If you’ve walked through the door of any store (and I do mean any store—from the department store to the drug store to the grocery store, etc.) you’ve been inundated by red things, heart shaped things, flowery things, and lots of chocolate things.  February is the month when the country celebrates Valentine’s Day—a day dedicated to red hearts, pretty flowers, and sweet chocolates—and a day dedicated to love, so they say.  Yet with all the cards and decoration, with all the gifts and gift cards, the truth is this world knows next to nothing about the nature of real, genuine, and abiding love.  The world has holidays to celebrate the word, they have songs on the radio that mention the word, and their lips too often so easily say the word, but apart from knowing Christ one cannot know the true meaning of love and the duration of what the world calls love frequently lasts no longer than the wilting flowers and devoured chocolates.  This month we’re going to look at some aspects of genuine love as presented to us in the Word of God, the Word of the Only One from Whom real love truly springs!

God Is The Source Of Love (1 John 4:7-8)…I “love” White Castle Hamburgers.  My affinity for the one-of-a-kind sandwich began when I was about 7 years old.  My grandfather (“papa” as I called him) lived and worked in Kentucky but owned a house in Ohio that he planned to retire to one day.  He and mama along with my aunt would take a six hour trek once every few weeks to go between the two residences to check and make sure everything was okay.  Once ever so often I would go on the ride with them.  Papa wasn’t much for eating out at any kind of restaurant, but he would make an exception for White Castles.  The company, in business since 1921, had been one of the first places my papa ever worked.  He loved the burgers and wanted to introduce them to his grandson.  And I’m so glad he did!  The combination of the steamed bun, the grilled onions, the square burger, and the pickle slice is pretty near perfect, often imitated but never duplicated!  This slider is truly a gift!  (In fact, for those who along with me crave this one of a kind taste you know it’s not just a gift, it’s a gift that keeps on giving!)

Unfortunately, if you look on the White Castle website you will find that the nearest restaurant location to Florida is in Tennessee.  That’s a little too far to commute for lunch or dinner from our Ft. Myers home!  Over the years I’ve tried getting the frozen burgers available at the grocery store.  But it’s just not the same!  Zapping the two-pack slider bag into the microwave at home doesn’t come out with the same taste as the burgers do from the grill behind the restaurant counter.  There’s something about going to the source that’s better than trying to receive it from a second hand retailer.

When I meet with couples in premarital conversations or marital counseling settings, the most important thing I can address with them is the nature of their relationship with the Lord.  I have had people over the years question as to why discussing their walk with Christ is so important when the nature of their problem seems to be something else; such as financial disagreements, personality conflicts, or contention with raising the kids.  While the Bible certainly gives wisdom into all of those issues of love and marriage and life in general, if you want to experience true love and therefore have the capacity to genuinely love each other more, then your life must be rooted and grounded in the only source of true love, that of knowing Christ as Savior and Lord and experiencing a growing relationship with Him!  Can people who don’t know Jesus “love” each other, have a “good” relationship with their spouse, raise “good” kids, and even have a marriage that lasts a lifetime?  Sure, though it’s rare.  However, the very best “love” that someone who doesn’t confess Christ can know is a mere shadow of the real thing.  Apart from Jesus, any “love” we know comes from a “second hand retailer” so to speak.  If you want to know real love, if you want to be able to give genuine love to someone else, then you must start with the source!  And the source is none other than God Almighty!  As 1 John 3:7-8 clearly tells us, “…God is love.”

Love Is A Choice, Not A Feeling (John 3:16)…I remember well the first wedding I ever officiated.  I knew they would have all kinds of questions about where to stand, when to come in, and what to say…And I wanted to have answers!  Having never married anyone before, I bought a Minister’s Handbook on Wedding Services and read it over and over again until I had nearly every line of the ceremony memorized.  Rehearsal night came and, though I was probably the most nervous person of the wedding party, things went fairly swimmingly as I answered all of their questions about the particulars of marriage protocol and as I rather seamlessly went through the lines I had committed to memory.  Then wedding day came.  The couple wanted to be married at a gazebo on the grounds where they had first met.  It was Florida.  It was summertime.  It was 2 in the afternoon.  It was outside.  Can you guess what happened?  That’s right, it rained.  It didn’t just sprinkle.  It poured.  The original plan was for the wedding party to be inside the gazebo and for the guests to be gathered around the outside.  But when it started raining cats and dogs, everyone jammed inside as close as they could.  I didn’t so much mind the closeness of the quarters that now presented itself (I think everyone close to me had used deodorant that day!), but what was hard to overcome was the roaring sound of the rain as it pounded and reverberated on the gazebo roof.  All of my well-practiced lines and phrases, rehearsed enunciations and dramatic pauses, were hardly audible more than six inches away.  I was thankful that the bride and groom at least heard me when I yelled at them the questions asking if they would take one another to be their lawfully married husband and wife.  They responded with an “I Do”, or at least I think they did.  I couldn’t hear their voices (they couldn’t yell as loud as a preacher) but I watched them closely and read their lips!  It made them quite a wedding memory no doubt, and it gave me quite a story to tell!

When I studied the various Christian wedding ceremonies, one thing I noticed is that when the vows are presented to the couple the response from the man and woman being wed is either “I Do” or “I Will”, depending upon which particular ceremony you read.  Notice, the response is either “I Do” or “I Will”, not “I Feel.”  We tend to associate love with feelings, and certainly love affects and involves our feelings in powerful ways.  However, the essence of love is not a feeling or an emotion, it is a choice.  Put another way, the nature of genuine love is not “I Feel”, but “I Will.”  Emotions come and go due to a disagreement, a challenging circumstance, or some other momentary matter.  Sometimes people do “lose that loving feeling…woe-a-woe-o” (I think that’s how the song goes!).  But genuine love has a stronger foundation than fleeting emotions.  Love is a decision of the will.  Genuine love should not be characterized by the phrase “falling in love” but rather by the description “jumping in love.”  Falling happens by accident, jumping happens on purpose!

Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  It declares that “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  God so loved the world.  But why?  Nobody could force God to love the world.  He is ruler of all that is and holds ultimate power and authority.  The world certainly isn’t loveable.  The world repeatedly breaks God’s commands, worshipping other false gods and treating their fellow man in ungodly ways, shaking their fists in God’s face, in their pride thinking they can somehow displace God, feebly trying to take over His throne and attempting to replace His word and standards with their own.  Indeed, I repeat, the world (and yes that includes you and me) is not so loveable.  So why does God love the world?  Not because anyone can make Him, not because the world is loveable, but because He freely chooses to do so.  God’s love, true and genuine love, is a choice, not a feeling!  If you want to know real love, if you want to be able to give genuine love to someone else, then you must make the choice to receive and give love, not wait around for a feeling.

Love Is Sacrificial, Not Selfish (John 15:13; Rom. 5:8)…One of the most respected and admired professions in the world is that of what we have come to call “a first responder.”  Nearly everyone alive at the time will well remember where they were on September 11th, 2001.  I was working in the receiving department at the Christ Centered Book and Music (as it was known then-currently called Christ Centered Life Store).  At least two shipments arrived every day, one from UPS and one from RPS (now called FedEx Ground).  We were doing the best we could to get out as much as we could but still it seemed the boxes were rising and rising.  In the middle of these rising boxes the store owner came over and informed me that he had heard from his wife about the falling towers.  We followed the breaking news of the rest of the day on the radio but I didn’t see any visual representations until I got home late that night and turned on the television news.  Among the most powerful of the images from that dreaded day is that of the firefighters and policemen running towards buildings while others were running away.  I certainly don’t write a statement like that to criticize those fleeing, but to commend the remarkableness of those who with reckless and selfless abandon rushed toward danger in an attempt to save the lives of people they didn’t even know.  Jesus said in John 15:1 that “greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  Firefighters, Policemen, and Soldiers—truly those who serve in such occupations are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, not only for friends, but for absolute strangers.

Jesus of course is the ultimate example of sacrifice.  In the words of a Fanny Crosby hymn, Jesus is the One who “yielded His life, an atonement for sin”, dying to “open the life gate, that all may go in.”  However, unlike the solely human first responders, Jesus did know who He was sacrificing for.  He knew of the evil hearts of humanity as well as the evil lips, of the wicked deeds done in darkness as well as the ungodly works done seen by the eyes of all.  But knowing that we were sinful, Christ still died for us.  As Romans 5:8 teaches, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”   If you want to know real love, if you want to be able to give genuine love to someone else, then you must know that love is sacrificial, not selfish!