The “it” referred to in the title of this blog post is “love.” You know, that elusive feeling that is usually disguised as infatuation, or lust, or giddiness, or passion and/or greed (for a person, or an object–like money and the things it can buy). And how often do we say things like, “I just love that car,” or “I love chocolate” or “I love my job” (well, that last one probably isn’t all that common—we mostly love the money we make from the job we really don’t like all that much). Well, you get the idea. We toss “love” around like it is available in large quantities, but that kind of love is really pretty shallow, and it really isn’t love at all.
So what exactly is love? Well, zillions of songs have been composed trying to explain it and vast quantities of books have been published describing or portraying it. And movies? Well, movies are filled with various takes on what Hollywood thinks is love–well, romantic love or mostly lust/sex or whatever, right?
And love seems to be in very short supply when considering the divorce rate in this country—close to 50%; and the percentage is even higher for second and third marriages (and lots of couples today live together foregoing marriage altogether). And when one gets tired of the relationship, they just move on (leaving the deserted person fractured in their wake). And what about all of the infidelity that goes on in many marriages today?
In many ways it is unfortunate that we live in an “instant” society where just about anything we want is readily available (maybe not accessible to everyone but available nonetheless) as it makes us incredibly myopic, self-centered, and self-serving. And this pattern on a large scale (especially since the “free love” hippie era of the 1960’s) has been a part of the fabric of our society for decades. Just read some of the words from a song sung by Janis Joplin (1943-1970) over forty years ago, “Get It While You Can” (YouTube Video at the end of this post):
In this world if you read the papers
You know everybody’s fighting on with each other
You got no one you can count on
Not even your own brother
So if someone comes along
He’s gonna give you some love and affection
I’d say get it while you can
Get it while you can
Get it while you can
Don’t you turn your back on love, no
Don’t you know when you’re loving anybody
You’re taking a gamble on a little sorrow
But then who cares?
’Cause we may not be here tomorrow, no
And if anybody should come along
He’s gonna give you his love and affection
I’d say get it while you can
Get it while you can
Get it while you can
Don’t you turn your back on love
Love—real genuine love—is obviously in very short supply just about everywhere today. If we look at the description of what love looks like in I Corinthians 13:4-8, we’ll find that we all fall amazingly short a fair amount of the time. Here’s what it has to say:
Love is patient,
love is kind.
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 . . . .
Now I don’t know about you, but I fall short way too often for my liking in some of those categories (more than I want to admit). For example, it’s taken me years to stop being angry about what happened to me when I lost my job in Houston that has lead to over four and a half years (and still ongoing) of unemployment. I don’t very often feel loving (e.g., keeping no record of wrongs) towards those folks who fired me, and it’s been a huge struggle for me since it happened back in April 2009 (mostly because I haven’t been able to find another job since then). And after four and a half years of trying to find another job my patience has certainly been tried to the “nth” degree!!!
As I read that list of attributes, I find that not only do I fall short more times than I care to think about with some of those attributes; I also find them to be in short supply generally in our society. For example, take driving in rush hour traffic (or driving in traffic at any time): rude drivers are everywhere—they are not patient, not kind; and they are definitely self-seeking and easily angered, keeping records of every slight (by yelling, giving folks the “finger,” practically running into others to make them move out of their way), and they couldn’t care less about the truth (e.g., driving safely or caring about other drivers). They just want their way and they want us out of their way. And that attitude extends way beyond rush-hour traffic. How about in our relationships with others, including close family members and friends and extending to coworkers and others we come into contact with on a daily basis.
We all fall short, and many times we feel justified (ah, there’s that self-centered attitude showing up). We keep records of wrongs done to us for years, even decades or a lifetime, and every thought of that person brings on anger no matter how many years have passed. And it only hurts us in the end. Only sociopaths storm their way through life not caring in any way about anyone else other than themselves (and they seem to be on the increase in our world today).
Here’s a reality check for all of us—this world does not owe us anything. It is what it is—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it is often fueled by hate and selfishness and ideologies that we don’t even begin to understand (see Ephesians 6:10-18 to understand just what we are up against). Just look at the massacre of innocent children and others at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, or the millions of Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust in Germany during WWII, or the millions massacred in China during the revolution and a hundred other examples of pure evil decimating communities, cities, countries, and nations, and destroying untold millions of lives over the centuries and with an ever increasing frequency in our own times. And just glancing over a newspaper or listening to news reports on any given day speaks to the evil present in our own society at an ever growing rate. Random, unexplained evil is definitely on the increase, and genuine love is in very, very, very short supply.
Unfortunately, we often have a tendency to fight evil with evil (as in retaliation). And often when we do that it backfires on us, not to mention that it destroys relationships. We are so consumed with our own lives that the need for self-preservation at all costs rules our lives (e.g., that whole “looking out for #1” mentality). And self-preservation is the opposite of genuine love as described in I Corinthians 13:4-8. Genuine love is selfless . . . it cares more for others than itself, and it’s so very rare to find. Jesus Christ is our example of genuine, selfless love. It’s a sacrificing love . . . it’s a love that lays down its very life willingly for others, which is exactly what Jesus Christ did on the cross at Calvary. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And for those of us who believe in him, he has stated in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And in John 15:12-14, 17, Jesus states, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command . . . . This is my command: Love each other.”
If we are truly Christian, we no longer belong to ourselves. We belong to Jesus. And we are not to live our lives concerned about only ourselves and living like the rest of the world. If we do that, then we really don’t know or belong to him. If we truly belong to him, he has given us the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us every single moment of every single day, but we have to yield to him every single moment of every single day, and not live for only ourselves and what we want. And it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to love others with a genuine, selfless love—the kind of love stated in I Corinthians 13:4-8.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
The book of Hebrews is a much needed book in the New Testament for all Christians to read on a regular basis. The greatest warning throughout the book, written to Hebrew believers and for us today, was and is the warning against hardening our hearts and turning away from the living God due to the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:7-19, 5:11-14). Sin runs virtually unchecked in so many of our churches today as the subject is rarely addressed (and if you don’t believe me, take gossip, for example). And sitting in church every Sunday morning or listening to sermons on the Internet is no guarantee that our hearts aren’t hardened; however, the way we treat others is a good indication of how far we’ve fallen away (especially through gossip and judging others, or how we treat others including our enemies).
Living in a society where sin is rarely addressed in Christian circles and churches anymore and where many Christians look and act like the rest of society (while claiming to know Jesus Christ), it is paramount that we take stock of where we, as individuals, stand in our relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don’t know where to start, read the list in I Corinthians 13:4-8 at the beginning of this post and honestly reflect on each of those attributes of genuine love and where you stand with each of them, and then read the book of Hebrews (13 chapters) and take to heart what it has to say to us—a clear warning to us to not fall away due to sin’s deceitfulness.
In the song mentioned at the beginning of this post, Janis Joplin sang, “Don’t you know when you’re loving anybody you’re taking a gamble on a little sorrow. But then who cares ’cause we may not be here tomorrow.” Too often in our society today there are churches out there selling us a bill of goods that is no good—and it’s all about us and what we can get from God. True, genuine love—the unselfish kind—had nothing to do with us, and yes, it will cause us sorrow and persecution (Jesus even stated so in John 15), but if we truly love Jesus and want to be his disciples and serve him, it won’t matter because this life is not about us and what we want, it’s about him and telling others (and also showing by how we live and through our actions and attitudes) about Jesus. So now is the time to take stock of where we stand, and if we are falling short or we’re just coasting along . . .
We need to get it while we can . . .
’Cause we may not be here tomorrow . . . .
YouTube Video: “Get It While You Can” (1970) by Janis Joplin: