October 21

What Love Looks Like

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

I John 3:16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We are bombarded with descriptions and images of love. Billboards, TV, films, advertisements, novels, magazines—these major in presenting visual and written versions of love that pretend to accurately reflect it. Images range from a charming baby, to parents holding said baby, to cuddly animals. (Actually, many of these are images of innocence, not love.)

Moving to humans, images of love include children playing together, parents with children, and finally, what is considered the apex of love—love between a man and woman. Within even that last category, we have cute old couples holding hands, knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, and beautiful women with handsome men (think many book covers). Many of these images are superficial, falsely romantic, or erotic. But many display genuine love between two people.

Yet even the most thoughtful image of a loving couple isn’t the clearest picture of love we have. The central image of love is described in Romans 5:8 (above). Jesus, arms outstretched, beaten, broken and nailed to a cross. That’s love.

Love is sacrificial. Love loves in action even when the object of that love doesn’t receive or even understand it. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. He could look beyond the resurrection and see His beloved church. But at the time, hanging on the cross, that expression of love wasn’t reciprocal. It wasn’t shared. It was simply given.

Well, of course, that was the Son of God expressing love. How are we called to express love, believing that His work on the cross was unique, and that we believe Him when He said, “It is finished”? Is that a repeatable demonstration of anything we can imitate?

John 15 (above) says yes, it is imitable. In fact, we are called to imitate Him and His sacrifice. The highest expression of love, says Jesus in John, is laying down our lives for those dearest and closest to us. It’s not a feeling, it’s not attraction, it’s not romance. It’s sacrifice.

Sacrifice is expressed in any number of ways. Aside from the cross, there is no single expression that captures the image of sacrifice. It can be seen in small acts of thoughtfulness, a word spoken, or a work not spoken. In any and all cases, it’s putting someone else first and saying no to something we want. It can range from taking a moment to do something that you know will bless to giving up your life to the mission field to actually stepping in and substituting for another’s death. The essence of real love is sacrifice; the image of such love is Christ crucified.

Prayer: Father, please keep reminding me of what real love is. Help me stay centered on the image You give us in Your word, of Your Son giving His life when we were against You. May that love in turn, by Your grace, find many expressions in my life.