(The sermons are located at the bottom of the page.)
About 15 years ago I sat in my office across from a young mother who infrequently attended our church. Her eyes were swollen and face forlorn. It was the type of appearance you only see in someone who has been suffering for an extended period of time.
It takes many hard days and long nights to look this exhausted.
It’s the face you see in someone who has recently lost a spouse to cancer.
It’s the face you see in a parent when their child dies during deployment.
It’s also the face you see in someone who finds out their spouse has been cheating on them and officially chooses to abandon the family. It was this face that sat across the table from me.
“Pastor Mike, my husband said he fell in love with his secretary, and he is going to leave us.” (They had one elementary aged son.) “He said if I really loved him I would support his decision.”
What did she mean by “he fell in love?” What did the cheating spouse mean by, “If you love me, you will support me?”
A few years later I was sitting in my office with someone who was going through their fifth divorce. This lady was a highly educated professional counselor. I asked her why she came to see me rather than another therapist. I quickly realized it wasn’t for counsel. She said she knew exactly what she was doing in the divorce. She was “searching for love and working towards life fulfillment.” She needed to “step aside from anything toxic in her life.” So, I simply asked, “If it’s not for counsel, why are you here to see me?” She said something similar to this: “My son goes to the youth group; can you help him be okay with my pursuit of love and wholeness? Help him understand I’m leaving him and his dad because I need to find myself.”
I have many more examples: A young girl running away with an older man who she “fell in love with.” Praise God they were caught before something tragic happened. She screamed at her parents for being hateful and “destroying love” when they prevented her from leaving with him. Or what about the doctor who is criticized for “fat shaming” when encouraging self-love and care through weight loss? Or the student who met with me via court mandate for marijuana use. He said something like this: “Pastor Mike, the judge said I need to beat this to be the best version of me. The me I want to be is smoking weed with my friends.” Or the wife and mother who was tired of “repressing her sexuality” and abandoned her family for another woman? She had “fallen in love” and demanded support from the family.
Can you imagine me kneeling down and looking her little boy in the eyes while saying, “I’m sorry your mom left you, but you need to support her as she follows her heart.”
What is the loving thing to do?
From an inconsistent pop culture perspective, it feels more loving to encourage the dad not to pursue what his heart wants and stay with his family. Yet, somehow cheering on the mom to leave her family for the other woman would be celebrated? What about the heart desires of the families left behind?
So… what is love?
What is the loving thing to do?
I feel like echoing The Princes Bride when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
I feel like I’m stuck in George Orwell’s book, 1984 and the definition of a word is being purposefully confused and repurposed.
As best as I can tell, love defined by modern culture most often means permission. Usually, culture seems to think what’s most loving to me is most permissive for me. If you tell someone they are wrong or refuse to support them, it’s unloving or even abusive. This makes the fulfillment of individual desires (or appetites) the prime definer of what is right and good to them, and the implication is we all must support this.
Think of Jack Sparrow’s compass from Pirates of the Caribbean, the one that points to what you want. The only difference is everyone has this compass and if anyone else’s journey to fulfill their heart’s desire (compass) interferes with your journey, you can call them an abusive bigot.
Rationally we all know this is unrealistic. You can’t have billions of people living together with different desires all demanding their desires be fully supported. Moreover, it’s civilly impossible to do life with others when you make it okay to go to war against people who have desires that don’t align with yours. The natural nihilistic end is billions of proud little individual human “kings” declaring war on other little human kings because they have been “abused.” If love is practiced by giving open permission and abuse by practice is inhibiting another’s desire, every permission given (love) will eventually inhibit another person’s desire (abuse). Love by practice is abuse in modern culture. Love is abusive in this modern “Orwellian” world.
The dad who falls in love with another woman sets his love free at the pain of the family he leaves behind. Who should we celebrate? Who should feel held back?
The mom who embraces a new sexuality causes deep pain to the child and husband she walks away from. Who should we celebrate? Who should feel held back?
The list of examples is endlessly long.
So, again… what is love?
Culture may not be able to answer what love is in a coherent way, but there is a clear objective Biblical definition. One I would encourage you to consider.
Biblical love (agape) is an objective anchor and has a very clear meaning in the Bible.
However, our understanding of what words mean is changing. Like learning a new language, we need to define again what the word “love” means as we read it in the Bible. When Jesus says “love” it means something very specific.
Join me as I work to unpack what the Biblical word “love” actually means…
Session One: The Problem with how we use the word “love”.
Session Two: Biblical love is patient and kind.
Session Three: Biblical love doesn’t envy or boast.
Session Four: Biblical love is not proud.
Session Five: Biblical love does not dishonor others.
Session Six: Biblical love puts others first.
Session Seven: Biblical love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs.
Session Eight: Biblical love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth.
Session Nine: Biblical love always protects and always trusts.
Session Nine: Biblical love hopes and perservers.
Session Ten: Final Thoughts on Biblical love.