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What is Love? As much as we hear the word used – you would think everyone would have a clear definition. But too many lovers cannot even tell you what love is!
“I will love you forever.” This may be the most broken promise in the history of man. This is usually said when we are in the midst of being “in love,” that intoxicating feeling of affection and interest for another person. And, quite frankly, we mean what we say – at the time. But over time, that feeling will wear off (We’ll look at the cause of the “feeling” of love in Unit 4) and then we are left wondering; “What happened to the love?”
If You Cannot Describe Love You Cannot Love
The question of today’s lesson is:What is love? Can you define love? If you were to decide to marry your sweetheart, and the minister performing the ceremony asked you to promise to love the other person until death, do you really have a full understanding of what you are promising to do?
In America, I doubt it. If you look in an American English dictionary, you will find up to ten sub-definitions for the word, ranging from “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person” to a “strong predilection, enthusiasm, or liking for anything.” Also included is “sexual intercourse; copulation,” and “A score of zero; nothing (tennis).”
So if you took that oath to love, which of these disparate definitions would you be expected to keep? Confused?
What is Love? Asking May Only Increase Confusion…
Some folks have described love as:
– “You can’t describe the feeling to anyone, because the rush that you get around him/her is more than anyone could explain.” (This is a great feeling, but do you really think this rush will last for 30 years or more?)
– “Your words are my food, your breath is my wine. You are everything to me.” (This person isn’t married, and hasn’t experienced the wine of morning breath! Also, don’t go for someone for whom you are everything. The old term for that in the Bible is idolatry. No human is worthy of being everything to anybody!)
– This is from someone famous: “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” From Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Doctor Suess. (Could you love a cat, a cat in a hat, if you had on a mat, a love like that? The obvious problem comes on the day, month, or year when you want to sleep because your worse nightmare is better than what your relationship is like right now. Ask any successful long-term couple, and they will tell you; there are challenging times in any relationship – relying on some dreamy temporary feeling will not get you through the tough times.)
Good News – You Can Know What Love Is
The good news is; you can know what love is. And you can know how to do love. Yes, love is something you choose to do, not feel.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy and cherish those times when I am feeling the rush of affection for my wife – I am a romantic person at heart. But I owe it to you to share that those times come and go during the challenges of life. Enjoy it when you have those great feelings; they are wonderful! But when those feelings are absent, true love not only goes on, but can flourish.
We learned in Unit 1 that we are, and life is, primarily a spiritual venture. We are more than just animals evolved from the slime. And so, to learn how to love, we must go to the author of love.
In the Bible, one of the writers was a fisherman who became very close friends with Jesus while he was on earth. His name is John, and he is often referred to as the apostle of love. He gives us the key to understanding what love is, and how it looks when it is done right:
“By this we know love, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers…Little children, let us not love in words or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16, 18 English Standard Version)
So John invites us to look at what Jesus did for us to understand what love is. He also instructs us that our love is not to be mere words, but deeds. The word love John uses in the Greek language is agape, and it is the same form of love which husbands are instructed to have for their wives. But when we look at what Jesus did on the cross, we see the following as he prepared to go to the cross on our behalf:
“Jesus went with them to a place…he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death’…he fell on his face and prayed..”if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36-39, ESV)
Notice that as Jesus prepare to do the ultimate act of love (dying so that we could have eternal life), he was not filled with a bunch of giddy indescribable feelings. No, he was dreading what he had to do. He wasn’t going to do what needed to be done because we were deserving, in fact, he even died for those who killed him! And we could never reciprocate what he did for us in love; how could we ever fully repay what he paid?
So from this, we develop a definition of love:
Love is doing what is best for another person, regardless of how you feel, and regardless of how the other person responds.
Unit 1 Assignment: Learn to Love Before or While Dating
1. See yourself and the other person as what they truly are – precious in the sight of their Maker! Everyone needs to be treated with honesty, respect, and tender loving care. That includes you, and the person you are dating. Do nothing to hurt the other person, and if you are being pressured to do something that can hurt you, it is time to leave.
2. Be honest about you intentions in this relationship; are you dating because you are interested in the possibility of a life-long relationship in the future? Or is this just for your fun? If it just fun you want, maybe it would be better to do activities with a group of people, rather than develop a strong attachment to someone (and have them think the relationship is something more significant than just your fun) only to break it off when you decide to get serious. Remember, your date is a child of God; treat him/her as such! Or, if you are just wanting to stave off some lonely feelings by hanging out with somebody, just be honest about that.
3. When you decide to get serious, talk about boundaries. You need to do Unit 4 on What Happens During Sex in order to have this talk. Sex is a very powerful and wonderful relational force; but it can be incredibly destructive when engaged in at the wrong time in a relationship. But you do need to decide, either as a couple or as an individual (if you are not yet dating) what the limits will be. We’ll talk more about this in a later Unit, when we discuss suggested men’s and women’s roles in Smart Dating.
4. Realize that truly doing what is best for another person may mean ending a relationship if you perceive that something about you or what you plan to do in life would not be in the best interest of your beloved. For instance, if you desire to travel the world and your love interest enjoys being at home and wants to live forever near parents and siblings; the future would be bleak for both of you. It would hurt some now to end the relationship, but that immediate pain would be better than years of suffering for both of you in the future.
5. Be accountable. Guys, it is best if the girls parents are involved in your dating, especially the father if he is still in her life. Whichever parent or guardian is active, let them know where you will be on your dates. Give them your phone number and the permission to recall you at any time. Promise them (and keep the promise) that you will return the young lady back to them in as good or better condition than what you found her. Do not allow yourself to get alone for extended periods of time without others around (more on the why of this promise in Unit 4). If no parents are around, find a mature adult you trust to be your accountability partner.
6. Learn to love where you are today. If you are still at home, count your blessings. Home is the God-given workshop where you can put your love to the test. Read the next unit on How People Receive Love and then get busy loving your family. This involves talking, listening, serving, giving gifts, washing dishes, doing laundry, and other very practical ways in which we show people that we value them and seek the best for them. If you are no longer at home, try showing to your roommates, co-workers, or others in your life that you care for them. It is a very valuable discipline to develop, because as was mentioned earlier, you will not always feel loving toward the one you love. Start developing the habit now of showing love to those around you while expecting nothing in return.
Choose to Love – Starting Now
The way to great relationships, you will notice, is not something we invent. It is instead found in a wisdom that has existed from long ago. It isn’t true because it works. It works because it is true.
Isn’t it a relief to know that your future relational happiness is not hanging on the existence of fleeting human feelings? Learn to love – choose to love – starting now.