the Truth about Love
by Pastor Nathan Decker
“The Truth about love is it’s nasty and salty
it’s regret in the morning, it’s the smelling of armpits,
It’s wings and songs
and trees and birds
It’s all the poetry that you ever heard.”
Love is a four-letter word that is over-used and under-shown. As followers of Christ we are called to be known by our love. Christ commands us to love God and love our neighbors. Famously, Scripture says “God is love.” Sometimes we get caught up and imagine this means we’re all flower children of the Divine Harmony and if only we’d follow the way of love all our problems would go away and life would be simple. Friends, that kind of thinking is watered down gospel and huck-a-buck!
Love is messy. Love is complicated. Love hurts, heals, and can feel so welcoming and challenging at the same time. Most of us know our language is limited because we really only have one word for love. In the Greek there were a variety of words: Eros for the sensual love between people, Philos for the sturdy love of faithful friends, Storge for the puppy dog affection of a parent for an infant, Mania for the overly committed mad love of a stalker. Agape is the love we are called to live out. Agape is a selfless love, a sacrificial love.
Agape is the most time and giving involved of all love. Erotic love is about a sensation in the moment. Philo love is about a bond that gives us support and allows us to feel needed. Science tells us that the affection (storge) we have for babies – be they kittens who cuddle or lion-cubs who could one day kill us – has more to do with evolution and survival than bond. And honestly speaking, any love that you have to manipulate and control is not really love at all (mania).
Perhaps this is why Jesus doesn’t give us an honest challenge. “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” “When someone demands one mile of you, walk with them two.” We are incapable of doing these things. Jesus calls us to a love that is given to us freely, but costs us our lifestyle and our motivation. When we see a homeless man freezing in the winter, we are called to get involved, but for more than a moment. When we see a child being beaten down by the words of her parent, we are called to get involved, but for more than a moment. When we see a teen walking the streets long after dark, we are called to get involved, but for more than a moment. Remember I said love was messy. Simply giving food and a coat is not enough. Opening our doors at church and providing cots and warmth is not enough. Changing the way we vote so that candidates understand the plight of the poor is not enough. Writing letters to the governor and legislature about education and mental health is not enough. Changing the way we pay ourselves and those who work for us is not enough. All of these are wonderful acts of charity and advocating justice, but they are ‘dirty rags’ when compared with God’s love.
Unfortunately even our best motivation is questionable. We do it out of a sense of duty. We give because of guilt for having more than others. We give because it makes us feel good to provide for those who do not have. We like for others to see us be so nice. We provide because of the long-term relationship we have with ‘the least of these.” Christ said “greater love has no one than to lay down their life for another.” Dying to self is the motivation that Christ desires us to have, dying to all motivation other than simply being like Jesus.
Love is nasty and salty. It’s changing diapers for kids who aren’t yours. Love is regret in the morning. It’s realizing that you did do good but for the wrong reasons. Love is the smelling of armpits. Remember the church-people accused Jesus of hanging out with the wrong crowd – prostitutes and sinners. Love is messy. Love is complicated. Love is beautiful. It’s wings and songs, birds and trees, all the poetry that you ever heard. God’s love is not only sacrificial and selfless agape, but never ends. The Hebrew word for God’s love is hesed or steadfast love. We must be committed in our showing and sharing God-like love. This love is freely given to us in salvation, but it costs us our whole lives learning how to love. Still it is the only life worth living – a life of love. That’s the truth about love.
“We should love one another, because love is from God; everyone who love is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God. God is love.”
– 1 John 4:7-8