What Is Love, and How Do I Find It?

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We look far too many places and to far too many things to find love, figure out what exactly it looks like and experience what it feels like. We do this time and again because, frankly, where it actually can be found seems boring, out of date and not all that sexy. Reading a good novel or cuddling up watching the newest romantic film seems a lot more enjoyable than opening the Bible.

What’s interesting though is that the Bible, unlike much of everything else we experience, isn’t cryptic when it comes to uncovering the coveted understanding of love’s true form. Scripture says, “You want to know what love is? You want to know how to feel love and express love? Look at the cross. Period.” [John 10:11, 15:13; 1 John 3:16, 4:10, 19]

But it seems that’s not good enough for us.

We wonder if God’s seen How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Titanic or 13 Going On 30. Does God know about Jim and Pam? Does he know about the 10-year journey of Ross and Rachel? What about how we felt last night sitting across from our dream date at the super trendy coffee shop? Our problem, in a sense, is that we’re using a road map of Texas to navigate through the Atlantic Ocean. We let television and pop culture have louder voices in our quest to find and understand what love really is. Sadly, all that’s doing is keeping us lost among the waves. We’re using aspects of culture to help us that were never meant to be navigation tools. The truth is, God knows pop culture better than any of us. And yet he says his Word remains constant and gives us what nothing else can: a clear, concise, cosmic picture of true love.

God says quit looking at the television and look to the cross. Stop listening to the radio and listen to the cries of my Son from Calvary. Jesus’ death in our place was an action that included three very clear distinctions to help us construct a true concept of love.

Love Blesses, It Does Not Take

If looking to the cross tells us what love is, we first have to understand the cross before coming to a better understanding of love. The cross of Christ achieved victory over sin and gave everyone in Christ something they didn’t have before: freedom and cleansing from the bondage and stain of sin. God saw us in our state and came to free us. And the thing about it is that Jesus was completely free himself. He was not lacking. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Christ gave up his royal status. He traded everything he had to take on everything we were. Athanasius, the great church father, explained it well when he said that Christ became what we were so that we could become what He is.

This is the divine exchange. This is the cosmic trade. The Epistle of Diognetus describes this beautifully:

In His mercy He took upon Himself our sins. He Himself gave up His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

For what else but His righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone?

O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of One should justify many sinners!

In the cross, we see that Christ-empowered love means that we sacrificially give to others out of what we have in order to meet their need. It is what Christ did for us. It is what we must to do others. This means we open our eyes and examine our relationships. Where is there need? Who is lacking in areas where we are experiencing abundance? Christ served us in our great need because he was greatly aware of our need. This is why love is costly. Love is blessing others, not taking from them.

Love doesn’t always feel good. It’s not always well received.

Love Has No Expectation of Reciprocation

Loving others is easy when it comes back our way. This is the biggest lie that modern romance delivers to us: love is when two perfect people experience perfect feelings at the perfect time that leads to the perfect story and later to the perfect movie. This can’t be more contrary to Scripture. Love doesn’t always feel good. It’s not always well received. And it certainly isn’t always sent back when it’s given. The very act of the cross was Jesus dying, God sacrificing himself, for those that didn’t love him, care for him or believe him. Instead, Christ hung on a Roman execution stake while people mocked him, spit at him, beat him and doubted him. In his final breath the Son of God cried out for the forgiveness of those that didn’t love him. Acts of love aren’t done expecting reciprocation. Acts of love are done out of genuine care for others, detached from any expectation that it will be repaid. To go further, the cross was an act of genuine love because there was certainty it could never be paid back. In Luke 6:32 we see that it’s nothing special to love those that love you. That’s easy. That doesn’t take much effort.

But we easily get caught up in that, don’t we? It feels good to be loved. And when others love us, it makes it easy for us to love them back. But when others don’t, we don’t want any part of that and want them out of our lives.

We distance ourselves. We write them off.

But on Calvary, Christ calls us to a higher way. He says, through his death, that he came to love and care for those that wouldn’t understand him, believe him or love him in return. For us, that’s what we find true love to be. God calls us to love those that won’t always understand what we’re doing or even care for what we’re doing. People are going to be rude. People are going to be insensitive. People are going to discount us. People are going to slander us. But Christ, with his arms stretched out, says keep loving. Keep pursuing. Keep fighting even when they don’t respond in kind. When we do this, we carry the unwavering affection that poured down from the cross. And in that, we express true love.

Love Welcomes Enemies As Family

Loving those that don’t love us in return is hard enough as it is. But loving those that express genuine dislike and hatred towards us is another realm entirely. We know those glances from across the room. We know the comments on Facebook and Twitter. In a culture so intensely divided on such sensitive issues, we understand this well. The disdain at times is palpable. Yet when we lift our gaze, we see in the ultimate act of redemption Christ gave himself up not just for those that didn’t reciprocate, but those that were his enemies. Christ came to defeat sin and provide rescue for sinners, not friends. Everyone alive now, everyone who has lived and everyone who will ever live needs the cleansing and rescue that Jesus accomplished. Paul tells us this clearly in Romans 5. Christ didn’t die for family. He died for rebels. He died for the ungodly.

That’s you. That’s me.

Think about people in your own life. If you’re honest, the people you’d take a bullet for or lay down your life for would most likely be in your family, or at least those you consider your family. It’s because family is special. Those bonds we have with the people we consider family run deep. It’s a noble act to do that. It’s sacrificial. It’s selfless.

But Jesus, the Son of God, stepped down when we were headed for destruction and death, and took what we had coming our way on himself. And we were his enemies. We were in active rebellion against him. Yet he treated us as his family, so that in return, the amazing exchange, we could actually become his family. Jesus did more than talk about saving sinners and giving them hope. He actually took action and did it through his death and resurrection.

Let the work of Jesus, not the work of the world, give you clarity and assurance for what love really is. Let Christ’s saving act, filled with sheer grace and abundant mercy, empower us to love our spouses, friends, neighbors, children, co-workers and, yes, even those on the other side of the political fence, the same way he came down and loved us all. Let the work of the cross be a tangible display, a sweet fragrance, to those around us in how we love.

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Jonathan C. Edwards

Jonathan C. Edwards (M.Div, Th.M) is the Director of Curriculum for Docent Research Group. His writing has been featured at The Gospel Coalition, Relevant, Desiring God, and the ERLC. He is the author of Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves, [Rainer Publishing, Nashville, TN: 2016] available now. He and his wife Katherine live in Durham, North Carolina where he is pursuing his DMin at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more of his writing, visit www.NotThePuritan.com.

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