Valentines has come and gone, but regardless of whether you have found your boyfriend (or girlfriend), love, as they say, is still in the air. And while it’s a subject on many of our hearts and minds it is well worth discovering what true love is.
We are all by nature created for love. To love and to be loved. Even more so Christians are to be marked by love (John 13:35) so we must understand how this love we have is both distinctive and yet desirable to those who are perhaps still intoxicated with the love of the world (1 John 2:15-17)
In our culture, the idea of love is heavily romanticised. Sexualised even. We are bombarded with various depictions of what love is. Whether it be in what we read on our small screens, what we watch on our large screens, what we listen to in our music or even when we speak with friends. And whilst there are romantic and sexual expressions of love, alongside familial and platonic forms, the human heart’s greatest need for love is not fully met in any of these expressions. Ultimately, we are filled when we encounter the love of Christ. It is in His love that we are truly satisfied. You may have come to that conclusion already. You may not have. Regardless of whether you have or not, it’s one thing to come to this conclusion – it’s another entirely to experience this reality. This is where a prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Ephesians is really enlightening. He asks that the Ephesian people
“may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
Now if you’re anything like me, you read this and thought “Wow sounds great!” but after pondering on it for a moment you then slowly ask yourself “How do I comprehend the incomprehensible?”. Because this is precisely what Paul is asking the Ephesians to do. He petitions for them to have “strength to comprehend…the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”
For those of us with tendencies to try and work things out intellectually, this “experiencing the love of God” can be particularly challenging. We see height, breadth, depth and length and our natural tendency is to concoct some sort of equation for how we are to experience God’s love. This can be a fatal trap and lead to an increasingly deteriorating and debilitating spiritual condition.
We must recognise that in order to experience this love, it is contingent upon recognising the “incomprehensibility” of this truth and going to the One who alone is wise (Rom 16:27), who can empower us to truly know. We must resolve to know that this is a supernatural experience and recognise that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). By the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God becomes more than just a theological concept, but it becomes the bedrock for our walk with Him and our mission to represent Him as an ambassador to a dying and hopeless world.
Notice however, the heading says “beyond” intellect. Not abandoning intellect. Jesus commands us to love us with our minds (Matt 22:37-40) and Paul instructs us to “think about such things” that are noble and good (Phil 4:8). We don’t abandon our minds in the pursuit of God’s love but rather fill our minds with the truth of His love for us and pray that we experience the glories of the truths we know.
However, intellect isn’t the only pitfall. For some, the love of God is so overly emotional that if one does not feel goosebumps or the shivers then the only conclusion is that they are not experiencing the love of God anymore. And this can be even more dangerous than the intellectual pitfalls, because emotions have taken the lead and become the governing influence in your life as opposed to glorious biblical truth. One can end up in all sorts of theological maladies when subscribing to a purely emotion-based understanding of the love of God.
Speak to any married couple. There are seasons of expressly heightened emotions in their love for one another. And there are seasons where their love for one another is most clearly evidenced by their simple committed choice to love one another regardless of the emotion. In fact, very often the truth of their love for another informs their emotional state. As believers, we are to routinely remind ourselves and be reminded by others of the love Christ has for us, regardless of our immediate feelings.
Yet, our feelings are not evil. In some Christian circles, any expression of emotions can be greeted by a rather uncomfortable response. This is unfortunate, seeing as the Psalms are filled with weighty truths about God but also the very real emotions of the Psalmists in their personal walks with the Lord. “Beyond emotion” does not mean banishing all emotions from the equation. Far from it. It means that our emotions are not our sole determiner for experiencing God’s love but like David, when circumstances play a bearing on our emotions, we “encourage ourselves in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6) and move forward with His grace and love.
Knowing the unknowable. Comprehending the incomprehensible. The love of God towards us is so vast that it exceeds the capacity of our finite hearts and minds. So, if you looking to be loved like no other come to Christ. If you are searching for satisfaction draw near to Him. His love is readily available.
For those of us who are convinced of this love but desiring to experience it as a more consistent reality, here are some final reminders.
- The love of Christ in us is supernatural. We cannot work it out with a solely intellectual or emotional framework. Continually echo the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 5:18,19 for yourself
- Although we don’t use or intellect or emotions as means to conclusively comprehending this love, they do help serve our experience of experiencing the love of Christ and loving others. Remind yourself that like any relationship, there are seasons of unhindered heightened emotion which you must cherish and seasons where you must encourage yourself what to feel based on the truth of what you know.
- Seek Christian community. Notice how Paul prays that the Ephesians “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints…” Very often just the mere presence of sincere Christian brothers and sisters can remind us of the love of God. If you remove yourself from Christian community, not only are you robbing yourself of this great blessing but you are also robbing someone else of the opportunity to experience God’s love through you.
Grace and peace