Love is complicated, they say. I agree, but maybe not for the reasons most people who use this phrase would expect.
One reason love seems complicated is because we overuse the word. Love — or the red heart that commonly represents it — is used to promote tourist attractions, products, brands, breeds of pets, and much more. Social media encourages us to love what others share. And numerous emojis include hearts to relay a variety of love messages via texting. But do we really love all these things? Are you as committed to your favorite vacation destination as you are to your family? Is the love you express to your pet the same love you express to a brand of vehicle? Does loving someone’s picture on social media mean the same thing as loving the person who posted it? Are any of these the same love we have for God or He has for us?
God is the originator of love, the prime example of love, and has a lot to say about it. The Bible provides many historical accounts, poetic expressions, letters, and prophecies describing His love. He put His love for us into action by sending His Son to take the punishment we deserve for sinning against Him. So it is no surprise that He speaks authoritatively in His instruction for how we, His children, should and should not love. Here is a warning He gives us:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (I John 2:15-17, NLT)
Do not love the world. The Greek word translated love is agapao. It means to long for or esteem. It is a love of choice, selection, and reason that leads to taking pleasure in the thing or person you love. So God is telling us that far more life does not long for this world. It does not prioritize the values of this world above the values of God. It does not choose to take pleasure in pursuits or activities that are contrary to what God has instructed. The same word is used in other passages to tells us who and how to love:
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. (Luke 6:35, NIV)
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34, NIV)
Do not love what the world offers you: craving for physical pleasure. There are many things in this world that we can love for the physical pleasure they produce. Food. Nicotine. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Experiences and activities that raise our endorphins. We forfeit far more life when we place more value in obtaining these pleasures than in living for God. We miss out on true love when we choose them over righteousness. Instead of craving physical pleasure from the world, God gives these instructions:
Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2, NIV)
…Live then as children of the light. The light produces in men…everything that is wholesome and good and true. Let your lives be living proofs of the things which please God. (Ephesians 5:8-10, PHILLIPS)
Do not love what the world offers: craving for everything we see. Living in the information era, we see more of the world than any previous generation. This can cause us to develop a sinful longing for the best lifestyles, experiences, power, and influence the world has to offer. But Paul’s prayer for the saints in Ephesus describes the cravings of far more life:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19, NIV)
Do not love what the world offers: pride in our achievements. Most people I have talked to about heaven believe they will spend eternity there because of the good things they have done. They value achievements and believe theirs have earned God’s favor. But God offers far more life to those who achieve one thing:
The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (John 6:29, NIV)
Do not love what the world offers: pride in our possessions. We miss far more life when we love our possessions more than we love God and people. When our life goal is acquiring that car, house, “toy”, or material item, then that possession is what we love and value most. Far more life takes pride in heavenly treasures instead:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)
Love does not have to be complicated. When we long for God, when we choose to put Him first, when we adopt His values, we can share His love and enjoy far more life.
How do you overuse or minimize the word love?
In what ways are you tempted to love — value, long for, or choose — the world over God?
How do you love craving pleasure or what you see more than God?
How do you love taking pride in your achievements or possessions more than God?
Ask God to help you love Him most and experience the blessing of far more life.
Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso