The word "love" carries much baggage. As with the etymology of words, time can radically alter the meaning of terms. You can love your children and you can love the Texas Rangers. You can love New York and love Chicago Pizza. You can love a quiet evening and love your new car. Young people "fall in love" or "fall out of love." In the vernacular of the culture, sex is often times described as "making love." In the process, the word has lost much of its original meaning. This, of course, is not unique to love. Consider what has happened to words like: bad, cool, hip, heavy, and straight.
When used, "love" often refers to an emotional response. We love our favorite sports team. We will wear their gear and watch their games, maybe even attend their games. We celebrate their victories and say, "we won" as if we had something to do with the victory. We painfully experience their losses and say, "they lost" as some psychological means of distancing from our pain. There is an emotional aspect to this type of love. Frankly, much of romantic love in our culture has been reduced to something along the same lines as fandom. When a person "falls in love" they have made the emotional commitment to the other person and to the relationship. When things are going well, we emotionally sense that things are right with the world. Often this is measured on how we feel about the experience of the relationship. When the Rangers are winning, they are doing things that make us feel better about them, us, life, and the world. When a boyfriend or a girlfriend, husband or wife, behaves in ways that emotionally enhances our experience, then we feel the emotion of love. When the relationships struggle we feel the emotional pain.
The Bible describes love in both emotional and active terms. Love is something felt, by God and by people. However, love is also often described as something active. Romans 5:8 says that "God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God's love is shown, demonstrated, and displayed. How has God loved us? Christ died for us. On the night of Jesus' betrayal, John's Gospel says in chapter 13, "Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper...got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded." Jesus demonstrated His love for the disciples by washing their feet.
God not only displays His love but calls us to imitate His love. Our love for each other cannot function in the emotional realm only. Love for others is active. It involves sacrificing for the good of others. It involves serving the needs of others with their greater joy in view. One challenge in speaking to the issues of marriage in a culture steeped in the emotional experiences of love comes from this radically different view of love. Love is shown. Love is displayed. Husbands and wives are not to fall in and out of love but are to serve one another. Feelings come and go. Obedience and sacrifice as an imitation of Jesus Christ lasts forever. As Jesus said to the disciples, so He still speaks to us today through the event of the washing of the disciples' feet. "So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you." Later that same night, Jesus, looking forward to His sacrificial death on their behalf said this to His disciples. "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends," John 15:12-13.
Valentine's Day is upon us. As we see the cultural obsession over erotic and physical pleasure focusing on gratifying our own passions, may we be reminded of the profound physical sacrifice of Christ which displays the depth of the love of God. As we seek for deep emotional connections, may we as followers of Christ be reminded of the emotional love of Christ that caused Him to wash the feet of His disciples as a humble servant. We are called to sacrifice for the good of others. We are called to serve for the joy of others. When we do, we are imitating the God who made us and the Son of God who saved us.