What’s Love Got To Do With It?

I’m a product of the crazy eighties, you know, the decade of parachute pants, big hair, Boy George, and a variety of weird cultural trends. The decade when I came of age also produced music with some very misguided definitions of love. In her 1984 hit, Tina Turner inquired, “What’s love got to do with it?” Exploring the question further, she concluded that love is simply “a secondhand emotion.” Whitney Houston asserted in 1985 that “the greatest love of all” is not only easy to achieve, but is found inside each one of us. Phil Colins threw in his two cents when he sang about a “groovy kind of love” in 1988. The pop singers of the eighties definitely thought they had it all figured out.

There’s no doubt that people have always loved to talk about love, especially when led to believe that it’s no more complicated than the lyrics of a pop song. But love is not that simple, and the world has eviscerated its true definition. Hillary Ferrer calls this redefinition of words by our culture “linguistic theft” in her book Mama Bear Apologetics. She says, “Love used to be defined as ‘to will the good of another.’…Anything that makes someone uncomfortable is now deemed unloving. Today, to love someone means to blindly accept whatever that person believes, even if his or her belief contradicts reality.” But to knowingly allow someone to walk in untruth is anything but loving. In fact, 1 Corinthians 13:6 tells us that real love rejoices in the truth.

To define love correctly, we must go back to the source of love. Our Creator God possesses love as one of His essential attributes (1 John 4:8). It isn’t just something that He does, it’s something that He is, and so it’s impossible for Him to be anything other than loving. Defined correctly, love means that I truly want what is in the best interest of another person, even if that means it is not what is most accepted by the world around me. God’s love would not allow Him to look the other way when His chosen people, the nation of Israel, sinned against Him despite repeated warnings. He knew that their prideful and idolatrous rebellion would only hurt them by taking their eyes off of Him and causing them to gaze at themselves. Their sin came at tremendous cost, and ours does, too. Because of His great self-sacrificial love for them and for us, the incredible gospel story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration unfolded in history.

The greatest commandment instructs us to love God first; however, scripture tells us that there is something “of first importance” that comes before we are able to obey the greatest commandment. The gospel, or good news, is summarized in what is thought to be the earliest Christian creed. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” His death on our behalf met the demands of God’s justice, paid for our sins, and reconciled us to God. This singular event in history makes it possible for us, through an act of the will, to accept God’s gracious gift of salvation. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:13-14) Jesus’ love sent Him to the cross for us, and compels us to follow His commands.

The order is of utmost importance. Attempting to love without first receiving the life-giving gift of the gospel perpetuates a never-ending cycle of self-justification. Thaddeus J. Williams says in Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth, “Without the gospel first, we become graceless in our truth telling, cheerless in our giving, and our neighborly love turns into self-righteous showmanship.” Because we have the moral law written on our hearts (Romans 2:15), we know we ought to do good, but have nothing on which to ground this obligation. We look to the world for validation and become accountable to our fellow humans rather than the One who formed us all. Thaddeus J. Williams continues, “Today people are terror-stricken less before the Creator and more before creatures.” We exist in a perpetual state of trying to satisfy the demands of the culture that surrounds us, knowing we will never quite measure up. So once we have the order right, gospel first followed by love for God and others, we have a workable definition of love that enables us to carry out the greatest commandment and the other commands that flow from it.

Returning to Tina Turner’s definition, a mere second hand emotion does not compel me to behave in the self-sacrificial manner that Christ exemplified on the cross. It takes much more than the world’s definition of love for me to look someone straight in the eyes with whom I disagree ideologically, and decide that I want what is best for them and not what would make me feel vindicated in the short term. Should we believe, like Whitney Houston, that all we need to do is learn to love ourselves better in order to find the source of love within our own hearts? I know myself too well to believe that to be true. I know that within myself is a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) that left to its own devices wants what it wants. Only by looking to an external standard, God and His Word, can I truly know how to love others correctly.

Real love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Patient, kind, humble, truthful, self-sacrificial love is the standard to which God’s Word holds us as Christ followers. It may not always feel groovy, but it is what God commands.

The Greatest Commandment: Love God First

I know a little bit about talking to lawyers because I raised one. My home grown litigator could be hard-headed and frustrating at times. He could easily argue the paint right off the wall, and I imagine lawyers were much the same in Jesus’ day. The Messiah was in the middle of a cross examination by the prominent religious leaders of His time when a scribe asked Him to identify the greatest commandment. No doubt he thought this would be quite a challenge for the rabbi from Nazareth, and that Jesus would squirm as He decided which of the 613 commands was most important. Would it be one of the dietary laws, a law regarding sacrifices, or perhaps a sabbath regulation?

In a mic drop moment, Jesus answered the question. He declared that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) The scriptures tell us that the audience was speechless as Jesus’ words hung in the air. The self-righteous teachers of the law felt their egos being crushed beneath the weight of this scriptural mandate. They were confronted with the fact that this commandment is foundational to obedience in every area of life. So why does God want to be the boss of us? He made us. He knows what’s best for us. He knows what’s bad for us.

He made us.

“Come, let’s worship and bow down; let’s kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalms 95:6) God commands us to love Him because He made us. Like a mechanic who builds an engine, or an architect who designs a structure, He knows how we function best, and is intimately acquainted with the purpose for which we were designed.

We were made to run on Him. C.S. Lewis explains this concept in Mere Christianity when he says, “Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (Book 2, Chapter 3, p. 50)

We will be most fulfilled when we use each part of who we are for the purpose for which it was designed. God made our hearts to worship, and stirs in them a restlessness that can only be satisfied when He is the object of our worship. Our triune God had perfect community within Himself, and created us to enjoy fellowship; therefore, our souls will never be content until they join in communion with Him. God Himself is a rational being, and so He created our minds to be able to reason and discover evidentially who He is. He designed our physical bodies to be vessels through which we can work with purpose and serve Him. Because He made us, He also knows how to best maintain His creation by providing what’s best for us.

He knows what’s best for us.

My older son has always harbored a disdain for green beans. I remember one particularly unpleasant showdown over his least favorite vegetable when he was about six years old. Having tired of playing short order cook and catering to his whims, I was determined that he was going to eat just one bite of green beans before getting up from the dinner table. He was just as determined to defy my demands. After about a two hour show down, he balled up his tiny fists and declared, “You’re ruining my whole life!” For the record, he did eventually eat one bite (score one for Mom), and has managed to live a productive and healthy life, none the worse for the incident.

Much like my son, we often ball up our fists and determine that God takes pleasure in issuing edicts designed to ruin our good time. We think God should prioritize our happiness, and simply allow us to consume whatever satisfies our appetites in the short term. We often forget that He is out for our eternal good. It’s the difference between gorging on chocolate and disciplining ourselves to eat our vegetables. Ultimately, He knows what’s best for us and He knows what’s bad for us. He knows it’s harmful for us to be filled up with ourselves rather than to love and be led by Him.

Thankfully, God’s Word tells us where to find sustenance. The Psalmist encourages us to satisfy our hunger and thirst through feasting on God’s commands. “How sweet your word is to my taste — sweeter than honey in my mouth.” (Psalms 119:103) “I open my mouth and pant because I long for your commands.” (Psalms 119:131) Jesus, the Word Incarnate, tells us that He is the Bread of Life (John 6) and the Living Water (John 4) and that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled (Matthew 5:6). When we love God first, we receive what is good for us, but we also avoid what is bad for us.

He knows what’s bad for us.

He knows it’s bad for us to be our own bosses. God knows that when left to our own devices, our hearts are inclined to churn out idols. Often those idols bear a strong resemblance to the person we see in the mirror, because it’s human nature to want to be in charge. My younger son invented an interesting word when he was about three years old. Having overheard us call him both strong-willed and independent, he merged the terms and declared that he was “wendapenda.” The same son, tired of being bossed around by his older brother, also once emphatically prophesied, “One day I’m gonna be the boss of somebody!” While this was sort of cute and even a bit amusing to observe in a toddler, it’s not so attractive as we get older. This is the same struggle humans have faced since the very beginning, recorded in Genesis 3, when the enemy convinced Eve that God was holding out on her by not allowing her to be her own boss.

God also knows it’s bad for culture to be the boss of us. The world we live in reverses the two greatest commandments. We live in a me-centric, selfie-obsessed culture that does its best to convince us that only by loving ourselves first can we truly love others. The truth is that we cannot love ourselves or others until we first love God. We have no definition for real love apart from Him. The culture also assures us that we will be happiest if we just follow our hearts and let our feelings lead the way. God’s Word warns of the danger of this approach in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I know that my feelings will lead me astray in a hot second, so they are definitely in no position to be the boss of me. Following our hearts is a one way self-destructive path.

Love initiates action.

Love for God is a command that initiates an action. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” When we accept the free and gracious gift of the gospel, we are called to obedience in following His commands. Obedience to the first command bears fruit which flows over into the second, and compels us to demonstrate our love for others. Unless we embed the anchor of our faith deeply into the immovable bedrock of God’s steadfast love, we risk flailing about in the stormy sea of our emotions, grasping onto the drifting wreckage of things wholly unworthy of our worship. It is only by virtue of loving God first that we experience the transformation and renewal of our hearts and minds, and become equipped to change our world with the life-giving gospel.

Does My Worldview Matter?

When my family and I lived in the Texas Panhandle for a few years in the late 1990s, we became accustomed to driving long, lonely stretches of highway without seeing another car for miles. For Pete’s sake, the closest Walmart was an hour away! The windshield of our Dodge Caravan would easily accumulate a few zillion suicidal bugs on trips down those desolate dusty roads. They were assisted to their fate by the perpetually blowing winds common to that part of Texas. A thick gritty paste would eventually develop on the glass, requiring us to utilize a little elbow grease and one of those nifty squeegee things at the car wash to restore a clear field of vision. If we didn’t take this necessary step, our ability to safely operate the vehicle was severely impacted, and the mess on the windshield would prevent us from taking in the unparalleled beauty all around us. The flat treeless plains in the Texas Panhandle provided a panoramic backdrop for some of the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets on the planet. It would have been a shame to miss out on the vibrant red, blazing orange, and deep purple hues because of some bugs and dust.

Sometimes in life, our view of the world around us can become obscured, as if we are gazing out through a dirty windshield. We are tempted to peer through the lens of preferences, misconceptions, or everyday disappointments in order to shape our view of life. Other times life altering circumstances come hurtling at us like rocks kicked up off the road toward the glass, completely shattering the way we see the world. An unclear or inconsistent worldview can be incredibly disorienting, causing us to live life off balance and uncertain of whether or not our feet are planted on a sturdy foundation. For this reason, it’s worth taking some time to carefully examine the source of our worldview so that when challenges come, we can meet them with confidence.

In “The Universe Next Door” James Sire defines worldview as “…a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” One’s worldview will answer questions like: How did I get here? What’s the meaning of life? What is right and wrong? Where am I headed? We all have a worldview whether we realize it or not. We live our day to day lives as if we believe certain things to be true, even when we may not be able to clearly articulate the specifics.

As Christians, our worldview should be rooted in the Bible as we allow it to encompass and guide all aspects of our lives. It provides a fully faceted answer to all the big questions in life by showing us who God is, what He’s like, and what He does. Scripture tells us that God reveals Himself to us both through nature and His Word. Paul says in Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” The natural world shows us things about God’s character that should guide the way we live. The Psalmist reveals in Psalm 19:1-2, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge.” We observe order, intentionality, beauty, and purpose in creation, and make the assumption that Someone bigger than us is responsible for it all. This Someone brings order to our lives, creates beautiful things for us to enjoy, and intentionally guides us to a greater purpose outside of ourselves.

God also reveals Himself to us through His inspired Word. It’s no coincidence that the longest chapter in the Bible focuses on delighting in God’s Word. Psalm 119, consisting of 176 verses, highlights attributes of God like His righteousness, trustworthiness, truthfulness, faithfulness, immutability, and eternality. The Psalmist reveals how God opens our eyes (v. 18) and turns our hearts (v. 36). God is defined as good (v. 68) and as the Creator who gives understanding (v. 73). Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” Scripture provides the illumination we need as we journey along the paths of our daily lives. God’s Word is both a light that shines directly on each step we take, and a lamp that illuminates the farthest horizon to bring our lives sharply into focus.

When I received specialized training as an occupational therapist in low vision rehabilitation, one of the first and simplest concepts I learned was the effective use of lighting. I was taught that if the light comes from the wrong direction, it can actually be more harmful than beneficial. A light coming from behind instead of in front, beside, or directly above can be blocked or distorted, making completion of a task more difficult. The same is true of the perfect light of God’s Word. When imperfect people (that’s all of us) don’t give Scripture its proper position in our lives, we miss the benefits of understanding God’s character, and risk coming away with a distorted view of how He works His purposes in and through us. The work of the Holy Spirit changes us as the Bible points us to God and illuminates aspects of His character. The point is not for us to see ourselves within the pages of Scripture, but to see Him, and allow Him to transform us into who He desires for us to be. We discover in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

A truly Biblical worldview leads us to the conclusion that our value does not originate within ourselves, but comes from the One who made us. We are loved not because we are good, but because He is good. Our worth does not come from some external earthly standard, but from the One who is Himself the standard of all that is true and just. We don’t find our significance by looking within, but from looking above. A painting or sculpture is not valuable because of the materials that comprise it, but because of the artist who designed it. A story is not compelling because of the paper and ink on which it is written, but because it came from the mind of the one who crafted it. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” From the perspective of a Biblical worldview, the way we see ourselves in the world should be all about Him and the purposes for which He created us.

Jesus told His followers in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Our culture applauds carving a broad and winding path through life, rather than traveling along the well-defined narrow way of God’s Word. Truth is defined as whatever feels best or is most convenient at the moment, rather than the truth embodied in Christ and revealed in Scripture. Often living “the good life” is celebrated as preferable to submitting to the One who is good. There is no doubt that it is becoming more and more difficult to live consistently within a Biblical worldview in the midst of a culture that answers the big questions of life much differently than we do. The views of Christ-followers are viewed as peculiar and intolerant. A culture that values rugged individualism and instant gratification simply can’t wrap its collective brain around a worldview that claims its followers are hidden within Someone bigger than themselves as they await a future glory (Colossians 3:3-4). But Jesus never promised it would be easy. Instead, He assured His disciples that He would be with them as they faced persecution, rejection, and hardship. Holding onto a worldview centered on God and His Word does matter and is of eternal significance as we strive to illuminate darkness and provide clarity in an increasingly confused world.