Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1: 17
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4: 19
Yesterday was Valentine's Day - the day of love. I personally enjoy Valentine's Day. I see nothing wrong with setting aside a special day when we all stop to reflect on love. One problem I do have, however, is how confused our culture is about love, especially romantic love. We are a people yearning for love, but looking for it in all the wrong places. We can see the symptoms of our struggles in the brokenness of families and frustrations of singles all around us.
What can we do about all the heartache and brokenness? Should we stop looking for love and become hermits?
Quite the opposite, I think. Scripture tells us that not only did God create love, he is love (1 John 4: 8). And he created us to know, receive, and give love. Instead of throwing love out the window as some unattainable goal, we need to refocus on God and learn from him.
Last summer, I took a fascinating college-level course where we dove into the rich teachings of the late pope John Paul II known as "Theology of the Body." Few others have articulated the scriptural truths about love, marriage, and sexuality in a way that resonates so much with the struggles of the modern world. In our studies, we looked closely at the way God loves and identified five characteristics that are present in godly love. These characteristics can be applied in many ways, but especially help clarify the often confusing journey that accompanies romantic love. Whenever one of these five "f's" becomes diminished, love starts to break down:
1. Faithful: Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies (Psalm 36: 5). How many of us get angry when we see a celebrity or politician cheating on his or her spouse? Most of us instinctively know that without faithfulness, a relationship cannot experience the trust and security needed for true love to thrive.
Some claim faithfulness is unrealistic - that men in particular are hardwired to cheat. But those who embrace this philosophy only cheat themselves. God has remained faithful to his people throughout the millennia when he had every reason to abandon us. We too are called to remain faithful to God and our loved ones for the brief time period we will walk this earth.
2. Free: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3: 17). There may have been times when you've wished you could "make" a crush fall in love with you, but deep down, we all know true love cannot be coerced. This is why you and I were created with free will. God does not want to control us - he wants us to freely choose him, and he wants us to freely choose one another. Christian marriage must always be founded in freedom to be a valid union. This is why the pastor asks each spouse on the day of the wedding, "Have you come freely without reservation?"
Sadly, some do try to control their loved ones through manipulative or abusive behavior. The ensuing misery is evidence enough that true love is meant to be an act of free will.
3. Full: "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one." (John 17: 11). "
"'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'..." (Matthew 19: 5) Our culture often portrays love like this: we take what we enjoy from a person, avoid what we don't, and give a little here and there until the relationship no longer suits us. This is a failure to love fully.
God's love holds nothing back; no secrets or barriers exist. His love does not say, "I'll take what I enjoy and leave the rest." The Trinity is a perfect union between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And Jesus gave his entire life for you and me, withholding nothing. It is only in loving fully that true intimacy can thrive. When a man and a woman marry, they are called to give everything - their entire selves, in service to each other and God.
4. Fruitful: "The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Genesis 2: 7).
"God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number" (Genesis 1: 26).
"I have come that they may have life" (John 10: 10). A key quality of godly love is its life-giving nature. Love is not meant to end where it started. God gave us life even though he didn't need us, and even when humanity stubbornly chose sin, decay, and death, God rescued us and gave us yet another chance at life through Christ. Married couples in particular have the privilege of bringing new life into the world through their love. This is a special calling - one that is all too often seen as a burden instead of a blessing in modern culture.
Of course, those who are unmarried or unable to conceive do not live fruitless lives when rooted in Christ. Wherever God's love is, life flourishes and death flees.
5. Forever: "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever" (1 Chronicles 16: 34). If you've ever been through a divorce, you know the unique pain that comes with a person failing to fulfill their promise of "forever love." Too often, our culture portrays love as something that can come and go. Couples live together and split up. Teens fall in and out of "love." But, true love is grounded in eternity and perseveres through temporary trials.
God does not say, "I will love you for a little while." One day, we will all face eternity and an eternal God - this is our goal. The love we've expressed in our lives, or failed to express, will be waiting for us in eternity.
Notice that of these five "f's" of love one is absent: feelings. While love may bring many feelings, scripture does not place much importance on feeling any particular emotion. True love is much bigger than the up's and down's of our feelings.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Think of your relationships. Are one of these five characteristics of love missing? Ask God for the grace to love as he loves.
Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
1 Corinthians 13