Summary: Love is the highest priority in our life because God is love. We must remember that it is God that defines and demonstrates what true, godly love looks like
I have been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on the nature of love. There are those that define love in so many ways. There was a time when I would have automatically thought of unbelievers as being the ones who have all of these various ways of defining love. But I have come to realize that many Christians have unknowingly fallen into the trap of defining love according to their own pre-conceived notions, friends, culture, etc.
In a recent teen gathering, one of the young men made the distinction between what he described as "Love," and "Lo-----ve (said with oogly emotions)." The former is true love, the love that Christ commanded in John 13 when he said, "I new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have love you..." It is not "lo-----ve" that puts butterflies in your stomach, that might be hear this week and gone the next. It is not the puppy love that star struck people have experienced. It is the love that God has demonstrated. I was glad to hear that these young people already beginning to have a good handle on what real love is.
But in my experience, I have both seen and heard twisted definitions of love. I still remember Steve's dad, Larry. He was gruff and emotionally abusive. I am not sure if he was every physically, abusive, but it wouldn't have surprised me because sometimes there was evidence of what looked like physical abuse on his wife. This was a man who regularly yelled at his wife and kids. If they didn't get good enough grades, didn't act polite enough, didn't come home on time, or when the kids were younger, if they went across the street, he would yell at them, lecture them, and often demean them in his tone of voice and in what he said. Most of us without hesitation described him as mean and self-centered. Most of his conversations were full of himself. He rarely truly listened to what other people were saying unless it was to use it against them, win an argument, or something like that. The befuddling thing about Larry is that he thought this was okay. He used to tell people that he was trying to care for his family, and at times he would even say it was because he loved them. In reality, he was trying to justify his meanness under the guise that it was love. The reason he was such a hot-head, the reason he could be so mean, the reason he was an unsafe person, according to himself, is because he loved.
I eventually learned that his wife, Tammy, had grown up with a Father not unlike Larry and an emotionally and physically distant mother. Tammy never really understood what love was. Her Dad "loved" her so much he used to abuse her. It wasn't until Tammy became a Christian that she began to experience Christian love. To make a long story short, she tried to get into some counseling, but Larry refused. Out of concern for her children and herself, for their physical, emotional, and spiritual health, Tammy separated from Larry. Tammy and her kids began to experience Christian love from brethren in the church. It was not harsh, but gentle and kind. At first it frightened her. But as her faith grew, her love grew as well.
Love. What is it? Tammy only began to understand it after experiencing it through the kindness of Christians and through spending regular time in God's word. She began to see Jesus as the perfect husband, and how she could be a godly mother to her children by following his example.
Love is not what we say it is. Love is what God demonstrates. Love is what God says it is. One interesting feature about the most common word for Christian love in the New Testament is the word chosen to express it, "agape." It is interesting that this word is used very, very little in secular Greek literature of the day. In secular literature, things like "philia" (affection) and "eros" (fleshly love) are commonly found. But in scripture, agape is used profusely for Christian love and the love of God. The fact that many writers did not use the more common "philia" for love, but chose the rarely used "agape," itself shows that the godly concept of love differed from what the culture at large thought of.
This is why it is so important to spend time in the word. The word of God is the "sword of the Spirit," according to Ephesians 6. The word will help to combat worldliness. It will help fight off acceptance of a worldly concept of love.
1 Corinthians 13 gives an explicit description of "agape." This "agape" chapter tells us first of all that, "Agape is patient, agape is kind." Tammy experienced patience and kindness in that group of Christians. The harsh "love" of her husband and father was not Christian love, in spite of the fact that Larry called it "love." 1 Corinthians 13 also says that "agape does not act unbecomingly." Another way to put it is that it does not act in an ugly way. It is kind. Larry was one of the most unbecoming men we knew at the time.