What is love? Finding my true love has been my lifelong journey. Growing up as an impressionable kids in the 80s, an era where romance was king, I thought true love was found in romance. It’s Valentine’s Day and I have been married for 10 years and I have 3 kids. And over the years, I have learned that love is much more than romance. When people think of love, esp. on Valentine’s Day, people think of romance. But romance is deceptive. It seems like love for the other, but often, it is love for the other insofar as the other makes me feel a certain way. You know what I mean, the butterflies, the accelerated heartbeat, feeling alive, life was black and white but suddenly a person enters your life and everything is vivid technicolor. The birds are singing and you can hear the hallelujah chorus in the background.
We know that this is the goal of romance and that is why when these romantic emotions die, many relationships end. Romance is like having 2 bankrupt business partners who are doing a joint venture together. The problem is that both are flat broke and each is secretly hoping that the other guy has the money to fund the venture. That’s the best example I can give for romance. Both parties are bankrupt and they are secretly hoping that the other person can fill their lack. No wonder that half of all marriages end in divorce.
This may not be a very romantic thing to say, but romance is largely self-love disguised as something nobler.
I might not be as romantic as I was 10 years ago, but God has taught me a lot about love through marriage and through being a father of 3 boys. My wife Jackie loves me and she loves our family. How do I know this? Because she puts up with me. That is true, but seriously, she puts our needs above her own. Her selflessness is expressed through suffering. She dies to her own needs to put her family first in the concrete decisions of her every day life. And she doesn’t do this grudgingly, but gladly because she loves us.
Likewise, being a father is a constant dying to self and suffering for the sake of your children. Sleepless nights because of crying babies, feeding them, taking care of them when they are sick, driving them all over town for sports practices and art lessons, bedtime book readings, taking them to the park. After being a father, there is almost no time to think about oneself. But that’s the point of being a father. All parents put the needs of their kids above their own, even at great personal cost and suffering.
We all suffer for many reasons — we suffer as a consequence of our sin, we suffer because of the sins of others — but suffering voluntarily is one definition of love that doesn’t often come to mind during Valentines.
A life of love will involve suffering. I think the more you want to love, the more suffering will come your way. Why is that?
Even in a single family, there is suffering. There is physical suffering in the early years raising kids and taking care of them. Then, kids grow up and they start talking back. That’s mental suffering. Then they become teenagers and rebel. That’s emotional suffering. And as you extend beyond your nuclear family, there is more suffering. Fights among relatives and in love we choose to do our part to keep the family together. Then you include your friends in your sphere of your concern and their burdens and problems become your own burdens and problems.
That’s how love works. The more you love, the more you will suffer. Because love knows no boundaries.
This is the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated to us. Jesus didn’t draw boundaries and limit how much he loved the world. In fact, he loved all the way to the cross.
John 10:11 – 11″I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
To lay down your life for someone — is there any greater expression of love? Jesus put the needs of the world ahead of us his own. Our greatest need was forgiveness for our sins and out of his love, he enduring the suffering of the cross.
And Jesus did not die on the cross with a sour face or grudgingly. He suffered to the point of death with joy in his heart because he knew that his suffering would lead to the salvation of many.
Heb 12:2 – 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
He suffered for the joy set before him. I believe he had all of his children in view — all of us believers past, present and future in his heart — and that joy enabled him to endure the suffering of the cross.
And because Jesus loved us in this way, he invites us to follow his example.
1 John 3:16 – “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
John 15:13 – “13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
In love, I ought to respond to God’s love for me by being willing to lay down my life in love for others.
What does it mean to lay down my life for others?
Would I be a loving person if I saved my best love for my kids but I gave you guys leftover love? No, love doesn’t draw boundaries. You cannot be at two places at the same time. Wherever we are, we need to love the person in front of us. It would unfair to you if while I was teaching the bible with you guys, my mind was thinking about my kids, how I wish I could be with them, etc.
The same way I am willing to suffer out of my love for my kids, I should have the same commitment to you. So if you have serious problems, I should be there with you, shouldn’t I? I want to be more than a dispenser of bible trivia. I pray that our lives will weave together more, you’ll know what’s going on in my life, and I’ll know what’s going on in your life, we’ll be able to pray for each other, we can rejoice together, we can cry together and suffer together for Christ to love the world.
Jesus redefines love in the highest form, not as romantic sentiment or feelings of intimacy, but as suffering to the point of death. Death – that means I will love you even if it costs me my life.
Luke 9:23 – 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
Love, or laying down your life, is a daily decision to deny ourselves, our rights, our preferences, our desires, to take up our cross and follow Jesus. I will love and lay down my life even when I don’t feel it, when it’s not convenient for me. And following Jesus, according to Luke, will feel like losing. Because losing one’s life is in essence what it means to love. I will lose my life by putting your life ahead of my own. Because I can preserve my life and even gain the whole world but it comes at great cost — in the long run, eternally, I will end up forfeiting my very self, or in other translations, I lose my soul.
This is the great paradox of Christian life. You love others by laying down your life and putting their needs over your own, you deny yourself, dying to yourself moment by moment. And in this kind of life where you are constantly on the losing end, Jesus says, you will gain your life. Because you are living the way you were meant to live. And Jesus fills your life and multiplies it beyond human ability. We become mini-Jesuses who can love the world as he loved.
Love is suffering and laying down of our lives may still sound a bit abstract. How can I apply this in my life?
I have one final passage for you.
Matt 22:36 – 36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love neighbor AS YOURSELF. We all know how to love ourselves. We are experts at loving ourselves. We draw no boundaries. When we are hungry, we eat. When we are tired, we sleep. We know how to pamper ourselves. We know how to care for ourselves. When we love ourselves, we love our entire selves. We don’t love ourselves only on weekends, but every day, 24×7.
And for parents, when we love our kids, we love them entirely. Love is a package deal. We don’t love just when we feel like it, when we had enough sleep and are in a good mood. We don’t love only when our kids are behaving. But we love them every day, 24×7.
Now love your neighbor in that exact same way. No boundaries, but loving the entirety of that person. No drawing of boundaries. Loving them with all their baggage and hurts. Loving people even when they reject you or they fail to appreciate your efforts. Loving them for as long as they are in front of you, which could be for the next 50 years.
We embrace everything about the person whom we love, even if that means great personal suffering, and self-denial, and feeling like you are losing your very life. And we do this because Jesus loved us in this way, to the point of death.
To love in this way is humanly impossible. But Jesus says, you can love others because I first loved you. Only when we are filled with the love of Jesus can we love others in this kind of way.