In the English language, four letter words are those we consider profane or vulgar, and are usually words we use as slang or curse words. While “love” is in no way profane, it does contain four letters and is used so tritely, it often seems degraded. It is a word that has become so commonplace in our communication it has lost its significance. When we use the word, do we actually understand its meaning? We love our house, love our job, love our cat, love our daughter, love our husband, and love our God. How can we possibly use the same word to describe our relationship to both our cat and our God?
Love has become a punchline in a movie and a common melody in a song. It has represented momentary delight, passing affection, and deep devotion. Perhaps the difficulty lies in the limitations of the English language—we have only one word for love whereas the Greek language has four: agape, philia, eros and storge—all of which represent the feeling one has for God (agape) or a person (philia, eros, and storge).
Herein lies the root of the issue; the word “love” was never designed to refer to possessions. Many in western culture have become so materially focused there is no differentiation between our connection to things and our connection with God or others. I remember a line in an old BJ Thomas song from when I was a child; it said “Using things and loving people, that’s the way it ought to be, cuz loving things and using people only leads to misery.” Truer words are rarely spoken. As we take a moment to consider the word “love” and weigh its gravity, consider the finest definition of the word—found in the pages of The New Testament.
I Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter as it breaks down the definition of love in God’s terms. Paul writes, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (I Cor. 13:4-8, NKJV). The entire chapter is so convicting, and even these few verses seem impossible to live. We need not struggle to muster this kind of love, for it is impossible. It cannot be created from within. The key for us is to give ourselves completely to God, to love him with our entirety, to receive His love, and then let it flow through us to others. Only God can teach us to love purely.
Perhaps the following mnemonic will help us remember the essence of the word “LOVE”:
Live for God. He is to be our first love, our number one priority in life. In Revelation 2:2-5 Jesus states: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” I’m often amazed by these verses, because these Believers were full of faith, doing commendable acts of service for those around them, yet Christ was unhappy with their priorities. God is always to be our first love.
Offer yourself as a living sacrifice, holy unto God (Romans 12:1). The word “holy” simply means to be “set apart.” Give yourself willing to His plans as you set yourself apart for His purposes. Eternal perspective changes everything.
Value others more than yourself. We don’t have to be told to live for ourselves—that, my friend, comes naturally. Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves because He knew where our natural allegiance fell. Jesus reduced all the commandments to one: Love God, Love people, knowing in that one simple statement, all commandments would be fulfilled. After all, you can’t very well love your neighbor, covet his house, sleep with his wife, and murder him all at the same time! Love trumps all other action. Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us to “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Escape materialism and live simply. In our western culture, love of money and wealth is an enticing entrapment. In some American cultures, we never seem to have enough; still many don’t realize that an annual U.S. salary of $32,400 puts you in the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world! Of course, the abject poverty in many countries significantly impacts the average, but the point is the same. Even poor Americans have access to more provision than many in the rest of the world. As Believers, we should be givers, not just consumers. I struggle with over-buying and careless spending and enjoy shopping as much as the next person. I often look around my house and think, “Do I really need anything more?” One of my goals for 2017 is to reduce the clutter and simplify my life. I encourage you to find a few good websites and newsletters regarding de-cluttering—the connection to clutter and mental and emotional wellness is quite fascinating.
As the New Year begins, our resolution list can be daunting. We are challenged in each new season to incorporate ways to live healthier, grow spiritually, make better financial decisions, and much more. We have been inundated with ideas on how to live better in 2017. Let’s challenge one another to not only live better, but to LOVE better.
By Lisa Jenkins-Moore