I have a rather, um, LARGE, friend who names his favorite food groups with a chuckle—donuts, Cheetos, and beer. Lucky for him, he’s now 57 years old and has managed to avoid any serious health problems. I suppose that’s because, occasionally, he makes one of those yummy green bean casserole dishes with fully fatted mushroom soup and a huge helping of those extra yummy fried onion rings that come in a can. I suppose frozen green beans, tiny mushroom squares, and onions—regardless of their delivery device—still count as vegetables. Excuse me a moment while I gag.
What are the odds that my friend will have health problems down the road due to his definition of a good diet? Who knows? Maybe he’ll be one of the lucky ones and suffer not. Most of us wouldn’t take such chances. Oh, but we do! Maybe not with food, but certainly with another four letter word spelled l-o-v-e.
Definitions determine how we live—and how we love. My friend defines a “good diet” as one consisting only of foods he enjoys eating. His definition determines his grocery store purchases. How we define love determines what we give and what we hope to receive. Problem is, love definitions differ. His definition of love is not her definition of love even though both are using the same word when they say, “I love you.”
And love isn’t just for lovers. What about parent and child, brother and sister, friend and friend? What is this crazy little thing called love? Better understand one another’s definitions when speaking and hearing the words “I love you” or eventually relational breakdowns occur. “I love you” can quickly turn into “I hate you”, though few would ever confess such thoughts and sentiments.
Do we even think much about how differently we define and interpret “I love you” or are we so intoxicated by the four letters arranged into three words that we fail to realize definitional differences? But wait! We realize it all right. We realize those definitional differences when we hear “I love you” but we don’t feel “I love you.” Somehow, we know something is wrong. “Love” is not what we expected!
When someone expresses love for us, we’re like bees on their morning mission in search of nectar filled flowers. We spot our target and go in for a fast landing, guzzling the sweetness before thinking much about the particular bloom from which the nectar we drink comes. But then, suddenly, we begin to feel rumblings of indigestion somewhere in the depths of our gut, our souls, and we realize our taste buds were duped. What we experienced as sweet right out of the blossom has suddenly turned sour. Our hearts cry, “This love isn’t what I thought it was.”
We all start relationships with the same hope, be they plutonic or romantic. We all want to be loved. Healthy people want to love in return. But sometimes we think we love when we really don’t. We think we want love when we really don’t. We think we have love when we really don’t. Why? Because we want to be loved our way, not God’s way. We want to love others our way, not God’s way. Truth is, any definition of love that is not wholly, purely, solely God’s definition of love isn’t true love. It’s counterfeit. May look real. May sound real. May feel real. Bottom line—it’s not real. Sooner or later we feel sick and wonder why.
Eating junk food with fillers and artificial ingredients always tends to taste great right out of the package. But a steady diet of fake food will sooner or later leave most of us hungering for the real thing. Our bodies were not designed to thrive on fake food. Neither were our souls created to find fulfillment with fake love.
God defines true love quite specifically in His Word—all through His Word. When we twist His definition of love, contorting it into some off-brand of our own, sooner or later we end up realizing we’ve bought the counterfeit.
Most of us know the famous “love passage” in 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Most of the word meanings in this passage are straightforward. But in between the “does not” list and the “always” list is a statement to consider carefully: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” I see a problem.
Our present culture has become confused about what constitutes “evil” and what constitutes “truth”. Therefore, we have become confused to some extent about what constitutes “love.” According to God, love and truth are tightly bound. Extract truth from love and you no longer have true love.
We live in an age of upside-down morality and relativistic thinking which has seeped into and infected many, even those who call themselves Christians. What God defines as evil—many today rationalize as acceptable—or at least to be accepted quietly—looking the other way—without taking any definitive stand. We would hate to be labeled “narrow-minded” or “unloving” or “judgmental” and we certainly wouldn’t want to risk losing relationships because of any position we take that aligns with God’s word, even if we are not demanding that others do as we believe. But that’s not enough for the God hating parts of our hearts today.
It’s not OK to live and let others live anymore. Places in the heart that still hate God work to get others to hate God also and if they can’t accomplish their goal, they’re satisfied with second best—to marginalize and silence the God loving parts of our hearts with name-calling, love withdrawals, or some other punitive behavior in an attempt to force allegiance to views and values in conflict with God’s. How often do we humans try to push our own definition of “love” on others? We demand to be loved according to our own definition rather than God’s and doing so is surprisingly easy when current culture supports such faulty definitions of love.
Basically, we dismiss God’s authority when we redefine evil and truth for ourselves. Who cares? We want God in our lives alright. But we want Him our way, not His. We nominate and elect ourselves as God, all by ourselves, and set up house in the throne room, which we promptly redecorate to our liking, putting our own pictures of “love” and “truth” on our walls. And that’s just where our greatest spiritual adversary wants us—thinking we are God and putting our self-interests—our own definitions of love and truth—in front of the One who made us and others. Sound familiar?
Sadly, we keep living out re-runs of Genesis 3, never learning the episode’s end is always the same. Yet God is never mocked. (Galatians 6:7) Sooner or later, all will discover our proper position with the One who made us—on our knees confessing that He is Lord—a Lord worthy of our allegiance—the LORD who IS truth and love—who IS, in reality, impossible to dissect and separate into convenient packages that fit our likings. Those who walk the relativism road of truth and love will discover, sooner or later, that relativism dead ends in a rubble pile. Logic unravels the relativistic rug on which God hating parts of the heart place their own throne.
Relativism never leads to where we hope. Relativism leads us farther away from God, the only source of true love, true peace, and true joy, because He IS true love, He IS true peace, and He IS true joy. Truth, love, peace, and joy are the essence of God, not merely a list of qualities.
“I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus declared in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
What a remarkable claim! Jesus proclaimed His essence and blatantly referred to Himself as one with God the Father. Truth, love, peace, and joy are NOT humanity’s essence, though many today try to convince us otherwise. Those who reject God, completely or in part, reject access to truth, love, peace, and joy—completely or in part. Though we try, humanity cannot compartmentalize God, embracing aspects we like and discarding aspects we dislike. Unless we embrace and ally ourselves with the totality of God as revealed in His word, we knowingly or unknowingly walk away from Him to some degree. Is it any wonder after a while, we look at ourselves, our significant other, our spouse, our family, our country, our world and ask, “What happened to us?”
We’re starving today because, as an old song lyric says, we keep looking for love in all the wrong places. We’re consuming junk food—fake food. We need to read the labels for a complete list of ingredients before buying and eating. Hidden ingredients can be carcinogenic. Spiritual cancers metastasize aggressively, sickening relationships with a wide rippling effect. Let’s make sure we read God’s book before thinking we know God—before thinking we know love’s definition. We are what we eat. Which brand of “love” do we want to consume and give as a gift to others? Truth + Love = True Love.
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (Jesus, praying for His disciples in John 17:17)
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2