By Kevin Cauley June 5, 2004
When my wife and I got married close to thirteen years ago and my parents asked us why we wanted to get married, we replied, “because we love each other.” I will never forget the words that my dad told me that day. He said that we had a love, but that we really did not know what it meant to love each other, but that as the years went by, we would learn more and more of what it means to truly love one another. I confess that I did not completely understand what he meant at the time. However, thirteen years later, I think I am beginning to understand. Loving another person doesn’t just mean that you have “positive feelings” toward them all the time. It means that whatever feelings you do have for another person, whether those feelings are positive or negative, you do not forsake that other person; you remain steadfast, loyal, and true regardless of what comes your way, and always seek the best for that person (as God defines “best”) regardless of their circumstances.
This past week, I received e-mail from our web site in which the questioner stated, “I am not in love with my husband.” It was sad for me to read that statement. Part of the reason that such a statement is made is that people in our society today simply do not understand what the word “love” truly means. And so, when they stop having the “feelings” of love, then they assume that they no longer “love” someone. Such does not have to be the case. I don’t have tremendously wonderful feelings for my enemies, but I must love them nonetheless (Matthew 5:44-48). Could we not then love those who, while they do not engender the greatest of feelings, nevertheless are undoubtedly not our enemies? Surely if loving our enemies means being children of our Father in heaven, we can love those who are undoubtedly not our enemies.
Society, however, places a premium not upon this kind of love, but upon the kind of love that is defined by emotion only. If there is no emotion, then there is no love. It is no wonder that we see so many in our society today who seek for divorce due to “incompatibility.” They are “incompatible” because they do not want to be compatible; because they do not want to do what it really takes to love someone else. Jesus’ words on the subject ring loud and true, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). I’m convinced that the reason Jesus said this was because if we can love our enemies, then we can certainly love our spouse. There is, therefore, no excuse for divorce, save for the one Jesus himself gave (Matthew 19:9).
Not only, however, does society define love as mere emotion in the marriage relationship, but in many of our relationships today. One is said not to love his friend if he opposes something that his friend desires to have in his life and bad feelings result from that opposition. One is said not to be loving his fellow man if one points out wrong behavior and incorrect attitudes in another person, due to the negative feelings that one has as a result from having to face one’s own problems/mistakes. Even among those who claim to be Christians, if one does not project a positive, sappy, syrupy emotionalism toward his fellow Christian, then one is immediately labeled as being “unloving.”
This “unloving” label often comes as a result of someone pointing out that another is either not living right, or is incorrect in some point of doctrine or religious practice. However, in such a situation, the “unloving” label begs the question, “Should one love his fellow man above God?” The immediate answer to that is, of course, no (Mark 12:30). However, is this not, in essence, what one is saying in response to someone who is seeking to resolve incorrect beliefs or behavior? “If you make me feel bad about my spiritual condition, or practices, then you just don’t love me.” What about loving God first? The very fact that God demands that we love Him above all others means that there are going to be some whose feelings that we have to hurt in order to please God. It doesn’t mean that we intentionally want to hurt other people’s feelings, or that we even like to hurt other people’s feelings. It is merely a matter of doing what is right in the eyes of God.
One cannot sustain love as mere emotion and love God in the way that God demands that we love Him. Sooner or later, God’s will is going to come into conflict with those emotions. If we take, as our foundation, love to be mere emotion, we will end up compromising God’s will in the long run. However, if we understand that true love involves more than mere emotion, then when the emotions come, whether good or bad, we will stay with our commitment to God and His will. It is upon these grounds that Jesus can demand of us, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15, see also 1 John 5:3).