The meaning of our precious word “love” is gradually getting cheaper. A large majority of us have been living with this reduced meaning without realizing it. Love is believed to be nothing other than good emotion. Gradually it has become just something to “fall into”— if one is fortunate! Therefore it may either suddenly or gradually grab my spirit. Has he or she now actually become “my lover”?
There is a paradox here which makes this change even a bit harder to comprehend. On the one hand, that emotional expression — called “love” by many people — is ubiquitous in its popular value. Whether we have that emotion for someone or feel it directed toward ourselves, few of us think of any value more precious than the emotion called love. This seems to apply especially to those not far beyond their teens. What fun to have those feelings within ourselves — and especially to have them coming our way. On the other hand, while those emotions are felt to be more precious, basic love continues to suffer.
Genuine love is commitment. True love is deep care. Real love is action! The gradual weakening of this wonderful word is becoming a serious problem. For example, all except a few of our trusted leaders — yes, even our preachers, scripture teachers, and writers — seem to be ignoring this problem. It is easy to remain unaware of this cheapened definition of love. This happens even while we are quoting basic statements about love directly from the Bible.
Here is a fascinating example of the weak use of this word “love.” After we had shared worship together, I recently had a short conversation with a soldier who had just become more directly aware of Jesus Christ’s call to “love our enemies.” His fervent answer to me as we discussed what we had just heard: “No problem; I can easily love a man while I am killing him!” We did not have time for more words together. I would have liked to ask him about his meaning of love.
If we become fully awake to God’s Spirit within scripture, we can see the actual cost of giving genuine love. Prior to the nice feelings it can certainly create, God’s word helps us see that love is meant to be practical care acted out for others. While we are glad it produces feelings, emotions are certainly not love’s foundation. Scripture does not command us to feel. Instead, through Christ, God is the one who creates genuine love by the Spirit.
You may have already noticed what this reduced meaning of love is doing to marriage in recent years. Since such a majority now see love only as feelings, any two persons with those special feelings toward each other are also likely to believe those emotions are indeed “the love we fell into.” Marriage then is in three kinds of trouble.
1. More and more marriages come to an early conclusion. “Our marriage no longer has what’s needed. Those important feelings are no longer there, so now divorce is all that is logical — separation will be the best for each of us.”
2. On the other hand, young people who notice this often delay marriage for quite a long time. “Let’s see what happens to our love. Uncle John and Aunt Mary lost what they seemed to have when I was a kid. So, let’s at least wait.”
3. Many others simply choose to live with “their lovers” without getting married: “Who needs marriage? We will just live together and care for each other without that questionable thing called marriage!”
In the above ways, this cheapened love is surely reducing the value of our culture’s marriages.
May the Spirit of God make all of us awake to real love. May we also reach out to the Lord who wants to give God’s love to others through each of us.
Dan Longenecker is a retired Mennonite pastor in Lititz, Pa.