What does it mean to love someone?
Merriam-Webster Online defines love as: “(1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties e.g. maternal love for a child; (2) attraction based on sexual desire; affection and tenderness felt by lovers; (3) affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests e.g. love for old schoolmates; (4) warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion e.g. love for the sea; (5) unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another, as the fatherly concern of God for humankind, and brotherly concern for others; (6) a person’s adoration of God.”
Most of us would readily be able to relate with the first 4 definitions. But we come to the 5th definition, which undoubtedly would be the highest form of love, and the first thing we notice is that it is related to God’s love for man. In fact, God is the only One who can fully claim the labels of being “unselfish, loyal, and benevolent”, and working “for the good of another” at all times.
The Bible best sums up God’s love in 3 verses:
But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).
God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
It’s interesting to note that the remaining definitions of love, “brotherly concern for others” and “a person’s adoration of God”, follow after God’s love for man, as I personally believe that these can only truly come about after we receive God’s love for us.
Oh, and don’t miss that little detail – it’s “a person’s adoration of God”, not “for God”. Small word, big difference. “Of” speaks of worship, being caught up in awe and wonder of God’s love. “For” denotes what we do, like works to serve and please God.
Ok, next question: And what does it mean to be responsible to someone?
Merriam-Webster Online defines responsibility as: “(1) the state of being the person who caused something to happen; (2) a duty or task that you are required or expected to do; (3) something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.”
Right, so clearly, love and responsibility are two very different things. Love is not responsibility, and responsibility is not love.
But so often in our culture we tend to link the two together, such as by attaching expectations to love relationships. Coming from an Asian background and upbringing which places much emphasis on filial piety, I understand this very well firsthand.
While I’m definitely for the intention of moral teachings such as honouring our parents and elders, respecting authority, and loving and submitting to our spouses, I fear that advocates of these virtues who stress too much on doing these as a moral responsibility are missing the point. Because responsibility can never take the place of love.
I don’t know about you, but I’d never want to hear my parents say to me, “We’re doing all this for you because it’s our responsibility to take care of you as our child”, or my children in future to say, “Mommy, it’s my responsibility to do this for you”. Neither do I want to hear my husband say, “Darling, it’s my responsibility to love you”, and God forbid I ever say the same to him.
It just doesn’t cut it, you know? You can never get the warm, fuzzy feeling of love through the cold obligation of responsibility. What we’d really want to hear is, “I’m doing this because I love you.”
So where does it all begin? To fill up and overflow with love unto others, we have to go to the source of unlimited, undying love, which we’ve established is God.
But that’s the thing. We’ve even let responsibility creep into the church.
Many a times when people first come to Christ and they accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, they’re told that their sins are forgiven and they’re now a beloved child of God, and their life will be forever changed for the better. And from then on they’re taught that “because God has done all of this for us, we should therefore love and honour Him by walking in His ways and obeying Him, and serving Him and others around us just like Jesus did and like He would want us to.”
As right as that sounds, such well-meaning preachers and Christians don’t realise that this sadly degrades the work of Jesus and diminishes the glory and splendour of His grace.
Because for one, it suggests that what we can do for God can be put on somewhere the same level as what Jesus did for God and for us. When nothing could be further from the truth. Reckoning ourselves and what we do versus Jesus the Son of God and what He did is like comparing a grain of sand to the entire cosmos. A faintest speck of water vapour to the entire ocean. You get the picture.
For another, it turns loving God – and others – into a responsibility, an obligation and a duty, rather than a “response ability”. It makes light of God’s grace and the amazing ability His grace gives us to respond.
As Christians, we don’t go to church, read the Bible, love others and do charitable deeds because that’s what we’re supposed to do as good Christians. No, we go to church and read the Bible because we love being in the house of God and receiving the word of His grace! In fact, the more we hear of His grace, the more we fall in love with the Word that we end up wanting to read and hear it every day! We love others and do good works out of the overflow of God’s love for us, because we want them to be blessed just as we are.
If you are a Christian reading this and you are doing all of the above out of a sense of responsibility, then might I gently suggest that you take a break from doing all that for a while and just come back to God and receive His love and grace for you afresh. And keep hearing and receiving until you are filled up yourself.
Because Jesus didn’t come with the purpose of making workers and followers to serve and worship Him (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). He came to save, to heal, to restore, to provide, and to serve. He came to love you.
Just let that sit and sink in.
And as you feed on the magnitude of that truth, His love in you will outstrip responsibility. Before you know it there will rise the desire and the ability to love and to serve, Him and your spouse and your family and others, ability that He first gave you.
Because when you encounter Jesus, you encounter grace.