I can’t write this post without this song getting stuck in my head. You’re welcome. Admittedly, these posts are the hardest for me to write. I probably should think more about defining terms, but defining hope, peace, joy and love is very difficult.
Love has become a rather trite word in our culture. I love ice cream. I love my son. I love my new glasses and I love my husband. Of course, the word means different things in its varying usages. However when we talk about a biblical understanding of love it takes on a very different definition than the way we typically hear the word “love” used.
Oftentimes in our culture the word “love” means that a person or object is celebrated and adored. John Piper puts it this way: “It [the world’s definition of love] says: You are loved when you are made much of. In other words, love for someone means mainly making him or her central or important.” On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. When someone is “in love” with another, they are generally orienting their life around that person. However, this definition of love becomes dangerous when a person makes that individual central or important above all else.
This definition of love also can lead to the idea of total acceptance—the idea that no person should try to change an individual and everyone should accept others for exactly who they are. I’ve had the privilege of going to many weddings and many of the vows have sounded a lot like these:
“I promise to give you the best of myself and to ask of you no more than you can give.
I promise to accept you the way you are.
I fell in love with you for the qualities, abilities, and outlook on life that you have, and won’t try to reshape you in a different image.
I promise to respect you as a person with your own interests, desires, and needs, and to realize that those are sometimes different, but no less important than my own.
I promise to keep myself open to you, to let you see through the window of my personal world into my innermost fears and feelings, secrets and dreams.
I promise to grow along with you, to be willing to face change as we both change in order to keep our relationship alive and exciting.
And finally, I promise to love you in good times and in bad, with all I have to give and all I feel inside in the only way I know how…completely and forever.” (read more bad vows here)
Some of these vows are troubling, “I promise to accept you the way you are. I promise to ask you no more than you can give.” Those don’t sound like hopeful vows to me. The only problem with the idea of love being total acceptance is that we know that we are sinful people at heart. The Bible says that we are enemies of God and that our heart is deceitful! There isn’t much hope in total acceptance of a way a person is and behaves. Parts of that person and their personality are flawed and I would hope would change after years of loving friendship. The vows even acknowledge growth. They say “I promise to grow along with you,” however, how can you assume growth if you never demand or hope for it in another person. Total acceptance says, “you should never change” but these vows say “let’s change together.” Love can’t mean both things.
Fortunately, God’s love is very different from these vows and from our cultural definition of it. Instead of God’s love being centered on us, it is centered on Him. Piper says, “God’s love for us is NOT mainly his making much of us, but his giving us the ability to enjoy making much of him forever. In other words, God’s love for us keeps God at the center. God’s love for us exalts his value and our satisfaction in it. If God’s love made us central and focused on our value, it would distract us from what is most precious, namely, himself. Love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God. Therefore God’s love labors and suffers to break our bondage to the idol of self and focus our affections on the treasure of God.” Instead of us being at the center, God’s love places the focus back on God, Himself. I’m excited to talk this week about how God’s love restores us back to our rightful place, in worship of Him.
If you want to read more about John Piper’s article. Check it out here.