"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
In 1929, Cole Porter, whose goal in life was to write 1000 hit songs, composed the music and lyrics for a Broadway show called, “Wake Up and Dream.” It only ran for 136 performances but one of the most popular songs to come out of that musical revue was, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Frank Sinatra recorded it fifty years later and it became even a bigger hit. It was a romantic love song, of course, but it asked a question that almost everyone struggles with at one time or another in life. Cole Porter’s lyrics went like this:
“I was a hum-drum person leading a life apart
When love flew in through my window wide
And quickened my hum-drum heart.
Love flew in through my window I was happy then
But after love had stayed a little while
Love flew out again.
What is this thing called love?
This funny thing called love?”
That is still a good question. Like the husband who asked his wife, “Tell me honey, have you ever been in love before?” She thought for a moment and replied, “No, sweetheart, I once respected a man for his great intelligence. I admired another for his remarkable courage. I was captivated by yet another for his good looks and charm. But with you, well, how else could you explain it, except it must be love!”
Some grade school children were asked some questions about love and this is how they responded.
Wendy, age 8, observed, “When a person gets a love kiss for the first time, they fall down and don’t get up for a least an hour.”
Jill, who was 6 years old, explained philosophically, “Love is foolish . . . but I still might try it sometime!”
Dave, age 8, was quite boastful when he exclaimed, “Love will find you even if you’re trying to hide from it. I’ve been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.”
“Regina, who was 10, demonstrated her wisdom when she said, “I’m not rushing into love. Fourth grade is hard enough!”
When you read the word love in the Bible what is your first impression? Romance? Emotion? Feelings? Spiritual? The command to “love one another” or “love each other” is recorded fourteen times in the New Testament. Obviously, it was important to our Lord that those who follow him be known for the love they demonstrate to each other, a love that others could see and experience.
If we look to the English use of the word love, we’ll get confused. Love in our language has up to fourteen definitions and counting. I won’t attempt to discuss each one but suffice it to say that the definitions of love go from the most intense affection you can have for someone or something, to a zero, which is what love means in tennis!
In the language of the Bible, however, love has only three meanings. They are unconditional love (agapao); warm personal affection (phileo); and a natural familial affection (storge). There is a fourth word (eros) that was used by the Greeks which referred to a sensual, erotic love but it is never used in the Scripture.
Our command here from Jesus as his followers is the first word (agapao), which is “an unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take or be a taker. It devotes total commitment to seek your highest best no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not” (Focus on the Family).
This kind of love was first demonstrated by God to us through the death of Jesus on the cross (see Romans 5:8).
Jesus spoke of that love to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Earlier in John’s gospel he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). To keep his commandment means we put ourselves aside and prefer those of our brothers and sisters in Christ by being kind, compassionate, caring and perhaps most of all, forgiving (see Ephesians 4:31-32).
In closing, let me finish with Cole Porter’s closing lyrics from “What Is This Thing Called Love?”
“Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
I saw you there one wonderful day
You took my heart and threw it away
That’s why I ask the Lord in Heaven
What is this thing called love?”
By all accounts, Cole Porter never received the real answer to that question. Little did he know that God had already answered it a long time ago through his son Jesus Christ (see John 3:16)
The Lord told his followers to love each other with that same kind of love (see 1 John 4:21). How are we doing, church? Oh Lord, may it begin and continue with me. Maranatha!
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