Love Trumps Everything
I was so busy practicing my religion, getting my theology right, teaching the truth, and working for God that I almost missed love. And love trumps everything else—always. I understand that better now because I’ve been loved longer.
Love Is Everywhere
I teach about love all the time. But there’s a big difference between propositional truth about love and the real thing.
Love is everywhere, but we can easily miss it. You have to experience the real thing…in the “wrong places.”
Love hangs out in brothels, churches, bars, and missions. Love is in the homes of the rich and of the poor, in the smoke-filled back rooms of the powerful as well as the smoke-filled back rooms of the unpowerful. Love is sometimes emotional and sometimes unemotional. Love is sometimes harsh and sometimes gentle. Mostly, love hangs out in the “wrong” places…or else it isn’t love.
What matters isn’t where you go to find love; it’s what you’re looking for. It’s not really the wrong place that causes you to miss love but the wrong definition. It’s not what’s in your head but what’s in your heart. If you can’t define it with the experience of your heart, you can miss love. I know.
Love Is Subtle
Hosea is one of the great love stories in the Bible. It’s about how Hosea—a religious professional—is called to marry a prostitute by the name of Gomer. Needless to say, that’s not the best career move for a preacher. But Hosea was an obedient servant of God and did what God called him to do. He married Gomer. Three children were born into that marriage.
Then she left.
I guess Gomer remembered the “good times,” the parties, and the gifts. For whatever reason, she left her husband and went back to her old life. Hosea was devastated. I can only imagine he was in the process of healing when God came to him a second time. God told Hosea to go back into the red-light district of the city to find his wife, who, having hit some hard times, had sold herself into slavery. God instructed Hosea to bring Gomer back home and to love her. And Hosea was obedient to God.
The story is an illustration of an incredible truth about a God who loves those who are unlovely. God loved the “prostitute” (his unfaithful people) with a love that would never let go even though, like Gomer, they certainly didn’t deserve it. Consider Hosea’s wonderful description, a powerful image of subtle love: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them” (Hosea 11:1-3).
That’s the nature of love. Love never chases, it woos. Love never demands, it requests. Love never shouts, it whispers. That’s why love is so easy to miss.
Love is quiet and subtle. “God so loved the world,” the Bible says, “that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). Love revealed itself in a stable and completed itself on crossbeams between two thieves. Love is not a thing; it’s a person. Love is God quietly touching a world that is filled with hatred, envy, and death—by taking on human flesh and dwelling among us.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends….No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:13-15).
Love Found Me
Paul said that a person who’s doing fine should be careful, because it’s easy to fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). I did fine for only so long before the wheels came off my wagon.
We live in a dangerous world…of pain, death and sin.
While I don’t have answers to the problem of pain and evil, I have one of them. Our world is the only kind of world where, when it gets dark enough, you can see the light. It causes us to look for something better. The prayer of those who have felt pain, been touched by death, and struggled with sin is this, “God, the ocean is so very big. My boat is so very small. Have mercy on me.”
When my father was dying, his physician said to him, “Mr. Brown, you have about three months to live. We’re going to pray, and then I want to tell you something more important than what I just told you.” They prayed and then my father’s doctor told him about Jesus and his love.
When I realized just how truly helpless I was, I found love. Or rather, love found me.
Love is Unearned
Love, if it’s earned, is not love; it’s reward. Love, in order to be love, must be directed toward one who is unlovely. The Bible says, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
The world tells us that if we work hard enough, we’ll be rewarded. In school we worked hard for good grades, and as adults for promotions and higher pay. As children, if we were nice, we got praised; and when we weren’t nice, we got punished. I know, I know. It doesn’t always work that way, and things aren’t always fair. But we all know that it ought to work that way, and more often than not it does.
So God rewards those who are obedient, religious, and pure, right?
No! That lie is from the pit of hell and smells like smoke. The church is the one organization where the only qualification for membership is being unqualified. The less qualified you are, the more qualified you become.
That’s crazy. Jesus came for the sick…but if you get well, he’ll like you a whole lot more. Jesus came for the sinners…but if you want to be blessed by God’s love, repent of your sin and get rid of it. Jesus came for the outcasts, the rebels, and the lost…but we, in our effort to fix God’s mistake, turn them away.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (l Timothy 1:15).
Love is Strong
Paul wrote that three things will last forever: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
You can’t stop love.
John the apostle wrote, “We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment” (1 John 4:16-17).
Paul wrote that when God starts something in the life of the believer, he will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). What God begins, he always completes; so just the fact of its beginning is the absolute promise of its completion. That, of course, includes love. Paul also said that the love of Christ controlled him (2 Corinthians 5:14).
When John wrote about the incarnation of God in Christ, he said, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). And John is the one who told us “God is love” (1 John 4:16).
God is not loving; he is love. God does not act in a loving way; he is love. God is not sometimes loving and sometimes not; he is love.
And God has called us to live and to give in love. The principle is this: You can’t love until you’ve been loved and then only to the degree to which you’ve been loved.
Love always starts there.
Time to Draw Away
Rest in God’s love…and then go out and love others.
Steve Brown is the founder of Key Life Network, author of numerous books including A Scandalous Freedom, How to Talk So People Will Listen and Approaching God, and is an in-demand speaker, serving as a Plenary Session speaker at ABC’s 2017 National Conference. Steve blogs at KeyLife.org; this article is reprinted with permission.
Posted on November 15, 2016