I’ve been thinking about love recently, especially in light of the shifting sands of our American culture. Many of you may be familiar with a popular commercial put out by “Love Has No Labels”. It shows a large X-Ray screen with people behind it, but all you see are two skeletons. The skeletons are being affectionate towards one another and demonstrating love towards one another through kissing, hugging or holding hands. When they come out from behind the screen, they continue to hug and kiss and show affection. The couples range from a Grandfather and Granddaughter, a husband and wife, two little girls holding hands, two women kissing, two twin sisters, and so on. The commercial ends with the slogan “Love Has No Labels” and the idea behind the commercial according to the www.lovehasnolabels.com website is to “love and embrace diversity” and “support love in all forms”.
Another recent event that I happened to catch live on TV recently was the Tony Award acceptance speech given by Lin-Manuel Miranda for Best Score for the Broadway Musical Hamilton. Now the timing of this event was just hours after the horrible Orlando based shooting which happened at a gay night club. For his acceptance speech, he wrote a sonnet, which ended as follows:
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day
This show is proof that history remembers
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love,
cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story.
Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.
I’ve never been much of a poetry reader myself, but I can appreciate those who enjoy writing poetry and are able to write in such a way. And I have no objection to Lin-Manuel using his platform that evening to speak out against violence and hatred, not at all. I think we should take opportunities to publicly condemn acts of violence and terror. I believe, as a Christian, it is our duty to abhor that which is evil and cling to what is good. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:11, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” So, on one level, I applaud Lin-Manuel for publicly rejecting hate and embracing love, but on another level, I found the sonnet to be very discouraging and representative of what is painfully lacking in the culture in which we find ourselves today.
Within minutes of his acceptance speech, the way in which this quote and public proclamation was to be interpreted by all was made apparent by social media. There was a “#loveislove” buzz sweeping across social media and rainbow colored meme’s were rapidly adorning the social media landscape. Within days, posters were being printed and marched through parades, t-shirts for all shapes and sizes were being printed and the “true meaning of love” was quickly becoming “objectively” defined through the power of mantra and perceived consensus.
But going back to the sonnet, the first question that crossed my mind within seconds of hearing it was: “What did he just say?” He said, “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.” And this is the line that the media and culture quickly marketed as their new mantra. But what does it mean? Can you define something by appealing to itself? If I said, “blue is blue is blue is blue is blue”, have I said anything true. Have I said anything of value? Have I given any information at all what blue really is?
This is why I believe the sonnet along with the pop culture’s swift adoption of this phrase as their latest mantra reveals a lack of knowledge, a lack of depth of thought and a lack of the ability to think critically that pervades our current culture. When people hear “love is love is love is love…” they are moved to tears and act as if something incredibly profound was just said. It is truly heartbreaking.
Now much can and has been said about what love really is, in a true and objective sense, but I will just leave you with a few thoughts to consider.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:8-10
Scripture tells us that God is love itself and that He is the only source of true love. The greatest demonstration of unmerited and unconditional love was God sending His Son to die for the sins of His people.
It is also worth stating that the Scriptures declare that “God is love” and not that “love is God.” These two phrases are not symmetric or identical or interchangeable. All that exists in heaven and earth was not created by some feeling or attitude or sentiment, but by the One True God who Scripture says, in His very nature, is love.
One of the most beautiful descriptions of what this love is and what it looks like is found in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
Briefly, this passage tells us that love is marked not only by what it doesn’t do but also by what it does do. The words we say, the knowledge we have, the works we do and even the faith we have, if not motivated and done in love, Scripture tells us, are nothing. This is heavy. If we had the faith to move mountains yet didn’t have love, our faith would be nothing. We often hear the phrase from James 2 that “faith without works is dead” but I haven’t heard very often that “faith without love is nothing.” I believe the two statements are saying essentially the same thing. We see here that love is a verb, an action. And a faith without works is a faith without action; and that is a loveless faith, a faith that is nothing because it is dead.
And finally, let’s consider Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The very essence of God’s Law is love. God’s command is to love God and to love our neighbor. You cannot love God nor can you love your neighbor apart from God’s Law. You see, if you love God, you will put Him first and you will honor Him. And when you put God first you will begin to see and appreciate people made in the image of God as valuable and you will not desire to steal from them, or murder them or lie to them or cause them to sin against God. You will love them and desire for them to be in a right relationship with God and with their neighbor. A friend of mine has said that love is desiring others to stand righteous before God. And that can only be done through the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ.
So you see, apart from God and His Law, “love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love”…IS NOTHING.” And if you don’t have love, then everything we say, know and do ultimately amounts to nothing.
Our culture is in love with “love” but they are not in love with the God who is love. So the next time you hear someone talk about love, take a moment to ask them what they understand love to be. Use “love” as an open door to talk to them about the God who is love, about God’s Law which is the basis for love, and about the love of God which caused Him to give the greatest gift ever given to reconcile the world to Himself:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17