By John Crawford
“I don’t think I love them anymore.” This is a somewhat common statement I hear from people regarding their relationships in dating and sometimes in marriage. As a hairdresser, I get to interact with people at the salon and hear intimate details about their lives. When people talk about love this way, I always ask them, “How do you define love?” To my surprise, most people haven’t thought about their definition of love, but yet, it’s a word used to define their feelings for another person. Sadly, this means that people’s definitions of love are shaped by the cultural narrative that says love is primarily a feeling. If love is a feeling, then it can come and go. If love is a feeling, then it becomes easy to stop loving because feelings can change. If love is defined this way, then love begins to be about what people can get. It becomes selfish, and it becomes about getting what someone wants so their feelings won’t change. This is how they stay in love. Viewing love through this lens is shallow, consumeristic, and transactional. Sadly, many people have been deeply hurt by this understanding of love. The majority of people I talk to about love actually desires a deeper understanding and experience of love.
Love is far more than a feeling, and it isn’t characterized by getting what you want. In contrast, love is characterized by giving and even giving up. I recently watched the movie The Upside, starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. The film is based on a true story about an extremely wealthy man who becomes a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident. Due to his paralysis, he needs to hire a new caretaker. To everyone’s surprise, and dismay, he chooses to hire the most unqualified and least likely applicant for the caretaker job. He hires and ex-con who has just been released from prison. Throughout the film, Bryan Cranston illustrates the cost of love as he willingly gives up his reputation, possessions, and money in order to love Kevin Hart by giving him an opportunity to stay out of prison and reconcile with his family. He even entrusts his life as a quadriplegic to the most unqualified candidate to care for his needs. He demonstrates love as he gives up for the sake of another.
There is a cost to love. As we look at Jesus, we see the perfect embodiment of love, and we see that the cost of love requires an exchange to happen. This exchange happens when someone gives up so that another can receive. Jesus’ entire life is marked by this kind of exchange as he shows the world what love actually looks like. Jesus exchanged his comfort, reputation, position, status, human dignity, and ultimately his life so that others could be the recipients of love and experience the realities of his kingdom. From his birth to his death, Jesus’ life and love are marked by exchange. Jesus exchanged his comfort in heaven as he was born as a baby in a barn. He exchanged his reputation and social status as he ate meals and socialized with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 5:27–32, 19:1-10), as he healed the ceremonially unclean (Matt 8:1–4), and as he spent time with women who were powerless and marginalized (John 4:1–45). He exchanged his plans and agenda as he was willing to be interrupted by people in need (Matt 9:18–26). He exchanged his position as a citizen of society as he became a prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:47–53). He exchanged his position as the cosmic judge for death row as he endured unjust trials before the chief priests, Pilate, and Herod. He exchanged his dignity as a man while he was mocked and humiliated as he was stripped naked and spit upon. He exchanged his comfort as he endured the physical torture of being beaten and flogged. Ultimately, Jesus exchanged his life for ours as he freely gave of his body as he hung on the cross. This exchange was to free us from the penalty of sin and the wrath of God. Love is far more than a feeling. There is a cost, and Jesus is the good shepherd who embodies love by laying his life down for the sake others (John 10:1415).
In what ways can you embody this type of love in the places, spaces, and relationships in which God has put you?