Our parents are our parents. They're supposed to love us and think the best of us. Likewise, God is our Father. He's obligated to love us because of who He is. Where then can we measure our worth and desirability?
It seems common sense to turn to the world for answers . . . right?
After all, no one else is obligated to love us. If other people like us and want to hang out with us, it must be because of who we are. Not because of who they are or anything they are obligated to do. Yet, the more we pursue love in the world, the more discontent we become. We can't seem to find joy in the affection that was supposed to bring us happiness. We can't figure out what went wrong.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to be loved. Love was planned into God's design from the beginning. Love motivated our creation, and because God created us to love, He didn't make man alone. He made Eve as a companion for Adam. Jesus tells his disciples to love each other and to love others as He loved them.
When we're seeking love, we need ask ourselves:
When I deliberately seek the love of others (be it romantic love or companionate love), how do I measure that love?
The way we determine whether someone "loves" us will point towards our reasons for seeking the love that we do—and subsequently the state of our heart.
In this post, we will examine what is love and ask ourselves what we truly seek when we look to the world for fulfillment. Then we'll answer the question of "Can I follow Christ when I seek love of the world?"
First, let's establish the world's definition of "love." We'll do this by turning to the secular dictionary.
What is Love According to the Dictionary?
According to Merriam-Webster, love is in the top 1% most looked up words on its site. When visitors arrive at the online dictionary's page on love, they will find nine definitions of love framed by pink hearts streaming down the screen.
Understandably, love is a universal desire. We want to know that we are loved, and by extension, we yearn to know what is love so that we can recognize it when it comes our way. Unfortunately, given all the entries on love, the world's experts seem to be hard pressed to find a universal definition of love—and that's only what they have on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary's online site! If we look elsewhere, we'll find many more theories on love.
Below is Merriam-Webster's first entry on love:
1 a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
(2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b : an assurance of affection
By this entry alone, it would seem that love is dependent on certain qualities such as "personal ties," "sexual desires," and "admiration, benevolence, or common interests." And yet the second part of the entry would assure us that love is a sign of affection.
Affection for what? The qualities that draw a person to me? In that case, I can expect that person to fall out of love with me when these qualities change—when there's no longer any personal ties, sexual desire, admiration, benevolence, or common interest between us.
It would seem that individuals desire more out of love than attraction by certain qualities, for the fourth definition defines love as:
4 a : unselfish loyal and benevolent (see benevolent 1a) concern for the good of another: such as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others
We want love to be unselfish, loyal, and benevolent. We want others to be concerned about our own good, not just what we have to offer them. We want others to be concerned with us personally, not only romantically by also in a brotherly way.
This leads us to our next question: What is love according to the Bible?
Love is an Action
The media teaches us that love is selective.
Love happens to the pretty girls. To the lucky ones. To the funny ones. To those with kind hearts (even if they don't know it themselves). They may be in terrible circumstances, but everything becomes okay when they find true love. These same girls seem destined to make friends with everyone who matters. If you're lucky, you get plenty of good fortune in love. Otherwise, you have to deal with the lot you've been given in life.
Biblical love is inclusive.
It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, young or old, a saint or sinner, an insider or outsider . . . whoever you are and wherever you come from, God loves you, and He wants you to love Him. He calls believers to the same love. Jesus instructed his disciples to love each other as He loved them (John 15:12), and He even says to love our enemies—a principle that the world rejects (Matt. 5:43-44).
Biblical love calls for the impossible. That is, if we abide by the world's definition of love, which tells us that only certain people are loveworthy. If we abide in Jesus's love, then we understand that He asks us to do no less than He has done for us: to love the unlovable. This form of love calls us to deny the self—which seeks to love only those it benefits us to love (see the first definition of love in the dictionary definition above)—and to love others in all their goodness and wickedness, through the good days and the bad days.
True love is gracious and kind even when we don't feel motivated to be loving. True love is a daily choice to act in love; it is not an emotion. True love sets God as the standard.
Love Casts Out Fear
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:18-19)
If you've ever desired love of the world, take a minute to think about why it's so attractive. Is it really worth that much more than God's love, or are you afraid that you yourself aren't worthy of God's love?
Accepting God's love can be terrifying. It means accepting that we are sinners. That we are not worthy of the grace and mercy that He's showered upon us. That, even then, He loves us with such unfathomable depths. The truth is: we want to know that we are deserving of such love, but God's Word tells us otherwise (Rom. 3:23).
God's Word tells us that we are rebellious children afloat on a sinking ship in the midst of a storm. Hard-headed, we went out there despite our Father's warnings. This may not even be the first time we've done this, but He still loves us so much that He'll come out to meet us and save us as many times as it'll take to bring us home (see Matt. 18:12-14, Luke 15:8-10).
When we truly accept God's love and abide in His love, we'll understand how His perfect love holds the power to cast out every fear. The world's love is temporal and subject to change. In comparison, God's love is eternal. We do not need to fear because we can rely on God to love us and know us as no human possibly can.
Love Gives Us a Home
Biblical love gives us a place to be ourselves.
At first glance, it may seem liberating to seek love in the world, where there are so many different ideologies from which we can choose. It makes sense. If we don't agree with something, we can move on to the next ideology and so forth until we find a place that makes us feel comfortable. This is especially true in places like America, which celebrates various kinds of freedoms.
If we only seek others who make us feel good about others, however, we'll always be relying on our own judgment, which is flawed and subject to change. Without an unchanging standard to guide us, we'll never have the lasting security of an absolute standard of goodness upon which we can rely. Instead, we'll always be running away from those who push us out of our comfort zone. Such confrontations can be a good for us, however; they open us to new worldviews and, through the testing of our faith, allow us to further mature in our faith.
True freedom comes from the ability to find contentment in any situation from those that make us feel comfortable to those that cause great anxiety (Phil. 4:11-13). We do not need to save our affections for those who agree with us, but we can love those who test us and, through this testing, provide the opportunity to become stronger. We can be honest with ourselves and act with integrity because we do not feel pressured to act a certain way around others. Because our identity is in Christ, we can be true to the person we were created to be.
The love that the world provides is a superficial "love." Below the surface, each ideology has its unique ways of binding us and stripping us of the freedom to fulfill our God-given potential. Love of the world calls us to live by the world's standards and to act in a manner that will buy the world's adoration. We may be called to dress a certain way, participate in certain activities, and agree with certain ideologies among other things. Little by little our "freedoms" in the world become chains that bind us.
Yes, God also has an impossible standard. Sin has separated us from God and led us to this broken world. However, our wages for sin have already been paid for. Whereas the world calls us to DO for love, God tells us that the it's already DONE and complete. His love is a free gift.
Only God has such great love that He calls us to come as we are (Rom. 5:6-8). That He already has a home prepared for us through Jesus Christ (John 14:2-3). And that, by His love, we have freedom and eternal life. We do not need to conform to the standards of the world because we have a Father who loves us.
Love Calls Us to Trust
Jesus told his disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me" (John 14:1).
Though he was comforting his disciples in their anxiety over his impending departure, Jesus's words are very applicable to our lives today. In telling his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, Jesus implies that worry is a choice. His disciples could choose to worry, or they could choose to trust in Jesus.
Likewise, we can choose to trust in God; we can choose to accept that His love redeems us and makes us whole and loveworthy. Or we can reject His love and promises as being for us and instead seek love elsewhere.
The truth is that we can't have it both ways. We can't have love of God and love of the world. The world hates Christ followers and persecutes us because of our different beliefs (John 15:18-20). Jesus calls us to abide in his love, which entails keeping his commandments (14:10), and love motivates obedience. If we truly seek to follow Christ, we must radically transform our lives. We must put off our old life in the world and put on the new life in Him (Eph. 4:22-24).
If you are a Christ follower or want to become one, pray forgiveness for any transgressions you may have made, for a renewal of your heart, and for acceptance of His love and salvation as being for you. Ask for God to uphold you with a willing spirit that you may rejoice in His salvation. Pray for your faith to grow stronger that your trust may grow deeper. Pray for wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit that you may be discerning of His ways and His will.
Don't let it end there. Spend time daily in God's Word and in prayer. In order to be discerning of God's will, we must dedicate time to building our relationship with Him. There is nothing to obey or to trust if we do not know God's Word.
Love Never Fails
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
God's perfect love sets the example. We are to be patient, kind, persevering, trusting, optimistic, sacrificial; love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, or resentful. Does this sound impossible? That's because we're human. God's love—true love—will never let us down.
Yes, God loves us because He is God. We can also say that His love is the only love that will never fail us precisely because He is God.
He consistently reminds us of His great love for us throughout the Bible. It is written in the Old Testament through His providence for His people. It is written in the New Testament through Jesus's life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In the letters of the apostles through their reminder to stand fast in trials, not to worry (see above), to believe in God's promises, and to find joy and contentment when Satan would tempt us into anxiety.
To doubt God's love for us is to deny His promises. It is to tell him that he is not enough.
The truth is that God's love is the one true love. No other love can compare to His love for us.
Instead of worrying that God only loves us because He is God, we should celebrate His love and set it as the standard for all other loves. When we truly embrace His love as being for us, we will be free to love ourselves, accept others' love—trust that others love us for who we are—and to love others as He loves us. There is no greater joy than to spread the light and joy of being loved without measure. Of being loved without worrying that the other party loves us simply because of a worldly quality that may not be in season next year.
God's love is eternal, and true love of any form points back to God's great love. Only God can fulfill our longing to be perfectly loved for who we are.