BY: SOLOMON KIM
The Bible offers the clearest, no-questions-asked, definition of true love.
There was once a single mother in her fifties caring for a daughter in her twenties. Mom didn’t expect the mental disability her daughter was born with. Mom didn’t expect the complications that left her alone raising a child in a woman’s body.
One day, Mom became engaged. She would protest, claiming she was old and ugly, but he called her beautiful. The wrinkles on her face were as dimples in his eyes. At the wedding he produced a second ring. This one was for the daughter – a promise that she would be taken care of despite her needs, that she was loved when she seemed unlovable. Upon hearing this, the girl dropped the flowers in her arms while running and embraced him, exclaiming uncontrollably, “I love you!”
In one simple ceremony the groom redeemed a radiant bride and adopted an orphaned child.
“I don’t think you will ever see a more clear picture of this book than what you just saw here,” Pastor Francis Chan said, holding up the Bible after sharing that story.
The core of the Gospel, of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is more than just freedom from sin and salvation for us. It is a clear picture, a glimpse, of the greatest example of the immense and unreasonable love God bears for us. I say unreasonable because He has no reason to love us. We have many needs and do things that make us unlovable, that make us ugly. We deserve nothing but the pains and hardships of a few short years on earth and an eternity without Him. Despite all this, we have a Father who loves us, who has made a commitment to take us in as His own.
The wedding story is a picture of the Gospel and of God’s steadfast and eternal love for us. There is no one qualified to truly and completely explain that love except for God Himself. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His love endures forever.”1 It is eternally steadfast.
It is clear how He loves us, so it is appropriate to examine how that perfect love should direct and be an example for our imperfect and inconsistent love.
Love is so much more than what the world makes it out to be. I would argue that the world has no idea what love is. Half of the marriages today end in divorce. The youth idolize the superficial relationships of Hollywood and engage in premarital sex. Our generation is perplexed about what love is. This is odd because the Bible explains to us what God’s love looks like and therefore what our love should look like.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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.”2
It seems to me that what the Bible says about love is a lot more straightforward than what the world says about love. Love is not butterflies in our stomachs. It is not an accelerated heartbeat or eyes covered by rose-colored glasses.
What does Biblical love look like, then? Is it just being kind? Just being humble and slow to anger? In that case, love isn’t that hard. I can be kind to my friends, even to an acquaintance. I can swallow my pride for a moment if my small group leader rebukes me or teaches me a lesson.
The problem with this is that it is a passive love that cannot even be called love. It is more appropriate to call it simple politeness or maybe political correctness. This approach implies that loving others is the same as hurting or offending them as little as possible.
We are called to bear an active love for those around us. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”3 In context, James argues that claiming to have faith in Christ is meaningless if it’s not evidenced through obedience to Christ. In the same way, Christ-like love must be evidenced through active care for and from one another.
What does active Biblical love look like, then? James gives two straightforward examples in verses 15 and 16: feed and clothe those without food and clothes. Quite simply, provide for the basic needs of those without them. “[L]ook after orphans and widows in their distress.”4 Care for children who cannot care for themselves, and care for individuals grieving over loved ones lost.
There are homeless individuals whom I have blatantly ignored. I try to be polite and smile or nod every now and then, but God demands I do more than merely acknowledge their existence. He demands I do more than just toss them some change or a dollar as I go on with my charmed life.
There are tangible ways to help those in need everywhere, especially in the Berkeley community. I have seen my peers show Christ-like love to people in need. I have had the privilege to witness truly sincere relationships between people who give and people who need. They don’t just give some food to a face and walk away, but instead they eat with them and get to know an individual. That is the quality of care God demands we have for the needy.
Amazingly enough, the love described in the Bible calls us to take our love even further. It’s not hard to show love when it is expected of you, when the thing you love is lovable. It takes a certain degree of sacrifice to help someone in need. However, Christ-like love is a lot harder than that. It is showing love when it is unexpected, when it doesn’t make sense. It is showing love to the people who hate and hurt you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”5
There was a minister who lived in the heart of Hindu India. He and his wife lived in an area that harbored Hindu extremists. One day the unthinkable happened. As the minister’s wife was returning from the market, she was attacked, raped, and murdered by a group of extremists. The minister was devastated, but when people expected him to give up, he continued to minister.
A number of months after his wife’s murder, the minister just finished a Sunday sermon when one man approached him from the congregation. The man had come to the minister’s sermons for the past three weeks. Head bowed, he identified himself as one of those who had killed the minister’s wife.
The minister rejoiced and embraced him. He praised God at that very moment for the man who had murdered his wife. He thought not of revenge or even of justice. He only thought of God’s wonderful redeeming love.
That doesn’t make sense! How could anyone be happy to see his wife’s murderer? Even if the murderer becomes a good person, it is insane to forgive them, let alone embrace them! Yet, this is what is asked of us. To borrow once again from Francis Chan, we are called to love like crazy.
We are called to be extreme lovers, uncontrollably exclaiming, “I love you!” to God day in and day out, actively caring for one another, rejoicing in the fact that God loves us as well as our enemies. The love shown to us in the Bible is extreme, beyond worldly understanding. Love when it is least expected, a love that does not make sense. This is what makes Christ-like love distinct, what should make Christians distinct. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”6
1Psalms 136:1 (NIV)
21 Corinthians 13:4-6 (NIV)
3James 2:15-16 (NIV)
4James 1:27 (NIV)
5Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV)
6John 13:35 (NIV)