What is Love?

The four advent/Christmas themes are hope, joy, peace, and love. These themes are important all year. This week we focus on love. Our society tells us that love means accepting people just as they are. It tells us that love is that warm, tingling feeling we feel for that special someone. But what is love really? Is it a feeling? A verb?

As Christians, we know that love is a much richer concept than the world around us understands. The Bible tells us that God is love:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8, NASB)

God is love. As such He defines it. He demonstrates His love for us through Christ:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NASB)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NASB)

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, NASB)

God enables us to love Him and to love others:

We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NASB)
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16, NASB)
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12, NASB)

God promises that nothing can separate us from His love:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, NASB)

God sets the standard for how we are to love others:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NASB)
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21, NASB)

Sometimes that love means confronting sin. Sometimes it means forgiving others for how they’ve sinned against us. Sometimes it means leaving family and friends behind to follow Christ. Love can be painful.

Love is so much more than a passing feeling. It’s more than romance. It’s more than blind acceptance. Love, true love, is active and self-sacrificial. It puts the needs of others before itself. It’s a fruit of the Spirit and evidence of the saving love we’ve been given. We love God and others because He first loved us. This Christmas season, may we remember the love that God has shown us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and may we demonstrate that love for others in all that we do.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35, NASB)

Christian, Where is Your Joy?

Four common themes discussed during the Advent/Christmas season are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. The last two weeks, I’ve posted articles on hope and peace. Today, I want to consider joy.

What is joy? As Christians, what is the source of our joy? What does joy look like in our daily lives? Should a believer’s life be marked by joy? And what if it isn’t?

Merriam-Webster defines joy this way, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” I think this is a useful definition. Joy is that wonderful feeling we get when our children smile for the first time. It’s that sense of happiness when our family is gathered together for the holidays. Joy is that emotion we feel when we get a raise or a promotion at work. It’s the feeling comes with knowing we are loved. It’s even that sense of anticipation we have when we look at the presents under the Christmas tree.

Of course, ultimately, joy is more than a transient emotion or feeling. Consider this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the life of believer. That means that it is something more than an emotion we have in the right circumstances. Our joy, as Christians, is rooted in something much deeper. It’s source is in the work of Christ for our salvation.

Consider the angel’s declaration when Jesus was born:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

What is this “good news of great joy?” The Savior has come! Jesus has been born. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Jesus’ birth was just the beginning. He lived and died for us. And most importantly, He rose again. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has saved us from our sins! What a glorious thing! We are forgiven. We are made new. He has won the victory and secured our future. Nothing can separate us from His love.

The Savior has come, and He will come again. In the face of this truth, how can we be anything but joyful? No matter our circumstances, no matter the pain, sorrow, grief, fears, dangers, heartaches we face, we are His, and He will never leave us. And one day, He will come and take us home. That is the source of our joy. And it can’t be shaken.

As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that Christians do not struggle with sadness and depression. Christians can and do suffer from depression. But even in the depth of depression, it is possible to turn our eyes to the source of our joy and to remember that depression doesn’t separate us from Him. We can have joy in the knowledge of our salvation even when we don’t feel it.

Joy doesn’t mean that we go through life with happy-clappy attitudes and smiles plastered on our faces. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for sorrow. It’s appropriate to grieve and cry at times. But in those times, we have not lost our joy. We still have that sense of anticipation. Christ is the only joy that lasts.

So what should joy look like in our daily lives? First, our lives should be filled with worship and praise. We have been saved from our sins. They are remembered no more. We are loved, adopted, children of God. We have hope in our resurrection. Our response should be to worship the One who has called us, redeemed us, atoned for us.

Second, we should share our joy with others. Because of how much we love our families, friends, and neighbors, we must share with them the source of our joy. There is no gift more precious in the world than the salvation we have received through Jesus. There is nothing more joyful in this life than seeing others come to Christ. How can we keep silent?

Given the source of our joy, the reality of His resurrection, the security of our salvation, how can we not be joyful? But what about Christians who aren’t? I’m sure we all know Christians who don’t exactly embody joy.

From grumps and cranks to Eeyores and curmudgeons, there are some believers who seem to be happiest when they’re miserable, cantankerous, and grumbling. While I can appreciate that there are those who are naturally pessimistic and grouchy, I don’t think it’s right to revel in those character flaws. The image of the cranky old man yelling at the kids to “get off his lawn” is comedic, but who wants to live that way? It doesn’t seem to fit with the picture of the believer that we see in the fruit of the Spirit.

The world around us is full of reasons to fuss and complain. Our jobs aren’t going well. Our families are crazy. Our health is failing. The government isn’t doing a good job. The politicians we voted for didn’t get elected. The ones we elected broke their promises. The weather is bad: too hot or too cold. The drivers on the roads are idjits. There are so many reasons to be in a bad mood. But when we’re tempted to give in to our emotions, let’s remember the source of our joy.

Let us sing for joy this Christmas! Joy to the world, the Savior has come! And He will come again!