Love is a very powerful word.
It expresses feeling. It expresses our desires. It expresses what we enjoy, what we favor, and, even, what we need. It’s a common word for us all, and we use it quite frequently in our everyday lives.
For instance, I love the Lord our God.
I love my wife. I love my family and my friends. I love the church. I love potlucks. I love to play golf. I love to grill. I love to travel. I love to go to the mountains. I love the beach. I love bad comedies. I love the James Bond series. I love sports. I love my college. I love to read non-fiction. I love to write. I love to help others. I love to be there for people when they need someone to talk to. I love to connect with people.
I love my life.
I’m sure that you could resonate with a few, or even have your own long list of things that you love. We use the word a lot. It’s part of our common vocabulary. Perhaps it’s so much a part of our common vocabulary, that the word loses its meaning. Do we say that we love something or someone so much that we have no idea what it truly means to love? Do we fail to understand what God’s call to “love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself” truly means?
Look around and you will see a culture and society that has lost what it means to offer genuine and heart-felt love to one another. Our movies and television shows proclaim a message that love is a physical encounter that is for a moment in time with no need for commitment. Our culture tells us that love is mostly about our needs, our desires, and our wants, and when those things are not met we are free to move on. To the world love is a feeling, a personal feeling at that, but something that can change over the course of time. While this message of love is about finding true happiness, what it really does is create a disastrous situation when it comes to our families, our young adults, and our children. Love is not seen as a commitment, but something for the moment that can be broken off at any time. Love is about our physical needs, instead of a relationship that is about mutuality, respect, and affection.
The world’s idea about love is a dark place, and it often leaves people hurting and constantly seeking fulfillment, and misses what it truly means to be love and to be loved. When we see love simply as an expression of our feelings, we’ve missed out on the greater expression of true love – a love that is genuine.
When we think of genuine love, we’re not simply thinking of our feelings, but a way of life, a way of being, that impacts all aspects of our life, and flows from our relationship with the Risen Lord. Genuine love is a committed love that stands the test of time, and seeks to live in peace with our fellow brothers and sisters. It is a love that is counter-cultural and proclaims a message of hope, restoration, and life in a world that has lost what it means to truly love. It calls us to be compassionate to the needs of those around us.
To love genuinely, we must be grounded in what it means to love, which helps us to understand how we are called to love others. That means we cannot lose sight of our First Love.
Immediately when we think of the idea of “first love,” we want to think of that girl or boy in high school that we first started to have feelings for – perhaps it is our spouse today. We start to get nostalgic and remember the first dates, first dance, and so forth. It usually brings a smile to our face when we think of our first love.
But, that is not the First Love I am thinking of today. In order for us to have a genuine love, we cannot lose sight that the first object of our love must be God. Genuine love flows out of our relationship with God, because of what God has done for us by sending his Son to die for our sin, and continues to do for us through the grace of his love. We are called to have a deep respect and reverence for all that God has done, and place God first in our affections and our hearts.
Jesus reminds us of the command to love God with “all our heart, soul, mind and strength.” This means that every ounce of our being must be directed in love to God. Everything we do, everything we are, and everything we desire to be is directed back to God in loving respect, admiration, and awe. In our love, we recognize that we would not be who we are without the love of God working in us and through us, and we bow at the foot of the cross and simply say, “Thank You.”
Genuine love calls us to put no other god before the Lord our God. We know that there are temptations to place other gods before God. They are those things that often get our primary attention and devotion. It could be success, finances, our career, families, our hobbies, our views of the world, and so forth. If we truly desire to love God genuinely, God must be at the center of our hearts, and primary in our attention and devotion.
God is our true love, our true first love, and we cannot lose sight of that. When we do, everything else falls apart. We are out of balance, and our lives become more confusing. We are no longer loving, but merely struggling to be the person God desires us to be. God wants us all to be a loving reflection of God’s love for the world.
When we truly love God, life is renewed and we become restored in what God desires for us. Even more, we are able to offer true genuine love to others, because genuine love to others flows out of our love of God.
John writes in 1 John 4:19 that we are called to love each other, because God loved us first. Genuine love of others – both inside our community in the church and in our world – is the natural and proper response to God’s love for us and our loving relationship with God. It is about living in community with one another, and seeing each other as our fellow brothers and sisters. No longer are we strangers, but we see each person as being a reflection of the image of God, who deserves our love and respect.
Genuine love reflects what Paul writes in Romans 12. It hates what is wrong. It is not afraid to stand against the things that goes against what we know to be right. Genuine love proclaims justice, and it proclaims God’s love for the “least of these.” It proclaims what is good, by showing the world a better way, by living a life that is patient, kind, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.
Genuine love rejoices with all of God’s people and seeks to live in peace with one another. Genuine love practices hospitality by seeking to meet the needs of those around us. True love is other referenced and is reflected with a servant’s heart for those around us. It finds those places where it can make a difference and says, “God loves you, and I love you. We are here with you.”
Genuine love seeks to comfort those who are hurting. It mourns with the mourner. It walks into the dark places of our souls and says, “God is there.”
Genuine love is not a hypocritical love that seeks to do one thing, but does the complete opposite. It does not proclaim to love others, and then ridicules them behind their backs. It does not seek to be dishonest. It does not seek after its own gain.
Genuine love seeks first the kingdom of God, and seeks to love all of God’s people with respect, kindness, generosity, and a warm spirit of care and concern.
Genuine love is not the love of the world, but it is the love that comes from the Father, through the Son, and is revealed by the Holy Spirit.
Genuine love is grace, hope, and compassion. Genuine love is our call in response to all God has done.
Can you imagine what it would look like if a genuine love moved beyond these walls and impacted our communities and those around us? Lives would be impacted. Families will be renewed. Hope would be proclaimed. People, I believe, will come to know God and see God’s love in their lives in new ways, or perhaps even for the first time. The world needs to know that God loves them. The world needs to know what it means to truly love genuinely.
And it needs to see us – the church – loving others genuinely, we all our heart, with all our strength, and with all our mind, because God first loved us.