Love came down from Heaven
The first of our Advent devotions has to do with love.
The advent of Christ was the love of God for the world. In love, God sent his son to save those who would believe in his name. And so it seems appropriate for me to start here.
The loss of Love’s meaning
Alas, love is the word that has been tossed carelessly amid the maze of misconceptions and misinterpretations within our modern society and is simultaneously the greatest virtue of the Christian faith. I would not be exaggerating when I say that we have lost the meaning of the word. It has become muddied by our culture’s relentless assault on its true meaning, even among those who claim the name of Christ. The fact that many Christians have gladly handed over such a crucial word to be redefined by the whims of this present age is made evident when they stumble over its many false definitions. Professing Christians don’t know how to respond to the LGBTQ+ champions who claim the right to marry under the banner of ‘love‘. They find themselves at odds, struggling to discern how to respond to homosexual couples who say that they genuinely love one another. What do you do? How can you get in the way of their love? They fail to see that the crux of the matter here lies in the skewed perception of what ‘love’ truly means. Christians should refrain from adopting the world’s definition of love and instead pursue authentic interpretations.
Today’s world has embraced a notion of love that is perpetually gentle, akin to a feather swept by the breeze, delicately grazing one’s cheek, evoking a tingling sensation, and fostering a snug, comforting feeling within. And because the folks professing Christ have swallowed this falsehood hook, line, and sinker, they find themselves compelled to toe the line. Every word or deed that dares to oppose this notion of love is promptly branded as ‘hatred’. Simply holding a divergent view from the prevailing cultural narrative now earns you the label of purveyor of ‘hate speech’. Thus, love is coerced to bend to their interests and preferences.
Yet, true love—the most magnificent display of it—was not a picturesque, comfortable moment. Rather, it unfolded as a man was crucified, nails brutally driven through his hands and feet, a cruel crown of thorns pressed onto his skull, his agonizing breaths slowly fading away, stripped naked in full view while bystanders callously gambled for his garments. The world parades a standard for love that’s broadly acceptable, yet the Bible lays out an R-rated standard of love for us to heed.
People who have bought into the dumbed-down version of love cannot in good conscience read many parts of the scripture without viscerally turning aside and vomiting out some of that sound theology.
The world’s notion of love pales in comparison to the grandeur and depth of love as depicted in the Scriptures.
The ‘hate’ that took its place
This tragic misunderstanding of love finds its roots in numerous facets of our lives—seeped into our entertainment from Disney, ingrained in educational systems, broadcasted through television screens, and even infiltrating our career-driven pursuits. When our careers require our utmost devotion, what we’ve done, both in the past and in the present, is trade in our children to buy ourselves some time. We’ve traded investing in the hearts and minds of our children for the convenience of pacifying them with screens and toys, unwittingly contributing to their indoctrination.
Do you know what proved simpler than investing that patient hour to handle your tantrum-throwing child to ensure they finish their meal? Placing them in front of the television. It’s a task halved in time. Or better yet, entrust them to the grandparents or the nanny, and put them all in front of the TV. With frequent repetition, cartoons shift to Indian soap operas, Disney fades into Asianet serials, and inadvertently, you’ve consigned both the young and old to the devil’s workshop.
The Bible has a word for what professing Christians have effectively done to their children and to one another in this regard, and it is not ‘love’. It is ‘hate’. The Bible teaches us that,
The world defines love as the sparing of the rod and the Bible defines love as the use of the rod. This misdirected education breeds generations that lack a genuine comprehension of love. Love is mistakenly portrayed as the absence of discipline, while the Bible defines love as a diligent exercise of correction—a loving guidance that does not shy away from necessary correction.
Love seeks the greatest good for your neighbour – whether believer or unbeliever. It risks hurt for the greater good, and the greatest good for your children is that they are obedient. The greatest good for your homosexual neighbour is that they repent of their sins and turn to God. The greatest good for that pregnant teen is to have that baby be born. The greatest good for your unbelieving colleagues is for you to take the Gospel to them.
What the world promotes as love is what the Bible defines as hate.
Reclaiming the definition of Love
One of the complications in defining ‘love’ is the multifaceted nature of the word. In various languages, including biblical texts, love is depicted through distinct terms that can mean brotherly love, camaraderie among friends, or the sacrificial agape love, and more. However, a helpful analysis of the word is offered by John Piper1 who himself was greatly helped by the Puritan Jonathan Edwards. Piper differentiates the love of ‘complacency’ and the love of ‘benevolence’. The love of complacency is the affection one has for something due to its perceived loveliness, while benevolence embodies goodwill to benefit another person, regardless of outward beauty. These essential two components of love are intricately woven into the biblical mandate to love God. Therefore, we love God because he is altogether lovely, and also because humanity was created to glorify him.
Given these helpful categories, I would attempt to define love as the deep-seated affections or passions (that entails not only the emotions felt but also the actions performed), all directed toward that which matters most to us.
Therefore, the world’s distortion of love blinds us to unworthy affections made to appear enticing and condemns genuine Christian virtues as malevolent rather than benevolent. The devil is in the constant business of making worldliness appear lovely and godliness appear malevolent, thereby manipulating careless theologians. This manipulation has stifled the essence of Christianity, confining it to a narrow corner of misinterpretation.
In conclusion, unraveling the true essence of love within its biblical context is essential. It transcends mere emotions; it’s about embodying what genuinely matters and recognizing the splendor in God’s standards rather than conforming to the world’s diluted rendition. Definitions matter, especially when uncovering the profound depths of love that transcend societal misconceptions.
God is Love
The Apostle John reminds us,
John sets an unequivocal benchmark for love – God Himself embodies love. Christian love isn’t about personal sentiments or preferences but adheres to a standard, and that standard is God. In Ephesians 5, husbands are not encouraged to love their wives as they see fit, but rather are required to love them as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Our acts of love affirm our acquaintance with God, while our failure to love serves as proof of our lack of genuine knowledge of Him. When Scripture proclaims that God is love, it implies that we are obliged to find value in everything that aligns with God and reject anything that does not. Our love must embrace what pleases God and reject what displeases Him. God and His revealed Word thus set the framework for our love.
Using the earlier categories of complacency and benevolence, a common misconception that people have regarding God’s love for them revolves around thinking that they are inherently lovable. Why else would the greatest Being in the universe love them enough to die for them? Yet, Romans 5:8 clarifies this notion:
Our intrinsic worth did not evoke God’s affection. We were lifeless, desolate. It wasn’t our loveliness that stirred God’s affection; it was His affection that awakened us to loveliness. The contemporary self-centred ideology urging us to seek our own beauty is, in essence, absurd. There is no beauty there. One doesn’t seek beauty in a lifeless form.
The Advent of Love
The Apostle John continues,
The arrival of Jesus Christ signifies God’s love for us. This is why ‘authentic love’, a Christian virtue, is comprehensible only to Christians. Rejecting the Son of God implies rejecting the very source of all love. Love doesn’t lie in what we can offer but in what God has already given us through His Son.
Not only that, but Jesus, as our new representative head, epitomizes the ideal man for all humanity to follow. He demonstrated perfect love for the Father, setting a precedent for our affection toward God.
Therefore, let us recall that the Gospel heralds a message of love, not the superficial love dictated by worldly desires, but a love of a kind that raises necessary conflict, risks pain, stands in uncomfortable places, and when faithfully exhibited, may result in your crucifixion.
Jesus was killed not because his love gave the Jews warm, cosy feelings. He was killed because his love made them uncomfortable. Such love may not allure the world, but to those who are Christians, it constitutes the greatest commandment, the greatest Christian virtue.