should!). Love, as demonstrated by Jesus, requires a genuine concern for the well being of others, to the point of our own sacrifice. Now, that does not mean that to love another is to simply give them everything that they desire, in fact, we know that many a parent has imparted permanent immaturity and irresponsibility to their children by simply giving them everything that they want, instead of guiding them towards what we really needed.
Consider how you use the word love today. Recognize, that we are bombarded with the tendency to substitute cheap false love, in place of the rich, boundless, life changing love that provokes a response and shapes the soul. Lets take back the word love so that we can put real love in practice.
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." (I John 3:16-18)
I challenge you today to truly love in action and truth. See false love for what it is and ask the God of love to lead you into a life of love.
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor